When Allen Ginsberg said he saw the best minds of his generation destroyed by madness, without thinking about it, I set out to look for mine.
My father was a tall man of majestic built, naturally evoking respect in people.
I remember his broad shoulders, his suits, the comic ties I used to choose for his birthdays. I remember how he would proudly wear them to the office. I remember his shoes that I so loved to polish. His Mont Blancs. His Bvlgari scent. His sense of humour.
I remember the fear I felt when he was angry.
And, still more keenly than this, I remember the void I felt when I saw him fall.
On the doorstep, incomprehensible. Disquietingly intoxicated. Around a bottle and a half of vodka, I thought. It was sharp on his breath.
My mother and I dragged him inside.
His skin was damp.
I was fifteen years old.
He’s so heavy.
The Beat Generation, a subcultural movement that emerged in 1950s America, didn’t give a damn about status, in fact they stood in opposition to it.
“Their studied indifference to fashion expressed disdain for conventional society.”
Ginsberg’s most notable work – Howl – compares the forces conformity and collective consciousness with those of originality, agency and personal expression.
The poem howls against the cultural homogeneity into which so many people slipped in the years following the second world war, lamenting how blindly and how willingly they went. Asking for it, even paying for it. Each sold a branded fiction of individuality and self-overcoming. A false promise of upward social mobility.
It paints red obscenities on white picket fences.
It smashes the apple pie cooling by the window.
It tears the throat out of The American Dream.
How much has actually changed since then?
For many it is uncomfortable to acknowledge, let alone to break free from the chains that fall upon them.
It’s about wringing yourself out, emptying yourself of every last drop of falsity until you reach your own freedom.
Imagine being wrung. It’s a painful process.
Even more so when you have to do it to yourself and there are no guarantees that when you’ve finished you’ll be dry.
It was always push and pull with Andrew. Some indescribable magnetism that pulled me ever towards him only to spit me out of the gyre of madness a day later.
We would meet at his flat, or on some lamplit street corner, usually in the early hours of Saturday morning after his work drinks and my shift at the pub were over.
We filled our nights with highballs over-brimmed with spirits, we talked about this and this and this.
The next morning I would leave with his perfume in my hair, feeling drained and used but strangely fulfilled.
It was somewhat familiar.
I guess he had my father’s eyes.
It was like this, on and off, for about seven years.
At times he’d be calling me every week pouring his heart out and saying how much I meant to him and how we are meant to be together.
Then we wouldn’t speak for months.
Still, always the intrigue remained.
Like a force set unchangeably in motion. Something would stir one of us to pick up the phone and before long we would be intertwined again.
He said I had a mythical beauty.