A poet gives a reading on stage at The Bizarre coffehouse on West 3rd St., Greenwich Village, New York City, 1961.
“America hit peak hippie in 1967, thanks to the avalanche of media hype that accompanied the Summer of Love. In contrast, there was no single catalyzing event to mark the moment when our nation reached peak beat, although one could make a good case for 1959. My colleague Hunter Oatman-Stanford essentially did that a few years ago in an article titled ‘Cool for Sale, From Beatnik Bongos to Hipster Specs.’ … The Manhattan editors at “Life” could have saved themselves the trouble of flying a team of reporters and photographers clear across the country by simply hopping a subway car for Greenwich Village, the East Coast capital of beat culture. And their first stop may well have been a coffeehouse called Café Bizarre, which had opened in 1957 to cash in on the folk and poetry scene. By 1959, café owner Rick Allmen was hawking copies of a private-label LP titled ‘Assorted Madness,’ which promised ‘Beat Erotica’ on its cover and featured earnest poetry and desultory music by some of the café’s most infamous denizens. One of those denizens was Rafio the Mad Monk, a.k.a. Walter Brooks, who preached his occasionally sacrilegious love poems to customers sharing a ‘Suffering Bastard Sundae’ ($4.75, serves four) or tucking into a ‘Cannibal’ sandwich (raw chopped steak and a raw egg on your choice of rye, white, or Russian pumpernickel for $1.50). A few of Rafio’s poems are featured on ‘Assorted Madness.’ They are among the most listenable minutes on the otherwise forgettable album. … ‘At one time or another, everyone who was anyone in the beat movement showed up there,’ music journalist John Marks says. ‘It’s almost a certainty that people like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg visited Café Bizarre, although,’ he adds, ‘probably only once.’ That’s why you won’t find poets like Kerouac and Ginsberg on ‘Assorted Madness,’ a record Marks is quite familiar with, beginning with its scarcity. ‘According to an international database of academic and research libraries called WorldCat,’ he tells me, ‘there is no library in the world that has ‘Assorted Madness’ in its collection.’ …”