Wednesday, June 15, 2016

From the Bloc 11 Cafe : Is it Hip to be a Hipster?

From the Bloc 11 Cafe : Is it Hip to be a Hipster?

By Doug Holder

I was sitting in the Bloc 11 Cafe in Somerville when a gentleman of my acquaintance approached me. He said, "You really took a good picture of me for The Somerville Times—but the text labeling me as a “hipster” in the Square (no pun intended) was insulting. Another man would look at me and see me differently. Call me a street punk, call me homeless, but don't call me a hipster.” He went on to explain the word “hipster” had a long and proud heritage—but the word now has been bastardized. He continued to explain that hipsters, real hipsters—are original people, genuinely offbeat—not the hordes of bohemes flocking to Somerville. I had no intention of offending him. This man is intelligent, well-read, and certainly from what I have observed-- a man off the beaten path. He has faced his share of challenges and he is obviously much more than the neat category of hipster.

In all fairness, one has to admit that in recent years we have seen the flocks of bearded, tattooed, funky-hatted hordes swarming the community. They hang in coffeehouses, bars, nightclubs, and other environs. They cop a certain attitude, walk a certain walk, and talk a certain talk. But wasn't this the same with earlier versions of bohemians, like the Beat Poets, sitting in a swirl of smoke in some dark hole-in-the wall, listening to Ginsberg recite his poem “Howl” for the first time—with its angry negro streets, and renegades from society looking for a fix—be it sex, drugs, etc...? These Beat hipsters sported a certain attire—the beret, the scruffy beard, etc... They hung out in jazz clubs—coffeehouses in North Beach in San Francisco or the Village in New York City. Now maybe those hipster didn't actually experience what Ginsberg's poem spoke to—but by being there—witnessing this groundbreaking poem, spreading the word, taking it in, deep reading it, inhaling it...well this is a very-hipster- like act. The poem broke out like a raw wound in the conformist 50s—so these new kids on the block were going against the orthodoxy of their parents and the literary world. Sure some were just posturing—but I would argue that even posturing can be a daring act. There is a need for hipsters—they keep us honest—bring in new ideas ( bad or good)--they give some alternative from the mainstream—somewhere else to hang your fedora.

So I say to the present day hipsters in Somerville, Williamsburg, Austin, and elsewhere-- good for you. I spent some boheme years in rooming houses in Boston in the late 70s when I was right out of college. I was quite a sight—waxed mustache, a red scarf around my neck—sporting a beret—and reading Genet, Kerouac, Camus, Miller, etc... I used to leave the books I was reading in plain sight on the counter of a grocery store I worked at—so I could start conversation with other hip customers. In the wee hours, in my spartan furnished room—with my hot plate, cockroaches, stained sink—I wrote in my journal—loving it—thinking that, this was the life. There is a great romance, creativity and freedom in being hip. So if you can live the hipster life in Somerville with its outrageous rents, gentrification, etc... I say welcome aboard.

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