Lawnchair Larry and The Dawn of the Beatniks

Yesterday and today are momumental dates. Why?

Today is the anniversary of the Six Gallery Reading, where Allen Ginsberg first read “Howl” and several other poets read (Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, Philip Lamantia and Philip Whalen). That night was truly a monumental night, captured in prose by Jack Kerouac (In “Dharma Bums”) and Michael McClure (“Scratching The Beat Surface”).

Jack Kerouac was drunk on Burgundy wine, running around yelling “Go! Go! Go!” as Ginsberg read…

I have been obsessed with the Beats since I first heard about them. I’ve read Howl to every girlfriend I ever dated… usually ending up in a puddle of tears at the end (well, at least a touch red-eyed). They have produced some of my favourite works of literature ever. This date, therefore, is very important to me as a reader, a writer… a human being… hell, when I first discovered the Beats, I started wearing a beret, writing poetry and smoking drum tobacco… who didn’t?

Does poetry still have the same impact it did back then? I mean, the beatniks started a cultural revolution. They started anti-establishment thinking and ideas that pre-dates the hippies. Now, when you see the Wall Street protests, obviously now is another big “time for change”. Who are our Ferlinghettis and Ginsbergs now?

* * *

Now, I don’t know too much about Lawnchair Larry, but after discussing it with my Uncle David, the story is quite an intriguing one. On July 2, 1982, Larry Walters, who was an American Truck Driver, decided to make a “homemade airship” by attaching 45 helium-filled weather balloons to his lawn chair.

And it worked!

He ascended 16,000 feet in the air… much further than he had originally hoped. He had brought a pellet gun to shoot the balloons when he got too high. When he finally made it to the ground he was arrested. When asked why he did it, he replied “cuz a man can’t just sit around!”

Walters received the top prize from the Bonehead Club of Dallas for his adventure, as well as invitations from The Tonight Show and Late Night with David Letterman.

After his flight, he was in brief demand as a motivational speaker and he quit his job as a truck driver. He was featured in a Timex print ad in the early ’90s,[5] but he never made much money from his fame. Later in his life, Walters hiked the San Gabriel Mountains and did volunteer work for the United States Forest Service. He later broke up with his girlfriend of 15 years and could only find work sporadically as a security guard.

He committed suicide in 1993 at the age of 44 by shooting himself in the heart in Angeles National Forest. My uncle claims it was because his “flight” was so incredible that nothing else could really compare. How could you live day-to-day after such an incredible experience?

In other words, today and yesterday are important.

HERE is a great article about Larry’s adventures


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