This story originally published in November, 2009 and is being reposted in honor of National Coffee Day.
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For the Beat Generation, there were only two places to live: New York’s Greenwich Village and San Francisco’s North Beach.
North Beach has been an old stomping ground of mine since my early twenties. I recently paid a visit to the neighborhood after years of exile in Los Angeles.
Broadway is home to San Francisco’s famous strip clubs, such as The Condor Club, where Carol Doda first danced topless in 1964. It’s also where you’ll find famous Beat gathering places like Cafe Vesuvio and City Lights Bookstore.
City Lights, founded by Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 1953, was where I’d go for obscure books in the days before Amazon and Bookfinder.
As for Vesuvio, I’d been planning on nursing an espresso there while reading Kerouac’s “Big Sur.” But by the time I got around to my afternoon in North Beach, I’d already abandoned the book. It was, like, hip for a bit, then I got bored and decided to just read “The Red and the Black” again. Whenever I get bored with books, I just read “The Red and the Black” again.
Kerouac is one of the founding members of the Beat movement in literature and hygiene, whose origins go back to Columbia University in 1944. During the Beat heyday, many of its proponents were natural-shouldered; above is poet Michael McClure in 1957, wearing a patch-pocketed 4/3 herringbone similar to the J. Press version we posted about previously.
While I was away in LA, The Beat Museum opened a few years ago. It has a solid collection of memorabilia and cool trinkets for sale. As I was wearing a sportcoat and tassel loafers, the curator/sales clerk asked where I was from.
The museum opens onto the street, where strippers stroll by on their way to work:
I’d already emptied my pocketbook at Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren, so my sole souvenir from North Beach was a postcard from City Lights. It’s a shot of Gerry Mulligan and a Beat chick from the 1960 Beatsploitation flick “The Subterraneans,” starring George Peppard. Been meaning to watch the film and take any applicable screenshots, but it hasn’t been released on DVD, though there are unofficial copies available for sale. If anyone’s seen it, let us know what it’s like (pretty schlocky, according to the Beat Museum’s curator/sales clerk).
Further rambling (very Beat): My father told me that when he was courting my mother in San Francisco in 1965, they went to a Halloween party in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood where Allen Ginsberg showed up naked. Sometimes your parents surprise you.
“But we left before he arrived,” Dad added. Now that’s more like it.
Here’s Ginsberg later in life, looking radically conservative:
The LIFE archives did a photo shoot on San Francisco poets in 1957, which you can find here. It has some great atmospheric shots of that hip combination of poetry, jazz, sportcoats and glasses:
The headline for this post, incidentally, comes from Andre Previn’s song “Like Young,” which captures the pop spirit of the era (lyric by Paul Francis Webster):
I’m out doin’ the usual places,
And I’m livin’ it, like young.
Then I dig me this face of all faces,
She’s the craziest, like young.
She drinks coffee at Cafe Espresso,
She reads Kerouac, like young.
She goes where all the angry young men go,
Recites poetry, like young.
We start blowin’ the pad around ‘leven,
And we’re homin’ it, like now.
We spin records on cloud number seven,
And she’s reaching me, like wow!
I’m all unstrung
‘Cuz man she’s got him feelin’ like young.
If she were to brush me and go,
I’d startin’ to wear my hair again,
Just like a square again.
I keep a getting’ the kookiest notion.
I think maybe it’s like love.
I’ve been feelin’ a crazy emotion,
I think baby, it’s like love.
Now we’re ridin’ a rainbow to Cloudsville,
And we’re makin’ it, like young.
Love, soft as April snow.
Love, warm as candle glow.
Love, love is easy go.
In the late ’90s, several versions of “Like Young,” including ones by Dave Pell and Linda Lawson, appeared on the many reissues of Space-Age Bachelor Pad Music. You might also want to check out versions by Ella Fitzgerald and Buddy Greco. Here’s Previn playing the tune with David Rose and his Orchestra, from 1959:
Finally, on my way back to the North Bay I visited Russell Street.
At number 29 there’s a little A-frame house where Jack Kerouac lived for a time. In fact, “lived for a time” is good way to describe his years on Earth: Kerouac died of acute bohemianism in 1969 at the age of 47. — CC