In the late seventies and early eighties, finished adolescence without understanding what happened during military service, it was time to discover the first books published is this part of Europe about a then little known generation of rebels without a cause, which, also here, launched some young people on the road.
In 1956 California publisher City Lights Books, located in 261 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco, published amid a scandal and amid accusations of obscenity the book of poems Howl, by Allen Ginsberg. The whole edition was seized by the police, which did nothing else than arouse interest in the publication and give an unexpected advertising. Once won the case the book were sold out within days, sixty thousand copies. The collection of poems was nothing but an explicit manifesto of the group of writers who became known as the beat generation, in a definition that sought to mix the words beaten and beatitude. On this side of the Atlantic, and particularly in Spain, everything arrived later, moreover in those years, between ten and twenty years on average. Howl appear correctly translated as Aullido and published by Visor Libros in 1981. Previously and enough discreetly, Barcelona publisher Luis de Caralt launched in May 1971 Jack Kerouac’s opera prima The Town and Country appeared in the States in 1950. in 1977 Alberto Corazón, in its poetry collection Visor, published in Madrid the anthology selected by Margaret Randall in 1969, which included texts by Ginsberg, Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, Leroy Jones, Philip Lamantia, Peter Orlowsky, Philip Whalen, John Wieners, Barbara Moraff, Diane di Prima, Jack Spiecer, Michael McClure and Gary Snyder, some of them lesser-known poets but linked to the beat generation.
Canary Islands, 1980. We were busy trying to forget that we did not exist and we would have worked thoroughly particularly at soldier’s home, where per one-fifth of our salary as recruits they served us a full litre of cola mixed with cheap whiskey. It was too little to forget but too much for our salary, so we had to ask to be invited many times. In the spare time between arrest and hangovers we used to go down to the city, Santa Cruz de Tenerife. That meant being far away from everything and everyone, so it was necessary to create specific universes, parallel worlds to fill up the absence, self-forgetfulness. But it had its advantages. Santa Cruz was a pleasant town with an excellent climate. Berbelito, Vallecas, Taquillas – everybody had a nickname, alter egos often unwillingly - knew well all that moved through the Candelaria Square and Pulido Walkway, particularly Captaincy, Military Government buildings and the artillery barracks. But even better Strelitzia, Snuupy, Tamara and other bar even with no name and others I no longer remember. The second one still stands in the same place and it seems that time has not passed thru; the last simply has been renamed.
We were forced to waste our lives establishing telephone connections between people who didn’t care and whom we didn’t care not even with infernal machines which if some of them are still kept must belong to any museum collection. Short freedom instants were curiously linked to military names. Captaincy overlooked the Weyler Square by Valeriano Weyler and Nicolau, architect of Captaincy building and responsible of the killing of thousands of Cubans one year before island independence. But, regardless of the occupation, the space is nice, there comes from the harbour, the shopping Castillo Street, then following to the Rambla de Pulido, where there were stablished some frequented bookstores most of them currently missing.
One May afternoon a couple of friends arrived in Santa Cruz. They came from Las Palmas, another good destination. We met in Weyler and meanwhile drinking the mandatory beers we talk about literature and some discovery recently made such Kerouac and Ginsberg who wrote things like "Someday you'll be lying / there in a nice trance / and suddenly a hot / soapy brush will be / applied to your face / - It’ll be unwellcome / - someday the / undertaker will shave you". One of the volumes they brought was Kerouac's Scattered Poems, published in Spain by Alberto Corazón in 1980. It was an issue that was still warm, almost hot off the street. The original English publication dates back from 1971. In the prologue Kerouac made a definition of wills why they were developing a "new-old Zen Lunacy poetry, writing whatever comes into your head as it comes, ( ) I could say lots more but aint got time or sense”. It’s almost a punk manifesto ahead of its time. In the same volume there is a selection of Western haiku, an adaptation of the Japanese poetic to the creative needs of Kerouac who made interpretations like this: "Missing a kick / at the icebox door / It closed anyway."
In Rambla Pulido bookstore I found the book and also, from the same Madrid publisher Ginsberg’s Reality Sandwiches, released in 1978, a selection of poems by the New Jersey poet written between 1953 and 1960, with a onanist statement of intentions in the subtitle, Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages for yr own joy and with references to his companions: a dedication to Corso and some lines about Burroughs: "A naked lunch is natural to us / we can eat reality sandwiches / But allegories are so much lettuce / Don’t hide the madness."
I thought the military pullover - no one could swear it was, went unnoticed and was easy to roll up - it was a good complement to jeans and a ticket ferry bound for Las Palmas, so I went there. From my own return I should worry later. I had been in Las Palmas few months earlier, concentrated in Rehoyas headquarters, in Lomas Coloradas, Isleta. It was a hell of heat and substantially stupid military activities. The second arrival in the city was immersed in the darkness of the night and in memories of the same hue. Some of my friends worked in a bar and had rented a small apartment, all around Santa Catalina Park, in one of the surrounding streets, Tomas Miler, Joaquín Costa or Miguel Rosas, who knows. I still have some dark memories of the apartment, a few beers and Kerouac's Scattered Poems. Back to Santa Cruz was an odyssey, I missed the ferry and ended up finding a flight and, at some ungodly hour I transmuted in military changing my clothes in front of a shop display in Castillo Street.
In October we were kicked off, some people later than others, we had returned our white books and a kind of probation. Doubts and uncertainty kept us some days in Santa Cruz. Along the last year we had lived when possible in an apartment in La Salud neighbourhood, at Princesa Dacil Street and recently near Garcia Sanabria Park, something more elegant. Berbelito finally returned to Redondela, homeland of fraudulent oil, Taquillas to Valencia, Vallecas to Vallecas, Madrid, and I come back to Barcelona, a city in which everything and everyone seemed to have changed. Perhaps it was me who changed.
In late October we discovered William Seward Burroughs, in April 1980 was published Nova Express, Junkie in September and one year later, on September ‘81, appeared Naked Lunch first edition in Spanish, all of them in the pocket collection Libro Amigo of the extinct Editorial Bruguera. It was the introduction to the beat narrative within the particular Saint Louis writer point of view. Burroughs abounded in an underworld where he had condemned himself and where he sailed pretty well as the River Styx boatman. But it was not an unknown underworld. Over the years more than a friend would cross the lagoon by Charon's hand. Nova Express was the latest delivery in the US but here was the first of the trilogy which also includes The Soft Machine and The Ticket That Exploded. Nova Express explored abstract random technical forms of literature as the fold up and cut in experienced by the painter and writer Brion Gysin with the result, for the reader, could become hideously incomprehensible. In December I found in Leviatan booksellers The Happy Birthday of Death, published in the Visor collection in '78.
Just a few weeks later, on January 6, ‘82, that year was Wednesday, I went with a colleague to the train station. I’ve got some money on a train travel card so we get on an express train northbound to Gijon. We were going to meet again some fellows from the military service days, gone less than a year before. We arrived at the Asturian coast and we met the Guaje and shared some beers with him hearing some John Mayal blues. We drank too much and I struggled hard to find the hostel where we were staying, it was somewhere under an arcaded sidewalk. I still wonder how we have found it. We continue to a village called San Cucao de Llanera, halfway between Gijón and Oviedo, where we would find a friend of my colleague. Ramón had returned few months ago and he was then handling a milk cistern by some farms around in the shire. One day we went with him. We wake up at bedtime, about half past four. The first stop was to refuel. A couple of nearly pure alcohol grape drink as drank the rest of truck drivers who began the day on San Cucao outskirts. We didn’t come back again.
