The book was first published in 1946. It’s by Mezz Mezzrow and Bernard Wolfe and is about as Beat as anything I’ve ever read, although it predates the ‘Beats’ per se. Mezz was a white clarinet player from Chicago who befriended ‘the race’ when sent
to reform school. He never really went back to white America. He became good friends with Louis Armstrong. He’s known as well for introducing weed to Harlem. It has a great index and an appendix of hipster lingo such as:
Beat: exhausted, broke
Bunk Habit: practice of lounging around while others smoke opium and inhaling the fumes
Collar a nod: get some sleep
Cop a Slave: get a job
The book came to my attention when shortly after being dumfounded by the discovery of Lord Buckley (His Royal Hipness, Discovery 71001 on cd) and his Be-bop stand up routines complete with weed references, recorded in 1951, I exclaimed at a party- Where did he (and the obvious tradition he was a part of) come from? An old hoot (with all respect) by the name of Oz Janiger chimed in- “You need to read Really The Blues”. -Man!- this book is a missing link. It blew my mind. I guess mainly because it attaches the Beats backwards to the swing era and the beat Blacks who were floating around underground making all kinds of wild music and language.
While I’m at it, from Really The Blues I go backwards with a book called Garrets and Pretenders- A History of Bohemianism in America by Albert Parry, written in 1933, and backwards from there to…
The Banquet Years- Origins of the avant-garde in France 1885 to World War l, by Roger Shattuck. Is this where the Beats began?
Covers Alfred Jarry, Henri Rousseau, Erik Satie, Guillaume Apollinaire and the zeitgeist of the day. Fascinating!
I go forward from the Beats to Kesey and his crew with Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, where we find our hero Neal Cassady behind the wheel of Furthur. Then Neal and Jack die and the whole thing sort of comes to an end for me. I mean, the thread of that tradition that you can trace back to the Montmartre of Paris in the 1880s. But you know, I’m older now, not paying as much attention. Can anyone point to where the juice went? My pet theory, ala McLuhan, is that now we live in Internet Culture and the global village and all that, so things are really quite different and we get Raves instead of Beat Movements.