BEAT SCENE is the magazine of the Beat Generation. That’s Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Charles Bukowski, Richard Brautigan and co. For those that don’t know us – we are a paper magazine – 64 pages at present – devoted to the Beat Generation and associated writers, artists, musicians and whomever. We have been publishing for 29 years and as you might expect the magazine has grown in that time. We consider it primarily an information magazine. We try and list addresses, web sites, publishers etc. Consequently we try and publish interviews and features by and about those writers we rate highly.
Beat Scene magazine was started in 1988. I had been interested in the Beat Generation, in particular Jack Kerouac, since around 1971. News of the books, many were out of print in those far off days, and the writers in the English media was pitiful, sporadic and patchy. Finding out about Kerouac, Burroughs, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and the others was a difficult thing to do, they were not the media favourites they are today, relatively speaking. Serving a long apprenticeship by reading all the books they published prior to and following I began to feel that they needed better coverage and support in England, a place that would act as some kind of focus for fans of the Beats. But it took me a long time to get going. First of all I started Satori Books in 1982, with the name stolen from Kerouac’s novel SATORI IN PARIS. (Satori – sudden illumination or kick in the eye – Jack Kerouac).
Beat Scene number one was a modest A5 booklet, as were the next four issues, but it was a beginning. Andy Darlingon, Jim Burns and John Platt, who ran Ludd’s Mill, Palantir , Gargoyle and Comstock Lode magazines provided me with inspiration to produce a specifically Beat Generation magazine. Ludd’s Mill was an eclectic Yorkshire based fanzine that featured the Beats periodically. Comstock Lode also featured the Beats amongst the obscure music articles that seemed to be its chief staple. I’d also have to say that Rick Peabody’s Gargoyle magazine, based in Washington DC, was something that filled my head with ideas and ambitions. More on Jim Burns later.
But back to Beat Scene and Andy Darlington provided the cover art for that first issue which included stuff on Kerouac, Burroughs, Snyder, John Clellon Holmes, John Fante, Paul Bowles, Charles Bukowski, Nanao Sakaki, Patti Smith and more – so nothing has really changed has it. A mere 200 copies were collated and stapled on my kitchen table and they went very quickly. Subscription for 4 issues cost the astronomical sum of £6. I hear some rare book dealers are charging £40 or $50 a time now for that issue. You ought to be ashamed.
No 2 arrived in mid Summer 1988 and Carolyn Cassady’s sketch of a young Kerouac was our cover artwork. The mix was just as Beat with Lord Buckley, James Jones (FROM HERE TO ETERNITY etc), Chet Baker, Burroughs, Charlie Parker, Ginsberg and Neal Cassady in Texas, Zappa, Jack Kerouac’s rucksack in the mix. As we said on the back cover – really cool man.
I borrowed the artwork for No 3 from an early paperback edition of Kerouac’s THE DHARMA BUMS, everything then was done on a shoestring – nothing has changed there either and the contents of that Autumn 1988 issue boasted Brautigan, Lew Welch, Raymond Carver, Gary Snyder’s sister Thea talking about Gary and Jack, Charles Bukowski and more.
No 4 was a funny one. I’ve always thought this one really got the magazine going, plenty more people started to show an interest, and sales started to increase sharply as word got around. Tom Waits, Phil Ochs, Steve Wicks in Kerouac alley, stuff on the newly created Kerouac monument park in Lowell, I was lucky enough to attend that opening and met Joy Walsh, who ran the Kerouac newsletter Moody Street Irregulars for years, and the maker of the monument Ben Woitena, one of the nicest blokes I’ve ever met and who had a keen passion for chocolate milk shakes and The Sir Douglas Quintet. A nice afternoon talking with him, while Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg chatted in the next booth in Brighams in downtown Lowell.
Well, as George Formby used to say, it turned out nice again didn’t it. And four issues in one year! Like how did I do it?
The last of the smaller format was No 5 and I broke the obsession with Kerouac by putting cartoonist Robert Crumb on the cover. Dharma Bum John Montgomery wrote for that issue. For those of you youngsters out there, John was Henry Morley in Kerouac’s THE DHARMA BUMS and a real Beat scholar and eccentric wit that I corresponded with for a long time beginning in the early 1970s. Jim Burns, who has written for the magazine since day one, again produced a reliable article on John Clellon Holmes. Jim was editor of his own magazines in the 1960s and 1970s, I discovered Jim when buying his Palantir magazine in the mid 1970s. The Beats were regular events in that excellent publication and it often included new poetry from people like John Clellon Holmes.
Looking back these issues were obviously primitive and basic things but full of enthusiasm for the Beats and all the associated writers, musicans and whomever that are forever linked with them.
Really going for it, number 6 was the first full sized edition, it appeared in Spring 1989 and it was where I started to actually play a minor role in typesetting the magazine. which was produced at a little design place in an old refurbished warehouse, under the guidance of Bea Haston, who used to cycle to my house with proof pages and the very shy Rizvana Vadaria. I don’t know how they put up with me as they got me going on Apple Macintosh computers. I must have driven them mad with all my corrections and alterations. The issue was dedicated to Mary King, a friend I’d made in Lowell who was murdered that year. Rick Peabody of Gargoyle was the first USA correspondent for Beat Scene with that issue, the cheque is in the post Rick! Rexroth, Ricky Lee Jones, Philip Whalen, Kerouac, Burroughs and their hippos were among the cast.
Michele Engel where are you? Michelle did the cover art for No 7, again it was Kerouac. Michelle, with all the boundless energy of a teenager, was mad on Kerouac and I’d met her at a great Kerouac event at a little college in Northampton in 1981, she subsequently put on a play about Kerouac a few years later. I recall driving up the M6 on a bitterly cold night in the dead of winter, after a day teaching and with a raging cold, battling against a blizzard and arriving to see the play just as the actors were saying their final lines. So I’ll never know. But thanks Michelle. Included in that one were Kathy Acker, a real Kerouac interview, a profile of North Point Press, Dexter Gordon, Burroughs and more.
Number 8 had glossy covers for the first time and Bea Haston and Rizvana designed the best cover so far, I’m not saying any of them were brilliant, far from it, but in Beat Scene land it was a step forward. We interviewed Carolyn Cassady, we had articles on Robert Frank, Gregory Corso, Diane Di Prima, Jack Micheline, who proved to be very prickly and more.
Always I had included Charles Bukowski, I had to have something about him in Beat Scene and around the time of No 9 he wrote to me out of the blue with a huge packet of unpublished poems that he wanted me to consider for publication in my ‘curious little magazine’ as he called it. He was a nice bloke. Even then, 1989, he was pretty famous, notorious even, able to command big bucks for his writing – and here he was asking me, a tired teacher running a tinpot magazine if I would consider his poems? I still can’t believe it. He had some black and white photos taken by his wife Linda in the garden of his home in San Pedro, one holding his cat was used on the front cover, where I introduced a colour for the first time, garden shed green, lovely. Some of the Bukowski poems went in that issue, as far as I know it was only the second time that Bukowski had been published in England. Jim Burns knows all about the first time and it is another story.
We did an interview with Lydia Lunch in that issue alongside one with William Burroughs.
It was a giant leap for me with the full colour cover of number 10, Allen Ginsberg on a promotional visit to London – Jim Burns went to London to interview him for Beat Scene – and was that the year he also read in Newcastle and crowds of people walked out halfway in response to Allen’s explicit reading that night, I stuck it out to the bitter end? I have to confess that I included some material in this issue that really had no place in a magazine about the Beats, but the issue did include that Jim Burns interview with Ginsberg, poetry from Jack Micheline, more from Bukowski, Nelson Algren and Charles Plymell.
I must add that during the first few years of Beat Scene I published a completely independent music magazine called ZIP CODE. It ran for 17 issues. Initially I had a partner, Steve Wicks, for the first three issues. Steve bailed out at that point, a little acrimoniously sadly. I produced another fourteen issues and had some fun with music when really I was far too old and indifferent to the music to be doing it. Interviews with an unknown Kurt Cobain and people like John Martyn kept me going when really producing two publications was draining the life out of me. ZIP CODE died about 1993.
Number 11 was a nice Kerouac cover, that famous one with a young Joyce Johnson (Glassman) in the background. There was an interview with Bukowski, I did that myself and stuff on Neal Cassady from his old buddy Charles Plymell, who shared a house with him in San Francisco. Lenny Bruce featured and we really must do more on him. Anne Waldman, who has always been supportive, was interviewed.
Flexi Records. We included one with No 12 and it wasn’t just any old record. Charles Bukowski (he asked me to call him ‘Hank’ when I kept addressing him as Charles in letters) – allowed me to produce one. He asked for no fee – which shows his nature – and I sent him $100. Which he probably spent at the races. Well I know he did because he wrote and told me so. The flexi was expensive for me at the time. Again the rip off rare book dealers are having a field day selling this issue for $50 upwards. Don’t do it. I have copies in a box here for a modest fee!
No 13 had John Fante on the cover, a writer that I’ve tried to promote for years through the magazine and who well deserves it. Interviews with Michael McClure, Robert Creeley, Ed Sanders, Ted Joans, Charles Plymell, new and unpublished poems from Bukowski, Richard Farina. Reflecting on it that’s not a bad lineup is it?
I’m quite pleased with No 14. Visually at least. Neat full colour photo of David Cronenberg and William Burroughs on the cover, around the filming of NAKED LUNCH. I managed to get The Shadow, Jim Carroll, Richard Brautigan, Hunter S. Thompson, Bukowski, Whalen, John Giorno and more into the issue. One of my favourites.
A jigsaw Jack Kerouac graced No 15. I think it looked good. A little bonus with that number was the Bukowski poetry broadside we gave away to subscribers. It is something that it would be nice to do more of for subscribers, many of whom have been there since day one. But limited resources make it difficult.
