Saturday, October 27, 2012

Saturday in my world

Well it's Saturday in my world and in this particular case that means waking up at camp to a fog-bestrewn stream and bluejays, red squirrels, gray squirrels, crows, titmice, chickadees, nuthatches, and doves competing for the little bit of seed I spread around yesterday into several feeders we can easily see from our sunporch and even from bed if we crane our necks a little. The little refrigerator is humming cheerily and the gas fireplace is keeping back the soon-to-be-November chill that landed overnight with a thump. A heron hunts stealthily through the marshy part of the cove, stepping gingerly so as not to startle an unsuspecting frog or fish - whack! - speared one and took off flying, pterodactyl-like. A big storm looms, they say it might be as big or bigger than one in '38 that killed 800 people - George Carlin would be happy about that but wishing it were more - and could dump 2 feet of snow in parts of the northeast. Hopefully not this part, since we have yet to rake the autumn leaves at the house - 20% still hanging on limbs, why I don't know - or drain the pipes at camp to button her up for winter's onslaught. I don't relish the thought of crawling through the snow to open up the drains underneath - it's always a wet job and being wet outside in the cold is not my idea of fun times.

What's that have to do with Jack Kerouac, you ask? Nothing much, except I was in the mood to write (writers write, right?) and this is what occurred when I started tapping the keyboard. Plus it's October (still) - Jack's favorite month and one he mentions frequently in his novels and poems. Four more days until November, and voting (thank heavens this election cycle will be over), and Crystal's birthday (last one of a kind), and Thanksgiving, and snow (probably), and the smell of woodsmoke daily, and the entry into a pulled-in kind of living where being inside is punctuated with mandatory forays into the bleak whiteness to clear the driveway and make pathways to various points - fuel oil filler tube, propane tank, woodshed, outbuildings, deck, sump pump hose - oh, and especially to the bird feeder because so many little creatures depend on me for daily sustenance (damn squirrels but as Dad would say, "They have to eat, too.").

I don't know about you, but things could be lot worse and it's good to remember that on a Saturday morning in a warm room with a view of the water and no pressing matters beyond what costume to wear for Halloweening in Hallowell tonight.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Kerouac makes academe!

The Chronicle of Higher Education is the weekly news source for university faculty and administrators, and this week it features an article about Jack Kerouac by John Tytell of Queens College. If you're a subscriber, click here to read the article, titled "Kerouac's Music."

Here's an excerpt to prod you into reading the entire article (if you can access it):
I suspect that Americans respond to On the Road and to Kerouac because of an irrepressible freshness that has everything to do with language and relatively little to do with his tales of sex, drugs, and jazz. When Kerouac used exclamations like "Wow" or "Whooee," many of his critics cringed and proclaimed that barbarians were storming the gates. But like his predecessors Whitman and Twain, Kerouac could hear natural speech.
Happy reading  . . . .

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Interview with John Wight: Beat Hero #2

A while back we began a series wherein we identify a Beat Hero; that is, someone whose actions exemplify living "beat." Our first Beat Hero was Travis Tribble, who I posted about here and interviewed here.

John Wight (L) with Rick Dale at Cappy's Copper Kettle in Lowell, MA

Beat Hero #2 is John Wight, who I met on-line and then spent some time with at the annual Lowell Celebrates Kerouac/Jack Kerouac Literary Festival last week in Lowell, Massachusetts. John agreed to answer a set of interview questions via e-mail, and I've presented them below. We can all learn a lot about living beat from John, and I appreciate his willingness to share his thoughts with The Daily Beat.


The Daily Beat: Before we get into Kerouac-related things, tell us a little bit about yourself.

John Wight: It’s hard for me to tell you just a little bit about myself. When I write an answer to that question, it tends to turn in to a book. But I won’t write a book here. I grew up in a family of very modest means, we lived a simple life, a Christian life, raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, part of what made me who I am today, large family, I’m the oldest of 6 kids, now ranging from about ages 37 to 49, parents still around, we get together at least annually, it wasn’t always that way, us kids became typical young adults wanting to do our own thing, we continue to do our own thing, but now with much love and forgiveness. Childhood interests included photography, videography, electronics, media production and science. As an adult, I found myself doing office work and I worked as a caregiver, both in nursing facilities and at private homes, for many years. By then, my interest in electronics evolved to computers, and I received an ATA degree in computer repair from Skagit Valley College in Mt. Vernon, WA. I’ve always written, my mom kept some of my earliest writing, I always exchanged letters with friends and family, I thought everyone did that, then e-mail came and I found myself typing on and on to anyone who would listen, I continued to write letters to those not yet using e-mail, next thing I knew, I often received compliments for my writing, so I figured it was time to consider myself a writer.

TBD: What experiences in your life led you to becoming a Jack Kerouac fan?

