The sun has barely set on Talk Like a Pirate Day, yet the UK’s Guardian is touting Talk Like a Beat Day. Set for October 7th, the staff admits that it’s their own invention, but they’re dead set on spreading the news in hopes of a latter-day --if for one day only-- beatnik revival.
October 7th is the date of the first official “Beat happening” in San Francisco, when Jack Kerouac used a wine jug to pound out an accompaniment to Allen Ginsberg’s recitations from “Howl.”
Gregory Corso may have said that “Three writers do not a generation make,” but the Beat Generation’s legacy moved far beyond the literary. The term “beatnik” --a portmanteau of ‘sputnik’ and ‘Beat,’ started being applied to anyone out of the mainstream, and, typical of the late ‘50s, potentially communist.
The stereotype became ubiquitous: a guy with a beret, goatee and a set of bongos hanging out with a long-haired chick in black leotards. Heavy, right?
The Beat invasion eventually reached even the Beverly Hillbillies, and for anyone who wants to skip the required reading, the episode “Clampetts a Go-Go” may be the best precis on Beat philosophy ever written:
Jethro: I’ve been goin’ to cool school
Granny: What kind of a fool school is cool school?
Jethro: It’s real groovy Granny. Why, already today I learned that I am one of the angry young men. How bout that?
Granny: Whatcha angry about?
Jethro: Well, uh, let’s see, uh. Oh, we got questions to ask about life, like uh, who am I, and where I'd come from, and where am I goin’. Them is angry young man questions.
Granny: Well, now you’re gonna get some angry old woman answers. You are Jethro Bodine, you just come outta there, and you're goin’ home to do your chores!
For those who’d like to pepper October 7th with more than a few “daddy-o’s” and “hep cats,” here’s a handy guide to beatnik slang.
For digging a little deeper, some recommended reading:
- On the Road by Jack Kerouac
- The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac
- Howl by Allen Ginsberg
- A Coney Island of the Mind: Poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
- The First Third by Neal Cassady
- Women of the Beat Generation: The Writers, Artists and Muses at the Heart of a Revolution by Brenda Knight
Don't forget to mark your calendar for Talk Like a Beat Day. Leave your favorite Beat expressions and book recommendations in the comments section --unless you're a square.