(1) The major collection of Beat-generation art collected by Dr. Wennesland is now housed in the Wennesland foundation in Norway. Some of these great cultural treasures, brought back to his native Norway by the ever wise Viking doctor, where deemed important enough to be flown across the Atlantic Ocean where they exhibited in New York at the traveling Whitney museum exhibition Beat Culture and the New America 1955-65 . This seminal exhibit traveled a year in three museums in the United States during 1994-95. The exhibit started at The Whitney Museum in New York City, on to the Walker Museum in Milwaukee, and then to the DeYoung museum in San Francisco. In 2004, the Sorlandets museum in Kristiansand Norway exhibited the entire Wennesland collection and flew both Michael Bowen and Arthur Monroe from the United States to Norway where they gave a casual speech to a packed audience on opening night. A tuxedoed orchestra played their own stylized classical jazz compositions, and Norway’s greatest actress recited Jack Kerouac’s poems in a beautiful voice which transformed the room into a completely surreal opera; certainly for Bowen and most probably for Monroe as well.
(2). Bowen and Wennesland walked down the street under the sun experiencing how time and custom move and change. Like the universe, everything is in constant flux. New worlds are born and accepted every moment just as new words and books are written to help fill out our understanding of life’s paradoxes so that we continue the journey of maturation and human evolution. The words one can read in Beatitude have found there way into everyday language, words and phrases that were once only heard in the days of the Bread and Wine Mission above Bowen’s first studio. As time moves on, hipster jargon has become a part of everyday language that anybody can read and identify with. Even in the Congressional record of the United States of America, the hipster lexicon manifests. In San Francisco, America, Sweden, and the world, Classic Jazz, the music of the Beats, is still there, still very much accessible. A good example of constant change and flux can be found in the artist’s understanding and relationship with science. Quantum physics is today taught in every university of the world. Yet in the late fifties and early sixties, it was unknown to 99.9 percent of the planet’s population. This was the historical San Francisco Renaissance era when the busy artists of the Bread and Wine Mission were pasting and grinding out their Beatitude pamphlets. Room was needed in what we call the movement of history, the passing of time, or better, the actions of space/time as described by quantum physics. However, although not theoretically understood at all at the time, this great quantum field of space/time was already being illustrated by the artists who simply tapped into the immense knowledge of One. Whether it was understood then or not is irrelevant. The chemical attraction of Dr. Wennesland to Bowens’ painting and its vibration message is proof enough of that. Their rapport and friendship over the years shows how the Universal Reservoir brought these two seemingly dissimilar personalities together in order that the cultural heritage of the Beats could be saved for the yet unborn and so that Bowen could continue his chosen work as a fine artist, even during the difficult and oppressive years of San Francisco. Now in 2007, time frames have totally changed. It is accurate to say that all things appear to be moving at a faster and faster pace. The “then” 40 years ago, and the “now” in 2007-needed room, the passing of forty years, to intermingle or entangle in the same way electrons act in quantum physics. There is no doubt that the movie the Wizard of Oz, or the beat-generation of San Francisco, helped to actualize the primary problem of the paradox of life. Art, necessity, and intellectual hunger force us to gnaw like rats at the huge cheese of paradox. We can choose to be actors and eat at that cheese of paradox or reactors and grab whatever crumbs fall off. The paradox, which apparently entraps us, is always present in new and fresh manifestations. The newly reborn super-humans always move forward and follow the way of the warrior. The others most probably become rain, dust, wind, or nothingness, until a spark ignites them and pushes them forward whether they chose that path or not.
‘All moves within the ONE MOVEMENT, either carried, or of its own volition.’
(3). At one point Michael turned to me and said, “These poor people of today remember nothing even in America of the 1929 crash and the complete disaster of the economic system. Even in the schools, I went to, tough and as thorough as they were because of their military mentality, glossed over the 1929 crash from the United States. However, it was far worse in Europe. It already looks like whatever happens in the United States will be much worse than anything that ever happened in Europe, at least that’s the way I would bet if I had to.”
