Western Oregon University Exhibition: From Bop Apocalypse to Blitzkrieg Bop

From Bop Apocalypse to Blitzkrieg Bop:
The CounterCulture of the Beat and Punk Generations

The title directly refers to the phrase “bop apocalypse” used by Allen Ginsberg in his seminal beatnik opus “Howl,” while “Blitzkrieg Bop” was the cornerstone “hit” of the Ramones, which can currently be heard on commercials during prime time television. The links between the two generations have been discussed at length in books like Beat Punks by Victor Bockris, while artists from the 1970s, including Richard Hell and Patti Smith, were cross-over poet/singers that made a significant impact on pop culture of the time by weaving beatnik style with punk attitude. Elder beats like William Burroughs would sit in the front row during Smith’s performances. During the late 1970s, Allen Ginsberg wrote “Punk Rock You’re My Big Crybaby,” a poem about punks in San Francisco at the infamous club Mabuhay Gardens. A Xerox copy, with hand-written corrections, signed by him, sold for $345.00 in Spring 2006). In 1982, Ginsberg made a guest appearance on the Clash’s Top 40 record “Combat Rock” and later released his own LP, “The Lion for Real,” featuring avant-punk No Wave pioneer Arto Lindsay, in late 1989. As a young man, even I was able to get printed in Xeroxed fanzines alongside Charles Bukowski and Carl Solomon (Ginsberg dedicated “Howl” to him) because the two worlds/two generations existed in close contact, forming a kind of Do-It-Yourself, close to the ground synergy.

The exhibition was co-curated by English instructor David Ensminger and English students Bryan Beck and Sarah Speelman, all of whom are in the punk band Cowboys! Cowboys! Cowboys! It was located on the second floor of Hammersly Library at Western Oregon University and explored, highlighted, and illuminated the myriad connections between the Beats and Punks by displaying a wide range of materials that immersed viewers in the worldview and roles of such countercultures. For the Beat selections, we offered many rare, hard-to-find, and foreign edition books. We also gathered journals, LPs, and ephemera from the period and did not just highlight typically recognized work; instead, we also focused on the significant, insightful, and sometimes more obscure contributions by gay, women, and African American authors from the period, including Diane Di Prima, Frank O’hara, and Bob Kaufman. For the punk generation, we used similar material but also broadened the scope to include flyers and fanzines, which were sometimes the sole source of communication for members of the punk generation, whose “first wave” umbrella stretches from 1977-1987. They might also be considered the last pre-digital youth group.

In addition, we organized a series of lectures and programs that included speakers like American Sign Language instructor Olin Fortney, an original member of the San Francisco Deaf Club, an infamous underground punk venue from 1978-1979. The Dead Kennedys recently commercially released a live Deaf Club concert with both audio and video footage from the era. Furthermore, we showed ten weeks worth of films, including documentaries like Afro-Punk, a raw look at African American participation in American hardcore punk culture, and lighter fare, such as the 1983 sleeper sci-fi comedy Repo Man, featuring members of the Circle Jerks, and Hedwig and The Angry Inch, an adaptation of an Off-Off Broadway musical that explores post-Soviet rock’n’roll stardom, full-throttle gender/identity crisis, and homoeroticism in punk.

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