The Ken Kesey issue, No 16. Neat cover photo. (and Ken actually signed that copy for me). We upped the print run considerably . Bukowski let me publish a section of his last book (in his lifetime) PULP, again I owe him a lot. Dizzy Gillespie, Beat Women (by Jim Burns), Brion Gysin. I have a feeling that the Jim Burns article on Beat Women sparked off the interest in these shadowy figures and in a small way moved people like Rick Peabody and Brenda Knight to produce books on the subject.
Everyone always asks who is that kid with William Burroughs on the cover of No 17? Well its someone called Spencer Kansa (doubt if that’s his real name). Taken at the Burroughs home in Lawrence, Kansas at the time. He did a bit on Burroughs for me. And then disappeared. That issue was very nearly the last as the magazine was basically bust, I was bust, quite heavily in debt. I refuse to take any advertising, feeling that it compromises the magazine and simply I don’t want the hassle it brings. But this financial strategy does cause problems as I rely upon sales alone.
I had to go to another, much cheaper printer for No 18 and frankly it shows as I hate that issue and am very glad it is sold out. It looks cheap and nasty. However the contents were ok with Neal Cassady, Carl Solomon, Allen Ginsberg and others keeping the beat. But I didn’t waste any time in going back to my original printer Kevin Bowes to get some quality back.
Number 19 – Burroughs featured prominently in this issue, as he does in a lot of the issues, we looked at his recordings. The second part of our Neal Cassady story was included, first hand reporting from Mr Charles Plymell who shared a house with Neal in San Francisco. Lord Buckley – well what can I say, I love him, he was in there. Listen to his THE NAZZ and prepare to laugh yourself silly. And an obituary for Bukowski.
Number 20, I wish I could do it again but tons better. The Bukowski tribute issue. There are no more copies believe me. Our biggest selling issue by far and fast too.
Hank and Georgia Hubbard and a fridge were the cover stars of No 22. I understand Georgia is no longer with us. A candid shot of Bukowski and a friend. Great photo.
Number 23 was back to Kerouac, that famous photo of him in Merchant Marine uniform taken by Edie Parker graced the cover. We looked at the recordings of Allen Ginsberg, believe me there are a lot. We talked to John Martin who runs Black Sparrow Press and publishes Bukowski and we had articles on Greenwich Village, City Lights, Kerouac and more.
Jan Kerouac, she was stitched up in her short life. Her and Gerald Nicosia tried for years to gain control or at least some say in her father’s estate, alleging that wills were forged and so on. She wanted to maintain all of Kerouac’s documents in one place but the long winding and very bitter legal battle went against her. Sadly it seems the forecasts that the estate would be sold off gradually seem to be coming true and the archives of one of America’s greatest and most compassionate figures will be spread far and wide. I thought this would happen but hoped it wouldn’t. Jack wanted his estate to go to his nephew Paul Blake, I have a copy of his letter to Paul stating this fact, written the day before he died. Sad and that’s why at the time Beat Scene tried to provide coverage of the legal wrangle. But money talks doesn’t it. Jan Kerouac was on the cover of No 24. She died in her mid 40s of kidney failure & complications. All so very sad. (Postscript – September 2001 – the Kerouac archive now resides in the Berg Collection at the New York City Public Library – so there is a god.)
Beat Scene 25 featured William Burroughs in Paris heavily. As you probably know Burroughs, Ginsberg and Gregory Corso spent much time in Europe in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Indeed Burroughs lived in Europe, rarely going back to the USA til the late 1970s, see Barry Miles book THE BEAT HOTEL for excellent lowdown on that.
No 26 was where the magazine came into contact with American photographer Larry Keenan. You may have seen Larry’s photo of Michael McClure, Bob Dylan, Robbie Robertson and Allen Ginsberg in San Francisco in 1965? The photos were scheduled to be the album cover of Dylan’s next recording but somehow didn’t make it. Larry took a lot of pictures in the mid 1960s of people like Neal Cassady, Ken Kesey, Ginsberg, Philip Whalen and Michael McClure & others. We featured an interview with him in issues 26 & 27 & some of his priceless Beat photos. My own favourite is Michael McClure & Bruce Conner coming down the steps of a house in SF, somehow it seems to beautifully capture things. Or is that just my fevered imagination? Well, do you want to hear the inside story on every single issue? I thought not, so I’ll skip them here and jump ahead to almost the present.
A recent issue devoted itself to ‘the Beats in Britain.’ Had a lot of fun putting that issue together and it proved very popular. & I discovered there was far too much material for one issue. So there is the possibility of another volume in the future. Issue 87 was a Jack Kerouac issue – totally devoted to his novel ON THE ROAD which, of course, celebrated 60 years of existence in 2017. Currently we are preparing Beat Scene 88 for a late December publication date.
So get in touch and pick up a copy of the only magazine on the planet that is totally focused on Kerouac, Burroughs & co.
But more soon, if you can take it!