(4). Writing this important history now in 2007 in Sweden is relevant. Michael Bowen is reflecting here in Stockholm about that first sale of a paining in a basement in San Francisco, meeting a Norwegian man who was brave enough to challenge German Nazis and even enter into their still functioning lair to bring out the sick and broken and take them back to Sweden to save their lives. As Bowen thought about this, he remembered that it was middle-class Germans who put Hitler into power the minute their money became worthless and they personally were threatened. Could something like this happen again he asked himself for the second time in 2007 sitting in that very same Sweden where Wennesland brought back the broken victims of the Nazis? From the perspective of an American patriot artist, now far away from America, the answer again is yes. The reason Bowen believes that this particularly horrible era of history is repeatable is that because for some time now, the greedy and cleaver money manipulators have again been stealing from under the noses of the American masses. Now paper money, that once wonderful greenback, the American Dollar, with its pyramid of Occult Hope printed for all to see, continues growing more and more worthless each day. Those very same Middle class Americans, ignorant of the Bill of Rights, are also becoming more and more desperate as their beautiful little neighborhoods of the American Dream suddenly, seemingly overnight, are sprouting for sale signs in front of their houses, which they no longer can afford to live in. Metaphysically thoughtful people like to speak of signs, especially artists. Well, here were the signs now literally popping up all across America saying for sale. Bowen thought about this, as he told me the story of meeting Dr. Wennesland and learning about his courageous and noble life. But Michael also told me what he was seeing now is the potential for some variation of a horrible repetition of Nazi Germany spreading through the land that he still loves. I was hearing stories from the past and I was hearing the artists’ thoughts of the now. And then I remembered something, the statement that Bowen had just told me about Arthur Monroe saying that the very act of painting and creating art is an act of revolution. This truth about revolution and the creating of art as a means toward re-establishing cultural freedom I believe is a historic absolute.
(5). But Puccini wrote his great opera as only part of the truth. Does the life of an artist culminate in only tragedy? No, it doesn’t. Both tragedy and ecstasy are simply turns in the road of the dedicated artist’s life. In San Francisco in 2007, tourists can buy little books about the beats and where they lived. With their books in hand, they can wonder around buildings and neighborhoods that are for the most part gone. Even the great Beat food-bank, the produce market of the Embarcadero, has been replaced with giant modern buildings where people shuffle endless numbers in offices whose windows are sealed to the outside world. The skyscraper Office space reality is very different from the fresh air of the lofts of the fifties and sixties that existed in exactly the same place. Even the address of the commercial street studio still exists but the buildings are gone, the discarded grains of rice and fruit no more. Now only little piles of cigarette butts on Commercial Street manifest wherever the workers have their ten-minute breaks; those who still smoke cigarettes leave them as crushed evidence of the great change in the city. There are no grains of rice or anything else to eat that is free among those piles of dirty crushed out cigarette butts left by the number shufflers in the vast buildings which now occupy the old food markets near the still standing Ferry Building of San Francisco. Free food is still available in San Francisco, but this free food comes from the garbage cans behind restaurants and besides the houses. To witness the appalling street scene of someone looking for their dinner in refuse containers, is to see the exact same scene as it happened throughout Europe immediately after WWII when average working class people lived from the garbage. But in Europe, the garbage eating banquet only lasted a very short time. Americans and San Franciscans have been eating out of the garbage now publicly for almost 30 years. Desperate garbage gobbling by human beings is an exercise in rapid degeneracy. Will it go on for a hundred more years? I think not if the people come together, cooperate, and rise up again just as the Beats did and just say NO to unnecessary oppression and injustice. Puccini’s opera was purely inspirational o Michael but he knew the opera is misleading. If there are ghosts of the Beats long dead watching the tourists thumb through their little books about the Beat-generation, they are seeing no tragedy about those Beats, they are only seeing that they and their progeny have moved on to some other safer place to grow. The bohemian lifestyle inspired by the Bill of Rights,
“San Francisco Bohemians” Painting by Michael Bowen
is a way of life that need not end in tragedy. Awakened human beings, like the Beats of North Beach, learn to morph and change as needed when their sovereign rights are threatened; they have the right and must summon the will to overturn the oppressor.
