Spanish stroll: The Beats and rock in Argentina
Join us on a wander down Mexico way, and well beyond, as Buenos Aires journalist Matías Carnevale spills the frijoles on the Latino taste for Kerouac & co
IF YOU speak English, with the dubious, even discredited, power of historic British and North American imperialism behind you, there is a strong tendency to complacently rest on the laurels of an anglophone view of the world.
Gradually, Beat Studies in the academy is beginning to recognise the global reach this particular field of creativity has been enjoyed in places where English is not the default tongue, but there is a long way to go.
I am pleased to play a small part in recognising the international enthusiasms that exist in relation to these novels and poetry by expanding our own agenda beyond the North Atlantic in a new exchange with the prolific Argentine and Spanish-speaking music journalist Matías Carnevale below.
The 1950s writers who made up this eclectic band of thinkers, revellers and travellers were much more cosmopolitan then mere members of a conventional US census.
Kerouac, of course, possessed a strong French connection; Ferlinghetti was a multi-linguist with strong European links; Corso was of Italian background; Snyder’s Buddhism took him to Japan; Burroughs lived in Mexico and Tangiers and France; and Ginsberg bought his secular Judaism to his life in writing, stayed long at the Beat Hotel in Paris and traversed Europe, South America and Asia.
So, none of these Beat buddies, sometimes adversaries, were mere parochials or provincials, far more internationalists: the visionary vivacity of Beat crossed borders and was not lost in translation, even if the actual works were not that easy to translate beyond the Anglo-American nexus – all that vernacular argot, that downtown slang, all that frenetic chatter of the Village and North Beach and Venice by night.
Jenny Skerl and Nancy Grace’s 2012 essay collection The Transnational Beat Generation and David Wills’ World Citizen: Allen Ginsberg as Traveller (2019) are both good and contrasting examples of titles which reflect on this literary movement’s widely-cast tentacles, its border-busting intentions.
But enough: I do hope the interview we publish here adds a little flavour to a gently bubbling, trans-planetary conversation they started all those decades ago. Those troublesome and sometimes troubled scribes would have been fascinated, I’m certain, that their influence continues to infuse the popular musicians of Argentina.
How are you involved in this research into the Beats and rock in Argentina – is it journalistic, academic or personal? I think you said it was linked to the Kerouac centenary…
It’s a journalistic project I’ve been writing for some time now. I sent a pitch to a Mexican magazine La Jornada – truth be told, they pay much better than Argentinian media – for an article concerning Kerouac’s centenary and his special relationship to Mexico, which has been thoroughly documented by Jorge García Robles in his book Burroughs y Kerouac: dos forasteros perdidos en México (published in the USA as At the End of the Road: Jack Kerouac in Mexico).
Since I’m writing the article in Argentina, I thought of including some paragraphs related to his influence on national rock musicians. I’ve published a couple of articles about Kerouac before and I always lean towards a comparative methodology and a comprehensive approach to his work: his connections with music, visual arts, poetry, film, etc.
What impact has Kerouac and his work had on Argentinian culture, whether youth, baby boomer or whatever? Does such an influence persist?
I could mention two or three writers, of different ages, who have been influenced by Kerouac. Enrique Medina, one of our most renowned novelists of all time, wrote in Las muecas del miedo (1981) that he ‘loved Kerouac’. And Nicolás López Freijido, a young, budding writer, aimed to copycat Kerouac in his novel Autoestop (2019).
Also, my friend Federico Barea, writer and researcher, published, in 2016, Argentina beat. Derivas literarias de los grupos Opium y Sunda, a compilation of texts written in the sixties by two literary groups who were part of the Buenos Aires underground scene in times that were, to say the least, adverse to poetry – between 1966 and 1970 a dictatorship ruled here. Self-published and outside the conventional circles, they combined their love for jazz, bossa and rock with their spite for the society of their elders. Federico says that it’s in the figure of Néstor Sánchez where we can find Kerouac’s influence best.
We can find a number of echoes of Kerouac in Sánchez, who is considered representative of a tradition of hobo/wandering writers: Nosotros dos (The Two of Us, 1966), Siberia Blues (1967), Diarios de Manhattan (Manhattan Island Notebook, first published in 1988 and translated into English in 2021).
Are all Kerouac’s books available in Spanish in your country?
