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Beat It

Pekar & Co. on Kerouac et al.; plus, Homer at the Hooks.

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Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs need no introduction, but here they are introducing The Beats: A Graphic History (Hill and Wang) — in the section written by Harvey Pekar and illustrated by Ed Piskor. It's warts and all: the alcohol-fueled writings, the drug-fueled globe-trotting, not to mention the rampant sexuality and jaw-dropping misogyny.

Here's Kerouac the homophobic bisexual crazy for Neal Cassady but as for Gore Vidal? Not so much. After Kerouac and Vidal had sex, the former labeled the latter "a pompous little fag." Here's Ginsberg, watching the best minds of his generation destroyed but recommending that teachers bed their students. And here's Burroughs announcing, "Women are mistakes and should be eliminated from the population." So he shot his wife dead.

Good thing, then, that The Beats (edited by Paul Buhle) doesn't ignore the distaff side. Here's poet Diane di Prima (in the words of Pekar and the art of Mary Fleener), a woman quite capable of taking on the big boys, and here's painter Jay DeFeo (in the words of Trina Robbins and the art of Anne Timmons) finally finishing her painting The Rose (eight years in the making), which was the death of her — from cancer via lead poisoning. (Note to painters: Don't lick the tips of your brushes to arrive at a fine point.) But there's humor here too by Joyce Brabner and Summer McClinton on a topic ripe for latter-day ridicule: "Beatnik Chicks."

Good thing too that Pekar et al. salute some lesser lights in this primer on the birth of the cool: City Lights bookstore founder and poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, in addition to poets Philip Whalen, Kenneth Patchen, and D.A. Levy, plus former hobo Slim Brundage. Brundage's College of Complexes in Chicago, a "universal venue" for new ideas circa the '50s and '60s, was famous also for attracting the likes of Carl Sandburg, Duke Ellington, Studs Terkel, and Tony Bennett. And then there's Tuli Kupferberg, in the words of Kupferberg himself (art by Jeffrey Lewis).

Who is Tuli Kupferberg? He's a poet, cartoonist, and self-described pacifist anarchist. He was also the man behind the Fugs. But readers of this chapter of The Beats may find the images and text so crammed better to go to the source: the music of the Fugs, called, in the words of Kupferberg, "the most outrageous rock band of all time." Which is saying a lot. But hey. The man's 87, and, given this bunch, that alone says a lot. He survived.

How many times, as commander in chief of a national army, have you had your prize warrior win a prize of war (e.g., an enemy maiden) that you thought rightfully yours? Then the gods get into it, and what began as your own business takes on an epic quality.

You're not alone. Agamemnon and Achilles in the Iliad dealt with the same issues (personal ambition, public humiliation, etc.). Shakespeare dealt with those issues too. And on Thursday, April 30th, the Memphis Public Library & Information Center is getting in on the act as well: It's hosting an actor's workshop and performance by New York's Aquila Theatre.

As part of a national Endowment for the Humanities collaboration called "Page and Stage: The Power of the Iliad Today," the workshop at 2 p.m. will address the Homeric themes in Shakespeare's plays. (And no, no acting experience is required to attend the workshop; even onlookers are invited to watch.) At 4 p.m., Aquila takes to the stage with The Iliad: Book One, a production that The New York Times hailed as "a performance of staggering power" when the play premiered at Lincoln Center.

The workshop and performance are at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, and be on hand too on Sunday, when Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven will be shown at 2 p.m. After the screening, Kenneth Morrell, chair of the Greek & Roman Studies department at Rhodes College, will discuss the Homeric aspects of the film.

"We are very excited that the Memphis Public Library & Information Center was selected as a venue for this performance," says Keenon McCloy, director of the city's libraries and commenting on the Aquila's visit. "The Iliad is a cultural artifact for everyone. Aquila Theatre has created a quality production, and by virtue of the performance being held in a library, it will expose customers to a theater experience they might not otherwise have."

That's Aquila's mission too: bringing theater to communities — both inner-city and rural — that are often under-served.

For more information on these events (all of them free), call the library at 415-2700 or go to memphislibrary.org.

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