You seemed to enjoy the first edition of Hipsters Throughout History (perhaps as much as I enjoyed putting it together), though of course, the term "hipster" remains deeply contentious—for what I mean by "hipster," read this. Or not. Just please enjoy part II of Hipsters Throughout History...
The Ian MacKaye of Roman Emperors, Marcus was a trustfund Eurotrash Spaniard into Stoicism and fighting Germans. As a youth, he affected worn Greek cloaks and slept on the ground whenever possible. His Meditations is basically a collection of Live-Journal posts (the original title of the book was “To Myself”).
Li Po (Li Bo, Li Bai)
Li (or “Lee,” as his friends called him) was one of the great poets of China’s Tang Dynasty (or the “Golden Age” as its friends called it). Li was a hard-drinking, sword-fighting, wandering Taoist, at various times loved and hated at the Royal Court. The roughly one thousand poems attributed to him are basically a proto-Tumblr.
Julian of Norwich
Julian’s a guy’s name, right? Except he was a she! Crazy, right? Sort of. Julian was a wacky English mystic who was pretty sure God was all about love and that everything would be fine in the end, or possibly not. Basically, Joanna Newsom.
Mary Wollstonecraft was awesome. She was a liberated, empowered intellectual who not only theorized about the rights and autonomy of women but lived them, refusing to be tied to a husband, having affairs as she pleased, and otherwise leading a bohemian existence before the term had any meaning. Of course, this made it easy for those dismayed by her radical ideas (men) to dismiss her as a wanton lady. Frankly, we like wanton ladies.
We’re talking about the young version, here: ardent poet beholden to the passions of discovery, inflamed by love, lust and wine, roaming from one party to the next, flunking out of school… After all, Wurrtemberg does sound a lot
It was a mistake to have left Lord Byron off our first Hipsters Throughout History
list, because really, he was a first team all-star of hipsterdom: intense, indulged, handsome, profligate, philandering (sexually ambiguous!), irresponsible… and he died young!
Shelley’s most famous character is a great early example of the “mash-up.” Indeed, Shelley herself is a great early example of a progressively raised, Park Slope hipster kid: her dad was the philosopher William Godwin (who came up with “Godwin’s Law” on the Internet) and proto-feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. Predictably, she ran off to Europe with a
poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley.
Everything Oscar Wilde ever said was pretty much a caption on "Look at This Fucking Hipster."
So, you’re 21 and living in Vienna; it’s 1911 and the self-portrait you just painted looks eerily like Sid Vicious, a punk icon who won’t be born for another 45 years. Welcome to the hipster canon.
Just look at this picture. You know what we think
we saw recently on Bedford Avenue? A dude with a monocle. Fritz Lang, genius German expressionist, we salute your forward-thinking, Weimar bona fides.
Edna St. Vincent Millay
She was beautiful, she was witty, she was the daring bohemian poet icon back in the day when people said “poetess” with a straight face. Also her most famous line is pretty much an MGMT lyric:
My candle burns at both ends,
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends
It gives a lovely light.
Unlikable, anti-Semitic, paranoid, prolific… Gavin McInnes meets Vincent Gallo, maybe? Despite all those bad things, Celine’s Journey to the End of Night is a modern masterpiece of misanthropy that refuses to discriminate in its pessimism of all mankind.
Hey, remember the Misshapes? We sort of do, vaguely. Remember Leigh Lezark, the one with the mean, icy glare? Yeah, a little bit, right? Anyway, Dorothy Parker and her circle at the Algonquin were way smarter, had way more fun, and were way meaner.
Federico Garcia Lorca
If the Pogues write a song about you it means you’re pretty fucking cool (we’re looking at you, Brendan Behan). Being a dandy gay poet doesn’t hurt, either (unless it actually gets you killed by fascists...).
Do you have a lot of money you’re not quite sure what to do with? Do you have an inchoate longing for the artist’s life, that pure, essential state of being that delivers us from the hoary clutches of the quotidian and the mundane? Do you have no actual talent or self-discipline? Start your own wacky press so you can hang out with the creative demimonde you long to conspire with! That’s what Harry Crosby did, with Black Sun Press, putting the “Lost” in Lost Generation.
If you think you’re cool, but you don’t live in Berlin, you’re not really that cool. Christopher Ishwerwood lived in Berlin and wrote about it. The book is called Berlin Stories
. He was really cool.
If there was a single party we could go to in history, it would be the one in Paris in 1956 where Chester Himes argues with James Baldwin about Camus and Richard Wright interrupts them to introduce Simone de Beauvoir, who, as it happens, is a big fan of Monsieur Himes first novel, If He Hollers, Let Him Go
. That sounds like a cool party.
Sometimes we wonder if Krasner would’ve made a bigger dent in the mid-century American canon if her husband hadn’t come up with that drippy gimmick. This is probably the case.
Gypsy Rose Lee
Ok, sure, she would totally be the uber-hipster queen in Portland c. 1997. You know, when old-school burlesque was the coolest thing ever? Though we wonder how many all-star strippers have ever had tea with the likes of Auden (the answer is one)…
The Mitford Sisters
Jessica and Deborah were writers and socialists; Diana and Unity were fascists and society girls; Pamela was an “apolitical” anti-Semite. Together, they captured the imagination of the British public between the wars, and were basically one big collection of VICE
dos and don’ts.
Look at Irving Rosenthal! He is a scary neuromancer! He was also a huge proponent of Kerouac and Burroughs as editor of The Chicago Review
; but mainly he was a bad-ass wizard.
And we quote, from his poem, “The Day Lady Died” (a series of tweets on the day Billie Holiday died):
I just stroll into the PARK LANE
Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and
then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue
and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and
casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton
of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it
and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of
leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing
Diane Arbus invented Instagram.
Lady Caroline Blackwood
The Lady Caroline Maureen Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood had the great misfortune of being notorious libertine (and great painter) Lucian Freud’s muse-wife. A writer herself, Lady Blackwood was depressed and drunk for most of her life, after the fashion of lost and beautiful aristocrats, but at least managed to bang out seven books. She would later marry the poet Robert Lowell! Oh, and Picasso made art on her hands one time in Paris.
Sexy. Political. Miraculously talented. A little bit crazy. Our love knows no bounds.
Sontag was infuriatingly cool, mainly because she knew she was smarter than everyone in the room. She also slept with men and women, wore black all the time, and smoked a ton of cigarettes. Fucking hipsters.
Look at this picture of The Band. Be awed by it.
Recording an album by yourself in a remote cottage in the wilderness was cool way before Bon Iver did it. And then Nick Drake had the good sense to die young and immortalize his art.