In 1991, David Cronenberg’s film “Naked Lunch” hit the art theatres. While not the first time that nostalgia for the Beats popped up in the mainstream, the film had great impact on the boys of Harvey. As the Beats re-entered the mainstream over the next few years, their ideas and methods thoroughly saturated the project that would become Harvey Loves Harvey.
The pop-culture revival of the Beats tapped into specific cultural nostalgias that resonated with Harvey. Robert Frank’s black-and-white photos were so powerful not only for their imagery, or their capturing of famous and gloried poets. The images carried the nostalgic weight of black-and-white, or a long lost time, of an ‘innocence’ that pervades the pop-mythos of the 1950s.
In February of 1994, in a small bookshop in the East Village, the boys of Harvey met Allen Ginsberg at a book signing. Wide-eyed, they had their copies of “Howl” signed, and the desire to be Beat was enflamed. They spoke of a neo-Beat movement, of being among a new generation that thought and acted and lived like the Beats of the past. It was a fantasy, certainly, not the least ridiculous for the fact that the world had changed, that culture had evolved beyond the moment that could support the Beats.
REAR DEFROST was shot on 8mm black-and-white reversal in the summer of 1995. Within three short months, the “Beat Culture and the New America” show would open at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Tower Records in Boston would paint murals of Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs in their store. The GAP featured images of the writers and poets wearing khakis. Yet, in the summer of 1995, the fantasy had not yet been shattered.
During the Harvey experience that has since become known as THE NORTHEAST TOUR, Harvey Loves Harvey filmed REAR DEFROST on the road between Boston, New York and Rochester. There was no dialog, only a voice-over in a Beat-poetic tone, layered on top of Harvey Loves Harvey’s music. Captions were hand-written, the editing was rough, and in the few screenings of the film it became clear that it successfully tapped the Beat fantasies of youthful artists. The film’s success is that it visually explores a Beat idea of trying to capture an absent truth through the subconscious. Perhaps filtered through this latter decade, a new view could be discovered, re-appropriating the Beat ideas in a new moment.
Within a year, though, the Beats were fading again from the spotlight. Generation X, the smallest demographic in recent history, was fading from power. A new group of younger, less-jaded youth were taking center-stage in the war for advertising superiority. Aging poets from a bygone era were no longer useful shills for jeans and books, so once again they were gone. Harvey Loves Harvey, who had taken the Beat ideals so thoroughly, lingered longer than most. But in the end, it is hard to deny that the Beat ideals were just a paper tiger: Kerouac died drunk on the train tracks, and ‘the road’ was no longer free and open and full of promise. Once the cloud of youthful vigor faded, ‘the road’ was little more than an endless row of strip-malls, occasionally punctuated by cute small towns that had no interest in youthful intruders. The Beat dream was over, and while REAR DEFROST is a glorification of that dream, it is also a sign of how shallow and artificial it was.