JW: For me, I don’t know if fan is the word. Kindred spirit seems more like it. When I was a little kid, my mom’s nickname for me was hobo, that memory tucked away, not forgotten, more recently I asked my mom why she gave me that nickname, she said it was because I was always ready, even dressed, ready to go somewhere, we went everywhere in the Pacific Northwest, camping, hiking, to Grandmas’ houses in Spokane and Mullan, ID. I have a memory of playing in some ash from a fire darkened stump at home, no bath in the bathtub, but rather it was a bath in the river, my parents insisted, I was probably 5 years old at the time. As soon as I was old enough to read, I was reading highway signs and tracing maps, for example, US Highway 10/Interstate 90 all the way to the East Coast. But I would not travel out of the Pacific Northwest until just out of high school, could never convince my parents to take us across that imaginary boundary surrounding the Pacific Northwest. (Ironically, my parents are now retired to Oceanside, CA, with much experience road tripping in Mexico, yes, I’ve done that, too.) Then 30 years ago, a friend of mine introduced me to the Grateful Dead, and I found myself in a bit of a tour that spring, a life changing time I will never forget. But at that time I had no idea there was a Jack Kerouac connection. Years later, in my 40’s, I found myself tired of office work and caregiving, so thought about what I really wanted to do with my life. That involved travel, writing, videography and photography and eventually lead to my reading of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Jack’s stories reminded me so much of my Grateful Dead hitchhiking touring life, so much of my life with my friends over the years. Then a couple years ago or so, I found myself struggling with my own writing as many writers do, where to find courage and openness in my writing, in telling my life’s traveling story, great times with friends and what they mean to me, and that type of thing. I knew from reading On the Road that perhaps Jack Kerouac had some lessons in that for me. So I started a deeper study of all that is Jack Keraouc. The first biography I read was Subterranean Kerouac by Ellis Amburn. From that, I learned that there were many other similarities between Jack and me. Like Jack, I’m an autodidact, bookworm, writer, music lover, traveler, hobo, wanderer and outsider. I live for road trips, I have intense love for family and close friends, I fit in with the down and out, I strive to treat all with kindness, tolerance and understanding. I live a simple life, a real one. And from reading that book, I also learned about the Grateful Dead connection, so Jack’s best friend Neal drove the Furthur bus on a tour that would become the first Grateful Dead tour. Jack and his friends are friends of mine. Time to go look them up. And the rest is history.

TDB: How do you explain to others what Jack Kerouac means to you?

JW: My answer to the earlier question perhaps answers that to a large degree. When I toured the Grateful Dead with fellow deadheads 30 years ago, I found where I fit in, my lifestyle fit them and their lifestyle fit me, warts and all, but we were family. We lost touch for a while as my life came back to more of a reality with full time jobs in the medical field, but I could never forget that Grateful Dead family. I still have friends that I could always find at a Grateful Dead concert, although today it would be groups like Furthur and Dark Star Orchestra, among many others, it seems the Grateful Dead family has grown, also today it’s easy to find our friends on Facebook. But perhaps I didn’t fit in quite as closely as I thought I did, for example, I didn’t know deadheads to be bookworms, I knew them to be music worms. Then I learned a lot about who Jack Kerouac is, deep down inside to the bottom of his heart, from what he wrote and what others wrote about him. Jack and I kindred spirits, also his friends, that’s where I fit in, so similar minded it was spooky, readers, writers, compassionate and passionate about friends and life, living life to its fullest, friends helping each other, supporting each other, it’s OK to be who we are. I feel all the more that way now that I’ve had opportunity to meet and get to know many of Jack’s friends, even a few who actually knew him in person.

TDB: Readers will be interested in your Kerouacian approach to attending Lowell Celebrates Kerouac this year. Tell us about that.

JW: In 2010, I wanted so bad to be with my Kerouac family, but I was working a full time job at that time and didn’t see a way. Someone must have seen that I wanted a lifestyle change, because it was only a month or so later that a former boss called me asking me to work for her again, only this time the work can be done online. I could only say yes for that. So early last year, I bought a camper van, traveled all over the country last year, reconnected with many friends, attended a few Grateful Dead related shows, including Further in Orlando, FL, and Gathering of the Vibes, with the finale being Lowell Celebrates Kerouac for the first time, so great to be among Kerouac family, I fit in, writing was inspired to some extent. This year, I could not afford the gas to drive my camper van around the country, so I traveled by Greyhound bus, train and foot to visit a few friends and family, finale again Lowell Celebrates Kerouac this year. That trip didn’t work out quite as planned and by the time October came around, there was little money available until payday, and I found myself with just enough to buy bus and train tickets to Lowell and a Motel 6 room in Tewksbury for a few days, I wasn’t going to miss this year for anything. By now, perhaps you are realizing I’ve been a hobo all my life, so I kicked my hoboing skills in to full gear to survive, but not without asking my Keroauc family if they might have a place to lay my head during Lowell Celebrates Kerouac. No one responded to that request, so for a few nights, I found a quiet spot in the woods to sleep, just with my backpack for a pillow, by that time I did not have enough money for a sleeping bag. Like my Grateful Dead tour days, I survived cold and rain to attend events, relying on any kindness from friends and strangers, and if it was too cold and/or rainy to stay outdoors at night, I found myself heading to the closest open McDonald’s or Starbucks, where there is always cheap food, coffee and WiFi and a warm place to hang out. About midweek, my sister sent me enough money for a sleeping bag and for food to get me by the rest of the week, and on Thursday, Vilous Fox saw me carrying around my backpack and sleeping bag, and out of the kindness of his heart, offered an otherwise unused bed to sleep in for the remainder of LCK. Although such help was slow in coming, I still felt that I fit in among Kerouac friends, and among the neighborhoods of Lowell. Lots of smiles and friendly hellos as I was walking town city streets with my backpack and sleeping bag.

