Tag Archives: Beat generation

Jack Kerouac – Tristessa: Love, Frenzy and Sadness in Mexico City

13 Aug

Even though I always proclaim On the Road as my favourite novel by Jack Kerouac, it is the novella Tristessa that most often comes to mind when thinking about Kerouac because the story of his wild impossible love, decaying souls in seedy streets of Mexico City where “a soul eats another soul in a never ending void”, addiction, prostitution and poverty is so damn haunting, poignant and beautiful, from a literary point of view.

The novel starts in a chic Kerouac way, with him driving in a taxi with Tristessa, drunk, with a bottle of Juarez Bourbon in his hand, in a Mexico City on a rainy Saturday night. “Tristessa” is Kerouac’s name for a young prostitute and a morphine addict whose real name was Esperanza Villanueva.

It always puzzled me why he decided to change her name from Esperanza (“hope” in Spanish) to Tristessa (“tristeza” meaning “sadness” in Spanish), but the change, admittedly, makes the title sound cooler. Beauty of Kerouac’s writings often contrasts with the gritty reality he is describing, but he lived among that low-life and misfits and that gives his book a genuine flair. For example, he describes Tristessa as a beautiful, enchanting girl with high cheekbones and a sad face expression that speaks of resignation. In real life, she looked like a drug addict; ill, frail and weary. Other characters are also morphine addicts, pimps and thieves. In that shabby room where a hen, a dove, a rooster and a cat walk freely, a room with a leaking roof, posters of Mexican pin-ups on the wall, a dirty mattress, and candles on the little altar of virgin Mary, there Kerouac realises that birth and death are the same empty dream. There is too much restlessness in him to fully accept the idea, but Tristessa’s soul is full of beautiful resignation, she has nothing and wants nothing, choosing to walk through life mute on every suffering that comes. There’s something beautiful in that fragility, life stripped to its essence; painful and pointless without any pretending that it’s not true. Reading about Tristessa’s suffering is poignant, it makes you feel you want to reach out and help her, but you can’t. Kerouac’s novels burst with characters of sad, lost, vulnerable souls, fragile as poppy flowers that gently dance in the wind and yet, if you pick them, their petals fall, too fragile to live anywhere apart from the meadow. So, leave them there, on a vibrant green meadow, leave them to dance their short waltz and die in silence, you cannot help them.

In Tristessa, Kerouac describes with his typical vibrant, at parts poignant and sad, at parts fun and wild rock ‘n’ roll writing style a fragile period in time. Even though he returned to Mexico City two years after, nothing was the same. The mystical flair from the first few pages, that of candlelight and statue of Madonna, leaking roof, morphine and a hen, disappear quickly and turn into grey hopelessness and poverty of the slums. Kerouac drunk, Kerouac sober. Glamour stripped away. Sadness lingers. I’ve never been drunk in my life, and yet I feel “drunk” after reading Kerouac.

And now a few quotes:

It starts raining harder, I’ve got a long way to go walking and pushing that sore leg right along in the gathering rain, no chance no intention whatever of hailing a cab, the whiskey and the Morphine have made me unruffled by the sickness of the poison in my heart.

***

I play games with her fabulous eyes and she longs to be in a monastery.

***

She is giving me my life back and not claiming it for herself as so many of the women you love do claim.

***

And a wonderful, inspiring sentence to end the novel:

I’ll go to the south of Sicily in the winter, and paint memories of Arles – I’ll buy a piano and Mozart me that – I’ll write long sad tales about people in the legend of my life – This part is my part of the movie, let’s hear yours

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A Little Bit About Pollock, Kerouac and Beatniks

29 Dec

To whom shall I hire myself out? What beast should I adore? What holy image is attacked? What hearts shall I break? What lies shall I uphold? In what blood tread?‘ (Arthur Rimbaud, A Season in Hell – The Drunken Boat)

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAJackson Pollock in 1949

If you’d take a moment to think about the 1950s culture (in USA), I bet that the first things that would pop up in your mind would be film-stars such as Marylin Monroe and James Dean, drive-in cinemas, television, milkshakes, baby boom, suburban homes… Today, the 1950s seem like an idyllic decade, especially if we observe the cultural products of the time. Well not really. It was quite a restrictive and claustrophobic society to live in. Below the surface, this perfect society was hiding the beginning of the cold war, nuclear threats, McCarthysm, racial segregation etc. American reality of the 1950s was a picture of duality and hypocrisy. Medias portrayed it as they wished it to be, but something deviant and magical lay hidden beneath the surface. Every society has outsiders, the misfits, individuals that don’t belong. As an alternative to the perfect ’50s world, a different reality emerged, mostly related to artists, musicians, writers, actors and bohemians from the East and West coast of the States. This group was later named Beat generation, after a quote by Jack Kerouac.

