They all started out very much like me, but now I hardly recognize any of these characters.
Or, for that matter, lovers.
In a whimsical twist in my novel What’s Left, I placed the town along the Ohio River. Well, the navigable waterway is a defining element of southern Indiana.
- Length of the Ohio River: 981 miles
- Length along Indiana: 240 miles before adding twists. Drains all but the northernmost area of the state.
- At its mouth: It is considerably larger than the Mississippi, making it the main hydrological stream of the whole river system.
- Number of states feeding into the Ohio River: 15.
- Largest tributary: Tennessee River, 652 miles long. Its watershed includes Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, a corner of Louisiana, as well as Tennessee and Kentucky.
- Largest northern tributary: Wabash River, 503 miles long. It originates in Ohio and flows across Indiana before becoming part of the border with Illinois.
- Average depth of Ohio River: 24 feet.
- The biggest city along its way: Pittsburgh, metropolitan population of 3.5 million. The river begins with the confluence of the Allegheny, from upstate New York, and the Monongahela, which drains part of West Virginia and Maryland as well as Pennsylvania, at Point State Park in the Gold Triangle.
- Next largest: Cincinnati, metropolitan area population of 2.2 million. Can be seen as the waterway’s hub.
- Major hurdle: Louisville, Kentucky, sits at the Falls of the Ohio, which once presented a barrier to river traffic. The McAlpine Locks and Dam stand where the Louisville and Portland Canal was built in 1830 to allow vessels to bypass the falls. It was the first major engineering project on the river and, by some accounts, the first on an American waterway.
I’m so happy to hear that the New Yorker’s perceptive classical music critic, Alex Ross, is about twenty years younger than me.
There’s so much young talent to champion. And some exciting new sounds, too.
Now, more than ever.
Returning that matter of bohemian identity, here are ten more options.
- Peace activist.
- Organic gardener.
- Civil rights activist.
- New England contradancer.
- Sanctuary volunteer.
What more would you suggest for the list?
I’ve been considering some differences and similarities of beatniks and hippies, but they’re just part of a much longer tradition that is often called bohemian.
Without trying to distinguish what identifies each of these (I do get awfully confused at times), here are ten to consider.
- Stoner. (Oops, I just saw that this one can be broken down into ten more categories!)
How would you distinguish any or all of these?
What would you suggest for the list?
Considering the negative image of some, what would you offer as more positive alternatives when it comes to alternative awareness and living?
While many beatniks despised the hippies who followed on the counterculture trail, the two did have some commonalities.
Here are ten I see.
- Alternative living: They both dressed in ways that weren’t socially acceptable, part of their rejection of bourgeois attitudes of American respectability. Hippies, especially, advanced that into group living.
- Beards: The beat goatee was signature. Hippies took facial hair in many distinctive directions.
- Sandals: On men, especially. Forget the polished wingtips.
- Incense: It became a staple of small alternative stores, along with interesting teas like Earl Grey and Gunpowder.
- Pot: Jazz musicians were the root for the beats. Having a toke together became a communal expression among hippies.
- Free love: Although the birth control pill was approved for public use in 1960, it was still illegal in eight states four years later. Still, it quickly grew in popularity, garnering the condemnation of Pope Paul VI in 1968. Well, if extramarital sex was already taboo, what additional fault would using the contraceptive have? This was having fun while scoffing at conventionality at the same time.
- Eastern spirituality: Zen Buddhist and Theosophist influences championed by the beats spread into yoga, Sufism, and other strands of Buddhism in the hippie era.
- Pacifism: Opposition to war, though, did not always carry a corresponding nonviolent outlook by hippies, who instead focused their opposition on the military draft and stopping that by any means possible.
- Cool: Beatniks liked to “play it cool.” Hippies had their own nuance in preferring to “be cool” as a way of displaying their individuality.
- Mass-media caricatures: Both were portrayed negatively in the mass media, usually as warped stereotypes.
While many hippies were profoundly influenced by beatnik writers such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and their alternative lifestyles, many beatniks were contemptuous of the flowering of the hippie movement.
The term “beatnik” itself was coined by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen on April 2, 1958, after the Russian Sputnik satellite went into orbit. It quickly encapsulated what had been happening since the early part of the decade in the city’s North Beach district.
The word hippie probably springs from the much older word “hipster,” and came to prominence when 100,000 young people from across the country converged on the city for the Summer of Love in 1967.
Here are ten ways the two cultures differed:
- Prime time: 1950s and early ’60s, the beats. Late ’60s and early ’70s, the hippies. A half-generation apart. My guess is that unlike beatniks, hippies grew up with television in the house, along with rock ‘n’ roll, and that this influenced the thinking.
- Hangouts: Coffee houses and bookstores, especially in San Francisco’s North Shore and Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, for the beats. San Francisco’s Haight-Asbury districts before moving out to communes and college campus fringes, for the hippies.
- Philosophical roots: Nonjudgmental, noncombative attitudes influenced by Eastern religions and philosophies, along with nuclear arms opposition, for the beats. Hostility to the military draft and parental control, plus opportunities for sexual freedom, for the hippies.
- Personnel: The beats were a much smaller group, primarily poets and essayists, centered on the fine arts and artists themselves. The hippies sprang largely from runaways, initially, and drug experimenters, musicians, war protesters, and laissez-faire independents.
- Political orientation: Beatniks eschewed political involvement but did benefit from crucial court decisions, especially involving pornographic expression. Hippies were politically vocal, especially with protests and rallies.
- The beat, er, sound: Jazz, primarily, and folk, for the beats. Breakthrough venue: Newport Festival in Rhode Island, starting in 1954. For the hippies, rock and some folk, for the hippies. Breakthrough venue: Woodstock, 1969, as well as the Filmore Auditorium in San Francisco beginning in 1966.
- Threads: Dark clothing, usually black with a European look, for the beats. Women went for dark leotards and long, straight dark hair. For the hippies, clothing was anything comfortable, often ratty, drab as well colorfully excessive with occasional global or back-to-the-land historical flavors. Think Gypsy, Native American, even India for influence.
- Recreational drugs: Beatnik pot use became widespread among hippies. LSD, though, was definitively hippie. Beats were known for cool. Hippies, for stoned.
- Mass media stereotypes: Turtleneck sweaters, bongos, berets, and dark glasses, for the beats. Tie-dye, long hair, headbands, tassels, beads, and bell bottoms, for the hippies. Both usually portrayed in negative light.
- Artistic expression: Poetry and novels, the beats. Rock and filmmaking, the hippies. Abstract impressionist painting, the beats. Installation art, performance art, and graffiti, for the hippies.