Obituary: Anton Rosenberg

ANTON ROSENBERG was a forerunner of the all-pervasive modern culture of cool. He was so cool, or to use the terminology of the 1950s, hip, that he was best known for doing nothing very much at all.

As a studied student of inaction and detachment, Rosenberg was the embodiment of the beat movement's ideal of the hipster and was the model for the character Julian Alexander in Jack Kerouac's novel The Subterraneans (1958).

He was a painter of some talent and he played the piano with Charlie Parker, Zoot Sims and other jazz figures of the day. But if he remained an obscure figure of the beat movement it was because he found his calling early. Once the poet Allen Ginsberg had discovered him leaning languidly against a car parked in front of Fugazzi's bar on 6th Avenue in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, and dubbed its coterie of laid-back hipsters "the subterraneans", there was little more for Rosenberg to aspire to.

Following Ginsberg's lead, Kerouac recognised that Rosenberg in his twenties - a thin, unshaven, quiet and strange young man of imposing good looks - was the epitome of the aesthetic that shunned enthusiasm and scorned ambition. He adopted Ginsberg's title for his book but moved the locale to San Francisco to avoid the risk of libel action by the Greenwich Village regulars who populated its pages under fictitious names. Thus Rosenberg became Julian Alexander, a man Kerouac called "the angel of the subterraneans".

"They are hip without being slick," he wrote of the bar's denizens. "They are intelligent without being corny, they are intellectual as hell and know all about Pound without being pretentious or talking too much about it, they are very quiet, they are very Christ-like."

The son of a wealthy New York industrialist, Rosenberg served a year in the Army and studied briefly at the University of North Carolina. By the time he was discovered by Ginsberg he had already spent a year in Paris imbibing the Left Bank bohemian atmosphere of Cafe Flore and Cafe Les Deux Magots with James Baldwin, Terry Southern and other figures engaged in perfecting the attitudes and inflections of cool.

By 1950 he was back in New York. He opened a print shop in Greenwich Village and lived in a tenement Ginsberg called Paradise Valley, and later in an industrial loft in a bad neighbourhood long before it became fashionable.

Naturally, drugs were a staple of the scene and on one legendary occasion, Rosenberg and his friends at the San Remo bar intercepted a shipment of the hallucinogen peyote from Exotic Plant Co of Laredo, Texas and congregated at his loft for an all-night party and jazz jam session. But if marijuana was universal among the hipsters, it was opiates that set the subterraneans apart. Rosenberg was a heroin addict for most of his life and appeared as a character in William Burroughs' book Junkie (1953).

As his habits did not lend themselves to a productive life, Rosenberg at least had the foresight to marry a schoolteacher who remained charmed enough by his ways to support the family while he continued to paint, play music, and amuse himself and his friends.

One of his sons is a New York City police detective who specialises in drug enforcement.

Edward Helmore

Anton Rosenberg, artist and painter: born 1926; married (three sons); died Woodstock, New York 14 February 1998.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue