Stephen R. Duncan’s The Rebel Café is both a boating of rediscovery and a argumentative alteration of an important aeon in American cultural history. In this accomplished retelling, an alt-left annual of the U.S.A. in the 1950s and aboriginal 1960s emerges that calls into catechism boilerplate angle of the aeon as actuality about quiescent, consensual and conservative. In this book, Professor Duncan journeys through the New York and San Francisco bohemian subcultures of those years, absolute as he goes the abysmal claimed and political access amid the chargeless alcohol and chargeless thinkers who fabricated their homes in the cafés, bars, saloons and clubs of North Beach and Greenwich Village.
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But his capacity actuality are not aloof the faces of the bohemian American exhausted of 1950s/1960s but additionally the places and spaces they created for chat and thought. What emerges in these pages is annihilation beneath than a absolute psycho-social cartography of an underground counter-culture of atramentous and white applesauce musicians, leftists, poets, artists, beatniks, gays and lesbians and added bodies of the demi-monde. Added than that, and cartography is a key chat in this context, Duncan is able to appearance how carefully affiliated these bi-coastal Bohemias absolutely were and how acquainted the citizenry of anniversary were of the activities of the other.
North Beach confined such as The Atramentous Cat and Tin Angel, and their Greenwich Village counterparts like the White Horse Tavern, the Village Vanguard and Café Society, were cathedrals of allocution and ideas. However, they were additionally platforms of performativity area aloft than activity characters lived lives that were themselves the actual announcement of the personal, political and aesthetic belief they espoused. At times, such tendencies could assume affected and narcissisticone thinks actuality of the behaviour of assertive associates of the Exhausted Generation. However, in the cases of bohemians such as African-American exhausted artisan Bob Kaufman and artisan and freeholder of the Tin Angel, Peggy Tolk-Watkins, there were, in practice, no gaps amid their personality, their behaviour, their art and their beliefs. They were the alive apotheosis of addition way of being.
As Duncan argues, both the proprietors and habitués of Rebel Cafés looked to European bohemia and venues such as Rodolphe Salis’ Le Chat Noir in Paris, Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich and Überbrettl in Berlin for inspiration. This is hardly hasty accustomed that abounding of those involved, such as Max Gordon (Village Vanguard), Barney Josephson (Café Society), Herbert Jacoby (Le Ruban Bleu) in New York, and Myer P. Cohen and John F. Crowley (The Atramentous Cat) in San Francisco, were themselves aboriginal or second-generation European immigrants. That afflatus was conceivably encapsulated in Der blaue Engel, Josef von Sternberg’s 1930 blur with Marlene Dietrich, with Dietrich herself article of a role archetypal for gay and lesbian bohemians in the two arctic cities.
But why San Francisco and New York? That catechism is aloft the ambit of The Rebel Café but acutely derives from the actuality that the U.S.A. is, afterwards all, a face state, the apperception of which is authentic by the angle of apparent afterlife and echoes in quotations like, “Go west, adolescent man!” and “From sea to animated sea.” What Duncan does accomplish bright is the actuality that the occupants of North Beach and Greenwich Village saw themselves and anniversary added as adumbrative of America’s amusing and cultural avant-garde socially in agreement of racial, gender and animal politics, and culturally in agreement of art, abstract and music.
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The backroom that acclaimed the Rebel Cafés from boilerplate association was added anxious with what we now alarm ‘gender politics’ than with issues of amusing and bread-and-butter justice. That said, the catechism of civilian rights and allegory loomed actual ample absolutely and those who drank in the Greenwich Village’s White Horse Tavern or afraid out in the Cellar in San Francisco were far in beforehand of the all-inclusive majority of their adolescent citizens in their cerebration on race. Not that Duncan is in any faculty naïve about the bohemians he portrays so insightfully. White bohemians, such as Jack Kerouac & Steve Allen and Allen Ginsberg, could be as patronising and colour dark as any white macho thirty-something from 1950s Muskogee or Minnesota. The aberration was they romanticised rather denigrated African-Americans. And, admitting abounding bohemians were themselves bi-ual or gay, the use of agreement such as ‘faggot’ and ‘fruit’ was aloof the tip of the bohemian, homophobic iceberg.
The abstract gods of bohemia were Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx, alike if the account of the closing were refracted through a dosage of American appearance and I.W.W. syndicalism. If the bohemians had little time for Soviet-style communism, abounding accustomed John F. Kennedy’s election. In this respect, as in others, ideas, behavior and belief were arbitrary rather than fixed. But abaft the doors of the White Horse Tavern, the Village Vanguard and the Tin Angel and Atramentous Cat, the New Left of the 1960s was born.
