Holy Barbarians

Lawrence Lipton, Holy Barbarians
Above, the dust jacket of Lawrence Lipton's "Holy Barbarians" that's in pretty good shape. Obviously owned by a square.

June 29, 1958, Lawrence Lipton

June 28, 1959: Lawrence Lipton uses a review of "The Beat Generation and the Angry Young Men," by Gene Feldman and Max Gartenberg to explore bohemian life of the 1950s.

The reading list at the Daily Mirror HQ is long and quirky: "Never So Few"
and "Go Naked Into the World" by Tom T. Chamales, "Muscatel at Noon" by
Matt Weinstock and EBay's latest contribution to my shelf of books by
W.W. Robinson. Then there's the desiderata, like "The Bridal Night of
Ronald and Thusnelda."

What jumped to the top of the list is Lawrence Lipton's "Holy
Barbarians," a 1959 chronicle of the Beats in Venice, which I encountered
somewhere in the clips, possibly a Weinstock column, although I
can't find it now.

showed up in the mail a few days ago courtesy of EBay, so I've been
playing Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and some Coltrane all weekend to
create the
right mood while I read it. To do the job right,  I suppose I should
have a set of bongo drums somewhere, hang netting and sea shells on the
walls and fill the place with stale marijuana smoke, but I'm not that
much of a stickler for authenticity.

The former husband of mystery novelist Craig Rice, Lipton was born in
1898, so he was about 60 when he wrote the book, roughly the twice the
age of the beatniks who considered him an elder statesman of their
disaffiliated generation.

was the Boswell of these Beats, capturing their lives in exquisite and
often excruciating detail. It's fair to say that the book wasn't
written as much as it was tape-recorded. Many conversations, some of
them quite long, are merely transcribed from tapes Lipton made of his

Behold, actual hipster talk (Page 102):

isn't art or intellectualism, it isn't genius that's got me hooked.
It's the life. Do you have any idea what it's like out there? Sure, it
isn't Main Street any more. Sinclair Lewis' Gopher Prairie is a thing
of the past. So is Zenith City, for that matter.Squareville is modern
now. It's got network television and Life magazine culture. You can
tune in the Metropolitan opera on the radio. You can stay out late and
come home drunk once in a while without being hounded out of town. You
can play around a little, if you're discreet about it, without too much
talk. The drugstores carry paperback editions of Plato and Lin Yutang.

the tension! Wages go up three cents and coffee goes up ten. So they
pipe sweet Muzak into the supermarkets and you go around in a daze
loading up that cute little chromium-plated cart without looking at the
price tags. And let most of it rot in the refrigerator before you get
to it. Last year's car is out of style before you finish paying for the
tail fins. It's a rat race. Who's got time to laze around in the sand
for an hour, or take a quiet walk by the ocean in the evening, or watch
a sunset?

"Here I can get away from it for a while, at least
evenings and weekends. I can do without things. God! do you know what a
relief that is? Not to have to keep up with anybody. Nobody to show off
for. The people at the office, they don't even know where I live. I
tell them I  live in Santa Monica. That's close enough, and it sounds
respectable. It's got the same telephone exchange as Venice, so nobody
suspects anything.

"This is the one place I've ever lived
where you can take your skin off and sit around in your bare bones, if
you want to. Only the rich, surrounded by acres of land and iron
fences, can enjoy anything like that kind of privacy. That's what I
mean by being hip. And staying cool."

Barbara Lane is part
time square and part time hipster, but her heart is in Venice West. "In
town, at the office, I work. Here I live," she will tell you. "It's
like having one foot on each side of the tracks. But that's the only
way I can make it."

Notice that there isn't a single "daddy-o." In fact, there isn't one in the entire book. If you think James Ellroy's novels are written in authentic hipster talk, you'll be shocked that their speech is so ordinary — though they do ramble.

have more to say about "Holy Barbarians," but I'm only halfway through
it. You might want to read along. The book is available for free from
archive.org in pdf and plain text format.

Is it worth reading? Consider these gems:

Page 20: By which I meant, I suppose, pretty much the same thing that
[Kenneth] Rexroth meant when he wrote, apropos of Bird and Dylan,
"Against the ruin of the world, there is only one defense — the creative

Page 103: Like Jack Kerouac says in On the Road, "Mexico is a whole nation of hipsters!"

Comments? Send them along.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in Blues, books, Music, Nightclubs, Venice Division. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Holy Barbarians

  1. Arye Michael Bender says:

    Lawrence Lipton gives us the ‘T’.
    (Couldn’t resist)


  2. Eve says:

    God I hate beatniks. They’re like hippies, only smugger.


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