A Cup of Reflection For Auld Lang Syne
Jack Kerouac looking pretty wasted
This post was written by Tyler Thompson
Where are all the Broke-Ass brethren — the brothers and sisters who make up the flock of fall-down, wipe-it-off, shit-eating grin youth, broke but clinging to happiness with a swagger and a shot glass?
Does that sum this all up? If it does, I just thought I would say hello and mention how times have changed. There’ something inherently different in the air, some slant to the swagger that I never noticed before. I think it might be defiance unless it’s the whiskey talking. Or maybe it’s our God-given right to reach catch-me-if-you-can, blotto Nirvana, which seems a new twist to what has long been a tradition in this country: The romanticizing of poverty.
Some trace this back to Jack Kerouac’s immortal text, “On The Road,” which described jumping from one flop to another in a sweet, reckless, youthful adventure, a flop in those days being simply a place to sleep — a derivative of a flophouse.
More often than not in Kerouac’s case a flop was a night of curling up with a bottle and a pencil stub and some paper, because Kerouac was first and foremost a drinker, but second (and not far behind) a writer. He was constantly engaged in both.
Relationships with females for Kerouac ran a distant third to writing and boozing, both of which he did for as long as he could draw a breath.
By accident, Kerouac used to say, the Beat Generation of the 1950s morphed into the hippy movement of the 1960s, a movement from which he tried to disengage himself. He seemed troubled by the political expectations of the hippy hordes. He preferred parties and poetry to politics and used the Catholic Church as his default position to explain his nihilistic outlook.
Hippies were described as do-your-own-thing liberals in an age in which liberal meant, literally, liberating. Poetry and music were liberated from conformity, forced away from prior expectations by the emotions provoked by an unpopular war. Touching basis with the cosmos was also part of the program and it doesn’t get much more liberating than that, which implies a disengagement of one’s conscious mind with the help of some industrial strength party favors, like LSD, speed and cocaine.
Along with an unconventional style (in poetry, dress, music, lifestyle) hippies approached life with an embrace of poverty as a lifestyle — temporarily, as it turns out. Instead of bemoaning a lack of money, hippies were famous for the patched blue jeans, which turned worn out pants into a colorful garment, pants with a quilted look. Not bothering with a haircut was another nod toward living with little money to spare. Hippy pads included mattresses on the floor with little spent on furniture. Funds were dedicated to food, rent, drugs, music, and alcohol if that was your preference. A conventional status symbol like a new car was hard to come by and was too conventional a goal for most hippies, anyway. Peace, love and Dayglo were good enough in those days.
But being a non-conformist now seems like too much work. The age of the computer has produced many prominent overnight success stories, including Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and now Mark Zuckerberg, the world’s youngest billionaire, who looks drab rather than trend-setting in his customary T-shirt. The American ideal — the pursuit of money, that is — has huge appeal these days. Poverty pales in comparison to a start up in which the focus of non-conformity is a radical new app for an iPhone, not a political statement in any shape or form. President Obama’s ascension to the White House is a liberating gesture to say the least, but his administration has not seized the moment the way President Lydon Johnson did in 1964 with his “War on Poverty” speech. War veterans are now extolled, rather than shunned, as they were when they returned from the jungles of Vietnam.
Today non-conformity is represented by Angry Birds, which is practically the anti-game, the embrace of digital distraction through birds launched at collapsible scaffolding occupied by pigs. It is pointedly mindless — hardly as liberating as the synthetic mind-expansions of the 1960s and 1970s. Is this is what passes for the enlightening poetry of hippy era, the answer to “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” a Beatles song, or to any number of songs dedicated to surrealism and psychedelia.
It seems like a moral collapse to go from the idealism of Donovan’s lyrics (“first there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is”) to the punctilious thrill of knocking down scaffolding inhabited by swine, but one has to roll with the times, after all.
The poetic justice to be found here maybe the point that the generations will all meet up in the same rehabilitation centers someday. These are different times and there are different routes to get there, but there is only so much room for collapse, whether romanticized or not, before the fear of one too many indulgences takes hold.
But don’t stop partying on my account, as Neil Young might have said.
“Don’t let it bring you down,” Young sings. “It’s only castles burning” — a song that touches on the universal complexity of survival. Many of those who sang about the glories of partying or the liberation of the mind through drugs simply ended up searching for something more solid in a drug rehab center for men or in a 12-Step meeting somewhere. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t enjoy the ride.
I’ve been around that block and seen some of this first hand. I am the perfect age to look over my shoulder and see Kerouac stumbling home and to see the early graves of some of my rock n’ roll heroes and heroines. I know there are churches for lost souls out there and rooms full of people holding coffee cups, comforted by their communal and collective disarray. We are in this together. Oh, that sounds too corny. How about something traditional? For all those sweet, innocent shakers, makers, bakers and creators: “We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.”
Thank you Robert Burns. I couldn’t have said it better myself.