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In which a drunk Jack Kerouac discusses hippies with William F. Buckley.

Emily Temple

April 15, 2021, 11:41am

In this 1968 episode of William F. Buckley’s Firing Line, Jack Kerouac (who is clearly drunk) joins Ed Sanders (of The Fugs) and square sociologist Lewis Yablonsky (author of The Hippie Trip) to discuss a then-hot topic: hippies.

When the camera first pans to Kerouac to introduce him, he’s rubbing his forehead with his cigarillo hand. (Buckley says that Kerouac’s Vanity of Duluoz is “widely regarded as his best,” which if so is the first I’m hearing of it.) He keeps making derisive sounds when other people (especially Yablonsky) are talking.

He also interrupts Buckley’s question for him, which he thinks is taking too long—”Get your question over with!”—and then has to ask him to repeat it. “I interrupted your sentence.” He’s 46, and again, he’s drunk, and he looks a little worse for wear. But he’s fascinated by language, by the words everyone else is using, correcting Yablonsky’s pronunciation in the first five minutes, having fun with Buckley’s “Adamite.” He keeps talking to Ginsberg in the audience. At a certain point, he starts singing. He admits to being a Republican. (He’s also anti-protest; it’s really Sanders whose arguments age the best.)

“We’re just the older ones,” Kerouac says, when asked about the connection between the two movements. “I’m 46 years old, these kids are 18. But it’s the same movement, which is apparently some kind of Dionysian movement. In late civilization. And which I did not intend, any more than, I suppose, Dionysus did.”

“It’s just a movement which is supposed to be licentious, but it isn’t really,” Kerouac goes on. “The hippies are good kids, they’re better than the Beats. . . . We’re all in our forties, and we started this, and the kids took it up. A lot of hoodlums and communists jumped on our backs. Well, on my back, not his,” he says, pointing to Ginsberg. “Ferlinghetti jumped on my back, and turned the idea that I had into—the Beat generation was a generation of the attitude, the pleasure in life, and tenderness. But they called it in the papers, the Beat Mutiny, the Beat Insurrection. Words I never used. Being a Catholic. I believe in order, tenderness, and piety.”

He’s gotten off track, to be sure, but the whole thing is an interesting time capsule, and well worth a watch:

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