Beat Fever

10 Mar

OK, so you may have guessed it already, but I’ve come to realise that I am in fact suffering from quite a severe bout of Beat Fever. Easily diagnosed when one begins to count the startling increase in the number of times I’ve said ‘Allen Ginsberg’ in the last couple of months. One of the symptoms also seems to be a heightened awareness of all things beat going on and given the amount of stuff that I’ve noticed recently, I’m not the only one who’s coming down with something. The source of the outbreak can clearly be traced to the release of Howl, the Gus Van Sant produced adaptation of Ginsberg’s most famous poem and the obscenity trial that followed its publication.

True to my illness, I was there on the day of the film’s release, in the cinema at a midnight screening. Now you know how serious my condition is. So anyway, I saw it and I thought it was great. Extremely moving in fact. I actually shed a couple of tears. For this I blame the poem but also the fantastically earnest figure of Ginsberg himself, played quite wonderfully by James Franco. Now I must admit a prior weakness for Franco. I loved him in  the relatively overlooked Freaks and Geeks, in which he played a young, rebellious heart-throb Daniel. I could easily sympathise with Lyndsay and the other high school girls who fell for his combination of smouldering good looks and juvenile bad-boy posturing…But more to the point, he appears to be a bloody good actor. I thought he was very impressive alongside Sean Penn in the truly brilliant Milk. And having been nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor this year, I’m clearly not alone in this. His turn as Ginsberg communicated his warmth, compassion and intelligence and the poem’s reading was effective illuminating the meaning of otherwise obscure references and turns of phrase. The result, I felt, was that Ginsberg came across as a wordsmith and humanitarian, cultural hero in the same vein as someone like John Lennon.

All my fawning aside, Ginsberg is also being celebrated with an exhibition of his photographs at the National Theatre. Chronicling the faces of the beat generation, not so much a unified group as ‘just a bunch of guys trying to get published,’ his subjects range from figures such as Kerouac and Neal Cassidy to Patti Smith and Bob Dylan. If you can’t make it down to the National, but would still like a glimpse of some of these ‘angel-headed hipsters’ a collection of his photos, Beat Memories, has been published the National Art Gallery in Washington. Here at Nomad, it’s the centre piece of a little display we have put together, along with some collections of Ginsbergs poems and a few Kerouac novels. Also amongst these is The Typewriter is Holy: An Uncensored History of The Beat Generation by Bill Morgan, referred to by City Lights Bookshop as an entertaining and indispensible story about the lives of the main players of the group. I’m pining after all of these, but hoping that my trip to San Francisco, and to City Lights itself, will quench this thirst.

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