Newport Jazz Festival, 1960: Beatnik, Stay Home!


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July 14, 1960, Vol. V, No. 38

Beatnik, Stay Home!

By Ken Sobol

The first sign we had that something unusual was up was on Sunday afternoon, while we were waiting in line to take the ferry across to Newport. A group of Delta Epsilon something or others came alongside in an open convertible, took one look at us, and screamed: “Beatnik!”

Old David’s beard twitched and my shades nearly fell off. Our first reaction, after the surprise, was antagonism, but we quickly laughed it off, partly because we were outnumbered 4 to 1…

When we finally made it to the island, it became apparent that we had understimated the odds. Instead of 4 to 1, it was more like 4000 to 1. Four of us (including the chicks) against countless thousands of them. For the first time in my life, Norman Mailer was beginning to make sense.

The scene looked like Fort Lauderdale at spring-vacation time, when the birds walk on the backs of the collegiates for two miles out to sea without ever touching the water. Hundreds and hundreds of cars roared around the town, with five or six of the country’s educational elite on each auto top, drinking booze, throwing cans and bottles at pedestrians, and shout-singing mildly obscene and abysmally dull fraternity songs.

Most of them were trying desperately to pick up girls, and every time we let our own girls walk two steps ahead, we had to struggle through crowds to get near them again. One immense Phys Ed major started carrying off my Julie on his back, but fortunately he was too drunk to counteract an unprecedented personal feat of valor in upsetting his plans.

By this time it was obvious that the Newport Jazz Festival had become a “thing,” a kind of summer substitute for the Dartmouth Winter Carnival…

It goes without saying that when the local papers picked [up news of the ensuing riot], they blamed the whole thing on “marauding beatniks, pseudo-beatniks,” and the like. Take a look at the list of homes of nearly all those who were arrested: Nassau County, Scarsdale, Fairfield, Greenwich. How many beats do you know from Scarsdale?

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