Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My Country, Tears of Thee

I'm going to try to do a book review once a week as I read . . A LOT.  And none of that kindle cheating stuff, real paper, ink, have-to-have-a-uhaul-just-to-move-em-all books.  I think my book collecting has reached manic levels, but honestly,  there's worse things I could be doing.

I wanted to start these not with a particular book but with a generation of writers that influenced me a lot growing up, both directly from their words and indirectly through the people they inspired like Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and Hunter S Thompson. Ferlinghetti is still alive and runs City Lights bookstore in San Fran, finding him is on my near future bucket list.

This is the Beat Generation.  A great article from 1952 on the birth of the beat.

Love them or hate them, you can't deny this talented group of writers (Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg, William Burroughs, Neal Cassady) made their mark in post-WW2 America.  I grew up reading these guys and I absolutely blame Kerouac's  On The Road for my inability to stay in one place for very long, always searching for a change of pace or a place to stop moving where you don't have to question everything.

"Isn't it true that you start your life a sweet child, believing in everything under your father's roof? Then comes the day of the Laodiceans, when you know you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, and with the visage of a gruesome, grieving ghost you go shuddering through nightmare life."
- On the Road

 This group of writers from New York epitomized the last decade where you could really chase the American Dream. Anything went for these guys, and if you decide to look them up you'll notice they refused to side with anything one way or another as picking a team means limiting your freedoms.  They weren't gay or straight,   liberal or republican, working class or hobos, they were a little of everything.

 Allen Ginsburg - Writer of "Howl"


                                                                           Bill Burroughs -"Naked Lunch"

Without these men we may have never had a Bob Dylan, Hunter S Thompson, or Ken Kesey. This was the original publication and popularization of rebel art. The ultimate fighters for free speech and human rights, It helped a youth damaged and confused by war find a voice and a place in society, and showed them the status quo was fine but not the only option, and that government doesn't always know best. The ultimate libertarians, they offended mainstream America by being brazenly open about sexuality, drugs, and inner demons.  The collegiate side of America criticized them as being idiots (they were all college men and unbelievably well read), McCarthy and "the establishment" labeled them as commies (they wanted to fix the country so everyone could be free). In reality, while fighting one of the largest censorship cases in US literary history (Howl on Trial), they opened the door for a post war society blinded by materialism to be more open minded, curious, and aware.

Pity the nation whose people are sheep,
and whose shepherds mislead them.
Pity the nation whose leaders are liars, whose sages are silenced,
and whose bigots haunt the airwaves.
Pity the nation that raises not its voice,
except to praise conquerors and acclaim the bully as hero
and aims to rule the world with force and by torture.
Pity the nation that knows no other language but its own
and no other culture but its own.
Pity the nation whose breath is money
and sleeps the sleep of the too well fed.
Pity the nation — oh, pity the people who allow their rights to erode
and their freedoms to be washed away.
My country, tears of thee, sweet land of liberty.


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