TDB: Describe some interesting characters you met on your travels to Lowell this year.

JW: How can one describe in so few words characters like Rick Dale, David Amram, Mike Wurm, Bill Walsh, George Koumantzelis, Billy Koumantzelis, Nomi Herbtsman, Vilous Fox, Tess Adamski, Roger Brunelle, Steve Edington, Jason Pacheco, Kurt Phaneuf, Cameron, Tomas, the Lowell neighbor telling me to smile as I walked down the street, friendly staff that now know me by name at Brew’d Awakening Coffeehaus, and many more I’m forgetting or don’t remember the name or don’t have time to name, sorry for that, each one a unique character in their own right, each one supportive of this lowly hobo who wants to travel, write and spend time with his friends. Hard to single one of them out and describe them, I’d have to write a book for that.

TDB: What were your two most memorable experiences at Lowell Celebrates Kerouac this year, and why?

JW: My sleeping bag moment which I talk more about in the answer to my next question. And reading my own poem based on my own experiences in Lowell, to the background of David Amram’s music at the jam at Lowell Beer Works on the last day Sunday, lots of hugs, handshakes, teary eyes, and a shout from some yet unknown audience listener, “you can stay at my place.” And it’s hard not to include this third one, being named “Beat Hero.” Why? That finale at Lowell Beer Works just gave me the feeling that all this was worthwhile, I was truly among friends. Being named “Beat Hero,” one can be a hero for being a beat? It’s who I am, it shows I can be a hero just for being me. And it all created inspiration for writing, I was writing daily on Facebook, my most popular writing to date, as evidenced by the many likes and comments, and not just by Jack Kerouac’s friends, but also by my other friends and family that do not have the interest in Jack Kerouac that we do.

TDB: You had a chance to see the world premiere of Jack's lost play, Beat Generation. Please give us your reactions (and make sure to talk about your backpack).

JW: I’ve been to theatres off and on over the years to see plays and Broadway style shows, but I’ve never had the experience to walk in to one with a good sized backpack and sleeping bag. So I wondered what the staff and play goers thought about this lowly hobo bringing his backpack inside the Merrimack Repertory Theatre. Small theatre, simply laid out. I asked a staff person if there was some place I could put my backpack, and the manager overheard from the food counter and offered to let me put it just behind the counter in full view. Little did I know that would have some significance as far as the play. I’ve read that Jack’s intention with the play was to just tell the story of the beat generation as just friends hanging out, doing what they do, showing that life with friends is meaningful and full of stories. The final scenes of the play found Jack’s friends grappling over who would sleep on the couch at the end of the day. Jack chose a sleeping bag instead of the couches, a sleeping bag under the stars, he seemed to want time to think, think about what direction his life would take him, to San Francisco he said, but first, that night in a sleeping bag under the stars, playing the flute to his own music, his friends chose to sleep on the couches. Like Jack, I would choose to sleep in a sleeping bag under the stars any time, hopefully it’s not too rainy or cold, I’ve been doing that all my life, even when I was a little kid living in my house with my family, I’d often choose to sleep in a sleeping bag under the stars. And at this point in my life, I’m still thinking about my life’s direction, I just know it is as a writer, a traveler and among Jack’s friends. So the play ended, I picked up my backpack and sleeping bag from behind the food counter, walked out and could only say Wow! My backpack and sleeping bag, in addition to being a prop for the play, are part of me, who I am, I walked out a lot more comfortable with who I am, a lowly hobo with a backpack and sleeping bag.

TDB: Do you have favorite authors other than Kerouac, and, if so, who are they?

JW: A writer by the name of Po Bronson got me started with my mid life changes through a book of his, “What Should I Do With My Life?” He helped me to realize that I wasn’t really doing what I wanted to do with my life, and that I could be doing what I really wanted to do if I chose to do so. So I’ve been spending the 9 years since I read that book figuring out how to do so. Other favorite authors over the years include HG Wells, JR Tolkien, L Frank Baum, I was very interested in science fiction and fantasy until I became a bit more grounded as an adult. I could also mention a few favorite travel related authors, John Steinbeck as in "Travels with Charley,” Ted Conover as in “Rolling Nowhere,” Brad Newsham in “Take Me With You,” and Mike McIntyre as in “The Kindness of Strangers: Penniless Across America,” it’s hard to name a favorite among those, and there are more examples I could name, but each one lived the simple travel life and survived to tell their unique travel stories of humankindness, and currently I’m reading William Least Heat-Moon’s “Blue Highways.” It’s hard to compare any one of these to Jack Kerouac. And reminding me I’m still looking for my own voice, just as each one of these authors has.

