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.

More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete tomorrow
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
Arts and Entertainment
You could be in the Glastonbury crowd next summer if you follow our tips for bagging tickets this week
Life and Style
It is believed that historically rising rates of alcohol consumption have contributed to the increase
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
peopleBroadcaster has a new role bringing 'the big stories that matter' to US
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Life and Style
Moves to regulate e-cigarettes and similar products as medicines come amid increasing evidence of their effectiveness
healthHuge anti-smoking campaign kicks off on Wednesday
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
A new Banksy entitled 'Art Buff' has appeared in Folkestone, Kent
Arts and Entertainment
Shia LaBeouf is one of Brad Pitt's favourite actors in the world ever, apparently
filmsAn 'eccentric' choice, certainly
footballBut the Newcastle United midfielder's news has 'left his mistress furious'
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

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

1st Line Service Desk Analyst

£27000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client who are...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Huxley Associates

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Huxley Associates are currentl...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style