Rewind

The Beat Generation

Long before the millennials, the yuppies, the hipsters or the hippies there were the beats. They wrote poetry, listened to jazz, and searched for answers to life's big questions. Their elders wondered what the heck they were up to. The Beats changed music and literature and set the stage for the 1960s.

"Don't use the phone. People are never ready to answer it. Use poetry.​" -- Jack Kerouac


They were the hipsters of their day: dressing in black, experimenting with jazz music, and listening or even writing poetry in coffeehouses. Their elders, as elder usually do, dismissed them as exhibitionists, phonies, and slackers. Nevertheless they changed music and writing and planted the seeds for the counterculture movement of the 1960's. They were the Beat Generation of the 1950's. Focus your audio (beat speak for listen carefully) and you'll hear all about it.  

The Beatniks were influenced by writers Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, William S. Burroughs, and most notably Jack Kerouac, whose free-form stream of consciousness novel On the Road is considered the defining work of Beat culture. The book, based on Kerouac's travels across America, captures a spirit of freedom and adventure and also chronicles the frustrations and desires of its main character Sal, a thinly disguised Kerouac, as he struggles to find the meaning of life. When On the Road was published in 1957, author Henry Miller wrote that it represented "the only hope in American writing ... in twenty years."

The only people for me are the mad ones: the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who... burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow Roman candles. Jack Kerouac

It was Kerouac himself who coined the term beat; a word that traditionally meant used up or ruined. Kerouac used beat to describe himself and his group of his friends who didn't quite fit in with straight society after the Second World War ended. 

Canadian poet Leonard Cohen met Kerouac in the 1950's and Cohen's first public appearances as a poet were at jazz clubs in Montreal. 

Cohen's voice is just one of many you'll hear in the documentary "The Beat Generation." It first aired on CBC Radio in 1959 on the program Project 59

So, claws sharp, as the beats would say. (Stay well-informed.)

"Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life." -- Jack Kerouac

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