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How the Beatniks Impacted Me

How the Beatniks Impacted Me

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What follows is a piece written by Red Jordan Arobateau about the beats. He delivered an excerpt from it at Michelle Tea’s Readings In The Library Series. This piece can be found in Red’s journal LAMENTATIONS IN THE COOL OF THE EVENING—Words Of The Prophet; under the section Midrash/Commentary. It talks about his teenage awakening to the freedom of the new beatnik movement of the 1950's; describing those times.
What follows is a piece written by Red Jordan Arobateau about the beats. He delivered an excerpt from it at Michelle Tea’s Readings In The Library Series. This piece can be found in Red’s journal LAMENTATIONS IN THE COOL OF THE EVENING—Words Of The Prophet; under the section Midrash/Commentary. It talks about his teenage awakening to the freedom of the new beatnik movement of the 1950's; describing those times.

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Published by: Red Jordan Arobateau on Sep 26, 2009
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HOW THE BEATNIKS IMPACTED MEWhat follows is the entirety of a piece written by Red Jordan Arobateau about the beats.He delivered an excerpt from it at Michelle Tea’s Readings In The Library Series. This piece can be found in Red’s journal LAMENTATIONS IN THE COOL OF THEEVENING—Words Of The Prophet; under the section Midrash/Commentary. Allmaterial copyrighted by Red Jordan Arobateau. 2007. LAMENTATIONS IN THE COOLOF THE EVENING may be found on lulu.com & Amazon.com
All material copyrighted by Red Jordan Arobateau.HOW THE BEATNIKS IMPACTED MEI was already dropping out in junior high school, being abused at home by my clinicallyinsane mother, as well as suffering with self-consciousness from being biracial, & atranssexual crossdresser in the 1940’s. Got the idea to become a Communist—rebellingagainst the traditional; which was, to me, all those morays of a hypocritical society whichwas witnessing my abuse but did nothing to defend me. Especially the self-righteous blindness of my patriotic grandparents who hung the American flag out on the front porchevery 4
of July. As a 13-year old buying some used Russian textbooks I had the idea totry to learn that language on my own, which was most impractical—seeing I was alreadyflunking out of French in school. Tried to read some Communist literature but it was so boring I soon abandon the idea.Because of my already disaffected state I would be drawn to them --these beats. Beforethem, were the bohemians of European literature who had fueled my child imagination asI devoured library books. The concept of one who rebels from traditional society, anartist, a free thinker, the bohemians helped pave the way for my own artistic freedom and personal independence.In mid-1950’s a word was coined, détente. America was in a cold war with The SovietSocialist Republic, formerly Russia. This was constant major news occupying headlines.Doomsday scenarios haunted the American conscious. Those times of détente Sovietnuclear missiles were aimed at us, and ours at them. Threat of a nuclear attack was ever- present, and every Tuesday at 11am air raid sirens wound up and howled for a minute or two. I was ten or eleven, our family still together before it broke apart, living on the black-brown South Side of Chicago, attired in boys clothes, blue jeans and a shirt, oxfordshoes playing in the back yard hearing these air raid sirens & praying to counter act myworry. I had the unique experience of knowing this atom bomb had been invented inlaboratories under the stands in stag field, a football arena at the imposing ivy-coveredgrey stone University of Chicago, which also housed the special school where my bourgeois parents were scrimping to send me. For the first time the whole school now participated not only in fire drills, but in nuclear air raid preparedness. There was no
filing out of the classroom—there was no escape. We learned to cover our heads andhide under our desks en masse. Not much later in the late ‘50’s, news about these beats had begun to emerge in theordinary American conscious as well. ‘Beat generation’. The idea that these strangeindividuals considered themselves beaten by the status quo and had dropped out fromsociety, was a shock to traditional white-ruled middleclass mores. Simultaneously thiscold war preparedness for possible attack from the Soviets was in every newspaper. Inthe race between Russian and Americans to dominate space, the Soviets launchedspacecraft Sputnik, propelling Russians cosmonauts into outer space before us. This wasmajor news in the US. The foreign sounding name Sputnik was the talk of everyone.Soon, it became popular for people to add a ‘nik’ to everything. Every word had an ‘nik’on the end, hence, in a fortuitous coupling someone tacked on the ‘nik’ to beat and it became, beatnik. (War resisters later would be called refuse-niks.)It was in the late 1950’s, wisps and ideas of these beats floated to me over the media inmagazines, newspapers, radio & TV, one of these first rumors I can recall, was a newsreport of a beatnik coffee shop all the way at the opposite end of the continent, Venice,California. Reports of a woman folk singer, Barbara Dane in a smoky dim place a seatedon small stage long hair black leotards and poncho sandals, strumming