TDB: Tell us about your own writing experiences and goals.

JW: I’ve been writing all my life, which I have talked some about already. It wasn’t until about 2003 that I decided that I wanted to become a writer, that I was a writer. In 2004, that evolved in to publishing travel stories on my website at, so many stories lived but yet to be published there. Currently, I use Facebook as a forum for my writing, I have been doing that for a couple years now. Due to LCK this year, I find myself writing every day, I hope I can keep that up, I know who my friends are, you are all so supportive, gives me the drive to keep it up. So if I falter, please remind me, support me, friends. My goal is to some day have a shelf of books published, or perhaps a shelf of books in e-book format, nothing like a good old fashioned book, I hope they stay around, at least long enough for me to publish a few.

TDB: Where will the road take you next?

JW: The scenic route back to Lowell. Lowell is like a another home to me now, so I’m anxious to get back here, stay a while and spend time with friends here. But I have friends in Washington State, I also find myself anxious to see them. I have friends and homes in other places, too. A difficult life, everywhere I go it seems I must leave one home and the friends that live there, to go to another. But that’s always a good excuse to travel and make myself at home for a time somewhere else. So as for the immediate future, back to Washington, I have friends there who want me to spend time with them. In December, California beckons, my annual visit to my parent’s place in Oceanside, and to my physical office in San Diego. Other than that, my heart is currently in Lowell, so I will be back soon.

Note: John's answers were written at the Brew’d Awakening Coffeehaus on Market Street in Lowell, MA.

Jack Kerouac, free of that slaving meat wheel

Each year when October 21 rolls around, those of us who consider ourselves Kerouacians take pause to remember that Jack Kerouac died on this date in 1969, 43 years ago at the age of 47. They're having a Walk and Wake in Jack's hometown of Lowell today, an event I'd like to attend but am choosing to be responsible today and attend to worldly matters.

I usually post a picture of his memorial or grave on this anniversary, but I chose to post one of my favorite pictures of Jack, looking alive and full of life. That's how I want to remember him, not as he was toward the end, a sad stereotype of the famous author gone alcoholically bad.

You might be thinking - or have thought in the past regarding my "obsession" with Kerouac - "What is the fascination?" Well, ask the people of Lowell, who celebrate his life every October (and March, his birth month) with a round of scholarly and social events. Ask John Wight, who came to Lowell last week for the events all the way from Washington with a backpack, no place to stay, and little money - a true hobo after Jack's heart. Ask any of the many people who make pilgrimages to Jack's grave or to the Lowell events from all over the world each year. Ask the editorial board of Modern Library, who named Kerouac's On the Road as one of the top 100 novels of all time (it's almost always on such "lists" regardless of the source). Ask the NY Times, which gave On the Road a rave review in 1957 (click here). Ask any of the 60,000+ people who buy a copy of On the Road each year, or the thousands who buy any of Jack's other works (too numerous to mention so click here). Ask any of the dozens of Kerouac scholars who spend their lives studying his life and work. Ask any of the dozens of Kerouac biographers. Ask any of the 2,423 members of the Jack Kerouac group on Facebook. Ask any of the hundreds of people who contributed tributes to Jack for the 2012 scroll via the OnTheRoad4Kerouac Project (which is presenting the scroll to The Beat Museum in San Francisco on Saturday night October 27 at 7 PM). Ask me (for example, read my post here).

Of course, the best way to figure out the fascination is to read Kerouac. And not just a once-through of On the Road (since it's far from his best work), but a deep delving into his many Lowell novels or road novels or his poetry.

The really cool thing here - this is very, very important to comprehend so read carefully and think this through - is that all of the above support for Kerouac is not typical 21st Century pop culture mindless hive mind like the kind that results in the video by the rapper from South Korea getting millions of hits on YouTube. There's something here, folks, something substantial and beautiful and passionate and lasting. It's art. It's humanity. It's genius.

Those of us who "get" Jack Kerouac would love nothing more than for the uninitiated to come into the fold, but, sadly, in today's sound byte culture, that is a tough sell. It takes substantial and close reading to "get" Jack Kerouac, and that takes not only the will to do the reading but the necessary time. Perhaps the release of Walter Salles' film version of On the Road will lead some folks to Kerouac, but I suspect it will have minimal impact.

Kerouac's work reminds me of Eckhart Tolle's story about the beggar who sits on a box by the side of the road for years and years until someone asks him what is in it. When pressed to actually open the box, the beggar is shocked and elated to find that it is full of gold. Too many people I've met think they know Kerouac, but they only know him second-hand; that is, they know what others say about him, and, as I mentioned before, since he is not a mass appeal pop culture icon, that second-hand knowledge is often skewed. They haven't actually spent serious time with his writing, and that is what's required if you want an answer to the question, "What's the fascination?" No one can explain it to you - you have to figure it out for yourself. The nice thing is, like the beggar's gold, Jack's writings are sitting right there patiently waiting to be read.