In those days it was still easy to find quality psychotropics, perhaps not as much as those vulcans we bought few years ago when we had to half the doses with a razor blade because otherwise the effects could be excessive. They called them vulcans because lysergic acid diethylamide was diluted in a synthetic absorbent truncated cone that someone must relate to a volcano. In those days it was more common to find the acid diluted in blotter. After an evening when Six Pelas tried to live up to his nickname reminding to the whole parish why he was worth more than five pesetas, I spent the night talking with Janis Joplin, I seated on a water closet, she from Pearl’s cover until it sun rose. From there we went on the narrow gauge railway to Galicia, until reaching Redondela, there Berbelito expected us. He still was living with his parents and we stayed there, a nice two-story house with a cellar where we made queimadas (burned rum) each time we returned. We walked through Pontevedra and Vigo, among beers, hard drinks, cheap Ribeiro wines and blotters. We did not know but Berbelito would die eleven years later by a stomach disease.
One day we hit the road to hitchhike. We wanted journeys not too long just to approaching Barcelona, but the first guy who stopped took us straight to Madrid. Back again in Madrid. I had been for the first time on March ‘80, one year and a couple of months earlier. I signed up to go to a demonstration by university students held on Sunday 3. Several coaches left University Square in Barcelona. The arrival was outstanding. A big party was going on the campus of the Autonomous University to welcome the students who had come from all over Spain. It was night time and there was plenty of beer. A lot of young locals turned to help those who were arriving offering accommodation. Eighteen of us ended up in a small apartment on San Bartolome Street in the heart of the city. It belonged to Jesus, a guy slightly older than us, thin as a stick and with a beard and moustache that never in life would grow up excessively. We took for the first time Madrid underground which circulates in the opposite direction and descended in Chueca station. I loved that space and it still amazes me as we stayed lean eighteen people in that area. On other occasions I had short walks in the small salon, glancing at books, magazines and records. I sat on the floor and memorized the lyrics of Carly Simon, No Secrets. Beneath the apartment there was a Chinese restaurant where I would eventually learn to eat with chopsticks, it was cheap and had air conditioning, fact that I’d appreciate a few months later. It was guaranteed by three lanterns and a horizontal yellow poster labelled with black and red letters: Kei Wah Chinese Restaurant. I can’t transcribe the four Mandarin characters. A couple of doors away, at number 20, a shoemaker announced its sample and, at the street end, where San Bartolome dies in Augusto Figueroa Street, Mariano Abad offered such a wholesale sales. A chubby and smiling old man watched the street from his balcony on the first floor. In front of the restaurant had parked a car with two wheels upon the sidewalk. I have been recently there and it seems that everything has moved slightly, where stood the Chinese restaurant there is a sign saying Izakaya Han, looks like a sushi bar, the label of the shoe store has been renovated but have still the same size, the same colour and now it’s clean and only puts Shoes on Display; where there was the label of Mr. Mariano Abad now is Adela Gil and they have painted and cleaned up the facade. The stocky gentleman is more than likely that he died, now poke out a handsome shirtless young who also smiles the by passers. Beneath there’s no way to park a car.
June 1982 arrived and with it Barcelona Book Fair and a succession of findings, issues we didn’t know until then published by Ediciones Júcar and the underground Star Books between 1977 and 1980. Star Books published Corso’s Gasoline; Neal Cassady’s The First Third who become Kerouac’s character of some of his novels; and The Yage Letters, the correspondence between Burroughs and Ginsberg from Colombia, Ecuador and Peru in search of the ayahuasca, the drug used by shamans. Júcar editions had published in its collection of Contemporary Narrative two works of Burroughs: Exterminator and The Last Words of Dutch Schultz. From the first one we adapted one story, The Discipline of ME (Minimum Effort) for radiobroadcast; from the second I retain, in addition to the book, the memory of the cover as one of my friends read it in the subway: an old photograph of mobster mortally wounded on the table of a restaurant in Newark, the Palace Chophouse. His hat tilted between his head and the surface of the table, behind a mirror in which the impacts of three bullets are seen reflected the arrival of two police officers. He wore his coat.