a guitar andsinging folk songs. This was the first introduction to the beat generation to a mixed upcrazy 13-year old teenager. The image media projected was of long-haired women insandals, black leotards and men with sunglasses, sandals, scraggy bearded wearing a lotof dark colors as if they were in mourning, who lounged around in coffeehouses listenedto guitar singers & poets. I was exploring the outlawed demimonde of gay life. Can’tremember how old I was, born in 1943, when the adult beats were just meeting each other and beginning art, Now could be seen in the streets a few formerly clean shaven mensporting wicked goatees. Once close cropped hair, crew cut of preference, now lettinggrow long, to their shoulders like girls. Hitting bongos with soles of hands until theygrew calloused, black clothes, sandals berets smoky coffee shopsThe beats were officially instituted TV programming in 1958, ’59. Presenting beatnik Maynard Krebs on the Dobbie Gillis show. I was still living at home with my dad. Theclean cut clean living Gillis has this friend Maynard who had a goatee, long messy hair,dumpy clothes, wore sandals and played the bongo drums. His vocabulary punctuatedwith beat phrases like ‘say man’ or, ‘I got to get back to the pad & relax Daddy-O.’The 1950’s beatniks were beat. Slouched, walked with a weary look, emaciated, noteating healthy and their protest against society at that point was not portrayed as hardily partaking of their spiritual angst and transforming it into protest politics just artisticanger. Women wore their hair long and natural in defiance of beauty parlor permanentedhairdos—the beehive was popular in normal society. Hair teased and piled up a foot tallon top of the heads of ordinary women who needed to feel stylish. These beat chicksexchanged proper nylon stockings and prim high heel pumps for black leotards & opentoe sandals. Non-conformists. ‘Like say, hey, she’s a relaxed chick Daddy-O.’ Or,‘She’s a way out chick, man.’ Holistic is the word we’d use today.
As a teenager I’d started going out to the Near North side, one of Chicago’s fewintegrated areas, which abounded with artists and thinkers, visiting these beatnik coffeeshops—now some springing up were commercial places that were owned by non-beatentrepreneurs which featured poetry readings, folk guitar singers and strong espresso anew kind of coffee far different from the 10 cents-a cup-poison I’d first been introducedto in my youth in the small hole-in-the wall eatery’s, along with 25-cent hamburgers,coffee which tasted awful but did keep you awake.I grew up some more, very queer, now running the streets. Then, black jazz world wasvery alive, so was the black blues world, and the beatniks bringing their folk singing anda fascinating new lifestyle become a way of life for many. I was going out to the tavernsevery night—my flight path carrying me between dangerous gay bars with their ongoing police raids, the safer beatnik hangouts, and the mostly straight blues & jazz clubs. Nowlate teens early 20’s the names of Peter Seger, Woody Guthrie, folk singers, Alan Lomax became common words to me & my friends. And other names—the black folk singer Odetta, who I met when she was performing in a nightclub on Chicago’s Near NorthSide, as she took a break between sets, a quiet & moody blue person, seated at the bar,round figure in a colorful dashiki and sandals.The beatniks were a valve release on the pressure cooker of society for me. A way out of hell of my wrapped up, self conscious, shy, social dysfunction. An alternative, to the prepackaged, tied-up-in-a-knot traditional. Every generation needs one. We need to break away from the accustomed styles, and find new people, new lands---or—begin our own tribe.In that era the folk guitar was the instrument of choice. Can you think of another genrethat has specific musical instruments associated with it—up in heaven it’s angels, haloeson their heads, strumming harps. On earth, in the punk rock scene, its electric guitar &amplified keyboard. For the Beat generation it would be the classic non-electric or steelstring guitar and bongo drums. I was about 13 or 14 when I got my dad to buy me a setof bongos, which cost $8 and was always thumping on them, pouring out adolescentenergy and frustrations thru my fingertips. Next was a steel-string guitar, which cost inthe late 50’s, about $13. I went out to smoky coffee shops and art parties with older friends and watched beatnik guitarists, which abounded in those days, if you got closeand watched their fingers move you could learn to pick out some cords. As a teen I hadto have a guitar and bongos, it was just part of life. And later I was to faithfully cart aguitar at least around to 5 cities in various cases strumming the several chords I’dmastered, which impressed people and they said it sounded nice. Periodically I’d either loose or wear out these instruments, and then, lacking this necessity would get a new oneso I could see how the price of bongos and guitars slowly started to rise.At some point I just assumed this guitar and bongos would just be a natural part of mylife, along with my manual typewriter, for my whole life. Well the manual typewriter morphed into the electric—I wore out about 20 of them—before switching to computer  just 2 years ago in 2006. And electronic music has taken over—having been given a

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