Friday, June 13, 2014

"How to Speak Hip": a video lesson from 1959

"You holding, man? I got the bread." "I don't want your money, Honey: I want your Time." 
William S Burroughs, Dead Fingers Talk

The Beats appropriated language in a way that had seldom been seen in American literature up to that time. Burroughs borrowed freely from jail argot and drug slang, Kerouac and Ginsberg reproduced African-American street talk they had heard in the flophouses, trainyards, and war-time shipyards from Brooklyn to San Francisco. 

The result was a linguistic doublespeak that was bound to confuse the uninitiated and confound the critics. Out of the literary Babel of inside jokes, cross-references and cut-up sentences the Beat writers revealed a playfulness to language that eventually became a hallmark [and some would say self-parody] of the movement itself.

What came to be known as hip speech -- a form of popularized underground lingo -- soon inflected American culture from comic strips to movies, television to advertising. Some of the movement's first writers (most especially Kerouac) were appalled at the un-intentioned results of their experiments with language and struggled to explain themselves, usually to uncomprehending larger audiences. 

Ginsberg, in typical style, shrugged off most attacks and relished the attention his writing brought. After he won his censorship battle over the publication of "Howl" in 1956, Ginsberg became the most visible and amusing champion of free speech for an entire generation.

The beat boom of the late nineteen-fifties spawned some unusual artifacts. Here to enlighten the unenlightened about the varieties of hip-speak is the unparalleled Geets Romo in an animated video created by Shanty Baba, an artist in Cornwall, England. The original recording, How to Speak Hip, was released in 1959 by Del Brent (who plays the straight-laced announcer) and John Close (as the "brain-cloudy" Geets).

No comments: