The poets down here don’t write nuthin’ at all.
They just stand back and let it all be.
Years ago, before Michael Moore became Michael Moore, he did an odd brief stint as editor of Mother Jones. He brought with him Ben Hamper, a hilarious auto worker whose wild columns for the alt weekly in Flint had apparently been something of a sensation.
I loved Hamper, but he got right in my face with the Springsteen thing, in regards to how upper middle class white college boys so completely dug Springsteen-the-poet-of-the-working class. Like we had ever gotten grease beneath our nails, or had any notion about fuelie heads and a Hurst on the floor, or had ever come close to racing in the street. We were just dorky middle class white college kids, so what the hell did we know?
This cut deep, of course, because I wanted to adore Hamper and Springsteen and identify with some sort of working class heroes where you just do the thing, stand back, let it all be. And here was Hamper pissing on that.
Which was brought all to mind the other night when I was poking through a dusty old anthology of The Beats what included an essay by Norman Podhoretz on “The Know-Nothing Bohemians.” This is 1958:
Bohemianism is not particularly fashionable nowadays, but the image of Bohemianism still exerts a powerful fascination — nowhere more so than in the suburbs, which are filled to overflowing with men and women who uneasily think of themselves as conformists and of Bohemianism as the heroic road.
Then there is Kerouac, with his knack for just standing back and letting it all be. “Wow.” I’m thinking Podhoretz is pissing on me too here. All I ever wanted to adore was the ballet being fought out in the alley, some Neal Cassady flipping a sledgehammer thing. “You are either on the bus or you’re off the bus,” I’d heard, and I figured I was just off the bus, like I’d missed it completely. And here was Podhoretz suggesting implicitly that maybe the bus was the wrong metaphor. Born in 1959, I’d come of age late enough in the ’60s to be able to safely look back at it longingly, as if I could really have done something about it if I’d only been born about five years earlier. But that’s crap, of course, because all the Bohemian Jack Kerouac Haight Ashbury longing, all the sentimental tripe about the Jersey auto parts yard ‘neath that giant Exxon sign that brings our fair city light, all that’s just so much idle chit-chat.
I think I’ll read the new Harry Potter.