So, those are my thoughts on this 43rd anniversary of Jack Kerouac's death. If you want to read what I've written in the past on this topic, click here.

Here's to Jack Kerouac, who said in the 211th Chorus of Mexico City Blues:
I wish I was free
of that slaving meat wheel
and safe in heaven dead.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Jack Kerouac Walk and Wake

Memorial in Kerouac Park, Lowell, Massachusetts
Jack Kerouac died 43 years ago tomorrow at the age of 47. His hometown of Lowell has events planned in Jack's memory. I'm going to get there for this some year, but unfortunately a chunk of tomorrow shall be spent grading papers. My friend John Wight will be there and hopefully he will post some thoughts about the event on Facebook.

Click here for details about the day. If you can go, I recommend it.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Boston Globe review of Joyce Johnson's The Voice Is All

Click here for the Boston Globe's review of Joyce Johnson's The Voice is All, her new Kerouac biography.

Here's a paragraph from the review that struck a chord with me:
Kerouac scholarship, however, is still a rough neighborhood, where the characters bicker and bellow, sometimes acting reasonably, sometimes not, behaving like the denizens of those Pawtucketville bars Kerouac wrote about. Johnson acknowledges that “permission to quote from Jack’s unpublished papers remains restricted to writers . . . sanctioned by the Kerouac Estate.” (A few years ago I witnessed Gerald Nicosia, whose 1983 “Memory Babe’’ still reigns over the Kerouac biographies, get shouted down by functionaries of the estate when Nicosia interrupted a Kerouac conference in Lowell to protest the inaccessibility of the writer’s archive.)
"Rough neighborhood," indeed. Atkinson gets that right. Weeks ago I wrote to Viking requesting a review copy but received no answer. I guess I am not worthy (despite maintaining a Kerouac-focused blog that gets hundreds of pageviews per day); or, perhaps Viking has been told by the Estate to put me on their "shit list" given that I am friends with Gerry Nicosia (mentioned above). Don't think the latter couldn't happen. Look for more on censorship in the Kerouac world in an upcoming post. (How's that for a tease?)

Regardless, I'd love to read Joyce's book. Perhaps it will magically appear in the mail (or under the Christmas tree).

Monday, October 15, 2012

Presenting the new scroll to The Beat Museum

Click here for information about the On The Road 4 Kerouac Project presenting the new scroll to The Beat Museum on October 27. Please help us spread the word about this event. It promises to be a great evening in tribute to Jack Kerouac! Noemie and the other Team Scrollers from around the world have put a lot of work into this project and this is the culmination of over a year of work.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Report from Lowell Celebrates Kerouac 2012

Thursday through Saturday Crystal and I attended the annual October Kerouac event in Lowell, Massachusetts, Jack's hometown. It's always organized and sponsored by Lowell Celebrates Kerouac, Inc., no difference this year in that, but every few years it is co-sponsored and called the Jack Kerouac Literary Festival. The co-sponsors this year were UMass Lowell's Kerouac Center for Public Humanities and Center for Arts and Ideas and the Cultural Organization of Lowell. With that extra horsepower, the festival had pre-festival events in August, September, and October, and the actual festival ran from October 8 - 14. I counted 29 events during the festival itself! There are also two post-festival events, one in October and one in December. For details, click here.

Festival guide (on a table at Ricardo's)

Of course, as I post this the festival is still going since it is Sunday October 14. We had a prior commitment in Maine at 3 PM on Saturday (more on that later because that turned into a Kerouac "event" as well) and had to leave after the Commemorative at "The Commemorative." What follows is a chronological report of our experience.

We left Maine around 11:30 AM on Thursday (October 11). I put in a couple of hours of work on campus and Crystal took the day off so that we might be able to catch poet Anne Waldman in performance at UMass Lowell's O'Leary Library at 3:30 PM. We made good time and even had a chance to check in at the UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center beforehand. This is the first thing I saw when we entered our room. (John J. Dorfner, your copy will hit the mail tomorrow.)

Merrimack Valley Magazine featuring Jack on the cover

We took a cab (Town Taxi - very quick response and friendly service) to the library where we sat by our friend Kurt Phaneuf and met Raven, a Boston College student who just read a paper on Beat women at an international Beat conference in the Netherlands.

Anne Waldman and Ambrose Bye in performance

Waldman read a poem (solo), "HOLY 21st Century," in honor of Allen Ginsberg that is a riff on the "holy" section of his footnote to "Howl." You can read Waldman's version and hear her recite it here. Very dynamic and we enjoyed it. Then she performed a number of pieces from her long epic poem (couldn't catch the name) she's worked on for 25 years, backed up with music by her son, Ambrose Bye. Recordings of their collaborative efforts (e.g., "The Milk of Universal Kindness") are available (see Amazon). Good stuff.

