Craig, we've talked about that Beat generation energy, and I'd like to know what you think they had that this generation doesn't.
I have very mixed feelings about the Beats. When I was younger, they were my idols. I can still remember picking up my copy of On the Road at the Shakespeare and Company bookstore before heading home for winter break during my senior year in college. While reading Kerouac and listening to Charlie Parker, Iíd feel like Iíd been given a glimpse of a secret world, a universe hidden between the words on the page.
I can remember the exquisite pain I felt, the agony of knowing that the authors of my favorite books—the Dharma Bums, Howl, Naked Lunch—had lives much more vibrant, much more darkly adventurous than my own. The actual post-punk-alternative-DIY bohemia that was in full flower at the time (this was the late eighties) left me cold and also a little frightened. It was too nasty, too disaffected. But with the Beats I felt at home.
I would eventually have my own adventures, both literary and actual. After many false starts, I became part of the New York poetry scene and got to live out my suppressed bohemian fantasies. I shouted lewd poems at open mics and made friends with a variety of criminals, sex fiends and psychopathic maniacs.
In a sense, we were all Kerouacís children. We gathered at the Times Square Shout Out and acted like it was 1957 all over again. I suppose I was like George Costanza on Seinfeld. He wanted to pretend to be an architect and I wanted to pretend to be a Beatnik. After a year or two of declaiming desperate poetry in half-empty bars across Manhattan, I finally got it out of my system. I felt free to move on and begin discovering my own creative vision.
It sometimes makes me sad to realize that the world that had spawned the Beats and their jazz counterparts is gone. I donít know if we have many artists at work today who are engaged in the same mad quests, the same desperate journeys. Everyoneís ambition seems smaller, more humble.
At some level, itís understandable. The Beats did their work. They broke down a variety of emotional and sexual barriers and thereís no need to repeat their performance. The problems of our time are different. The world has been transformed from a cage into a catastrophe, a torrent of unleashed chaos. To rebel against this chaos is like trying punch the wind. All you can do is learn to ride the gusts and practice the art of soft landings.
Craig Fishbane's collection of short stories, On the Proper Role of Desire, can be purchased here.