Monday, July 29, 2019

How to Speak Hip (1959)

by G. Jack Urso

Front cover
How to Speak Hip is a satirical comedy album first released in 1959 on Mercury Records, and then rereleased in 1969 and 2009. Comedians Del Close and John Brent play, respectively, the unnamed “Instructor” and the “Hipster” Geets Romo. Both Close and Brent were part of Chicago’s famed Second City Comedy Troup, which may explain why the album was reportedly a favorite of Second City and SNL alumnus John Belushi. 

Following the publication of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road in 1957, the Beat Generation was ripe for satirization by 1959. Yet, while poking fun at the pop cultural phenomenon, as many other satires did, How to Speak Hip, slowly turns the table on its square audience by poking fun at the very same people who derided the Beats.   

The dialogue between the Instructor and the Hipster begins as a faux foreign language learning record, complete with starting tones, and morphs into an interview between a Square and a Beat. The first track featured here (and the second track on the album), is “Basic Hip.” Here the word in question is “Dig,” as when one says, “I dig that” as an indication of approval. However, the word itself and the context of its use can have a myriad pf meanings and shades and while this track pokes fun at its use. This track actually provides a spot-on overview on how the word was actually used at the time, and should be appreciated by any linguistic anthropologist investigating the era.
The next two pieces (tracks 8 and 9 on the album), “Cool” and “Uncool” explore in minute detail the essence of Beat hipsterdom being cool. The Instructor points out to Geets that the rules for social inclusion among the Beats is as rigid as “Square” society and no more evident in what it means to be cool or, obversely, uncool. Geets points out, however, that if you break Beat social conventions all one faces is ridicule, whereas the Squares “put you away.”  As with the word “dig,” being “cool” has different meanings depending on its use. By way of analogy, Geets uses a story on how to maintains one’s cool and avoid the cops while high and satisfying the munchies with raspberry Jell-O.

“Uncool” is defined by Geets mainly, and solely, within the context of scoring drugs, or not scoring drugs, or talking about how you just scored drugs and from whom.

Back cover
As a comedy album from two Second City performers, who were also part of the Beat Generation to some extent, “How to Speak Hip” succeeds on many levels. First, we can see the trail of humor that influenced the first generation of Saturday Night Live’s Not Ready for Prime Time players. It also pokes fun at both sides of generation gap while at the same time providing pretty accurate definitions of hipster slang. While “cool” and “dig” may be antiquated relics of youth slang, one can easily find analogs with any generation. Phat, word, lit, tope, Gucci, any many more for which I have no idea what they mean, would all find a home with our friend Geets on “How to Speak Hip.”  

Note: All clips hosted on the Aeolus 13 Umbra Prime YouTube channel.


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