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John F. Kennedy at NYU

‘Make It Shine, Make It Move Forward,’ Jack Tells Students

An estimated crowd of 3500, held in check by a small army of police, gathered in front of NYU’s Loeb Student Center on Washington Square South last Thursday to hear a fast, hard-hitting attack on the Republican administration by Senator John Kennedy.

The highly-vocal crowd con­sisted mostly of students, Villag­ers from the vicinity, and three busloads of newsmen traveling with the Presidential candidate’s entourage. There were so many blue-jacketed police accompany­ing Kennedy that they resembled a Union cavalry charge on motor­cycles as they swept down the street.

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“This race is between comfort and concern,” the blond, tanned Kennedy began, speaking from a convertible which also bore Car­mine G. DeSapio. “Let’s see what eight Republican years have done,” Kennedy went on briskly. “We have had three recessions. We are running at only 50 per cent of steel capacity. There are approximately 4 ½ million out of work. And our world position has deteriorated so badly the Admin­istration won’t release the facts.”

The audience lining the side­walks and standing in the park found it difficult to hear Ken­nedy. The Senator obligingly went up to the roof of the student center where microphones had been set up for him.

Image of Uncertainty

“The issues which separate Nixon and I are clear and sharp,” Kennedy continued from the higher altitude. “Nixon has said ‘we never had it so good’ or ‘pres­tige has never been so high.’ I could not disagree more. We will no longer be the leader of the free world unless we regain the confidence of the world. We have an image of uncertainty.”

A small but vociferous group of Nixon boosters in the crowd began to chant: “Nixon will win.”

Kennedy never smiled. But leaning into the microphone he said to them softly: “I’m afraid he won’t.”

Returning to Nixon and the Republican record, Kennedy said: “I don’t think a man who has had 40 accidents should be given a new driver’s license.” He went on to criticize sharply the Re­publican handling of African and Asian affairs, stating the Admin­istration had “shamefully” neg­lected the opportunity to bring foreign students here and send American teachers abroad.

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As Kennedy concluded his rap­id-fire indictment of Republicanism, he pointed to what appeared to be a large group of students who were cheering him across the itreet. “How many of you will be willing to pick this country up,” he asked “make it shine — make it move forward again?”

The Kennedy columns closed ranks again, roaring off to another speech amid shrieking sirens and a broken chant from the students of “Let’s back Jack.” ❖

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The Beats: Mailer Vs. Kerouac

Books: The Beats

The idea that Jack Kerouac and Norman Mailer are mutually excludable from each other’s Beat Generation is, of course, one that is engendered by and subject to many doubts. Now, however, Seymour Krim dispels the idea entirely. At least, he finds both Kerouac and Mailer mutually includable in his Beat Generation, which he defines in broad proportions in his new anthology, “The Beats.” But actually Kerouac and Mailer have long been literary brothers, even if under each other’s skin. Which one founded the Beat Generation and which one merely found it is just a matter of semantics. Kerouac named it Beat and Mailer calls it Hip, but both have been equally perceptive and outspoken in their presagement, reporting, and defense of it, if not equally maligned.

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Mountains of Abuse

One has only to read the reviews of Kerouac’s works to see the mountain of abuse heaped on him. But one also has only to read his works to see the capability his soul has for suffering such abuse. “Kerouac is beautiful! Don’t you see that?” asks Allen Ginsberg, Kerouac’s close friend. “… I mean he has a real quality of soulful magician and artful kindness, a willingness to be talked to and communicate, even drunk, knowing the lie of fate — he comes through anyway — ” And it’s true. Despite a sensitivity of criticism which is painfully manifest, Kerouac continues to stand, unhidden, as he really is, in his writing and in his person, the butt of derision which comes from deep and rigid misunderstanding. Even in the face of the most hopeless and intransigent laughter, he presents his own true face, inviting more.

Mailer, although his own suffering is no less apparent, has the lingering reputation of a more traditional success to buffer him. Not that he is any less outspoken.

A Trend

In any event, Kerouac went on the road to discover that the Beatness he had encountered in New York has what the less ethereally inclined would call a trend. He found it everywhere that his thumb and various other vehicles would take him, and the distances he traveled are well documented. Kerouac’s discovery of the Beat Generation was at a grass-roots level, a term that seems strangely compatible with trend.

As for Mailer, although his research probably was no less empirical, it seems to have been at other levels. Perhaps it might be concluded that, in one way, Mailer found in his own mind what Kerouac found throughout America.

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First Wind

This does not detract from the value of either Kerouac’s “On the Road” or Mailer’s “The White Negro,” both of which were the first wind of a second revolution in this century, moving not forward toward action and more rational equitable distribution, but backward toward being and the secrets of human energy,” to borrow a phrase from Mailer. With due consideration given to John Clellon Holmes’ novel, “Go,” and his subsequent article, “This is the Beat Generation,” printed in the New York Times as long ago as 1952, it was these two works, “On the Road” and “The White Negro,” which were the first cogent explanations of the strange new Hip mysticism of the Beat Generation of any length and of any significant audience, (Ginsberg’s “Howl,” more of a manifesto, was something else again.) So close, in fact, were Kerouac and Mailer in their thinking that Kerouac, until he learned “The White Negro” was published prior to “On the Road,” considered Mailer’s work a precis of his own. But then Kerouac has had good reason for his anxiety over the proprietorship of his ideas. One of his most bitter complaints is that not only has his meaning of Beat been corrupted but his authorship of the term has even been challenged.

Kerouac and Mailer, of course, have been between the same sheets before. They appeared together in another anthology, “The Beat Generation and the Angry Young Men,” edited by Gene Fledman and Max Gartenberg, which included “The White Negro” and selections from “On the Road.” Unhappily, but probably necessarily, “The Beats” doesn’t include “The White Negro.” Instead it includes a piece from “The Deer Park,” which is somewhat less than Beat in its message and much less in its style, but which is from a body of writing upon which Mailer is willing to stake his reputation with prosperity. (This seems to be a good point to note that “On the Road,” if it hasn’t already been recognized as a literary landmark, soon will. It is the turning point of the 1960’s.)

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The chief complaint against the Feldman and Gartenberg anthology was from the Beats themselves, who insisted that the selections were not entirely representative of them and, in some cases, misrepresentative. The same criticism might apply to Krim’s anthology. But then, one of the selections under attack is “The Beat Generation and the Angry Young Man” was that of Mailer.

The difficulty is that there are many who claim that they are Beat and many who claim they are not with equal emptiness. And then there are those like Chandler Brossard and Anatole Broyard who are neither Beat nor claim to be and who were included first in Feldman’s and Gartenberg’s book and who now are included in Krim’s. Brossard may have, as Krim says he has, “a cool eye.” Broyard may be, as Krim says, “a white-collar Beat.” They may both even be Hip. Certainly their writing make them see so. But the same might be said for J.D. Salinger and he’s printed in the New Yorker. 

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Best and Worst

Otherwise Krim presents some of the Beat writing such as selections from Kerouac’s “Visions of Cody,” and some of the worst, such as Dan Propper’s “The Fable of the Final Hour.” It is “Visions of Cody” alone that might make the book worth its 35 cents, although “Cody” will soon be out in its entirety, as all of Kerouac eventually will. “Visions of Cody” is his greatest book, according to his own opinion, and its music is testimony to the verbal inventiveness and virtuosity of Kerouac, which all too few among Kerouac’s all too many readers seem willing to acknowledge. In the circles of reviewmanship, Kerouac is continually compared to hashed Wolfe or reheated Faulkner, and yet the range and variation of style within his remarkably growing bookshelf is just as remarkable. (It would seem that the differences among, say, “On the Road,” and “The Subterraneans,” “Dr. Sax,” and now “Visions of Cody” are even more obvious than the similarities.) Not only that, but there is a grace, a majesty, and a tenderness to his language, even in Hip talk, that is abjectly lacking among many of the younger Beat emulators, such as Propper. Kerouac is not along in his command of words; Ginsberg and Corso are similarly commanding. Even Burroughs, with his unredeemed style, is, too. It makes no difference that both the inspiration and the content of this literature is of an intuitive, emotional, and mystical nature. For these who love language, it is still literature.

