Nat Hentoff's Greatest Hits

Excerpts from his first 50 years at the Voice

[January 8, 1958]

Nat Hentoff, in this issue, initiates a regular series of columns in The Voice. Under the head "Second Chorus," Mr. Hentoff intends to comment on "various matters in the daily press and in magazines large and small". . .

P.D. East, editor of the weekly Petal Paper in Petal, Mississippi ($3 a year), and a happy skewer to the local White Citizens' Council, opened a recent editorial by recalling Satchel Paige's admonition: "Never look back . . . something may be gaining on you."

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Having just read Dan Jacobson's "America's Angry Young Men" in the December issue of Commentary and Dan Wakefield's review of Kerouac ($4 minimum) at the Village Vanguard in the January 4 issue of the Nation, Page's counsel brought me a Feiffer-like image of the beatified hipsters scurrying through "the American night" hoping that daylight can be postponed just a little bit longer.

It's too late though; despite the imprimatur of the New York Times and the Evergreen Review, the present gig is nearly up. Jacobson breaks the San Francisco "poets' " balloon as well as Kerouac's ("I am obsessed by Time magazine," Mr. Ginsberg cries; and he speaks more truly than he perhaps "knows"); and Wakefield characteristically unimpressed by the canonized, adds: " . . . there are born each year a certain number of men and a certain number of boys . . . out of each era in our national history there come a few poets and a few poor boys who wander with words . . . and no grand generalization can tie them together."

Jacobson does feel, as did Herbert Gold in what was easily the most oriented review of On the Road (the Nation, November 16), that Kerouac has the capacity to swing, but that he's going to have to cut down on his echo-lake rhetoric to make it. In some passages, notes Jacobson of the novel, "There is some factual resistance to the rhetoric, some hard social and physical circumstance to respond to and to be contended with; but for much the greater part of the book, the emptiness of Dean Moriarty—angel, bum, and saint—is matched by the emptiness of the social scene in which Moriarty declaims and postures." Like at the Vanguard, J.J. Johnson was hip without worrying about the word and poor Kerouac was the prototypical square trying flailingly to be "in." "I could really work with a tenor sax," said Kerouac to J.J., as reported by Wakefield. "You look more like a trumpet man to me," said J.J. without expression.

Meanwhile, the hippest discussion of the "terrifying" reality of the actually "beat" generation that doesn't write books and doesn't confuse Slim Gaillard with Jean Genet appeared in the Summer, 1957 issue of Dissent—and disappeared, for all the comment on it I've seen or heard. Yet, except for the Gold review in the Nation, it's the only article that begins to deal with what happens on the street. Somehow you ought to get a copy of that issue and read Norman Mailer's "The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster." So should Seymour Krim. But all is otherwise well in the topmost American grain. Kerouac made the January Playboy (in the same issue as a five-page Playmate Portfolio) with a pint of moonshine I am sure would never have been accepted if he weren't (literally) in vogue.

Playboy as a magazine avowedly aimed at "Entertainment for Men" brings me to Otto Klineberg's article, "The Father's Role," that first appeared in Child Study and was reprinted in that oddly illuminating monthly, Best Articles and Short Stories (January issue). Klineberg worries the subject of man's increasingly ambivalent status-definition among us: "The expectation seems to be that since man now performs a portion of the tasks traditionally associated with women—bathing the baby, washing the dishes, etc.—his son will not know what it means to be a man." Nonsense. Just tell the little hippie to watch Elsa Maxwell on the Jack Paar show.


[ March 9, 1961]

As a boy and more or less young man, I was a zealous labor partisan. I helped organize a radio station in Boston, served as a merciless shop steward, and almost broke up a long friendship when I couldn't cross a picket line in front of a theater which a friend of mine owned. (The friend was right and the union was wrong.) Now, organized labor is like organized Zionism—self-canonized. I feel like a black Catholic with no faith, not in the labor hierarchy nor certainly in the employers. This bootless complaint is particularly occasioned by George Meany's recent answer to A. Philip Randolph's charge that the A.F.L.-C.I.O. has failed "completely" to eliminate Jim Crow in several key unions. Randoph had already—and wisely—formed his Negro American Labor Council last year. Meany said on February 28 that he has no objection to the Negro labor group "provided they keep out of our business and attend to their own."

Another "aesthetic circle." With Negro apprentices on the outside. Less than 1 per cent of all apprentices in the country are Negro. I somehow have missed any public statement about this imbalance by Walter Reuther in recent months. I agree with James Hicks of the Amsterdam News that Ralph Bunche had no right to "apologize" for the Negro demonstrators at the U.N. Those demonstrations were caused by men like Meany.

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