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Beat Generation meets Bronte Village

Brian Hassett chronicles the joyful social revolution that began with the Beat Generation.
Ken Kesey and Brian Hassett | Boulder Kerouac Summit | Allen Ginsberg
Ken Kesey and Brian Hassett | Boulder Kerouac Summit | Allen Ginsberg

Soon after World War II, elements of American society began to break with conformity, first in what became the Beat Generation. Today’s racial tolerance, openness to challenging art forms, breaking gender stereotypes and embracing LGBTQ+ people, accepting body art, revolutionary music, and confronting authority all trace their roots to the Beat movement. It was the first truly non-conforming approach to living in what then was a very conformist America. It gave birth to the hippies and anti-war movements of the 1960s and to massive social change on every level ever since.

Brian Hassett | Beat Museum 2015 | Jim Musselman
Brian Hassett | Beat Museum 2015 | Jim Musselman

In 1982, leading figures in the Beat Generation came together in Boulder, Colorado, to talk about the movement, especially about one of its key narrators, Jack Kerouac. Jack’s first successful novel, the stream-of-consciousness On the Road, became a guidebook for a generation of restless Americans and is still a part of the literary canon for many thousands who want to break out of normality.

The Boulder summit was specifically a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the publication of On the RoadAllen Ginsberg, the author of Howl, one of the most influential poems in the latter half of the twentieth century, led the symposium. Among others present were Lawrence Ferlinghetti, William S. Burroughs, and Ken Kesey (the author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest).

Hitchhiking to the event was a twenty-one-year-old Winnipegger named Brian Hassett, who spent decades living in Greenwich Village but today lives in Bronte. Brian is a prolific chronicler of the Beat Generation and author of five books written in five years in Bronte about the Beats, the Pranksters, Woodstock and American Politics, including The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac.

Hitchhiker's Guide to Jack Kerouac | 21 Year old hitchhiking Winnipegger, Brian Hassett | Brian Hassett

They used to say, “if you remember Woodstock, you weren’t there.” Brian’s book on Woodstock ’94, according to some, is better than being there.

Known to some as the Mayor of Bronte Village, Brian is a colourful character in an Oakville where conformity rather than counterculture is the norm. Yet Brian loves Bronte Village and sees in it a welcoming home for his larger-than-life personality and a haven where his creativity can flourish.

In conversation, he becomes animated as he compares Bronte to Greenwich Village and happily describes its ongoing evolution into a more and more interesting place with a wider and wider variety of residents.

Brian has lived by his wits, funding his not-always-commercial activities with short-term contracts, especially during his time in New York. There, he paid the bills by clerking in top law firms, even writing a Temp Survival Guide.

His main activity, though, was staging shows and concerts. His connection to the Beat Generation continued through different countercultural artistic eras so that he was all his life intimately involved in the literary, poetry and musical culture of New York City. His life has been interwoven with such seminal figures as Jerry Garcia, whose Grateful Dead are viewed as the musical expression of the Beat movement.

Through all of this, Brian was intensely involved in American politics, and his take on Gonzo journalism resulted in Blissfully Ravaged in Democracy, Adventures in Politics 1980-2020, a true insider’s guide to American politics at the human level, with personal perspectives on key players like Abbie Hoffman, to name just one.

Joe Biden with Brian Hassett | New Hampshire 2020 | Photographer Unknown
Joe Biden with Brian Hassett | New Hampshire 2020 | Photographer Unknown

The result is books which give a wonderful behind-the-scenes insight into the Beats and their progeny, right up to the present day. Brian’s books are really engaging and readable, and his firsthand exposure brings colour to the history of the artistic and literary dimension of the evolution of counterculture. Most of all, the characters, so many of them so influential and with such unconventional perceptions, whose works trigger recognitions of sometimes disconcerting truths, come to life in Brian’s writing. They are fully dimensional human beings, with loves, families, dishes and laundry, at the same time as their creative genius sizzles in Brian’s joyful narratives.

From 2017 to 2019, Brian teamed up with original Merry Prankster George Walker and toured America from New York to L.A. with a “Jack and Neal Ride Again” show. Brian was in the role of Jack Kerouac and George Walker in the role of Beat legend Neal Cassady, whom he knew better than just about anyone alive today. They also did the show in Toronto and at the Creation Zone in the Iroquois Ridge Library in Oakville in 2017.

George Walker and Brian Hassett | Beat Museum San Francisco, 2017 | Dale Topham
George Walker and Brian Hassett | Beat Museum San Francisco, 2017 | Dale Topham

The Beat generation begat generations of iconoclasts and countercultural influencers, such that the dominant culture has been and continues to be radically changed by them. As Michael McClure put it, the fact that we don’t all wear gray flannel suits and crewcuts is down to the Beats.

For insight into the force for change, tolerance, inclusion and acceptance that began with them, you can do no better than to read Brian Hassett. Brian is a treasure in Oakville, steeped in the penetrating, challenging, exciting and free continuum of countercultural art, music and literature. His books are quite simply fun. 

Brian Hassett is the author of