From there we headed back to the hotel via Town Taxi for a short break before heading to dinner. We chose Cobblestones for dinner because it was near where the Off the Road Kerouac Pubs Tour would begin at 6:30 at the Old Worthen Tavern. We had an excellent crabcake appetizer and split a wonderful halibut dinner. As we stepped out of Cobblestones en route to the Worthen, I snapped this picture of Lowell High School, thinking how things have changed since Jack attended there (the satellite dish reminding me of Sputnik in 1957, the year On the Road was published). 

Lowell High School from Cobblestones parking lot
On the way to the Old Worthen Tavern (that's what Lowellites call it, but the sign says Worthen House), I snapped a picture of City Hall, imagining that it looks pretty much the same as when Jack wandered these same streets.

Lowell City Hall

Worthen House (Old Worthen Tavern), a place frequented by Jack Kerouac

The Worthen features an elaborate belt-driven overhead fan system, the only original system in the country that is still in its original building. We didn't see anyone we recognized in the tavern, so we asked the bartender if we were in the right place. She said everyone was outside. We made our way to the outdoor area and there were the usual suspects, Mike Wurm, Roger Brunelle, Steve Edington, Bill Walsh, etc. That's where I first met John Wight, a friend from Facebook and e-mail who was hoboing in Lowell for the festival. More on John at a later time as I'll be interviewing him for The Daily Beat as Beat Hero #2. After a few people spoke, we headed for the next stop, Ricardo's, led by Bill Walsh (each year it seems we need to re-learn how to get from one place to another in Lowell). Along the way I talked with Kurt Phaneuf and Roger Brunelle about our friend, John J. Dorfner, who couldn't be in Lowell for health reasons. We missed you, John, but you were there in spirit.

Ricardo's (where Crystal and I ate dinner the next night) used to be called Nicky's, and Kerouac fans will recognize it as a place that Jack spent a lot of time in his later years because it was owned by the brother of his wife, Stella Sampas, and they looked out for him there. At Ricardo's we met Cameron, yet another person hoboing it for the festival. I had a chance to give John Wight an autographed copy of The Beat Handbook at Ricardo's, something I had promised to do in honor of his dedication to Jack as demonstrated by coming to Lowell with no place to stay and only a backpack and a couple of bucks for subsistence.

On the way to Ricardo's I took this picture. It always reminds me of the way Lowell may have looked in Jack's time.

Dana's Luncheonette in Lowell

From Ricardo's we made our way to Cappy's Copper Kettle. Crystal bought us a couple of pub crawl T-shirts and got a free copy of Where the Road Begins (an anthology of Lowell writers).

Where the Road Begins: An Anthology

John Wight asked me if I'd give a book to Cameron as a fellow hobo and I said sure, and then we settled in for music and readings. One highlight of the evening for me was when Kerouac friends David Amram and Billy Koumantzelis took the stage and answered questions from the crowd.

Billy Koumantzelis (left) and David Amram (middle) at Cappy's

Of course, David was there to back up readings such as the one by Nomi Herbstman, a mainstay of Lowell Celebrates Kerouac.

Nomi Herbstman reading with David Amram backing her up on keyboards

We drank way too much on the tour, so much so that we took a cab back to the hotel (Town Taxi again) despite it being about a city block away. The taxi driver laughed when we told him where we were going. By the next day I had remembered enough of Lowell that we didn't take a cab again, and wouldn't have had to that night. Oh, well . . . as Crystal says, we supported the local economy.

We were a bit lazy Friday morning (and I was a tad hungover), so we had a late breakfast at the Inn's dining room. We remembered the waitress there and she was very friendly, just as last year. David Amram was staying at the hotel and when we walked in the dining room he was playing the piano. 

After breakfast we geared up and drove to Edson Cemetery for our annual visit to Jack's grave. It was raining (despite a clear forecast), but we went anyway, hoping for a long-enough break to get some pictures and videos. We were able to do both. Not another soul came by while we were there, perhaps because of the weather, but the rain did let up enough that we accomplished our mission (thanks to 2 umbrellas and what I consider to be divine intervention from Jack). A funeral procession entered the cemetery while we were there, but fortunately headed for a distant area.

This is how Jack's grave looked when we got there except for the addition of a copy of my book (sorry for the glare from the plastic bag). It will be interesting to see if someone snags my book and lets me know about it. I know where two of the last three ended up.

Jack's grave October 12, 2012

Rick at Jack's grave October 12, 2012

Click here for my video at the grave.

Click here for Crystal's video at the grave.

After the grave ceremonies, we drove back to the Inn and then walked to the Old Worthen for lunch. We were hoping to run into Facebook Kerouac group friends Richard and Michelle there. Because of my incomparable directional capabilities, we made it there but it took forever as I took us the wrong way on Central and then out Jackson, thinking it would intersect with Market. It did not (as we found out), and we ended up walking along a canal through an empty industrial section of Lowell (past some interesting characters) until we got all the way to Dutton Street, which I recognized as the street that runs right in to Cobblestones, which is near the Old Worthen. We got there too late to catch Richard and Michelle, but I did have a hot dog boiled in beer, making the walk worthwhile (Crystal had excellent Portugese soup). We walked back along Merrimack Street, a route we had taken enough times in the past that getting to the Inn was no problem. Along the way we ran into Kurt Phaneuf and chatted with him for a while.

