‘The Beat Generation is no hoodlumism. As the man who suddenly thought of that word “beat” to describe our generation, I would like to have my little say about it before everyone else in the writing field begins to call it “roughneck,” “violent,” heedless,” “rootless.” How can people be rootless? Heedless of what? Wants? Roughneck because you don’t come on elegant?
Beat doesn’t mean tired, or bushed, so much as it means beato, the Italian for beatific: to be in a state of beatitude, like St. Francis, trying to love all life, trying to be utterly sincere with everyone, practicing endurance, kindness, cultivating joy of heart. How can this be done in our mad modern world of multiplicities and millions? By practicing a little solitude, going off by yourself once in a while to store up that most precious of golds: the vibrations of sincerity.
Being bugged is not being beat. You may be withdrawn, but you don’t have to be mean about it. Beatness is not a form of tired old criticism. It is a form of spontaneous affirmation. What kinda culture you gonna have with everybody’s gray faces saying “I don’t think that’s quite correct”?
Let’s start at the beginning. After publishing my book about the beat generation I was asked to explain beatness on TV, on radio, by people everywhere. They were all under the impression that being beat was just a lot of frantic nowhere hysteria. What are you searching for? They asked me. I answered that I was waiting for God to show his face. (Later I got a letter from a 16-year old girl saying that was exactly what she’d been waiting for too.) They asked: How could this have anything to do with mad hepcats? I answered that even mad happy hepcats with all their kicks and chicks and hep talk were creatures of God laid out here in this infinite universe without knowing what for. And besides I have never heard more talk about God, the Last Things, the soul, the where-we-going than among the kids of my generation: and not the intellectual kids alone, all of them. In the faces of my questioners was the hopeless question: But Why? Billy Graham has a half million spiritual babies. This generation has many more “beat kiddies” and the relationship is close.
The Lost Generation of the 20s believed in nothing so they went their rather cynical way putting everything down. That generation forms the corpus of our authority today, and is looking with disfavor upon everything, in the confession of everything to everyone. The Lost Generation put it down; the Beat Generation is picking it all up again. The Lost Generation believes that there will be some justification for all the horror of life. The first of the Four Noble truths is: All Life Is Suffering. Yet I hear them talk about how it’s worth it, if you only believed, if you let that holy flow gush endlessly out of that secret source of living bliss.
“Man, I dig everything!” So many cats said that to me on the sidewalks of the 1940s when beatness rose like a ethereal flower out of the squalor and madness of the times. “But why?” I’d say. “You haven’t got a cent, no place to sleep.” Answer: “Man, you gotta stay high, that’s all.” Then I’d see these same characters next day all bushed and beat brooding on a bench in the park, refusing to talk to anybody, storing up for more belief.
And there they all were, at night, the bop musicians were on the stand blowing, the beat was great, you’d see hundreds of heads nodding in the smoky dimness, nodding to the music, “Yes, yes, yes” is what their nodding heads said, so musingly, so prettily, so mystically. Musicians wanting for their turn to take a solo also listened nodding, Yes. I saw a whole generation nodding yes. (I also saw the junkies nod No over their bed-edges.)
I don’t think the Beat Generation is going to be a moronic band of dope addicts and hoodlums. My favorite beat buddies were all kind, good kids, eager, sincere (“Now lend me five minutes of your time and listen to every word I’m going to say!”)…such tender concern! Such a pathetic human hope that all will be communicated and received, and all made well by this mysterious union of minds. The dope thing will die out. That was a fad, like bathtub gin. In the Beat Generation instead of an old Lost Generation champagne bottle intertwined in one silk stocking, you found an old benny tube in the closet, or an ancient roach in a dresser, all covered with dust. The dope thing was confined to a handful of medical metabolic junkies before it was given such publicity by the authorities. Then it got out of hand.
As to sex, why not? One woman interviewer asked me if I thought sexual passion was messy, I said “No, it’s the gateway to paradise.”
Only bitter people put down life. The Beat Generation is going to be a sweetie (as the great Pinky Lee would say, Lee who loves children, and all generations are children).
I only hope there won’t be a war to hurt all these beautiful people, and I don’t think there will be. There appears to be a Beat Generation all over the world, even behind the Iron Curtain. I think Russia wants a share of what America has—food and clothing and pleasantries for most everyone.
I prophesy that he Beat Generation which is supposed to be nutty nihilism in the guise of new hipness, is going to be the most sensitive generation in the history of America and therefore it can’t help but do good. Whatever wrong comes will come out of evil interference. If there is any quality that I have noticed more strongly than anything else in this generation, it is the spirit of non-interference with the lives of others. I had a dream that I didn’t want the lion to eat the lamb and the lion came up and lapped my face like a big puppy dog and then I picked up the lamb and it kissed me. This is the dream of the Beat Generation.’
Lamb, No Lion, Jack Kerouac, 1958
(Text from The Portable Jack Kerouac)