Then Jack Kerouac appeared. Between January 1981 and January 1982 appeared the first Spanish editions of On the Road and The Dharma Bums, both an irresistible invitation to hit the road and extend the thumb. Yes! Yes, man, you sure come go! (Second Part, Chapter 7). Bruguera continued to explore the reef and published the first one in hardback in its Universal Literature Collection.
On the road send us curiously to the railway, namely Barcelona’s France Station, and from the France Station to Paris. We carried two bottles of brandy to sell in Amsterdam and recover some money. But we awoke in Paris’ Austerlitz station in the form of vague memories and a monumental hangover. The search for a cheap pension in the Magenta boulevard and a Danish friend at Etoile, - she was from Aarhus and I do not know why she came to Paris-, the first encounter with the cathedral was comparable to the description of Kerouac in Lonesome Traveller: ...and my first sight of Notre Dame strange as a lost dream. After Paris followed Brussels, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Hamburg... until the road ended up in Narvik, Norway, where the day lasted twenty four hours, no open bars and began the road leading to the north limits. Between Amsterdam and Copenhagen we shared a train compartment with a Dutch couple of stoners who did not stop rolling joints all the way. They were skilled and had that refined technique that requires two rolling papers for a trumpet with a lid that opens burning slightly the edges. Filigree. On those days you could still smoke, even tobacco, on trains and everywhere, and the immediate consequence was that we were traveling inside a toxic hashish cloud. The best scene happened at the German passport control, when a policeman, who did not get to see his face through the fog, asked us documentation: Coff, coff. Passport bitte, coff, coff !! He did not arrest anyone but left smiling.
In Narvik the road was the only alternative to any mean of transport, anyway absolutely inaccessible to our budget. We left even the beer, too expensive, during the days of tour in the Norwegian fjords, so we were consuming the large piece of hash. The generosity of Swiss and Norwegian drivers approached us to Magerøya, where the North Cape. We arrived on foot to the site and there we find the meter guard who demanded us to pay the parking. He is still waiting. I had agreed with some friends to send me their correspondence to Honingsvåg mailing list, so I went to the office through there was nothing, however I took the opportunity to send some immoderate dimensions envelopes to some friends who I wanted to surprise. We took some pictures next to the globe pointing the most extreme position of continental Europe, in my case with the cap, slightly flattened, with which I tried to emulate Kerouac.
We had to hitchhike again to return and we were lucky meeting a couple of Finns returning to their land, our next target. They were driving a taxi that obviously was not on duty. I tried to remember everything I had been taught by a couple of Finnish friends who lived in Barcelona, Kimo and Kerry. But it wasn’t too much. I was just taught to count up to ten, to say a few kind words and to order beer. I still remember Kerry in Vilanova carnivals trying to avoid the wasting of Muscat wine pouring down to the floor through a broken barrel, he jumped quick as a light from the outside to the cellar and opened wide his mouth under the crack. Almost not a drop was lost. Yksi olut kiitos, I repeated some days later, and I got a bottle of beer in my hands. But taxi drivers were heading towards their country undaunted by the steppes of northern Scandinavia. I should remember that we’ve been more than a week without drinking even a small canned beer when the co-pilot reached down under his seat and pulled out a half-litre bottle of Finnish vodka and sputtered in their language some incomprehensible thing for us that we simply interpret as if we wanted to have a drink. Half an hour later we had crossed the border between Norway and Finland and had already drank three bottles and at some point we realized that our paths diverged, despite the newfound friendship. We had to take the road southwards and finally we camped under a bridge just trying to make fried eggs which ended up with mosquitos as side dish. We starved. In Rovaniemi finished the road and began the train. I’ve opened Kerouac’s Scattered Poems and read: All That hichthikin / All that railroadin / All that coming back.
Since then have been appearing many translations to Spanish. Some fashion and some interest in reliving the experiences and literature of the beat generation have produced also some movies, The Last Time I Committed Suicide, The Naked Lunch or On the Road, among others, and there have been exhibitions and, of course, some anthology books and new publications so far remained unpublished. So they have continued beating.