Next on the agenda was Talking Jack: Discussion and Readings of Favorite Kerouac Passages. This conveniently took place in the bar of our hotel. It was well-attended, and a number of people read passages from different Kerouac novels and/or spoke about Jack. I started it off at Nomi's request, and read from "The Vanishing American Hobo" from Lonesome Traveler in honor of John, who I stood next to during my reading. Afterwards we met Tess, another member of the Facebook Jack Kerouac group. John later read from the same section.

We decided to forego the subsequent walking tour by Roger Brunelle, deciding instead to rest up for the play later in the evening and giving ourselves plenty of time for a nice dinner. We made reservations at Ricardo's, and Ricardo himself answered the phone and took our reservation. When I asked for a 6:15 reservation, he asked, "Are you going to a show?" I said we were, at 8 PM at the Merrimack Repertory Theater. He said 6 PM would be a better time. We deferred to his judgement and it worked out just right. Ricardo's is an upscale Italian restaurant where you feel like it would be a sin not to order a bottle of wine. We had a Casale del Giglio Merlot that was very good, and served as a nice accompaniment to our dinners. I had broiled scallops with crab ravioli in cream sauce and Crystal had eggplant parmesan. Excellent food (nicely presented - see below), and excellent service (from David, who hadn't read any Kerouac yet and we tried to steer him in the right direction).

There was a big party seated directly to my left, and Crystal mentioned that she heard them talking about Kerouac. I heard a woman telling a story about when she gave birth and the first person her husband called was Paul Marion. Marion, executive director of community and cultural affairs at UMass Lowell, is the editor of Atop an Underwood and is solidly aligned with the Kerouac estate. At the time we wondered if the older gentleman at the table was John Sampas, but after-the-fact I don't think so. We did see this group at the play that night.

Dinner at Ricardo's

We walked from Ricardo's all the way to the Merrimack Repertory Theater to see Beat Generation. It was cold, but only took about 10 or 12 minutes, and we needed the walk and the fresh air to avoid food comas. This is the sign that greeted us outside the theater.

This was a truly historic literary event, as it was the world premiere of Jack's only full-length play, written in 1957 and shelved, only to be re-discovered 47 years later. Of additional significance was that the world premiere was happening in Jack's hometown. Click here for Rolling Stone's review. Keep in mind that this was a staged reading, so the actors were reading from scripts as they went through their paces. The set was very sparse.

I'm no critic, and especially where plays are concerned I have no academic credibility. That said, I enjoyed the play. It's hard to say whether I would have enjoyed it if I weren't a Kerouac fan to begin with, but I doubt I would have enjoyed it as much. The importance of the event certainly colored my reception of it, plus I had important prior knowledge for understanding what was happening. I don't think it's the best thing Jack ever wrote, but it has flashes of genius. The actors were all good, particularly Joey Collins as Milo (Neal Cassady). I kept thinking, "If this is an accurate portrayal of Neal, how tiring it must have been to be around him for any length of time." Crystal thought it was fun to try and figure out what real-life people the characters represented. Buck (as Jack) was obvious, as was Milo as Neal. Ginsberg was obvious, too (Irwin). Crystal thought Cora (played by Tamara Hickey) was perfect as Carolyn Cassady. We guessed correctly at Peter Orlovsky (Paul) and Gregory Corso (Manuel), but completely missed Al Hinkle (Slim - makes sense now) and some others. One character, played by Stephanie Bates, played a femme fatale whose only role was to walk across the stage during the racetrack scene, triggering Buck (Jack) to say, " "Why doesn't God just stop the world with a snap of his finger?" If you'd seen her, you'd understand. Click here for a character key. The script itself is available on Amazon, so you can read it yourself if you're so inclined.

The playbill

The third scene is the basis for the Robert Frank/Alfred Leslie movie, Pull My Daisy. Interestingly, it was Crystal's favorite act of the play and yet she disliked the movie.

Overall, I'm glad I went and think I got my money's worth. Jack wrote it and it was professionally produced. What else can be said? Oh, we did wonder about two things and I don't have a copy of the script to check this out. In one scene, a character refers to "hippies." In another, a character says, "Oh, snap," using it exactly as the youth of today do. These usages seemed post-1957 to us, but after some quick Internet research, it seems that both usages may have been around at the time, "hippie" being a disdainful term the Beats used for wanna-be hipsters and "Oh, snap" appearing in Norman Harrison's 1954 novel, Once a Miner.

After the play it was off to bed in preparation for an early start the next day.

We needed to be in Portland Maine by 2:30 on Saturday to attend a fund-raising event for Maine Equal Justice Partners called Poetry, Poverty & Blues. That gave us time to attend the Commemorative at "The Commemorative" Saturday morning in Jack Kerouac Park. Having been there several times, we knew right where it was and drove there without a hitch. It featured seven different readings representing the major places Jack spent time (Lowell, New York, Mexico, the road, etc.). Here are a couple of pics.

