Beat came like a breath of fresh air from the dungeons of Jazz.
There was nothing special where I grew up; a little estate in the satellite towns around London. I ran wild in the fields and ditches, played in the streets and was oblivious to anything more. Life had its course. In the post-war fifties it was like the world was holding its breath and wanting everything humdrum and predictable. Normality was the order of the day. There had been a surfeit of change and excitement, terror and despair; England was recuperating.
They were grey days, though the sun shined. They were drab because the world was set in its ways. It was all mapped out.
I watched my parents. The way they dressed, talked and acted. They were good liberal people. There was the shopping, cooking, laundry and gossip. My Mum was never one for too much housework though she did like to talk. My Dad rose at the crack of dawn, donned his suit and headed for work in London. He came back in the evening, ate his tea and read the papers, watched some telly and off to bed.
The lawn was mown in stripes. The car washed and pipe smoked. On Sundays there was the roast beef to carve and on occasion a pint on the green. Everything had its place; life was routine. You grew up, out of shorts and into long trousers. You got a job, settled down, got married, had kids and carved the roast.
As the sixties erupted Rock music provided colour and excitement but it didn’t alter the pattern of life.
Then in the mid-sixties I discovered Kerouac. Jack Kerouac was like opening a door into a different world. That universe was populated with frenzied mad hipster poets who were driven by desperate need. This was no road movie. These were energised young men crazed on the possibility of life and eager for adventure. They sought out the wildness, fast cars, stolen cars, women, dope, poetry, Zen and a scorching desire to penetrate the mundane and get to the guts of life. Life was for burning. Life was too important to waste. Its essence had to be ripped out. Every second counted. They had to dissect it, experience it, up all night rapping into the dawn about crazy, about life, about meaning. Life was a mad quest for the holy grail of purpose. It wasn’t to be found in suburban lawns or washed cars; it was screeching in a sax solo somewhere in the Negro end of town where the people were alive and burned with vitality, on the long roads where the tyres screeched on the tarmac and the Beat people hobboed and hitched and recounted their crazy stories into the night fuelled on Benzedrine and alcohol; or in the scorching words of a poem ripped straight out of the mind to fly through spittle on tongue and teeth. Real people whose live were chaos; whose highs were extreme and lows unbearable. Yet they were all living. They were all burning with desire. – On the mountain tops were the serenity of Zen seeped into the soul on a wild meditation in search of «instant sartori» they searched the heavens for reason and tried to contain their roaring minds.
These characters were real, out of the underbelly of America, shucked off from the ordinary into a world that seethed with wonder, delight, revelation and elation; the «Subterraneans» from the underground who were roaring obscenities, truths and visions in cold-water tenements while straight America slept. Their music grooved. Their minds soared. Their energy pervaded life. To them life was a turmoil of wonder.
I devoured «On the Road», «Dharma Bums», «The Town and the City» and «Lonesome Traveller» and I wanted it. I wanted up those mountains with the bears, where the air was pure and Zen pierced the fabric of reality, to look down upon the world and live; those Jazz dungeons where only the moment and that endless wailing sax had any significance; those crazy journeys through the night dodging trucks and dicing death; the sex and love, the passion and desire. For life was not for enduring; it had to burn with the intensity of an atom bomb or it wasn’t worth a damn; it had to pierce through to some inner meaning or it wasn’t worth a fuck. It had to burn.
Then I read ‘Howl‘ by Ginsberg and rediscovered poetry. Poetry that had been killed for me in school, that had been moribund and pointless. Now it seared with words that punctured my soul. It spoke to me, awakened things inside me and sent me reeling. The words took on new meaning; weapons of barbed fire, scathing, extolling, describing, in anguish, in ecstasy, in despair and fury. And every one of those words resounded into my skull and seared into my cranium where it sent my blood rushing. This was real poetry that was incandescent, honest and ripped straight from the soul without refinement, metre or craft. It screamed it as it was.
I was becoming crazy too. I wanted that raw chaos and meaning. I wanted to shriek my poems from the inside of my skull too. I had pent-up fury to release. Life would never be the same. There was a cosmos of excitement and meaning that had been opened to me. Who could return to the world of carving and mowing when there was a universe to be grappled with, poems to be extracted and music to shriek to, words to rant, eyes to gleam and energy to burn? What life could be lived in suburbia while there were roads to roar down, people to meet, places to travel and mysteries to unravel?
I wasn’t beat ; I was Beat. My dreams were vivid, my mind soared and I would never mow straight lines again. There wasn’t time! There wasn’t time!