Cool Cats and Cliches – A Night at the Beatnik

Beatnik 3

Courtesy of Kelly Kimball

“Welcome to the scene, baby,” cooed Adam England, director of operations, to a sea of guests entering the stately Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton, California. He sported a pair of dark sunglasses and a clichéd black beret, reminiscing the bluesy, self-confident Beatnik generation. Loud, red words that spelled out “Bohemian” were patched across the back of his patterned vest like a bygone letterman jacket. (It was once owned by his father in the 60s).

Tonight was for those married to the idea of making history come alive, at least for a few precious hours, among fellow art connoisseurs and high-cultured patrons.

With the creative enthusiasm of England and other well-seasoned directors at the Muck, the cultural center is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, in ways they feel would best make the Muckenthaler family (particularly its founders, Walter and Adella Muckenthaler) proud: through a steadfast support for music, the arts, community education and historical awareness.

This past Thursday evening, they hosted their first annual Beatnik Cafe –– an evening of live jazz and poetry. The event was one of several fundraisers to support over 62 different institutions and more than 28 outreach programs throughout Orange County. From programs in libraries, hospitals, prisons and teen centers, the Muck is a proud social supporter, hoping to seep its love of the arts and history into the furthest corners of their community.

Their supportive efforts branch out as far as Anaheim, La Habra, Placentia and other neighboring towns; in fact, their center just laid the groundwork for a teen arts program near the cultural center that will be headed by their newly-appointed director of education, Stephannie Bobadilla.

The event opened with a smooth and optimistic jazz piece from a bassist, drummer and trumpet trio (the trumpet player was referred to only by his historically-appropriate alias, “Miles Davis”). Zoot Valesco, the Executive Director of the center and a stout man with round thick-framed glasses and a dark-grey goatee, emceed the evening in an intentionally cool, raspy “poetic” voice that added to the comedic spectacle.

“Bee-bah bahloobaaah…” he rasped through the microphone with a smirk as he recited an original poem: “The man is piercing this society with his big bad weaponry…”

Although the Muck usually expects a full house of anywhere from 70 to 80 visitors on any one of their 60 special events throughout the year, this evening’s crowd was modest, some dawning black turtlenecks and red lipstick to humor the classic “beatnik” look and others waving around fake cigarettes while chatting it up around the several intimate cafe tables lit romantically with mason jar candles. The ambiance in that particular room gave off a feel of something lacking in refinement, something subtle, unassuming, and lost in its own humble world.

“Tomorrow is a king-sized draaaag,” hissed a female performer with dark pink hair and long nails painted in a daring maroon. Her voice trilled and intertwined with the background music of the drums and the bass. “So smile at what happened, or choke at what did…”

Despite the overt mockery of the beatnik era, there was something electric in this estranged and deliberate microcosm that was the Muckenthaler Cultural Center. The Beatnik Cafe was a small evening that transcended the benefits of some high-society family’s dream of cultivating artistic artifacts through the years.

There was a close and quirky family of art-lovers that night, a group of people – for one evening – referred to one another as “cool cats” and clichés in hopes of preserving something special and unspoken that takes up the very heart of the arts.