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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected