Monday, January 16, 2012

Six Degrees of Jack Kerouac: Martin Luther King, Jr.

As you know, everything at The Daily Beat revolves around Jack Kerouac. Call it an obsession.

On November 15, 2008, we started an occasional series wherein I link Jack Kerouac to another person in 6 or less steps (based on the game, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon). Of course, it has much looser rules (as I explained in the original post):
...We will not be limited in our connections as in the Kevin Bacon version. That is, any connections I think of are fair game - they are not limited to people, but could be events or things.
So far we've done Kevin Nash, Robert De Niro, Mickey Rourke, and Harry Houdini. You can search archived posts if you're interested in reading about those Kerouac connections.

Per this post's title, today we are connecting Jack with Martin Luther King, Jr., since it is the latter's birth celebration day (always the third Monday in January but not always on his birthday, January 15).

The first and most obvious question that came to my mind was whether Jack and Dr. King ever met in person. They were of the same generation, with King born in 1929 and Jack born in 1922. Jack lived a bit longer, dying in 1969 compared to King's death date of 1968.

Did they meet in person? I doubt it. I've read most of Jack's books, journals, letters, and biographies, and I don't remember it happening, plus an Internet search turned up nothing. The Beats were somewhat apolitical, so I doubt that Jack would have been too enamored of the idea of meeting King. However, we're willing to stand corrected. If you know of a meeting, let us know and please cite your source.

Did Jack ever write about Dr. King? Given the sheer volume of Jack's writing, both published works and journals/letters, it's hard to believe he never mentioned King. I just can't confirm or deny it. Maybe a real Kerouac scholar will weigh in on this one. Audrey, are you reading this?

Did Dr. King ever write about Jack? I couldn't confirm this in the shallow research I did, but King did mention the "beat generation" in his Address at the Youth March for Integrated Schools on 18 April 1959 in Washington, D.C. (The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr.: Volume V: Threshold of a New Decade, 2005, University of California Press, p. 187):
Yes, as I gaze upon this great and historic assembly, this unprecedented gathering of young people, I cannot help thinking -- that a hundred years from now the historians will be calling this not the "beat generation," but the generation of integration."
The footnote to this entry says that Coretta Scott King referred to the Beats when she delivered remarks on Dr. King's behalf  at the 1958 Youth March.

What was Jack doing at the time of Dr. King's death in April of 1968? For one thing, he would still have been reeling from Neal Cassady's death in February. This was on top of the difficult situation he faced taking care (with wife Stella's help) of his ailing mother, Gabrielle. At the time of King's death, Jack would have been living with Stella and Memere in Lowell, but they would head for St. Petersburg, FL, that fall (Kerouac in Florida: Where the Road Ends by Bob Kealing, 2004, Arbiter Press, pp. 97-98). According to Kealing, some time in 1968 Jack has his second ever and last visit from daughter Jan, who found him sitting a "foot from the television set watching The Beverly Hillbillies and cradling a bottle of Jack Daniels 'like a giant baby bottle'" (p. 97). Suffice to say, when Dr. King was assassinated, Jack was likely on a bender. Did he pay the event much attention, given his condition and the recent news about Neal and his Memere's condition? I doubt it.

Which brings us to our six degrees connection. According to this YMCA website, Kerouac and King both stayed at a Y; however, I have no confirmation that they ever stayed at the same one, so this is not a sufficient connection. We'll go with the following.

The Flamingo Sports Bar in St. Petersburg, FL, which Jack may have frequented in his final years, is located at 1230 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street N. To wit:

1. Jack hung out in bars in St. Petersburg.
2. He may have frequented the Flamingo Sports Bar.*
2. The Flamingo is on Martin Luther King Jr. Street N.

Based on our rules, that makes Martin Luther King Jr.'s Kerouac Number a 3.

We know . . . that's pretty weak. We wish we could say that Jack wrote about King or vice versa, or that they met, but with the resources at hand we're left with this quasi-definite connection.

*Maybe Bob Kealing will weigh in on whether Jack actually frequented the Flamingo.

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