by ryan sparks
Writing saved me from the sin and inconvenience of violence.
Franklin Street Noise‘What is it? Where is it? Who’s making all this racket?
I’m driving down Western Blvd. in Raleigh, but at an ethereal intersection I turn off onto Post-Graduate College Memory Lane. Past the Yield sign, it turns into Franklin Street, a brick road in Kent, Ohio’a haven for the homeless and those who don’t want to go home yet. Large, renovated facades line the streets, entrances to bars creak under awnings and floodlights. The street hums externally and internally’automobile noise, chatter noise, spiritual noise. Ninety-five percent of the businesses on Franklin Street are bars, pubs, and clubs. Mahogany, oak, and Formica, glass, neon, and smoke. The Loft. Ray’s Place. Mugs. The Pufferbelly Ltd. The Venice Caf’.
I am a habitu’ of all these joints, enjoying each one’s perks and discomforts equally. Just inside the doors the heat of bodies and booze humidity greets me, eyes casually turn, and I seek out familiar faces, friends, acquaintances, teachers and gurus. Everyone in Kent likes to drink; it passes the black winter months and enhances the springtime buzz. Long nights of reaffirming our position over payphones, shouting commands to each other, bowing down before higher intellects, laughing at nothing, crying for everything, stuffing quarters in the jukebox, dropping grimy pint glasses, hungering for attention, fading into the crowd, always talking, debating, storytelling, complaining, championing, introducing’
My friends and I talk about art, mostly. Being an English Lit major almost requires you to seek extracurricular discussion groups around a carved-up wooden table over pints of the black stuff and catch informal lectures from your scotch-swilling professors. And so, the people I surrounded myself with at Kent State University appear in my mind and on paper, barely contained and perversely twisted in this new project’pure addled Noise’this analysis and exploration of the important works of the contemporary era, the aftermath of the counter-culture wars, the inevitability of assimilation and how that affects our literary art now.
On May 4th, 1970, a date every Kent State student knows well, everything seemed to come unhinged in the country. A squad of National Guard soldiers started to retreat from a group of thousands of Vietnam War protesters gathered in a field on campus. Then, inexplicably, they turned and fired into the crowd. They were pulling bullets out of brick dorms hundreds of yards away and zipping bodies into plastic bags by the late afternoon. Four students died, only one of whom was a protester. The others were all-American athletes and promising academic minds. The establishment didn’t know how to explain; the counter-culture found new allies. Trust broke down, starting with the well-bred, middle-class citizens of Kent. We were out of Vietnam within four years, Nixon resigned, and those long-haired hippie kids started garnering actual attention and gaining credibility. So what better place to set the stage for a work of this nature? This is my exploration of all points then and now, the new and recycled, an adoration of writers with the ‘right kind of eyes’ who were given lines of credit and had attention paid to their unconventional forms and ways of speaking; my search for challenging ideas and hopes amidst the blue chip books and candy-sweet pop lit, and it fits easily against the backdrop of beer-spattered crown molding and hippy waitresses of Franklin Street.
There are a few attitudes and beliefs supporting this project that you should be familiar with. First, that the effects of the counter-culture of the 1960s were felt throughout the following decades, even to today. The widespread attraction of the youth of that time to new ideals, new forms, and new fear’not only in the literary world, but in all aspects of popular culture’caused a tidal wave of influence that is only now beginning to slip back away from the shore. Through the past 35 years we have analyzed, learned from, built, and (in some cases) rebuilt upon the successes and failures of that generation’s energetic attempts to bring about a cultural revolution. Their work not only agitated people within American borders, it shook up other nations and cultures. The people who swung their sledgehammers at the Berlin Wall and the students marching for democracy in Tiananmen proved that. During this era of change, America began to export culture rather than import it, eventually becoming, for better or worse, the flagship of Western Culture and Thought. Due to its incredible influence, the cultural explosion of the 1960s has been well documented, and will only be mentioned here in light of works that have taken up its torch into the 70s and beyond.
Second, what qualifies a work as meaningful, brilliant, and worthwhile does not depend on its earning power or popularity. The works presented will stretch across the spectrum from best seller to underground favorite to purely obscure. A work’s sphere of influence is low on the list of criteria for acceptance into this project’s canon, as revealing previously unfamiliar or unpopular works is one of the main goals of this project.
Third, that the written and spoken word is one of the most important aspects of a culture, not only as a function of language, transmission of thought, or permanent record, but also as part of maintaining a long tradition that every English-speaking person can be proud of. Music, art, and film are all vital to a culture but, without the written word, our civilization would be as whole as an amputee. We would have lost a major mode of transcendence.
Fourth, that Western Culture, as it exists now in 2004, stands at an overlook that is as unique as it is far-reaching. With the newfound access the internet has given us, we are at a point in time when we can review all other points of time; people can live their creative lives however they see fit and still be widely accepted, picking and choosing from the great and not-so-great. We have at our fingertips the Romantics, the Beats, the Modernists, and the ancient Greeks, and we have mined more from these groups than ever before in terms of research and emotion. We have found the writers and works that have long been hidden from us by patriarchs and cultural censors. We have verified, rediscovered, and renewed. This melting pot of influences recalls the mass integration of new cultures into America, and the effect is that writers no longer need to seek out clans or cliques for support, no longer need to struggle to find a muse or mentor that fits their personality, and no longer need to align themselves under a manifesto to gain acceptance or publicity. We live in a time where the individual voice in poetry and prose is as varied as all that have come before. In some cases this might be seen as detrimental, for there is no overall standard or general focus, but to sacrifice the good that has been produced for accord and unity would result in a great loss. What has come off the press in these recent years is the equivalent of the din of the busiest of streets, but there is no lack of excitement, no drop in passion. While today’s writers may be soaking up knowledge from this or that time period and this or that style, they still have one thing in common: their desire to turn their personal experience into substance for the masses, a group of small, bound pages that translates, converses, and teaches, an assortment of words that emboldens, transforms, and intimidates.
Finally, that the voices which will populate these pages are based on real people, but do not necessarily represent truly what they feel towards this or that work. Many of the ‘characters’ represented herein are not full portraits of their actual counterparts, but rather charcoal sketches. So I have taken the liberty of changing their names, reinventing their actions, and twisting their timelines. All locales will be portrayed as close to reality as possible, in the hopes that you will feel curious and go visit them and perhaps ease into a drunken forum yourself.
So. Take what you will from Franklin Street Noise. I will write as freely and clearly as I can, and I will be learning along with you, because I am not coming down from Mt. Sinai with laws or commandments, just rising up out of the valley of ignorance with seeds of knowledge. I am, after all, only a new face on this scene, a youngster reaching higher than he should. I am limited by the things I have not read, but I am freed by what I have, and for this reason I feel compelled to make known a way (not the only, but one of many) to liberation from the mundane, the inconsequential, and the petty forms of culture that seem to have imprisoned so many would-be, could-be minds.