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There are other portions of “The Beats” which in themselves are well worth the book’s 35 cents. (My God! For 35 cents, how could you go wrong!) Ginsberg, Corso, Holmes, Lamantia, Bremser, Snyder would be more than worth the price even without covers. And Diane Di Prima’s contribution is especially overwhelming. (The selections from Burroughs and Ferlinghetti, however, seem somewhat random.) And Krim provides a new eye. There has been some comment about his own comments, offered at the beginning of each selection. But those are short notes written by a man who says that Beatness has liberated him from himself, or at least from his psychoanalysts, and he proves this freedom with his language. Why should he be denied his own vision? ■

1960 Village Voice article about the Beat writers

1960 Village Voice article about the Beat writers

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He Died Two Decades Ago, but Ol’ Blue Eyes Still Resonates

Frank Sinatra (1915–1998) has been part of America’s soundtrack for almost eighty years, having released his first single, “From the Bottom of My Heart,” in 1939, when he was the vocalist for the Harry James Orchestra. America’s other crooner of the century, Bing Crosby (1903–1977), pithily summed up Ol’ Blue Eyes’s pipes: “Sinatra is the kind of singer who comes along once in a lifetime — but why did it have to be my lifetime?”

It was always thus, and Sinatra continues to draw new fans, sometimes ones that are almost as bigger than life as he was: Aaron Judge hit a home run in game 2 of the 2018 American League Division Series, and after the Yankees closed out the victory the colossal right fielder strode past the Red Sox clubhouse with a boombox blaring Sinatra’s “New York, New York.”

In 1995 Sinatra turned eighty, and to mark the occasion the Voice’s inimitable jazz explicator Gary Giddins edited a twenty-page special on the Chairman of the Board. In a sidebar, Giddins lays out the stellar qualifications of the contributors he gathered to pay tribute to the musical legend, noting that most of them “earn all or part of their livelihoods as musicians. Steve Allen, who last wrote for the Voice in the early ’60s, is a man of parts who virtually invented the TV talk show and used the medium to introduce numerous musicians, from Bud Powell and Art Tatum to Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin.” Indeed, Allen’s contribution doesn’t mince headlines, titled as it is “The Greatest Singer of Them All.” The former TV host is a little less direct about the vocalist’s personal shortcomings: “So — as regards Sinatra, are all the stories about his lifelong association with the most notorious Mafia murderers and social savages, the stories about semipsychotic rages, true? The answer to all such painful questions is, to some degree, yes.”

Giddins also gives a shout-out to Mary Cleere Haran as “the finest cabaret singer of her generation, and possibly the wittiest ever.” Haran (1952–2011) certainly could turn a phrase, whether on the stage or the page. Reviewing Frank’s turn as the lead in the 1957 film Pal Joey, Haran writes, “Sinatra was born to play Joey. In the stage version, Joey is a nightclub hoofer. He had to be — Gene Kelly originated the role. But a nightclub singer is a lot more sensible, and who better to fit that sleazy bill than Frank Sinatra? I always felt MGM was the wrong studio for him. It was too respectable, conventional, decorous, and polished for Frank’s street-fighter approach to performance.”

In his own piece, Giddins explores the boss of bosses’ emeritus standing: “Any other artist of Sinatra’s stature would be allowed to achieve octogenarian status without the smirks, though who else would raise as much fuss in the first place? Saul Bellow and Arthur Miller share his year of birth: will attention be paid? Probably nothing comparable to Dr. S. (honorary degree, Stevens Institute, 1985), who occupies the low, middle, and high ground of popcult, but eternally undermines his undoubted genius with an edgy kitsch that verges on self-parody and promotes skepticism. That he is subjected to bad jokes at an age when his footfalls should be muffled with rose petals may simply signify that he is no longer anyone to fear. For, puzzling as the fact may be to future generations, Sinatra is one entertainer who instilled a sense of fear in paying customers as well as paid attendants; not a fear of physical violence per se, though, yes, there have been a few such victims, but of a more general sort — fear of not qualifying for the vicarious ratpackery of the affluent society’s Peter Pan–on-testosterone club for middle-aged rakes.”

Here we present the entire twenty-page supplement, chockablock with still more witty contributions — Sinatra’s Top 10 songs, tales of trombone solos and seriously swinging jazz — as well as ads from the period, all testament to the enduring fascination we still have for the self-taught balladeer from Hoboken, New Jersey.