Andy Clausen’s “Beat: A First-Hand Account of the Latter Days of the Beat Generation”

Reviewed by Arnold Snyder

This book is a collection of stories about the poets and writers we now think of as the beats — Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Jack Micheline, Peter Orlovsky, Diane DiPrima, Anne Waldman, Ray Bremser, Bob Kaufman, Harold Norse, Philip Whalen, William Burroughs, Charles Bukowski and many others.

Clausen was not there in the 1950s heyday of the beats when most of these characters were labeled the “beat generation” by media struggling to understand them. But in the 60s and 70s, he got to know them all, hung out with them, did poetry readings with them and was accepted and respected by them as one of them. Ginsberg became his mentor and Corso became one of his close friends.

This is a fun book to read. Clausen describes what to expect from it early on:

I will try and keep you awake with stories of the latter-day Beats and they might pop up out of sequence, rolling out of my mind like a film edited by Dziga Vertov, dreams, subplots, asides, but all of it the way I saw and heard it. You’ll get to know me and you can decide how accurate I am . . . Sometimes I’ve paraphrased or approximated, but when you read this you will hear it like it was yesterday.

I heard Clausen read his poetry hundreds of times in the 1970s, and his voice and style come through beautifully in this rambling memoir, which comes off more as poetry than prose. It’s not a chronological retelling of his experiences with these characters, but a series of anecdotes that progress by theme.

I’ve mentioned in other reviews on this site that one of the reasons I like both Henry Miller’s and Charles Bukowski’s prose is that you can open any of their books anywhere and just start reading and they capture you. Clausen’s writing is the same. Here’s how he describes the scene where a small group of poets are gathered in San Francisco before attending a reading by Ginsberg:

Out of the cracked for air kitchen window, one could hear the big bassoon boats and oboe tugs, big notes expanding, shaking the potato fog as Karl Malden’s 400-horse interceptor engine roars hopping an asphalt mogul and the eye-poultice crisp blue drinkability of the Hamm’s Beer sign, hear the tom-toms, ‘from the land of sky blue waters, Hamm’s the beer refreshing, Hamm’s Beer,’ and the Chinese sounds like Mozart midst Slavic proverbs as new money staggers into dark limos and Spanglish and Calexico blasts from boombox sidewalks dancing and wall shaking low riders with the streetside boo wafting and David Moe wants us all to stop our attempts at humor and parsing of the day’s news and listen to his new poem.

In the 1970s when Andy was a regular at the poetry readings in Berkeley and San Francisco, he introduced me to Jack Micheline one night at the Coffee Gallery in San Francisco. He’d named his son “Cassidy,” after beat legend Neal Cassady. Allen Ginsberg said the first time he saw Andy read he felt he was seeing a young Neal Cassady.

I used to haunt the poetry readings in the Bay area to do comedy that was tolerated, more or less, by the poetry crowd. Andy read hundreds of times at the Starry Plough Irish Pub and La Salamandra in Berkeley, but also at the Coffee Gallery and Minnie’s Can Do Club in San Francisco and other local poets hangouts. Andy’s style was loud and boisterous. He was prolific. I don’t think I ever saw him read the same poem twice.

He was a working man, a hard-drinking hod carrier and strong as an ox. He used to brag about how many one-armed push-ups he could do and I saw him demonstrate this talent on many a barroom floor.

Clausen lived his life for poetry and was as deeply connected to the beat poets as anyone alive. Ginsberg and Gregory Corso praised him, traveled with him, invited him to do readings with them. Yet, Clausen has remained relatively unknown. If you go to the Poetry Foundation website that lists thousands of poets, Clausen’s name is not there. If you go to, the website of the Academy of American Poets, you won’t find any mention of Andy Clausen. Andy is well-known in the poetry underground, but virtually unknown in the world at large.

