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Contents | About | Issue 1 2 | Print | © CATEGORY:� thoughts
AUTHOR:� ED ZAHNISER

Today's Goth and the Stream of Beat Culture

I have followed Apocalypse Playground with great admiration and interest since its premier issue. My early teenaged years took place during the popularization of Beatnik culture in the late 1950s and right before the intense culture shock of the Viet Nam nonwar police action in Southeast Asia. I see the Goth stream as a possible inheritor of the Beat stream of culture. It would seem that the jazz and be-bop culture that influenced the Beats has its counterpart for Goth in the role-playing and fantasy culture of the Goth.

In the 1950s, the only sort of fantasy apparently available to the dominant, White culture-based Beat reaction was the fantasy that there might be some value system other than the monolithic middle class culture's value system. The jazz influence probably stems in part from its improvisational character. We don't think of the 1950s as an improvisational time, but that is partly stereotypic. And the musical culture was of jazz was apart from the mainstream and sufficiently subcultural to have its own genre of jazz musician jokes.

I say "the only sort of fantasy apparently available" because in fact African American music, with the advent of Elvis on Sun Records, was just then injecting a multi-culture element into the mainstream, but that was to become Rock `n Roll and was only coming on then as what would subsequently be called "youth culture."

Beat culture, by contrast, developed out of an urban post-college venue beginning in the mid-1950s. Beats did not swoon over Elvis; that came later and for younger folks. But today's geezer-Beat poet laureate Allen Ginsberg has often expressed great respect for the King's accomplishments.

Do Goths wear black? You bet, and the Beat garb could be black beret, black pants, and black sweater or sweatshirt--with bongo drums on the side. It is probably not entirely coincidental that we are in the midst of both Goth and a Beat nostalgia revival, the latter apparently fueled by 20-somethings. Today's collector can get more of the works of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and William Burroughs in one purchase of a couple CDs atIntergalactic Garage here in Shepherdstown than an enterprising aficionado could have put together in several years of collecting way back (!) in the mid 1980s.

Ironically, a Punk nostalgia revival already is surfacing. Unlike the chronological gap between Goth and the original Beat flowering, however, this so-called "Punk nostalgia" comes so much closer on the heels (or hair spikes?) of its own root phenomenon that the term sounds like an oxymoron or built-in contradiction. Such are the patterns of our culture.

Apocalypse Playground is a print phenomenon and as such it is still not cut that far adrift of the culture of Modernism set almost single-handedly by the American poet and expatriate to Europe, Ezra Pound. Pound was born in the 19th century but has had more influence on 20th-century literary discourse than any other single person.

If the later poems of William Butler Yeats read somewhat modern to you, that was because Pound served as his secretary and turned the elder poet's work right around. T.S. Eliot? Pound championed his early work and heavily edited Eliot's signature poem "The Waste Land" to its final print shape. Robert Frost? Pound championed him and secured his first influential publications.

Pound, Eliot, Frost, and Apocalypse Playground can be said to co-exist in their shared discourse of irony, that fundamental attitude of Modernism. Attitude? Beat? Punk? Goth? We will only be truly cut adrift of the Modernist tradition when we let go of irony.

In the meantime, if Apocalypse Playground ever needs to apply for a federal government grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, it can cite its culture stream as an important update of tradition.

Now that would definitely be ironic! And Goth!



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"If Man scorns Nature, so you think he would care about Words?" �- Thomas Moore, Utopia