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Radicals, Beats and Beboppers

Jim Burns

from Jim's Introduction

This book can be seen as a companion volume to a previous collection of essays, Beats, Bohemians and Intellectuals, published by Trent Books in 2000. It covers some of the same ground in that it looks primarily at American writers active from around 1930 to 1960 and a little beyond. Many of them had radical connections of one kind or another. Some people may wonder why I choose to focus mainly on less well-known writers, and the reason is simple - they are rarely written about and it seems relevant to establish a record of their existence. A couple of the essays deal with very minor figures who got into print during the heyday of the Beat movement, roughly 1957 to 1962, and while they may not appear important enough to warrant such attention they sometimes had something to say and they could be lively and entertaining.

The same can be said about two little-known jazzmen I've included. There is also a piece about Charlie Parker, but so many other critics have written articles and books about him that I've always thought it more interesting to draw attention to rank-and-file musicians who, like the writers referred to above, are often neglected. My spirits sink these days when I open a jazz magazine and see yet another article about Miles Davis or John Coltrane or someone similar to them.

I gather that the article I wrote about Anatole Broyard some years ago is quite popular, though I've been asked why it doesn't refer to his “passing for white,” which I suspect intrigues certain readers. It doesn't, it's true, and the reason is that I wanted to survey his literary work. I do mention the racial element in his life in another essay, “Behind the Scenes,” which discusses Chandler Brossard's Who Walk in Darkness, with its fictional portrait of Broyard. I also refer to the fact that a few of his fellow-writers accused him of what R.V. Cassill described as “competent malice” when he reviewed books by his more-successful contemporaries. My original essay played down that side of his work because I thought there was sufficient evidence to show that, at his best, he was a decent reviewer.

One essay, “Bird Lives!” is a personal memoir of my early and continuing love of jazz, and particularly the aspect of it known as bebop. My justification for it being here can be summed up by quoting the words of the American writer, Gilbert Sorrentino: “Bop, for me, was the entrance into the general world of culture, although at the time, I wouldn't have believed it.”

Paperback 6" x 9" 237pp ISBN 978-1-4476-3072-2  published May 2011

From Times Literary Supplement No 5652 July 29 2011 NB back page

Among the more agreeable features of the literary world is the proximity of the ivory tower to the dusty side street. The criti­cal sage, whether he likes it or not, is neigh­bour to the offbeat prowler. Jim Burns is such a one. For half a century, he has inhabited the zone of small press and little magazine, track­ing rebel writers and syncopated songsters. The title of a collection of essays, Beats, Bohemians and Intellectuals (2001), sums him up. Now Mr Burns, who lives in the unlikely setting of Cheadle, Cheshire, has issued Radicals, Beats and Beboppers. Its thirty items appeared originally in publica­tions many readers of this journal will not have heard of: Beat Scene, Prop 3, Penniless Press. Many of its characters are likewise tributarial: Maxwell Bodenheim, Walter Lowenfels, Anatole Broyard.

Mr Burns can tell you what Jack Kerouac was reading in 1941 - the novels of Albert Halper, whoever he was - how the screenplay of The Sweet Smell of Success by Clifford Odets differs from the novella by Ernest Leh­man, on which it is based; what sort of music Jackson Pollock listened to while painting. Burns dismisses the suggestion that Pollock found in the "speed and jarring harmony" of bebop "an apt analogue to his own work". Sometimes he listened to classical music.

An essay on Robert McAlmon, owner of Contact Editions which issued Hemingway's first book, Three Stories & Ten Poems, begins with the unarguable assertion, "Few people today read McAlmon's poetry". Mr Burns shows how McAlmon moved from "poetic language" to "ideas" to a sort of sub-Waste Land verse. By the time he reaches McAlmon's toilet-paper poem ("Inferior goods make scabs / that turn the best people to crabs"), you might think forgetting is the kindest treatment; but you remain grateful to Mr Burns for having done the legwork. Radicals, Beats & Boppers is available from Penniless Press Publications.

 CONTENTS

JACK CONROY: WORKER WRITER IN AMERICA                                     
RADICALS AND MODERNISTS         
WHO WAS ALBERT HALPER?                                                      
WILLIAM HERRICK AND THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR                     
BEN MADDOW                                 
REBEL VOICES                                                        
JOHN HERRMANN: WRITER AND SPY                       
LEFT IN LOS ANGELES                            
WALTER LOWENFELS                                                   
WAS KEROUAC A COMMUNIST?                                      
LAWRENCE LIPTON AND THE BEAT GENERATION                    
CARL SOLOMON                  
COOL KEROUAC                         
JACK MICHELINE: POET OF PROTEST                
JOHN CLELLON HOLMES                 
WILLIAM BURROUGHS: HIP NOT BEAT                    
BEATITUDE                                   
WHAT BECAME OF CLINT NICHOLS?                    
ANATOLE BROYARD                                 
BEHIND THE SCENES                                              
HOW  BRAVE WE LIVE          
THE AMERICAN CONNECTION               
MAXWELL BODENHEIM                              
CLIFFORD ODETS: SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS              
ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM: THE BEBOP MYTH        
ROBERT MCALMON'S POETRY         
BIRD BREAKS DOWN                  
HARRY BISS                           
BUDDY WISE        
BIRD LIVES!           

Amazon Price UK £8.99

PPP Price (inc postage in UK) = £9.50 

Abroad (inc postage) = £12.00