The turnout for the commemorative was great

Kurt Phaneuf read from Visions of Cody

David Amram read from a couple of special pieces

At the end of the commemorative, we gathered together members of the Jack Kerouac group on Facebook for a hello to group moderator Dave Moore. In our hurry (the bus tour was leaving), we forgot to include Nomi Herbstman. Sorry, Nomi!

Richard Marsh, Michelle Kelley, Tess Adamski, Jason Pacheco, Rick Dale, Crystal Bond, John Wight, Kurt Phaneuf (holding Visions of Cody)

Right before we posed for this picture, Jason came up and said the secret word for this year ("windows"), earning a signed copy of my book. He was with Don and Sara, and she took this picture. At this point we headed for Maine.

It is always inspiring to hang out in Lowell. Between walking where Jack walked and interacting with fellow Kerouacians, the energy and spirit is just phenomenal. Plus, it's a true learning opportunity because you get to interact with Kerouac scholars, people who knew Kerouac (not forever on the latter so take heed), and passionate Kerouac fans from all over. If you've never attended this annual October event in Lowell, I highly recommend putting it on your "bucket list."


At the above mentioned blues and poetry event in Maine on Saturday, poet Gary Lawless read an excellent poem (click here). When we went up to talk with him afterward, Crystal mentioned we had just come from Lowell for the annual Kerouac event, and Lawless proceeded to tell us that in 1973 he wrote to Gary Snyder - having been influenced by Kerouac's The Dharma Bums - about living in his cabin as a student. Snyder agreed and Lawless hitchhiked out there, living in Snyder's cabin and learning from him, Ginsberg, McClure, Ferlinghetti, et al. It was a fascinating - but brief - chat and I want to see if Lawless will agree to let me interview him for The Daily Beat. Lawless owns Gulf of Maine Books in Brunswick, Maine.

Ferlinghetti news

I don't know all the ins and outs and what-have-yous behind this, but on its face this seems like a pretty cool decision on Lawrence Ferlinghetti's part.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

This year's secret word for Lowell Celebrates Kerouac

At last year's Lowell Celebrates Kerouac, we started a tradition wherein the first person to come up to me in Lowell and whisper the "secret word" gets a free autographed copy of my book. The secret word changes each year. Last year it was "Rumplestiltskin."

This year the secret word is "windows." (John W., you'll get a free book as a reward for being the beatest attendee this year, so no need to worry about the secret word.)

Past winners are not eligible (sorry, Melissa). If you win, with your permission you'll get your picture posted here on The Daily Beat (last year's winner is here).

There is a bonus this year. I will also give away a free autographed copy of my book to the first person who can tell me - in person in Lowell this week - why I chose this year's secret word. If you've been paying attention to The Daily Beat over the years, you can figure it out, but it won't be easy.

Good luck. 

P.S. Another way to grab a free copy of my book is to get yourself out to Jack's grave after I've been there and snag the copy I leave behind. It's meant for snagging, and some pretty interesting characters have snagged it in the past (more on that some day).

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Lowell Celebrates Kerouac is this week!

Attention Jack Kerouac fans: the annual Lowell Celebrates Kerouac festivities begin this week in beautiful Lowell, Massachusetts, Jack's proud hometown. This year it is called the Jack Kerouac Literary Festival, but I'm a little bit like the character in Sling Blade and I still call it Lowell Celebrates Kerouac.

You can see all the events planned for the festival by clicking here. Things actually start Monday October 8 with a walking tour of Jack's boyhood houses and other landmarks. The world premiere of Jack's play, The Beat Generation, is Wednesday at the Merrimack Repertory Theater, and it repeats throughout the festival (get your tickets in advance here). Thursday is jam-packed, with a reading by poet Anne Waldman and later a pub tour that culminates in a music-and-readings event at Cappy's Copper Kettle. Lots more is happening Friday and Saturday and Sunday - too much to pick from and too much to repeat here.

Of course, we will be taking a trip to Edson Cemetery for our annual visit to Jack's grave, and we'll post video, technology gods permitting. Plus, our intention is to post pictures and commentary throughout our visit on Facebook.

If you ever wanted to visit Jack's hometown, this is the week to do it, so get on the road! Lots of Kerouacphiles will be in attendance. I know one fan who's attending with no place to stay. That's commitment. What's your excuse for not attending?

Beat Generation legends attend opening of On The Road at Mill Valley Film Festival

Walter Salles' film adaptation of On The Road - the U.S. version (different from Cannes) - opened at the Mill Valley Film Festival on Thursday night. It was attended by some legendary Beat Generation figures such as Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Diane di Prima, and Michael McClure. Also attending was Kerouac biographer Gerald Nicosia, so we hope to get some inside scoop on this version of the film (you will recall that Gerry gave us a review of the Cannes version as part of an interview back in May - click here).