1950. Lavender Mist Number 1 - Jackson PollockLavender Mist Number 1 – Jackson Pollock, 1950

World of Beat generation was a forerunner of the hippie counterculture that characterised the 1960s. World of Beatniks is a world of real characters immersed in Jazz, Be-Bop, marijuana, opium, amphetamine, Native American tradition of enjoying hallucinogenic substances, Mexico, prostitution, race mixing, reveries about Europe; it’s a world whose members have a strong desire to live, and are thus in conflict with the Western world which is striving for possession of material goods. Besides the well known beat generation authors such as Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, there were other artists unrelated to Beat generation who lived and created in the same spirit and embraced same ideas.

1948. Jackson Pollock, No. 6, 1948 - Jackson PollockJackson Pollock, No. 6, Jackson Pollock, 1948

One of those young people was Jackson Pollock, an important figure in abstract expressionism or ‘action painting’. He believed in the necessity of spontaneous impulse.The way Pollock painted is specific; he would put large canvases on the floor, meditate over them, and finally he would drip fluid paint on the canvas. As the canvases were large, he would walk right into them, becoming a part of the painting, rather than the creator of it. He said himself: Every good painter paints what he is.

Just like Chinese calligraphy, these paintings needed to be painted fast. They mustn’t be pre-devised, on the contrary, they must resemble a spontaneous outburst. Behind this requirement of artists and critics lies the influence not only of Chinese art, but the influence of all Far East mysticism, especially of Zen Buddhism. Part of the doctrine of Zen Buddhism is that one can’t be enlightened unless one is radically kicked out of routine of rational way of thinking. Opening quote by Arthur Rimbaud was written on the wall of studio of Lee Krasner, Pollock’s wife and a fellow painter. Poets like Rimbaud never go out of fashion because what they wrote can be translated in any era. Unfortunately, Lee neglected her career in order to help Pollock in his.

Whilst writing this post, Kerouac’s long poem ‘Mexico City Blues’ lingers in my mind. I am about to read it, and I thought it would be interesting to get in the mood of Beatniks for the occasion. Here are some pictures that remind me of beatniks and Kerouac’s novels:

1946. Café Scene - Raphael Soyer Café Scene, by Raphael Soyer, 1946

1940s Beatnik style ladyBeatnik style lady, 1940s

1953. Joyce Holden 'Girls in the Night', Universal, beatnikJoyce Holden ‘Girls in the Night’, Universal, 1953

1958. London Beat girl~ baggy jumper and pencil skirt to the knee. Late 50s-early 60s style, beatnikLondon Beat girl, 1958

1946. Too much liquor in Kansas, beatnikToo much liquor in Kansas, 1946

1950s Parisian Beatniks Hanging Out on Bank of the SeineParisian Beatniks Hanging Out on Bank of the Seine, 1950s

1950s Jackson Pollock and Lee KrasnerJackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, 1950s

1950s Helen Frankenthaler and her paintingsPainter Helen Frankenthaler sitting amidst her art in her studio. Location New York, 1956

For the end I’d like to share a quote by Helen Frankenthaler, a fellow abstract-expressionism painter who died a few years ago: There are no rules. That is how art is born, how breakthroughs happen. Go against the rules or ignore the rules. That is what invention is about.

My Inspirations for March

5 Apr

In March my focus was still on music, but a very well known artist caught my attention – Van Gogh. (He was born on 30. March 1853., so his birthday was a few days ago.) His life seems so sad and his paintings mirrored the pain he lived with. I love the song La Tristesse Durera (Scream to a sigh) by Manic Street Preachers and I’m mentioning this song because these words, loosely translated as ‘The sadness persists’, are Vincent Van Gogh’s last words. Imagine what kind of sadness he was struggling with that even his last words were about sadness. I’ve also been reading Rimbaud and Verlaine this month and I’ve read Kerouac’s On the Road – a book I’ve been fascinated with. Beat generation inspired me to live now; at the moment.

1889. The Starry Night - van gogh

1888.  Vase with 12 sunflowers by van Gogh

1888. Bedroom in Arles by Van Gogh

1888. Self-Portrait with Straw Hat - Van Gogh

1871. Arthur Rimbaud

1896. The Garden of Death - Hugo Simberg (Finnish) a

1940s actresses

1940s Saddle Shoes and wool skirts

1940s black velvet cocktail length dress hat shoes full skirt square neckline

on the road