(6). When that name “beat”-generation and “beat”nik first appeared, it became sowed on to our reality and no one could really agree on what it meant or even how it got there. Perhaps it came out of the term Beatitude, or maybe it meant beaten down by the conformist society. Or maybe it meant the wishful thinking of the oppressive squares to beat down this new “other.” As for us at the Commercial street studio and the rest of the people of North Beach in those years, it simply meant you had to avoid getting the shit beat out of you by the fascists cops and corporate assholes who tried to suppress a rising ocean that would soon engulf them and replace them with a new and better kind of person. We face the same thing again. Only this time they have learned the arts of Hitler and Stalin and how to slip their propaganda into the fabric of American freedom. Once again, the tide is rising that will overcome those who would destroy freedom, whoever they might be. In a way the rising tide is in sync with the planet itself which seems to want to shake off those ecological hypocrites that have abused this beautiful land and in fact the entire planet earth . One thing that anyone can see now are the people sleeping in doorways and alleys by the hundreds of thousands in every city in America. This degeneracy never existed during the time of the Beat artists and the voices that they raised. It is a new phenomenon in the American dream, the homeless and the homeowners. The question is how soon the homeless will be joined and by how many of the homeowners.
Today in America, life is literally a hellhole with many poverty-stricken people sleeping in the streets of every city, but the middle class has not yet joined them in the gutters. Bowen remembered those war pictures, the history, and especially how the Nazis gained the state power that allowed them to murder a minimum of six million people. They gained it through the desperate vote of German middle classes only interested in preserving themselves. Could something like this happen in the carefully structured America designed by its framers to prevent such a thing? Michael Bowen believes the answer is yes. Unless something of great momentum happens, maybe another Human Be-In-like event, something unlike the first one and fitting the needs of the present to preserve and restore the Republic of the United States. And the answer was yes then in the late 1950s when Bowen and Wennesland began exchanging information with each other. The seeds of totalitarianism existed in America right there on the Grant Avenue of the Beat-generation. It is enough to say about that moment in San Francisco history, the police had full reign to abuse anyone for anything. This ubiquitous corruption and exploitation would have grown unless a few Beat artists and writers stood up and said “NO.” Eventually this NO grew to a gigantic roar and finally a rather odd development happened at a crucial pivotal point of that struggle and cultural fighting. A new way of resistance was developed that could do its work then and remain as a seed to blossom again in the future whenever needed. That new way of resistance was the Human Be-In, which Bowen worked so hard at creating in San Francisco January of 1967.