The fact is Andy is too blue collar, too crude, too rough, too real to be recognized by the academics that decide which poets and writers are worthy of fame. Ginsberg was better educated, more erudite, more sophisticated, more worthy. Clausen is more like Bukowski, who never got much praise from academia.

Now, because of the stories Andy tells in this book of his travels and adventures with Ginsberg and Corso, I see Andy is starting to be recognized.

Here’s a chance to read the last of the beat poets. Also, if you live on the East Coast, Andy lives in Woodstock and still reads frequently in the New York/New Jersey area. Watch for him in a neighborhood bar near you.

Anne Waldman said: “The poems soar and rage but ultimately reside in empathy . . . Clausen’s oeurvre is a reminder that poetry comes from the street and struggle.”

Gregory Corso said: “That’s why I’m reading with Andy. He’s coming to the fore after living it for years.”

Allen Ginsberg said: “I have long admired his writing; of all the poets younger than my own generation in the U.S.A., he has for a long time seemed the most penetrant and clear and inventive and free.”

Beat: A First-Hand Account of the Latter Days of the Beat Generation is illustrated with line drawings by Michael Wojczuk, who was also a poet in the Berkeley crowd back then. There are also numerous photos of Andy and the beat poets, plus reproductions of posters for poetry readings, mostly from the 1970s and 80s.

Any aficionado of the beat poets would love this book. Andy’s stories introduce you to these guys in such a personal way that they become real and human, with all of their faults and foibles and unique worldviews.

Ppb, 210 pages. You can purchase this book for $17.95 from Amazon.

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Charles Bukowski’s Hollywood: Hank Gets Happy

[This review first published 15 Feb 2013.]

hollywoodHollywood is the last installment of Bukowski’s autobiographical Henry Chinaski series. It’s the thinly-disguised story of the making of the 1987 movie, Barfly, which starred Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway. The Chinaski of Hollywood is a radical departure from the Henry Chinaski of the earlier novels. In Hollywood, Hank is prosperous and content, doing what he wants, living in a comfortable house with his wife, whom he calls “my good Sarah,” driving a new BMW. Henry has it made. Continue reading Charles Bukowski’s Hollywood: Hank Gets Happy

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Charles Bukowski’s Pulp: A Drink to Victory

[This review initially posted on 8 Feb 2013.]

Pulp by Charles BukowskiPulp is the only one of Charles Bukowski’s novels that’s not written from the perspective of Bukowski’s alter ego, Henry Chinaski. After all the agonized and hilarious autobiographical accounts of pain, frustration, poor health and madness of his earlier novels, the great man had at last come to a subject too enormous and painful to deal with directly.

Pulp was Bukowski’s last novel, published in 1994, the same year he died of leukemia at the age of 73. As he was writing this book, he knew his days were numbered. Continue reading Charles Bukowski’s Pulp: A Drink to Victory

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The Assault on Tony’s by John O’Brien – An Alcoholic’s View of Armageddon

[This review intially posted on 18 Jan 2012.]

The Assault on Tony's by John O'BrienOkay, here’s the premise of John O’Brien’s The Assault on Tony’s.

A handful of rich Republican alcoholics stop in at their favorite bar near the country club to ride out a riot. They all arrive at the bar with a couple of weapons—a Glock, a Walther, a couple of Dirty Harry .44 Magnums, a Beretta 92F. Apparently they’re always packing, but now they’re packing double and thank goodness, because the riot soon turns into Armageddon. Continue reading The Assault on Tony’s by John O’Brien – An Alcoholic’s View of Armageddon

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Jack Black’s You Can’t Win: On the Vagabond Life

[This review initially posted on7 Dec 2012.]

