The title of my new book comes from an image in Allen Ginsberg's epic poem, Howl, where he condenses the entire era of the 1940s-1950s into a single indelible image and provides its perfect metaphor--
Holy the groaning saxophone! Holy the bop apocalypse! Holy the jazzbands
marijuana hipsters peace & drums & junk!
The narrative about the Beats in the book is about the role that jazz and mind-altering substances played in the creation of what became the breakthrough masterworks of the Beat Generation--Ginberg's Howl, Jack Kerouac's On The Road, and William Burroughs's Naked Lunch--and how that gave advent to the whole new bohemian culture in cities and on college campuses across the nation that would become the American Counterculture.
Here are all the principal characters, looking particularly beatific, in an iconic photo taken in 1945, when they were first getting to know each other (left to right are Hal Chase, Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs) when Jack and Allen were students at Columbia, along with a quote from the book about the impact of drugs on their lives at the time--
It was truly an odd and yet compelling destiny. As the war was ending and twelve million men and women in the US military were demobilizing and returning to their lives, Burroughs, Ginsberg and Kerouac were perceiving and digestingthe meaning and magnitude of the dropping of the atomic bomb and the uneasy peace that followed as they experimented with illicit drug-induced altered states of consciousnes. They would station themselves underneath the great Pokerino sign, sublimely stoned, Ginsberg in a belted raincoat and a paisley scarf, Kerouac in his seaman’s jacket, and Burroughs in his Homburg, always looking like a bank president in his three piece suit. The sign would cast a pulsing neon glow over the the multi-tiered labyrinth of elevated platforms and the arcades and the chop suey joints and the tropical fruit drink stands and the multitudes of people and cars, and Times Square would transmogrify before their eyes into what seemed a giant surreal room hanging in the space of a dying post-nuclear world.