What a Huncke

Photo by Gordon Ball


Herbert Huncke is said to have inspired the use of the term “beat” by tellings of his stories of riding the rails in the 1930s. He is said to have inspired Jack Keroua’s diaristic On the Road, and William Burroughs’ heroin habit. Burroughs thanked him by descibring as such (under the pseudonym “Herman”) in Junkie:


Waves of hostility and suspicion flowed out from his large brown eyes like some sort of television broadcast. The effect was almost like a physical impact. The man was small and very thin, his neck loose in the collar of his shirt. His complexion faded from brown to a mottled yellow, and pancake make-up had been heavily applied in an attempt to conceal a skin eruption. His mouth was drawn down at the corners in a grimace of petulant annoyance.


Before meeting better-know Beat writers, Huncke kept a journal, in which he recorded memories of his childhood—misfits, petty crimes, jail, drugs and art. Tonight, January 9, is the 94th anniversary of Huncke’s birth, and his followers are convening. Tatum O’Neal, Thurston Moore, Abel Ferrara, Jack Walls, and many others will read, and Patti Smith will perform.