“The hipster world that Kerouac and Ginsberg drifted in and out of from the mid-forties to the early-fifties was an amorphous movement without ideology, more a pose than an attitude; a way of ‘being’ without attempting to explain why. Hipsters themselves were not about to supply explanations. Their language, limited as it was, was sufficiently obscure to defy translation into everyday speech. Their rejection of the commonplace was so complete that they could barely acknowledge reality. The measure of their withdrawal was their distrust of language. A word like ‘cool’ could mean any of a number of contradictory things—its definition came not from the meaning of the word but from the emotion behind it and the accompanying non-verbal facial or body expressions. When hipsters did put together a coherent sentence, it was always prefaced with the word ‘like’ as if to state at the onset that what would follow was probably an illusion. There was neither a future nor a past, only a present that existed on the existential wings of sound. A Charlie Parker bebop solo—that was the truth.”
Marty Jezer, in The Dark Ages: Life in the United States 1945–1960
Cover by Amir Darzi
If a man is crossing a river
And an empty boat collides with his own skiff,
Even though he be a bad-tempered man
He will not become very angry.
But if he sees a man in the boat,
He will shout at him to steer clear.
If the shout is not heard, he will shout again,
And yet again, and begin cursing.
And all because there is somebody in the boat.
Yet if the boat were empty,
He would not be shouting, and not angry.
If you can empty your own boat
Crossing the river of the world,
No one will oppose you,
No one will seek to harm you.
I’m a week late here, but this past March 12 would have been Jack Kerouac’s 90th birthday. Arguably the most influential writer of the 20th century, his lyrical prose made music of mere words. It’s tragic that he got so sad as he aged, but the truths he imparted upon the world before he left will echo for years to come.