You Can't Win by Jack BlackYou Can’t Win by Jack Black is a memoir of life among the “yeggs,” an American subculture that existed for decades in the early twentieth century, with tens of thousands of members pretty well hidden from the society at large. Today, the slang term “yegg” has become synonymous with “safe cracker.” A hundred years ago, yeggs were vagabonds who traveled by hopping freights, convened in the hobo jungles that sprang up on the outskirts of towns that had railroad yards, and lived primarily by committing small-time theft. Continue reading Jack Black’s You Can’t Win: On the Vagabond Life

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William S. Burroughs’ Junky: A Spiritual Quest via Heroin Addiction

[This review intially posted on 23 Nov 2012.]

Junkie by William BurroughsJunky, a semi-autobiographical novel by William S. Burroughs, is a seductive story set at the inception of the “hip” subculture in America. The story follows a man at odds with American mainstream culture into a quest for spiritual meaning via heroin. Burroughs did, in fact, start using heroin in 1944 and within a year, he was an addict. Though the book does not shy away from the sordid aspects of an addict’s life, this is not a literary Reefer Madness. Continue reading William S. Burroughs’ Junky: A Spiritual Quest via Heroin Addiction

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Charles Bukowski’s Ham on Rye: The Good Fight

Ham on Rye by Charles BukowskiCharles Bukowski’s fourth novel, Ham on Rye, was written in 1982, after he had found success as a writer, moved from East Hollywood to the harborside village of San Pedro, and had established his relationship with Linda Lee Beighle, whom he would marry and stay with the rest of his life. Ham on Rye is an autobiographical novel about Bukowski’s childhood during the Great Depression, and from this vantage point of relative security and well-being and love, he could look back on the harrowing forces that formed him in a way that transforms his personal pain into a brilliant work about what it is to be human. Continue reading Charles Bukowski’s Ham on Rye: The Good Fight

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Charles Bukowski’s Factotum: Jack o’ No Trades

factotumA “factotum” (Latin for “do everything”) is a jack of all trades—a guy who can trim your hedges, tune-up your car, fix your leaky kitchen faucet, and build a tool shed in your backyard. As the title of Bukowski’s second novel, the term Factotum is used tongue-in-cheek. Although Hank Chinaski, Bukowski’s alter ego, describes some twenty jobs he had as a struggling young writer, he had no talent for doing anything other than writing, and he had no desire to work at anything but writing. He didn’t fit in as an employee anywhere and clearly never could—he sees the way the world works too clearly and can’t hide his contempt for his “superiors,” especially after selling a story to a top literary mag. But he had to pay the rent and buy booze. So, here he is, pushing the boulder up the mountain over and over again. Continue reading Charles Bukowski’s Factotum: Jack o’ No Trades

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John O’Brien’s Stripper Lessons: A Study of Loneliness

Stripper Lessons by John O'BrienStripper Lessons by John O’Brien is a story about a lonely middle-aged guy (Carroll) in a dead-end job, who spends his evenings watching nude dancers at an L.A. strip club called Indiscretions. He’s friendless and has no interests beyond the strip club. Socially awkward, he worries constantly (both at work and at the club) about saying or doing the wrong thing.

As in his first published novel, Leaving Las Vegas, O’Brien provides no backstory for his main character (or any of the characters). There’s no easy psychological explanation, no hint of childhood trauma. By refusing to divulge any biographical details for such a character, O’Brien makes Stripper Lessons a study of loneliness itself, and that makes the novel hard to put down. Continue reading John O’Brien’s Stripper Lessons: A Study of Loneliness

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John O’Brien’s Leaving Las Vegas – The Exhilaration of Suicide

Leaving Las Vegas by John O'BrienThe film version of Leaving Las Vegas is a depressing view of an alcoholic (Ben) who is drinking himself to death, and his touching friendship with a prostitute (Sera) he meets in Las Vegas in the final weeks of his life.

The novel Leaving Las Vegas is an exhilarating experience inside the head of an alcoholic who has decided to drink himself to death, and his touching friendship with a prostitute (Sera) he meets in Las Vegas in the final weeks of his life. Continue reading John O’Brien’s Leaving Las Vegas – The Exhilaration of Suicide

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