Pop Culture
Pop Culture: Articles for the Scripps Howard News Service & "Seen, Heard, Said"

Why the top-365-songs list isn't a stupid idea

Actors sink their teeth into vampire roles

Gregory Corso: My encounter with a Beat legend

Golden Globes: Sleazy and proud of it

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"NYPD Blue" opener: The misery continues

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"West Wing," "Ally," et al.: Words, words, words

When TV shows outstay their welcome

Film critics dig their own graves with "Angels" review

Great Robert Altman films you never
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Famous folk, next week in the arts, show business briefs

"Time regained": Proust in the multiplex

Glitterati is dead, long live Popfocus

Carl Barks: The man who put the ducks in Duckburg

"Almost Famous": Lester Bangs rises from the dead

Liz Hurley wins in war of words with Jane mag

Douglas poses with Zeta-Jones, and baby-makes three

Weddings that aren't: Douglas, Zeta-Jones, Madonna, Ritchie

The Emmy War: A half-century of coast-to-coast feuding

Jennifer Love Hewitt plays the Iglesias odds

It's raining books by and about Trumps

What's in a mane? Blond woman in the news

Liz Hurley denies dissing ex-beau

Rock Hall of Infamy: Anti-heroes from Elvis to Eminem

Barbra tix bankrupt fans

Laurels for Kathie Lee to rest on

Hillary "In bed" with De Niro, Cruise, Kidman

How "Sopranos," "West Wing" will divvy up awards

This just in: Donald Trump is not a dope

Walter Matthau: A rumpled old dog in the heart of the city

Sampras to take a stroke at wedding bells

Who wants to host "Monday Night Football"?

Queen rewards Tina Brown for demoralizing American readers

How the Korean War cane to TV land 20 years late

Ivanka Trump: From catwalk to commencement line

Lester Bangs: The troublesome punk who wouldn't die

Rags clash over Ted Turner "romance"

With straight face, Trump deems Marla's move "tacky"

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Madonna in denial, and rightly so

"Suburbia": The continental subdivide

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Easter video viewing: "Spartacus" to "Harvey"

Billy’s in the news: Bob, Joel in love but not with other

"Charles's Angels" movie: Dispiriting news for old-time fans

Innovative career move for 'NYPD Blue' co-star

Top model: Why I gave oldish rocker husband the heave-ho

Unpleasantville: The awful truth about old-time TV families

Tina Brown held captive in desert by demanding children

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Oscar telecast: Looking for a few good hosts

"Lambs," "Beauty": Oscar's love affair with unacceptable behavior

Brad Pitt, Oscar to be in same room at same time

Letterman bites guest-host bullet: Andrew "Dice" Clay, call your agent

Seinfeld eyes East Hampton manse: Where's the welcome wagon?

"Mod Squad" Immortal dishes couple du jour

Brad Pitt's second thoughts about Oscar

Mike McCurry praises "West Wing": It's not entirely demeaning,,,"

Memo to "Hannibal" producers: Get Najimy while the getting's good

Don't Invite Gwyneth and Oscar to the same party

True or false: Douglas, Zeta-Jones don't even know each other

Ex-Clinton honcho linked to ex-"Cheers" costar

Third party cited in Trump-Knauss breakup

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20th century's No. 1 hit: "Satisfaction" hits the spot

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Charlie Brown, Pogo and me

From Howdy to Charlie Brown, we hate to say goodbye

The Beatle George: While his guitar gently weeps

Jodie Foster's people in mild tiff with CBS

A Peanuts trivia Q&A

Publicist: Boyle still joined at hip

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"The future is now": Hit rewind

Whitney Houston presides over confluence of talent

Jim Carrey's flack earns A "D," Cher's A "B-minus"

Geraldo: bye-bye, doghouse

Michael Douglas does nothing much, reporters go wild

Ricky Martin on Menudo: Look back in anger

How to outsmart Halloween crowds at the video store

Tom Cruise puts himself in harm's way, only not really

1800-1900: Steaming towards revolution

1700-1800: Liberty, equality and bloodshed

1600-1700: The earth moves; North America is settled

Trump mulls travel plans, from altar to White House

"Faces of Impressionism" Time machine made of canvas, paint

Major quakes aren't personal unless they happen to you

Brad Pitt gracious about character assassination

Director insists Harrison Ford is not a brainless hulk

Costner, Willis, Douglas. Branagh, Sting_ in that order

Streisand: Color her ready to plug her new album

Julia and Benjamin's rings devoid of significance, flack says

Literary mud wrestling, featuring Geri and The Spice Girls

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She married a monster from outer space

