Beatniks “The Beat Generation”

The Beat Movement: Beats and Beatniks


Beatniks (or Beats) are counter-culture bohemians born from a reaction to the 1950’s. The word ‘Beatnik’ is a combination of “The Beats” (from Jack Kerouac’s “The Beat Generation”) and the Russian suffix “nik” (as in Sputnik). The term ‘Beat’ as “beaten, down-trodden, tired” came first, derived from the street slang used from 1910-48. Because of the Communist association, the label “Beatnik” was derogatory when used by the mainstream ‘Red Scare’ automatons.

If the mundane mainstream 1950’s were cookie-cutter suburbanites, where men wore suits and talked straight, and women had bee-hive hairdos and talked innocent; then the Beats were trying to break out of that box by any means. According to the mainstream that means was by drugs, violence, and communism. According to actual Beats, being Beat was a state of mind; which by thinking different just so happened to also often led to dressing different, being around jazz music, being a free thinking poet, an artist, and feeling alive. Being Beat can also be described as being in rhythm with the Beat of Life, or playing off of it. “Everyone plays to the beat of a different drum”.

The Beatnik style can include: sunglasses, berets, turtle necks, goatees, congo drums, coffee, smoking, jive talk slang, abstract poetry about a zeitgeist, zen satori attitude, bumming, hitch-hiking, fast talking, fast cars, fast women, beat-up cars, artsy clothing, black clothing, and an open mind. Some famous Beatniks included: Allen Ginsburg, Alan Watts, Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Ken Kesey, Gregory Corso, Herbert Hunke, Lucien Carr, William S. Burroughs, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Ken Kesey formed the Merry Pranksters in 1964 with Tom Wolfe, Ken Babbs, Neal Cassady, Carolyn Garcia, Wavy Gravy, Paul Krassner, Stewart Brand, Del Close, Paul Foster, and the Kentucky Fab Five authors. The Merry Pranksters were an occasion in the 1960’s where Hippies were led by Beatniks.

The Beatnik Movement became characterized as a superficial fashion trend, a fate similar to the Hippie Movement of the 1960’s (Peaceniks). Just as with other serious movements, there are still many Beatniks who may not even call themselves Beatnik because of the negative associations with the word, but many of the attributes of the movement are a way of life for them. Some cats are square, and some cool cats are like hipsters, ya dig? Beatniks are people that are just totally Beat, man.

Note:  The term “Bohemian” was used to refer to alternative artists, writers, actors, and musicians much earlier.  In the early 19th century all types of artists began to concentrate in low-rent, lower class gypsy neighborhoods. Bohémien was a common term for the Romani gypsies of France, who had reached Western Europe from Bohemia. Bohemians practice unconventional lifestyles and can be hermits, vagabonds, or gypsies.

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3 Responses to “Beatniks “The Beat Generation””

  1. Recently posted video of a public domain folk song from the 1980s about the Beat Generation, “Kerouac and Cassady,” at the following protestfolk channel link that might interest Beat Generation fans:

  2. Thanks for sharing your music Bob!

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