When I was a kid of 8 or 9 years old, I found one of my curious youthful obsessions to be that of the beatnik stereotype. I had no real understanding of the Beats. Never read or really knew about Kerouac or Ginsberg. But the image of the beat(nik) as outsider or oddball connected immediately with my alien kinder mentality.
It's cheerfully ironic that a parody--or Hollywood portrayal of an outsider group, meant to lessen their impact--can actually inspire one to copy its outside and outsider attractions. Thus it was for my pre-teen hep-cat identity. I didn't know that the term beatnik was actually like a racial slur. Credited as being coined by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen, his dismissive term was a combo of Beat and Sputnik, suggesting the new trend was a merger of Cool and Commie. Like the later Hip or Hipster being turned into Hippie. Or even the N word. A slur, which ultimately embraces those named, rather than ridiculed. Want to know why a President, Senator, or Reverend is assassinated? A truth loving investigator is turned into a Conspiracy Buff. Well sign me up, Daddy O Trotsky. I'm an underage, card-carrying, cool cat!
Once again, I have to credit that publication of subversive activity, MAD Magazine, for starting me On the Road. Their artistic interpretations of the Beat Lifestyle, through the drawings of Mort Drucker and the masterworks of Kelly Freas, drew me into the dark coffee houses of Suburban Bohemia. How many times did their beat parodies of square entertainment make wish to enter a smoke filled club, lit only by candles in chianti bottles?
As a pre-teen, of course, I never had the opportunity to enter a real or even unreal coffee house. But as a child sitting in the back seat of my parents' car, we drove past them on our many weekend excursions. In hyper-dull Orange County, the Coolsville establishments stuck out beside the Pep Boys stores. I remember one called Dracula's Den, way, way out, Daddy, outside of Fullerton, near Yorba Linda. And as we headed to the Drysville desert, there was one outside of Riverside called Diogenes' Lantern. How prophetic was that?! Hermes. The Mercury Players. The Nun of the Abode, the Nun of the Above...the logo for my Graven Images. It all fits, dear friends.
Still, the full understanding of Being Beat was beyond my youthful ignorance. My older sister hung around with Kool Kids, but not as anti-establishment as I would become. But still, her influence was there: being four years older than me, she was in the Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb crowd. That 77 Sunset Strip vibe, I think. I remember the fad of wearing Tikis, carved, wooden, on a leather bracelet around your neck. Did this come from Hawaiian Eye? Connie Stevens and Troy Donahue? Surfside Six and Bourbon Street Beat. Those ABC TV shows of the late Fifties! So back to Mad Magazine to jive it up.
Being too young for the taste of coffee, I decided to open up a Beatnik Lemonade Stand. Dressed like the Mad Magazine illustrations and inspired by Dracula's Den (was this in Brea?), King Kong's Korner opened for business on a small street in Fullerton. I think I even had a melted candle in a chianti bottle. How did I pull that off?
Not sure, Kats and Kittens. But bella donnas in berets and black leotards with bongos and be-bop, these give me comfort.
I Dig You the Most. With Love from Dreamsville on Cloud Number 8 (close to benign). :)