I often find it sad as an English major, as a Christian, as a half-introvert that knows what depression is, to see what the creative mind can often succumb to. One only has to look at the most acclaimed poets and musical artists of the past fifty years to see minds gifted with much genius yet lives embedded in so much rot.
In many ways, The Beat poets, who began a prominent and influential movement in the 1950s, signaled the beginnings of the Bohemian, counter-cultural, alternative life style that became the standard for artists from than on. The Beat front men were Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William Burroughs and their mission began as one to “beat” down the system of the growing 1950s consumer-ism,etc, which they felt left them “tired and down and out.” They were the first modern subculture, a group of struggling writers, students, hustlers and drug addicts, trying to rebel against the traditional literary canon by writing spontaneous, controversial, stream of consciousness prose that defied all rules or craft.
Jack kerouac was a drug addict, heavy drinker and homosexual who eventually died from a brain hemorrhage induced by his alcohol abuse, William Burroughs was a notorious drug addict, alcoholic, murderer of his wife and homosexual and Allen Ginsberg, the sole survivor into the twenty-first century has, like his counterparts, lived a life marked by drugs, alcoholism and homosexuality.
They were searching for, among other things, a deeper meaning to life through substance abuse and later, Buddhism and Scientology. Their works such as Ginsberg’s “Howl” and Kerouac’s On the Road, a book of poetry, were the influences that have sparked creativity for the displaced and down and out for decades since but at a heavy and often tragic cost.
In the late 1960, Janis Joplin rose on the music scene, a singer who had styled herself in part after the Beat poets. She countered the norms and became heavily addicted to drugs and alcohol. After a very brief and successful career, she died of a heroin overdose. Only weeks later, Jimi Hendrix, an artist who is often paralleled with Joplin, died of a drug overdose as well. And the list goes on, including Jim Morrison and Nick Drake to name a few. Even a more recent example such as Kurt Cobain resonates with influences of The Beats. Jack Kerouac’s writings were apparently one of Cobain’s main influences as he forged into the music scene that eventually swallowed him up in suicide, leaving a life behind so filled with drug abuse that he had nearly died several times from overdoses.
Sensitive, shy, depressed, displaced and unhappy in their culture, these people almost seem to be fated to a bitter demise before fame even catches them as the realities of life are so difficult for them to bare. But than there is no doubt that the addictions, vacuous Eastern religions, self indulgence and other awful influences, prominently the Beat poets, lead them over the edge. I write these things because not only is it sad, but also quite scary to see where the creative mind can lead when devoid of God and truth. Even our greatest talents as humans can become the greatest curses and dangers if not used for the glory of God. “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap”(Luke 21:32-34).