Saturday, October 5, 2013

What does Ruby know about Les and Bo?

Author Day on Beat Street - October, 2013
This is it, I’m thinking, the heart of the Beat world and it’s here at Les and Bo’s. It’s like they put their hands around the city’s throat and squeezed, and all the life came up into their apartment.” – TheBeat on Ruby’s Street

A lot of readers are asking about Les and Bo, studio musicians and family friends of the Tabeatas. Les was teaching Ruby’s brother Ray to play saxophone and Bo played guitar.

He’s from Alabama and calls himself an Authentic American Afri­can. I just call him Bo,” Ruby says.

Because the term “African American” was not used in 1958, a friend asked why I used it. I think Bo was ahead of the curve  in many ways; so I see him teasing around the edges of a phrase that would become “African American” years later—but wasn’t yet.

Bo and Les, both minor characters in the novel, are important to Ruby and Ray in ways they barely recognize. Does Ruby know how active Bo is in politics, going to rallies, meetings and fundraisers with Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Harry Belafonte and Paul Robeson? Has she seen their movies or heard Belafonte sing? Does she know what pioneers and heroes they are?

Not in The Beat on Ruby's Street.  But she will.

Meanwhile, readers are also asking if Ruby knows that Les and Bo are gay.

She does not.

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed…” –Allen Ginsberg, Howl

In 1958 most people—even in Beat circles—didn’t talk about homosexuality. Though poets like Allen Ginsberg were more or less known to be gay in the late 1950s, the decade was not exactly known for tolerance.
(And that, of course, was why the Beat Generation became known for rebellion).

With Les and Bo, I wanted to give readers a taste of how a gay, interracial couple might have appeared to a young girl like Ruby. Look for their posts in future blogs.

And if you were, say, 12 or older in 1958 and remember early gay-rights groups like the MattachineSociety or Daughters of Bilitis, - or want to share what you remember about what it was like to be in a gay or interracial relationship—I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 --Jenna Z.