Never mind Godzilla VS. Mothra, Here's Trump VS. Cronkite

Spurned by Pitt, Redford pays court to Damon

Celebrity coyness is bustin' out all over

"Detroit Rock City": Kiss of death

Talk is cheap? Not with Tina Brown at the helm

The Beats: Remembered, Lionized and Unread

Real estate beat, starring Woody Allen and Donald Trump

Mood Music, or how we learned to stop worrying

Sex in the cinema: From "Last Tango" to "Eyes Wide Shut"

Two easy steps to looking exactly like Ricky Martin

Close encounters of the Muppet kind

Upcoming Brad Pitt movie not garbage, insiders say

Kathie Lee's eyewear excites Islanders' ire

Back to the future, continued

"Wild Wild West": Buck Rogers in the 19th century

Sculptures by Roy Lichtenstein: Fun, Fun, Fun

An expert's verdict:" Austin Powers" is pretty neat

Click here for pointless celebrity gossip

P. Dempsey Tabler of the jungle: The many faces of Tarzan

Kirk Douglas' Ex tells all about Errol Flynn fling

New twist in TV programming: Ax profitable shows

Private jet fees spell the end for another celebrity union

Killer serials: "Flash," "Buck" and a boy named George Lucas

Top nonfiction books: A message from two old men

Celebrity Dream dreams: Monica, Donald, Barbara, Georgette

Two divas, publicist form bizarre show-biz triangle

Johnny Cash tribute: Ring of fire, ring of friends

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Grande Dame Eyes MGM Grand Gig

Secretive celebs? Not by a long shot

NBC honcho bristles at notion that Brokaw is not a saint

Barbara Walters not keen on daily dose of Monica

"Seen, Heard, Said"

David Letterman, Donald Trump, Eddie Murphy, Elton John

Madonna, Frank Sinatra, Prince Charles, Maj, Ronald Ferguson, Fergie, Miranda Richardson, Brad Pitt, Juliette Lewis, Axl Rose, Stephanie Seymour

July 28,1999


By ROGER ANDERSON Scripps Howard News Service

For a good 40 years now, Beat literature - the works of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Gary Snyder, Gregory Corso, Michael McClure and others - has sat, a big indigestible lump, in the belly of American high culture.

From the first appearance of Ginsberg's "Howl and Other Poems" in 1956 and of Kerouac's novel "On the Road" in '57, with Burroughs' "Naked Lunch" following in 1960, serious literary critics have fastidiously declined to take the Beats' rough writing edges and sopping wet passions seriously.

Popular culture is a different story. The Beatles put Burroughs on the cover of “Sgt. Pepper." Ginsberg made a cameo appearance in the Bob Dylan documentary "Don't Look Back." A generation later, 10,000 Maniacs recorded a song titled "Jack Kerouac." Keith Richards once tried to kick heroin using Burroughs' "apomorphine cure." And Rolling Stone magazine, almost from its earliest issue in 1969, always treated the Beats like the “elder statesmen" of hippiedom they claimed to be.

So the appearance of a big anthology titled "The Rolling Stone Book of the Beats: The Beat Generation and American Culture," edited by Holly-George Warren (Hyperion, $27.50), is pretty much a matter of the choir preaching to the choir.

The book dauntingly contains more than 60 entries, ranging from a new essay by Michael McClure to a lengthy critical assessment of the whole Beat book bag by Richard Meltzer. Also included is some interesting perspective from Carolyn Cassady (wife of Neal Cassady, model for Kerouac's "On the Road" hero), analyses by various writers and artists, an absorbing cartoon history of the Beats in New York by Rick Bleier, irrelevant jottings by celebrities like Johnny Depp, old Rolling Stone reviews of Beat books and records and far too many pictures of an aged Burroughs in the company of such acolytes as Michael Stipe, Patti Smith and David Bowie. Perhaps most welcome and significant is the late Lester Bangs' eloquent obituary for Kerouac, published in Rolling Stone.