For its aboriginal decade or more, the soundtrack for these artists and activists was applesauce and blues. Professor Duncan writes with ascendancy about Dave Brubeck, Charles Mingus and Billie Holiday both as musicians and anti-racists, while he describes and references clubs such as the Vanguard, Five Spot, The Cellar and The Hawk. Pony Poindexterboth a applesauce modernist and political radicalis addition lesser-known amount to whom, Professor Duncan draws acceptable attention. That is one of the added joys of The Rebel Caféthe columnist is consistently aperture the aperture to new and acutely important scenesters, banishment the clairvoyant to check their own compassionate of these years.
Though Duncan downplays the acceptation and cultural amount of the balladry and applesauce phenomenon, he does awning this. He pays added absorption to the Beats adulation of jazz, generally acutely seeing and audition the music through their eyes and ears. Balladry and applesauce is and was an important practice, in accurate amidst African-American musicians and poets, but the accent the columnist gives in account to the acceptation of the Beats and, in particular, Kerouac and Ginsberg, is debatable. In abounding ways, Kenneth Rexroth, Kenneth Patchen, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Bob Kaufman and Amiri Barakaall Rebel Café assembly -have accurate abundant best arcane figures. As to Kerouac, with the barring of the aberrant Big Sur, it can be argued that he wrote (with beat assistance) one abundant atypical in On the Road but afresh rewrote it time and again. That said, there is no way that Duncan could abstain because the Beats in a cultural history of the aeon and Ginsberg was a noteworthy counter-cultural amount in every respect.
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The columnist additionally examines the actualization of the ‘new comedy,’ absorption on three of the new stand-upsMort Sahl, Lenny Bruce and Dick Gregory. While a cardinal of added comics congenital their careers in bohemia’s night clubs, best conspicuously Woody Allen, it was Sahl, Bruce and Gregory who accept had the greatest abiding access but, added chiefly here, who reflect best acutely the apple and backroom of The Rebel Café.
Yet again, the columnist is animate to contradictions in their corresponding positionsSahl batten adjoin allegory but ridiculed Dr. King’s 1963 March on Washington and, while Bruce’s ball offered a acerbic amusing critique, he additionally abhorred alive engagement. Dick Gregory was by far the best abolitionist and this was reflected in his absolute political activism. One can trace a band from Bruce to after comedians such as George Carlin, Denis Leary and Bill Hicks and, from Gregory, a band to Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock. As for Sahl, any cardinal of after stand-ups owe him a assertive debt.
But what all three had in accepted was a communicative appearance of commitment borne of the absolute performer-audience acquaintance appropriate of the nightclub/Rebel Café. This, Duncan suggests, was a aloft acumen why their acts translated beneath able-bodied to aloft theatre audiences. Talk, chat and account were, as acclaimed above, the bill of the Rebel Café and, their access to achievement offered a actual altered affectionate of appearance to that which pertained in aloft venues. In baby venues, the admirers is affair to the chat and allotment of the performance. In aloft theatres, the artisan performs to or at the audience, while admirers associates attestant the performance.
As Professor Duncan credibility out, it was in these spaces that so abounding aloft elements of after 1960s culturefrom comedy, poetry, theatre, and music to backroom and to struggles for adequation on all frontswere aboriginal articulate and alike acted out. Duncan agilely maps the access amid groups and individuals who ability in the accomplished accept seemed but distantly related. In fact, by absorption on the saloons, cafes, clubs and confined they inhabited, he achieves one of the best acceptable explanations yet for the after actualization of the sixties counterculture in the USA and its accent aloft the key accord amid personal, cultural and political revolution. As one of San Francisco’s bohemians put it:
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“The hated accountable of backroom begins to assume agonizingly important. Backroom in the faculty of amusing belief and not organization…The afterimage of a nation arch the apple into an ever-deepening hell of materialism and acquisitiveness and unholiness, dwarfs claimed problems. It presents itself assuredly as a ’cause’anarchy.”
The afterlife bell for the Rebel Café came with the access of its politics, ideas, values, abstract and art into boilerplate America in the sixties. As adolescent bodies accepted causes such as anti-racism and accord and consort chargeless adulation and anarchy, they bound counter-cultural abstracts such as Ginsberg, Paul Goodman and Alive Theatre architect Judith Molina to their bosoms. Inevitably, the hard-earned radicalism of such abstracts was watered bottomward in the process. And jazz, about afresh an acoustic music, would be replaced by amplified bedrock music. In turn, the back-slapping atmosphere of the Rebel Café and its accent on allocution could no best be abiding already the guitars acquainted in. As the music got louder, venues got aloft and allocution became accessory to celebrations of aggregate character bidding by and through bedrock music and its practitioners. The Rebel Café’s time had appear and gone but its access persisted, for a while at least.
Books such as Duncan’s are important because they acquiesce us to see the present through the accomplished of others and reflect aloft what is admired and what is ephemeral. There are books that acquaint you being and books that acquaint you being and accomplish you think. The Rebel Café best absolutely avalanche into the closing category. What is more, it is a arise acceptable read.
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