I’d say most of them are easily available. At the end of the sixties and beginning of the seventies there was an edition of Enel camino (On the Road) that Editorial Losada published and came before the Spanish edition Bruguera published, the one that introduced me to Kerouac. Losada also published El viajero solitario (Lonesome Traveler) and Los vagabundos del Dharma (The Dharma Bums). The publishing history of the Beat Generation has also been marked by the Spanish editions of Anagrama; they published, not long ago, a three-in-one book containing Kerouac’s ‘road novels’: En el camino, Los subterráneos and Los vagabundos del Dharma. Unfortunately, these translations are alien to us – the language Spaniards speak, their slang, isn’t the same we use in Argentina. In this sense, I’d recommend the translation of Big Sur published by Adriana Hidalgo some years ago.
I mustn’t omit the many independent/underground editions that have been published in the last 15 years or so. Poet Esteban Moore, who visited Naropa University on one occasion, has done an excellent job translating Kerouac’s poetry, Buda y otrospoemas (Buddha and Other Poems), for example. He also translated Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and, more recently, a selection of Snyder’s poems. This is probably an obvious thing to say but translating Jack’s poetry into Spanish is no mean feat.
What evidence is there of Kerouac affecting the Argentinian rock scene? Please share relevant examples! Is it to do with attitude, band names, songs, lyrics?
I’m thinking mostly of Manal, a blues-rock group who recorded their first album in 1969, and their song ‘Una casa con diezpinos’ (‘A House with Ten Pine Trees’):
which is about being tired of living in a polluted city and trying to move to a more peaceful, harmonious place. I know that Kerouac was no hippy, but the feel to this particular song resonates with the hippy ideal.
But then there are many other rock musicians who have been influenced by Kerouac’s books. I interviewed Moris (frontman of a short-lived band called Los Beatniks, founded in 1966) and he acknowledged Kerouac’s influence, via En el camino, in his career. A couple of his songs, written in his solo period, ‘El oso’ (‘The Bear’):
and ‘De nada sirve’ (‘It’s Useless’):
attest to this love of freedom and a search for higher values, rather than conforming and living only for material gain.
Why do you think rock musicians in your country connect with the writer? What is it about his stories and his spirit which seem to inspire musicians to write, record and play?
The musicians who began their careers in the sixties connected to Kerouac in different ways: Litto Nebbia, one of the forefathers of Argentinian rock, says that it was through Bob Dylan that he discovered Kerouac’s writings. Moris quotes Kerouac in connection with the Beatles. But there’s a singer who stresses his love for Kerouac and has amassed a huge fan base since he performed in ‘happenings’ at the end of the seventies, Carlos ‘El Indio’ Solari.
As the frontman of Patricio Rey y sus Redonditosde Ricota* (1976-2001) he recorded nine albums, with sounds that range from new wave and post-punk to hard rock and other genres. His followers, unfortunately have misbehaved on occasions – here we can compare them, in some ways, to Kerouac’s fans who gathered in a threatening mob at his mother’s home during his early days of fame – resulting in the death of two members of the audience in a 2017 show.
Solari is known for his cryptic, elaborate songwriting, which he claims is influenced by Gregory Corso, William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. There’s a video on YouTube in which Solari reads a passage from Ángeles de la desolación (Desolation Angels), a title he paraphrases in the lyrics of ‘Un ángel para tu soledad’: ‘‘Ángel de la soledad/y de la desolación’:
Matías Carnevale has a BA in Literature from Universidad Nacional de San Martín and is currently doing his MA in Comparative Literature at Universidad Nacional de La Plata. He works as a cultural journalist an occasional translator. He has published interviews, articles and reviews in newspapers and magazines such as Buenos Aires Herald, La voz del interior, La Gaceta de Tucumán, Revista Ñ, Le monde diplomatique edición Cono Sur and Revista Be Cult.
In 2016 he published the only translation into Spanish there is of Heathcote Williams’ Autogeddon, and has also translated Edwin Morgan’s ‘The First Men on Mercury’ and Julian Barnes’ essay ‘A Life with Books’. He’s planning to work on a three-volume edition of Heathcote Williams’s poems and has started translating Jack Kerouac’s ‘cityCityCITY’, a weird science fiction short story never rendered into Borges’ language.
He has also published a number of books related to science fiction: En la tierra como en el cielo, cine estadounidense de ciencia ficción 1970-1989 (2019) and the collected where book of essays Ray Bradbury, el hombre centenario (2020). In 2022 he will publish another volume, about the Beat Generation and film, called Pull my Daisy y otras experimentaciones, with texts by a dozen Argentinian writers, researchers and professors.
* Carnevale translates the name of the band into English as Patricio Rey and his Ricotta Fritters