Thursday, 14 October 2010


I was asked a few questions by a glossy Italian style magazine a while back for an article about the Beat Generation. I’m still waiting to be flown to San Francisco for the photo shoot of me sagely thumbing the paperbacks in City Lights or supping a beer in Vesuvio’s with The Subterraneans casually placed on the bar.

Why do you think there’s an ongoing fascination with characters like Ginsberg, Kerouac etc?
They were groundbreaking in their writing; shaking up the staid, conservative, dull and frightened America. They looked it dead in the eye and challenged it. That alone would be enough but when you discover further controversy, court cases, links to the criminal underworld, prostitution, homosexuality, mental illness, lobotomies, murder, suicide, mysterious deaths, firearms, alcohol abuse, drug experimentation and addiction, travel, religion, wife sharing and bigamy, you’ve all the ingredients of a fantastic soap opera that continues to develop with every new publication of their correspondence (see the recent Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters).

Were the Beats perhaps more a cult than anything else?
For me, the Beats were solely Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and their close associates – nothing to do with the cartoonish Beatniks that followed. The Beat Generation term came from a drunken Kerouac which Ginsberg was savvy, passionate and generous enough to use as the means to get his friends published in the aftermath of Howl. There’s little stylistically to link Howl, On The Road and Naked Lunch so it’s difficult to categorize them as a genuine literary movement; really they were/are a media phenomenon – even if they created it themselves.

Do they have a true legacy when it comes to poetry and literature?
They do, but time is dusting over the tracks of that legacy. The obscenity trials of Howl and Naked Lunch paved the way for greater freedom of expression and people like City Lights publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti shouldn’t be forgotten in all this. They made poetry and literature exciting, even dangerous. On The Road reads somewhat quaintly these days but the rhythm and phrases in Howl, exploring and questioning the soul of America, could be hip hop lyrics of today and if Naked Lunch was published tomorrow its nightmarish visions could scarcely be any less powerful.

What are you expecting from the Howl film? Do you think Coppola’s On The Road project is a good idea (what I mean is, can you really hope to capture the essence of the book on film etc?).
From the short trailer, I can’t wait to see Howl . Visually looks spot-on, Franco looks convincing, a gripping courtroom drama and the greatest poem of the 20th Century. Looks like a winner to me. On The Road is a harder task to pull off. I can’t see any film doing the book justice but I’m not precious about it; it’ll come out and be forgotten just as quickly whereas Jack’s novel will continue to be read for another fifty years.

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