WHY A NEOBOHEMIA?
Something is clearly lacking in our world today, our Zeitgiest, or our Weltanschaung. Something that today is best described in the classical German of nearly a century ago, but which is almost inexpressible in English today.
Perhaps a bit of history will help. The first American movement that held any sense of newness was the Beat Generation[i], comprised of people like Jack Kerouac, Larence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, and others. It is perhaps indecent to footnote all of this information when anyone can look it up in Wikipedia, for where it is taken, but few people look things up anymore.
What is important here is what it meant, as a whole. Kerouac’s On The Road took many too the fast roads of America, into the nightclubs, the jazz of Charlie Parker to Miles Davis, the energy, drugs, sex, wild intensity, and the all out collapse of meaning. Allen Ginsberg’s Howl literally howled with obscenity, sexual depravity and ecstasy, and a sense of utter futility of life while extolling its praises. The best poet of the group was Ferlingheti and his Coney Island of the Mind and his City Lights Book store.
They were replaced by the “Hip,” called “hippies” by the press. They are memorable and provided many interesting moments – anyone could join as well. One of their key moments was the Chicago Convention and subsequent trial as well as Woodstock.
Then what happened? Yuppies? Millennials? Wall Street? The closest thing was the Occupy movement which is still being kept alive, but little of literary, artistic, or philosophical value comes of it. Perhaps an incremental effect on the upper 1%, but they are a self-correcting lot and will always adapt.
So what is a Bohemian[ii] in this age of the blog? Of course, a NeoBohemian. The only reason the “Bohemian” term went out of fashin was the Beat Generation, followed by the Hip Generation. After that, nothing. Well, Mark Twain considered himself a Bohemian. And in this age, there is no need to move to a specific location – just start a “blog,” as it is called.
So, welcome. No fetters of conventional reasoning, art, or morality. Just come up with something interesting, not parroting the Corporate Media.
[i] The Beat Generation was a group of American post-World War II writers who came to prominence in the 1950s, as well as the cultural phenomena that they both documented and inspired. Central elements of “Beat” culture included rejection of received standards, innovations in style, experimentation with drugs, alternative sexualities, an interest in Eastern religion, a rejection of materialism, and explicit portrayals of the human condition.
Allen Ginsberg‘s Howl (1956), William S. Burroughs‘s Naked Lunch (1959) and Jack Kerouac‘s On the Road (1957) are among the best known examples of Beat literature. Both Howl and Naked Lunch were the focus of obscenity trials that ultimately helped to liberalize publishing in the United States. The members of the Beat Generation developed a reputation as new bohemian hedonists, who celebrated non-conformity and spontaneous creativity.
The original “Beat Generation” writers met in New York. Later, in the mid-1950s, the central figures (with the exception of Burroughs) ended up together in San Francisco where they met and became friends of figures associated with the San Francisco Renaissance.
Greenwich Village is generally known as an important landmark on the map of American bohemian culture. The neighborhood is known for its colorful, artistic residents and the alternative culture they propagate. Due in part to the progressive attitudes of many of its residents, the Village has traditionally been a focal point of new movements and ideas, whether political, artistic, or cultural. This tradition as an enclave of avant-garde and alternative culture was established during the 19th century and into the 20th century, when small presses, art galleries, and experimental theater thrived.
The Tenth Street Studio Building was situated at 51 West 10th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, the building was commissioned by James Boorman Johnston and designed by Richard Morris Hunt. Its innovative design soon represented a national architectural prototype, and featured a domed central gallery, from which interconnected rooms radiated. Hunt’s studio within the building housed the first architectural school in the United States. Soon after its completion in 1857, the building helped to make Greenwich Village central to the arts in New York City, drawing artists from all over the country to work, exhibit, and sell their art. In its initial years Winslow Homer took a studio there, as did Edward Lamson Henry, and many of the artists of the Hudson River School, including Frederic Church and Albert Bierstadt.
The Hotel Albert from the late 19th century through the 21st century has served as a cultural icon of Greenwich Village. Opened during the 1880s and originally located at 11th Street and University Place, called the Hotel St. Stephan and then after 1902, called The Hotel Albert while under the ownership of William Ryder it served as a meeting place, restaurant and dwelling for several important artists and writers from the late 19th century well into the 20th century. After 1902 the owner of the Hotel Albert’s brother Albert Pinkham Ryder lived and painted there. Some of the other famous guests who lived there include: Augustus St. Gaudens, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, Hart Crane, Walt Whitman, Anaïs Nin, Thomas Wolfe, Robert Lowell, Horton Foote, Salvador Dalí, Philip Guston, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, and many others. During the golden age of bohemianism, Greenwich Village became famous for such eccentrics as Joe Gould (profiled at length by Joseph Mitchell) and Maxwell Bodenheim, dancer Isadora Duncan, writer William Faulkner, and playwright Eugene O’Neill. Political rebellion also made its home here, whether serious (John Reed) or frivolous (Marcel Duchamp and friends set off balloons from atop Washington Square Arch, proclaiming the founding of “The Independent Republic of Greenwich Village”).
Cherry Lane Theatre is also located in Greenwich Village
In 1924, the Cherry Lane Theatre was established. Located at 38 Commerce Street it is New York City’s oldest continuously running Off-Broadway theater. A landmark in Greenwich Village’s cultural landscape, it was built as a farm silo in 1817, and also served as a tobacco warehouse and box factory before Edna St. Vincent Millay and other members of the Provincetown Players converted the structure into a theatre they christened the Cherry Lane Playhouse, which opened on March 24, 1924, with the play The Man Who Ate the Popomack. During the 1940s The Living Theatre, Theatre of the Absurd, and the Downtown Theater movement all took root there, and it developed a reputation as a place where aspiring playwrights and emerging voices could showcase their work.
In one of the many Manhattan properties Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and her husband owned, Gertrude Whitney established the Whitney Studio Club at 8 West 8th Street as a facility where young artists could exhibit their works in 1914. By the 1930s the place would evolve to become her greatest legacy, the Whitney Museum of American Art, on the site of today’s New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture. The Whitney was founded in 1931, as an answer to the then newly founded (1928) Museum of Modern Art‘s collection of mostly European modernism and its neglect of American Art. Gertrude Whitney decided to put the time and money into the museum after the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art turned down her offer to contribute her twenty-five-year collection of modern art works. In 1936, the renowned Abstract Expressionist artist and teacher Hans Hofmann moved his art school from E. 57th Street to 52 West 9th Street. In 1938, Hofmann moved again to a more permanent home at 52 West 8th Street. The school remained active until 1958 when Hofmann retired from teaching.
The Village hosted the first racially integrated night club in the United States, when the nightclub Café Society was opened in 1938 at 1 Sheridan Square by Barney Josephson. Café Society showcased African American talent and was intended to be an American version of the political cabarets Josephson had seen in Europe before World War II. Notable performers there included among others: Pearl Bailey, Count Basie, Nat King Cole, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Coleman Hawkins, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Burl Ives, Lead Belly, Anita O’Day, Charlie Parker, Les Paul and Mary Ford, Paul Robeson, Kay Starr, Art Tatum, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Josh White, Teddy Wilson, Lester Young, and The Weavers, who also in Christmas 1949, played at the Village Vanguard.