(7). I asked Bowen, “You mean to say that he was beaten only because he was black?” Bowen answered me in a way that created a kind of reminder as my own status as a child of a holocaust survivor. I must admit, Bowen could make a person very nervous with his explanations, which somehow hit hot buttons in even the simplest question. He answered me this way, Michael said,
“Oh Yeah man, he was beaten because he was black, he was jailed for nothing, insulted for nothing, and physically injured much worse on several occasions all because he was an Afro-American. You know this term Afro American has evolved rather quickly from the long time use of Negro to Nirgra and all kinds of nasty names, finally to blacks and finally to African-Americans. I suppose I am an Irish American, I am not sure what you would be called. But the Nazis certainly knew what to call your father, a Jew. And the Nazis copied their racial laws introduced in Nuremburg directly from the laws from the southern states in the 1920’s and 30’s. Yeah, that and the help they got from America’s wonderful corporation IBM which allowed them to use IBM’s first primitive computers, its punch card system to track, arrest, gas, and burn the Jews of Europe. Yeah, Arthur was beaten alright. In fact, I remember how I felt on one occasion when he was tossed in a shit-filled gutter near our studio. I went looking for him after he went out to get cigarettes but then didn’t show up. And McCracken and I found him. As we picked him up and tried to get him to walk we realized that we needed to carry him back to the studio. I stated to think on that walk in San Francisco’s cool night carrying this wet genius with the dirty water that I could feel dripping down my clothes from his beaten wet body . I began to think of this buddy of mine who is literally a burden at the moment in a weird way. I was transported mentally. Maybe because of the psychic work I was doing with John Cooke in Carmel. Who knows? But during that walk, I found myself living the history I had read of the Dred Scott case of 1857. The black man, not much different than the one I was carrying, was judged to be by the highest court in the land not a human being, and therefore property. Even after we got back to the studio and put Arthur down started cleaning up the damage done to him once again by the bigoted citizenry, I couldn’t get the Dred Scott case out of my mind. I was tired, Sonia and the baby were fine at the apartment so I slept at the studio. As I drifted off to sleep, I found myself standing among all those people of the North watching their opera, which was definitely not written by Puccini. Instead, this opera was written by the Supreme Court, of the United States of America. As I drifted into sleep, I kept hearing nine voices, all men singing ‘Dis black thing ain’t hooman’. We are not sure what it is but it is definitely the property of a white man. The last thoughts I remember that night were fear. What kind of a coo-coo wizard of Oz world was this? Where a human being wasn’t a human-being and the great minds of the Supreme Court of 1857 were still trying to find out whether black people were even animals, who did have rights. After all, wasn’t there a society for the prevention of cruelty to animals? Yes there was. I fell into a black sleep after carrying the black man with the SPCA and the Supreme Court of the United States singing their positions on this question to each other with full orchestra. The last thought I had was ‘I love San Francisco, but I have to get out of this fucking nut house’.”
(8). It was only after the initiation in Tepoztlan, that Michael realized fully for the first time that the mind-set responsible for this outrage was only a stone’s throw from the irrational thought processes that had rationalized the torture and extermination of millions during WWII, and the near destruction of the native American Indians less than a century earlier, when the skulls and bones in the ashes were human, instead of canine. Sadly, this has been a recurring theme in human history – hatred, greed, intolerance – deadly parasites feeding on the nature of man, spawned in the great seeming of Apartness, a division of the self from One.
That scene was then. But I am now in Sweden 13 years later, not from the historical time I am describing, but from the first time I met Michael Bowen. Necessity has made me the chronicler of this historic jigsaw puzzle. As I write this narrative in Sweden about how and why the Human Be-In came into existence, the weather is changing from a beautiful summer. Each day the air becomes a little colder. Yet, this story I am hearing from Michael and the documents, which prove it to be true which I am reading, are hot like the blood that flows in the living around me and once flowed in the dead of the beats who come to life in the words I am now writing. A movie I saw keeps interjecting itself. That movie is called The Wizard of Oz; a fantasy movie that has affected all of modern civilization. This story is not a fictitious novel; it is a story of an extremely talented artist, a true American patriot and his personal odyssey.
Bowen is right, from the years of the fifties and early sixties to today, anybody can see from newspapers, the television, and the internet that the wheels of the American economy, until now the greatest in the world, may be coming off the train. Even I can see this. As confusing as all this information came to me, I could see I was not hearing the ramblings of some old burned out beat-artist. Here was the quintessential beat artist, showing the truth in the obvious. And something echoed in me, something vibrated and resonated with what I knew and believed in; of human rights, the American Bill of Rights, perhaps especially because as I write this, I too realize that I am an American citizen who loves his country and the constitution on which it was established. This allegiance remains with me even though I was also born into this world as a child of a survivor of the Nazi holocaust.