Notes from the Underground
The 60s were ushered in with a glamorous Camelot White House, coffee houses in every city or college town, bohemians, jazz, and political action.
What did you wear in the early 60s? Or did you mix all the looks from glamorous to Beat? How did the early 60s touch you?
Women’s voices and memories from the bohemian counterculture, early 60s
There were two San Francisco counter-cultures, “one of them was literate,” as Ferlinghetti put it—the Beats or beatniks in North Beach.
The Mother of Jazz Poetry: Most people have heard of Beat poets like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. But the artist first known for combining poetry and jazz is not as well known—ruth weiss is one of the first Beat poets in supporting African American artists and mixed-race creative collaborations.
Diane di Prima
di Prima is one of the first female Beat poets and a legend all on her own. Her autobiography, Recollections of My Life As a Woman, includes a cover photograph of di Prima giving a reading while perched on top of a piano.
Baez’s distinctive vocal style and political activism has a significant impact on popular music. She is one of the first musicians to use her popularity as a vehicle for social protest, singing and marching for human rights and peace. Baez comes to be considered the “most accomplished interpretive folksinger/songwriter of the 1960s.”
1960, “Ella in Berlin: Mack the Knife (Live)” wins Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance; Ella Fitzgerald was called the First Lady of Song, Queen of Jazz, and Lady Ella.
Like many folk singers of the 60s, Collins is drawn to social activism and composes a ballad entitled “Che” in honor of the 60s icon Che Guevara and is an influential performer.
Carole King is an American singer, songwriter, and pianist. King writes more than two-dozen chart hits for numerous artists during the 1960s, many of which have become standards.
Baez, Joan. And a Voice to Sing With: A Memoir. New York: Simon & Schuster, reissue, 2000, 1987.
Bremser, Bonnie. Troia: Mexican Memoirs. Champaign, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 2007.
Cassady, Carolyn. Off the Road: My Years with Cassady, Kerouac, and Ginsberg. New York: Overlook TP Reprint Ed., 2008, 1991.
—. Heart Beat: My Life with Jack and Neal. Berkeley, CA: Creative Arts Book Co., 1976.
Collins, Judy. Trust Your Heart. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1987.
Di Prima, Diane. Recollections of My Life as a Woman: The New York Years. New York: Penguin, 2002.
—. Memoirs of a Beatnik. New York: Penguin, 1998.
Johnson, Joyce. Minor Characters: A Beat Memoir. New York: Penguin, 1999.
Jones, Hettie. How I Became Hettie Jones. New York: Grove Press, 1996.
Kyger, Joanne . Strange Big Moon: The Japan and India Journals, 1960-1964. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2000.
weiss, ruth. Can’t Stop the Beat: Life and Words of a Beat Poet. Studio City, CA: Divine Arts, 2011.
Zwerling, Harriet Sohmers. Notes of a Nude Model: & Other Pieces. New York: Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2003.
Note: Often friends and lovers of the famous iconoclasts, women are now beginning to be recognized for their own roles in forging the Beat movement and for their daring attempts to live as freely as did the men in their circle, years before Women’s Liberation.
Media and Links
Joan Baez “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” 1963
Diane Di Prima
The Poetry Deal: A Film with Diane Di Prima (2011)
ruth weiss “Can’t Stop the Beat”
ruth weiss “I Always Thought You Black” audio MP3 file, performance poetry with jazz, San Francisco,1958
ruth weiss, “Make Waves, A New View of Matter,” Video montage of North Beach street poetry