The Angry Artist of the 60’s

DYLAN AND GINSBERG
North Beach, San Francisco 1965

Photo by Larry Keenan

This is taken from my daughter Vanessa’s thesis 2008.  She and I worked together in writing it.  I enjoyed writing with her and recalling the past.  Singing the Dylan songs and reading Ginsberg again was meriviglioso!

The discord of the 1960s is reflected in the work of many artists, musicians and poets of the times. Their voices and images rallied the protest against the mores of war and a style of life that was no longer valid.   Poets such as Allen Ginsberg lamented a monstrous society in his poem, “Howl”; songwriter Bob Dylan wrote songs of protest, sharing a growing voice of anger and dissent while counterculture artists such as Andy Warhol mass-produced images of Marilyn Monroe, creating an innovative and popular form of art.

Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”

Ginsberg’s epic poem “Howl” attacks the American values of the post-war 1950’s during the «beat generation», the American social and literary movement which originated in the 1950’s and centered in the bohemian artist communities of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City. He refers to a society that negates the outcast and the borderline man, accepting only what is considered “normal”. Poets, artists, political radicals and drug addicts represent what Ginsberg considers as “the best minds of his generation.” His endless chant or “howl” laments a world of intolerance and bigotry.

Although Ginsberg grew up a troubled child with family difficulties and a chronically ill mother, he went on to attend Columbia University in 1943, later becoming an internationally famed poet.

Here is an excerpt from his poem, “Howl”:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by

madness, starving hysterical naked,

dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn

looking for an angry fix,

angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly

connection to the starry dynamo in the machin-

ery of night,

who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat

up smoking in the supernatural darkness of

cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities

contemplating jazz, (. . .)

Ginsberg begins his poem by making reference to outcasts, ie drug addicts, jazz musicians, political radicals, psychiatric patients and poets whom he considers to be “the best minds” of his generation. Middle class society considered these people to be “the worst minds”, therefore Ginsberg’s revelation was quite shocking.

Bob Dylan’s “The Times, They Are a-Changin”

Like Ginsberg, Dylan also expressed the anger and rebellious mood of the 1960’s. Not only did he have a poignant message in the midst of “changing times” but also a melody to accompany it, therefore he was able to be heard throughout the world thanks to the popularity of his songs. He wrote “folk music” using ordinary spoken language to communicate to even the most common man, though his message was sophisticated. The late 60’s were times when life was plentiful for the middle-class, yet this serenity was only superficially a reality. War, injustice, racism and discrimination were problems that were raging beneath the surface and felt most of all by the young counterculture.

On one hand the “establishment’s” message was to obey and abide by the law, on the other hand, the radical message questioned a capitalistic society that forfeited lives and truth in order to keep “the big wheel of power” moving. This other anguished message is represented by Bob Dylan in his songs.

Here are the lyrics of his song, “The Times They Are a-Changin”:

Come gather round people wherever you roam
And admit that the waters around you have grown
And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth saving
Then you’d better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times, they are a changing
Come writers and critics who prophesize with your pens
And keep your eyes open, the chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon, the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no telling who that it’s naming
Oh the loser will be later to win
For the times, they are a changing
Come senators, congressmen, please head the call
Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt will be her that has stalled
The battle outside ragging will soon shake your windows
And rattle your hall
For the times, they are a changing
Come mothers and fathers all over this land
And don’t criticize what you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughter are beyond your command
Your old role is rapidly aging
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand
For the times they are a changing
The line, it is drawn, the curse, it is cast
The slow one will later be fast
And the present now will soon be the past
The order is rapidly fading
The first one now will later be last
For the times, they are a changing.

Dylan begins his song by asking mankind to realize the need for change. He refers to growing waters as the troubled times and asks his listeners to “swim” or “sink like a stone”. He addresses writers, critics, congressmen, senators, mothers and fathers all to either lend a hand in building a new “road” or “get out of the new one” that is inevitably under construction.

Andy Warhol: The icon of the counterculture

Warhol used silk screen prints to mass-produce banal images thus expressing the ongoing mood of repetition and banality which represented a consumerist perception of the world. Warhol claimed that the commercialism he appeared to mock was also a form of art. According to a BBC interview with the artist:

“Warhol soon became an icon of the counterculture of the 1960s. He was surrounded by an entourage of underground film and rock stars, exhibitionists, beautiful people, hippies and assorted misfits at his so-called Factory in New York, where he encouraged people to go to whatever extremes their personalities took them to. He was their still centre, emotionless in his silver wig. As an artist, he was icily democratic, believing that “if everybody’s not a beauty, then nobody is,” and declaring that in the future everyone would be famous for 15 minutes.”

His work was an innovative statement of a consumer society that gave little significance to human values. In this print of Marilyn Monroe he uses a popular Hollywood icon of the 1950’s.

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This entry was published on JuneUTCbWed, 18 Jun 2008 17:51:50 +0000000000pmWed, 18 Jun 2008 17:51:50 +000008 24, 2007 at 0.13. It’s filed under Life links and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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