The Beat Generation
Rhino Records, three-CD set
In a conversation with John Clellon Holmes in 1948, Jack Kerouac said of his disaffected, angst-ridden friends, “We’re a beat generation!” He grew awfully tired over the next two decades of hearing his quip mockingly applied to every feckless college kid who grew a goatee or wore a beret. The beats inspired enormous amounts of ephemera, but they also left behind a solid corpus of genuine literary merit.
This collection contains ample amounts of both. After perhaps one too many perky jazz themes by musicians with questionable beat credentials, along comes William Burroughs to growl an excerpt from Naked Lunch and blow them all away. Jack Kerouac, his voice soft and lisping, recites with enough vigor and lilt and music to shock anyone who has struggled through his printed work.
There are oddities here—Rod McKuen versifying beat-style, Perry Como vaguely attempting bebop—as well as gems from hard-to-find masters like Lord Buckley and Slim Gaillard. Allen Ginsberg climaxes the anthology with a sly reading of his poem “America”; and a picturepacked fifty-six-page booklet documents it all. The Beat Generation is a fascinating, lively chronicle of a literary and social movement whose influence persists today, and of American society’s confused, ambivalent reaction to it.