Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Angelheaded Hipsters

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz..."

Angelheaded Hipsters, just one of the evocative phrases created in Allen Ginsberg's Howl, has lent its name to a new display at the National Theatre. The display, organised by Corbis, features reproduction prints taken from Ginsberg's own archive, mostly dating from the early 50s.

I always like the Beats far more in theory than in practice. At 15, I remember reading On The Road and getting immensely frustrated: why can't they decide where to live? Why can't they get a job? And I wish they'd stop mucking their girlfriends about (yep, you can tell just how rebellious I was as a teen). A bit older and a bit more frustrated with life and I get it a little more - helped because they just look so darned cool.

This exhibition has captured my interest in the beats again, at least enough to invest in Carolyn Cassady's book. Only a few of the individual images stand out but as a whole it forms a great chronicle of the scene, the casual snapshots of a fascinating group of individuals, including Jack Kerouac (pictured at the top), William Burroughs and Robert Frank, whose documentary photos of 'real' America clearly influence these images.

Some of the images are annotated with Ginsberg's scrawl, such as this one showing Neal Cassady and his then girlfriend, Natalie Jackson, outside a movie theatre, one of my favourites from the show.

"Neal Cassady and his love of that year Natalie Jackson conscious of  their roles in Eternity, Market Street San Francisco.  Cassady had been prototype for Kerouac's late 1940's ON THE ROAD saga hero, Dean Moriarity, as in later 1960's he would take the wheel of Ken Kesey's psychedelic-era Crosscountry bus ""Further."" His illuminated American Automobile mania and erotic energy had already written his name in bright-lit signs  of our literary imagination before movies were made imitating his charm. That's why we stopped under the marquee to fix the passing hand on the watch, 1955."

 (via Twin)

In the image above an ordinary enough looking men, made noticeable for their poise and swagger and snapped in the prime of their youth ... the so-called best minds of a generation.

I learnt James Franco plays Ginsberg in Howl, released this February, charting its obscenity trial. And the beat goes on...

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