The following text is a transcript of the conversation during the Nexus Symposium 2018 ‘An Education in Counterculture’ between Rob Riemen (RR), Patti Smith (PS), Lenny Kaye (LK) and Sean Wilentz (SW).
Jump to topic:
• Allen Ginsberg and the Beat Generation
• Bob Dylan and Counterculture
• Vietnam and Civil Rights: politics in the 60s
• The Beats and the World of Power
• The New Jerusalem
• Education in Counterculture
RR: The concept of Counterculture can only be understood if we have an understanding of what mainstream culture was all about. So I thought it would be a good idea to show a video about the fifties or, to be very exact, the United States in 1957, when the three of you were children, growing up in the America of that time.
RR: So here we are, on the one hand with this beautiful picture of the American dream, ‘the best of all times’. But on the other hand, it was a time when, as Paul Goodman wrote, people were ‘growing up absurd’, and at the same time you also get the revolt of the Beat generation. What was wrong with that wonderful world of the American dream?
SW: First of all, there wasn’t a black person in that movie. Let’s start with that. The American dream was fine, I mean, I like highways, I like my refrigerator. But it was limited, it was spiritually limited and it was sociologically limited and it was politically limited. And the absurdity of it was that that’s all that there was. Young people were being raised into a world which had no spiritual value to it whatsoever, aside from what you were seeing on that screen. But everything was connected, it’s also about sex and about a lot of different things that were being repressed.
RR: Lenny, what was your experience?