Thursday, 21 July 2011

Through Beatnik Eyeballs - an appreciation

For all the loose gooses* among you I’m declaring today the 50th anniversary of the publication of Through Beatnik Eyeballs by R. A. Norton.
The potboiler which advertises itself as A Novel of Teen-Age Life was printed in 1961 and bought by a 16-year-old GC and is still in my possession; and today might as well be its birthday.
The book is a mostly unreadable love story – and I remember thinking so back then. It’s written in Kookie-talk, the author’s invented argot purporting to be a “language that teenagers readily understand.”
So we have, for example, a sentence such as: “I've driven in from birdland in my chariot after a dark four and I'm here in the frolic pad to lay some gut bucket on you loose gooses before I shake my reins and head for dreamsville.”
This translates as: “I drove in from the country in my car after a bad four days and I’m here in the place where I’m happy to play some sexy music to you eccentric, mad people* before I leave and get some sleep.”
I know this thanks to a glossary For Bods From Squaresville at the beginning of the book. Some entries are legitimate like bread, groovy, pad, and stud but a lot are pure invention such as mane-scragger (hairdresser), lessonsville (school), and seller of love-signs (streetwalker).
But Norton, whoever he or she may have been, was prescient. The book pre-dates A Clockwork Orange and its Nadsat vernacular by a year, while some of the exchanges sound pure hip-hop e.g. “She say she take me to Brighton in her wheel.”
All this just a few years after the word ‘beatnik’ (the marriage of the Beat generation and the Russian suffix which came to the fore after the launch of Sputnik) was introduced into common parlance.
The word ‘man’ which attached to my every sentence and my 16-year-old contemporaries surprisingly doesn’t make it in to Through Beatnik Eyeballs conversations. Certainly we didn’t call each other ‘daddy.’
The book is still around. I’ve found it for sale on the internet at prices between £22 and £80. The pulp fiction cover by M. Atkinson must lend the book some appeal for collectors of the genre. But it’s the words for me.
The novel ends: “Wham! If anybody looking for me, tell the cat I’m at Starsville Hotel, Utopia Manor, Rainbow’s End.” That’s as good a description as any of how it feels to be in love whether you’re a teenage beatnik or not.


  1. Groovy man, this swag ego is all for a nova turn souped up lingo adding sparko lucre to the oxford wordbook.

  2. Excellent. Another person who has read this great book.

  3. Lou,
    Thanks for your comment. My blog is in sleep mode while I work on a novel but I've woken it up for another fan of Through Beatnik Eyeballs. GC

  4. Hi
    I've that would be a lie. I also own a copy of 'Through Beatnik Eyeballs', and, as much as, for whatever foolish reason, I've often felt that I should read it, I've never lasted long before having to refer to the glossary, and then ended up just reading that.
    When I do seriously try to get through it, I forget who's who; what's what, and why I even care. Then I think, hang on, this is 1961, the Cuban Missile Crisis is coming soon, and perhaps in this version it'll all kick off and it'll be 'The End', (or 'Endsville' excuse my 'bodness').
    There's currently a copy on eBay for £999. Beat that! Regards. Ray


What do you think? GC