Yet the book pretty much leaves the Beat conundrum where it was to begin with: We're still left with the task of understanding how the Beats can be fitted into the world of American letters and thought occupied by Melville, Whitman, Emerson, Faulkner and Eliot.

The inclusion of Meltzer's long critique raises some hopes. Meltzer, like Bangs (who died in 1982), is a true inheritor of the Beat spirit. Freewheeling, drunk with words, perverse and of crazy insight, he's like a nihilistic Kerouac eking out a living writing for RS, Creem, Crawdaddy, the Village Voice and other alternative publications.

One of the very few things Meltzer has ever taken seriously is Beat writing. He truly loves the stuff. "Reading Beat literature," he writes here, "calms (soothes) me the way Buddhism - or let's say Buddhist literature - or even Walt Whitman - can't (or doesn't). Or maybe I don't let it, but I let Beat. Soothes me the way watching the rain can. Or a cat washing himself."

Believe it or not, this is one of the most cogent critical remarks anyone has ever made about Beat writing - and since it's cogent only to a very limited degree, the problem is obvious.

But Meltzer's assessment is a letdown because he can't stay serious long enough to dig into all of the books and poems he knows so well. Instead, he dismisses Gary Snyder's work, hasn't much to say about Gregory Corso's and gives short shrift to such Kerouac masterworks as "Doctor Sax" and "Visions of Cody."

He does recognize that Kerouac's novel "Big Stir" - a terrifying true account of a drinking binge ending in delirium tremens - is a work of astonishing honesty and power. It would be better if Meltzer went on to admit that entire long passages of the novel are sheer claptrap, because that mixture in Kerouac and the Beats of the sublime and the lame is one of the things that keep the Beat lump indigestible. (Another is their lack of literary decorum.)

William Faulkner's novels may be the most likely jumping-off point for a serious critical appraisal of the Beats, especially of Kerouac. Although the great Mississippi writer doesn't seem to have been much of an influence on the Beats (they almost never even mention his books in their own writings), the nature of their work makes you think they sat at his feet. A look at "Absalom, Absalom!," "The Sound and the Fury" and other Faulkner books turns up the same endless, headlong sentences and maniacal absorption in sensory detail that Kerouac unreels in "Visions of Cody," "Doctor Sax," "The Railroad Earth" and "Tristessa."

Also, Faulkner and Kerouac are alike insofar as big portions of their books are pure drivel. Take Faulkner's "Requiem for a Nun": never has a book contained such a dissonant mixture of great lyrical writing and embarrassing grandiloquence, much like "Big Stir" and "Cody."

If Faulkner can be taken seriously, so can Kerouac.

The one thing no one seems to be doing is really looking at the books themselves. What you find yourself reading about is the Beat lifestyle, not the Beat work. Out of all the rock stars and artists who made pilgrimages to Burroughs' home, which of them knows his novels well enough to point out that "The Wild Boys" is an imagistic classic of American literature, or that substantial portions of such denigrated Burroughs fiction as "The Soft Machine" and "The Ticket that Exploded” are powerful and uncanny, worth reading and rereading?

Ginsberg himself is the one escapee from this critical black hole, mainly because his epic poem, "Kaddish," in memory of his mentally ill mother and her squalid death, is now recognized as one of the great American poems of the century even by poets and writers who hold respectable academic positions and get published in The New Yorker. Burroughs would seem to be in a similar position based on “Naked Lunch," which is invariably named as one of the remarkable and influential books since World War II. The problem is that when you press people, it always turns out they haven't read it.

The lump won't and can't be digested until readers take the trouble to know the books and poems the Beats produced. And it's high time that more "respectable" writers - Thomas Pynchon comes forcefully to mind - who have obviously been influenced by Kerouac and Burroughs should come out of the closet and acknowledge their debt. Until the reading gets done and the writing follows, the Beats will continue to be a mere gallery of wonders in the prehistory of hippie culture.

Roger Anderson is arts and entertainment editor at Scripps Howard News Service.

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