Martin Torgoff’s Bop Apocalypse


Bop Apocalypse – Jazz, Race, The Beats, & Drugs – putting the word out on Martin Torgoffs new book from Da Capo.

From the author’s web-site:  “Bop Apocalypse is largely the story of the evolution of jazz and its relationship to the Beats: the first time that drug use coalesced with music and literature, becoming a central element in the creation of an avant-garde American voice and underground cultural sensibility.”.

The book, (an  outgrowth of a chapter in an earlier book of Torgoff’s, and very much its compliment, Can’t Find My Way Home), “features vivid portraits of jazz icons like Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Jackie McLean and others, cross-cutting their stories with seminal Beat writers and figures like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs.”….”

An early review of the book appeared in the Kirkus Review here

A more substantial review, (by Dominic Green), appeared, this past weekend, in The Wall Street Journal , and can be read here, wherein Green notes an ironic disjunct between “bop” and “beat”:

(Allen) Ginsberg claimed that the rhythm of “Howl” (1954-55) echoed (Lester) Young’s 1939 signature tune, Lester Leaps In,” but it does not. And ironically, like the moralists and the police, Ginsberg equated all the inhabitants of the “negro streets” with lunatics, bums and junkies. To visualize the gap between actual jazz and the verse that dared to speak in its name, imagine Young and (Louis) Armstrong shrieking “with delight in police cars for committing no crime but their own wild cooking pederasty.”

He goes on:

Shortly before Young’s death in 1959, Kerouac and Ginsberg cornered him at the Five Spot in Greenwich Village. Young was resting between sets in the kitchen; wild cooking, perhaps, but no pederasty. Ginsberg fell to his knees, and asked Young what he “would do if an atom bomb fell on New York.” Young replied that he would “break the window in Tiffany’s and get some jewels anyway.” Then, perplexed, he asked, “What are you doin’ on your knees?” Young, Kerouac realized, had no idea that he was “a great hero of the beat generation and now enshrined.”


Lester Young (1909-1959)

Here’s the author and Beat scholar John Tytell, discussing the book in depth at The Strand Bookstore in New York City a few days back

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *