Monday, October 14, 2013

Report from Lowell Celebrates Kerouac 2013

Every October, a committed group of Keroucians organize a multi-day fantastic celebration of Jack Kerouac's life and work in his hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts. Called the Lowell Celebrates Kerouac Festival, this year's events started with a pre-festival event - the Jack Kerouac Road Race on September 29 - and will culminate with a post-festival event, Waking Jack: Jack Kerouac Memorial Walk and Wake on October 20. The meat of the festival this year, as always, was a 5-day marathon of events starting on Thursday October 10 and  running through today, Monday October 14. Once again, Crystal and I were lucky enough to attend some of the events, and following is my annual report.

2013 was our fifth time at the LCK! Festival since 2008, having missed it in 2010. It always takes place in October, the month Jack Kerouac died in 1969. Daily Beat readers will know that October is widely acknowledged as Jack's favorite month, and, as he said in On The Road, "Everybody goes home in October." Since we both work, the earliest we could leave was Friday, which meant we missed the Traditional Kerouac Pubs Tour and the LCK Celebrates Amram! kick-off event on Thursday night. Some say a pub tour in honor of someone who drank themselves to death is in bad taste. The couple of times I've been able to attend were worth the ironic angst.

We left Maine around 9:00 AM Friday morning and were able to drive straight-through to Lowell (3 hours) without even a pit-stop. Our first stop was the Old Worthen (that's what locals call it but you can see by the picture I snapped below that it's actual name differs) to meet our friends Richard and Michelle for lunch.

Worthen House, Lowell, MA
(c) 2013 Rick Dale
Note the sky - it turned out to be one of the most beautiful October days in history. We had a great visit with our friends and then headed out to the Edson Cemetery for our annual visit to Jack's grave. When we got there, surprisingly, the gravestone was almost empty of its usual items left in Jack's memory (poems, books, beer/wine/whiskey bottles, flowers, joints, etc.). All we saw was a penny and a nickel. There were some leaves on the gravestone which I brushed aside but later realized they may have been purposely arranged there. Sorry. The wind would have done the deed anyway.

Here's what the grave looked like that day - we added the bottle of 10-year-old single malt Bushmills and a copy of my book, The Beat Handbook. You can see the nickel in the upper left and the penny in the lower left (and the pile of leaves I unthoughtfully moved).

Jack Kerouac's grave on October 11, 2013
(c) 2013 Rick Dale
Crystal and I snapped each other's pictures.

Crystal at Jack Kerouac's grave on October 11, 2013
(c) 2013 Rick Dale

Rick at Jack Kerouac's grave on October 11, 2013
(c) 2013 Crystal Bond
Our tradition each year (one I started in 2005 on a solo trip to Lowell on my way from Pennsylvania to see Crystal in Maine) is to video ourselves reading something at the grave and drinking a toast to Jack, usually of some Bushmills (my father's favorite). You can find past years' videos on YouTube or in this blog's archives.

Click here for Crystal's 2013 video tribute to Jack. Listen carefully and you will hear workmen sucking up leaves into a big truck and then driving right past us. Crystal cleverly incorporated that interruption into her reading.

I tried something different this year. Instead of a reading, I attempted to recite from memory the last paragraph from On The Road. I made a couple of mistakes, but since I was already a little buzzed from lunch at the Worthen, I decided to leave it as good enough. Click here to see my attempt. Get out your copy of On The Road and follow along  - you'll note where I went astray. 

We felt like lingering at the grave that day because it was so bright and sunny and warm, but we had promises to keep and so we said goodbye to Jack and headed over to the Courtyard by Marriott to check in. It was literally a 2-minute (or less) drive from the grave. We usually stay at the UMass Inn and Conference Center in downtown Lowell, walking distance from many events. This year there was "no room at the Inn," so we settled for a place that's a 10-minute (or less) drive or taxi ride from Lowell.

We missed a morning event, The Annual Jack Kerouac Prose & Poetry Competition at Lowell High School. We always hear good things about the students' performances and some year we want to attend that event. We also missed A Walk in Doctor Sax's Woods led by Nomi Herbtsman, but we chose lunch with our friends and a private visit to the grave instead.

After checking in, we took a taxi into Lowell to attend Talking Jack at the UMass Inn & Conference Center. This was a session led by Steve Edington and Roger Brunelle. It was well-attended and held out on the patio by the canal because of the gorgeous weather. I got a chance to say hello to my friend John Wight (The Daily Beat's Beat Hero #2 - click here) and give him a signed copy of my book for his friend, Richard.

Talking Jack at the UMass Inn & Conference Center
(c) 2013 Rick Dale
After this session we did our own Jack Kerouac pub tour - all on foot - with our friends Richard and Michelle. We started at Cappy's Copper Kettle, a stop on the official tour.

Cappy's Copper Kettle in Lowell, MA
(c) 2013 Rick Dale
I seem to remember the bartender there telling us that the owner - who wasn't there - had known Jack.

From Cappy's we walked to Major's. Major's used to be on the official tour, but it has moved locations. I forgot to snap a picture. Our next stop was to be the White Eagle Cafe because it was the site of the last two LCK! events of the day. It's walkable, but both our taxi driver and the bartender at Cappy's warned us against it because one needed to walk right through "the projects." We walked anyway.

Our intention was to eat dinner at the White Eagle, but as it turned out it had a limited menu. We had pizza. It was edible. The events that night were a showing of Grave Concerns, a film by Brent Mason, and then Jamming Jack, a cornucopia of music and readings by Kerouac friend David Amram, noted NYC poet Steve Dalachinsky, and others. I met Steve for the first time and had a fun conversation with him. Crystal bought two of Steve's books.

White Eagle Cafe in Lowell, MA
(c) 2013 Rick Dale
We left the last event before it was over. I had imbibed entirely too much, starting at lunch, and in fact woke up at early at the Courtyard with my first hangover in a long time. After indulging in the Courtyard's breakfast buffet I was feeling better and we drove into Lowell to attend the Commemorative at the Commemorative, which took place at Jack Kerouac Park on the corner of Bridge and French Streets. The Commemorative was dedicated 25 years ago and so the event featured reminiscences from past LCK! Committee members. I snapped this picture of Crystal when we first got there.

Jack Kerouac Commemorative in Lowell, MA
(c) 2013 Rick Dale
A bus tour led by Kerouac docent Roger Brunelle left the ceremony and was to culminate at the grave, where I was asked by LCK! President Mike Wurm to facilitate the Homage to "Ti Jean." We drove back to the Marriott and I rested my weary head for an hour before making the short drive to the grave for the noon ceremony.

It had nothing to do with me, but I thought the ceremony went well. Before it started we had a chance to visit with Vickie and Melissa, two fellow Mainers who were in Massachusetts for another reason but swung by the grave for the ceremony. Small world.

I started the homage by having those in attendance tell us their names and where they were from. At this point the bus hadn't arrived yet but we felt it was important to get started. Just as we finished with names we saw the group from the bus approaching on foot (I guess the bus driver decided not to negotiate the narrow roads in the cemetery). Once everyone was there, I made a few brief remarks about the Edson Cemetery (my namesake since my middle name is Edson), where Jack's relatives are buried, and his funeral. Then I turned it over to Richard Marsh, who asked to read the opening section from Visions of Gerard. We focused on VOG because it was the 50th anniversary of its publication. Roger Brunelle read a section from the book. My friend Kurt Phaneuf read the heart-wrenching section that concludes with a beautiful poem and the sentence, "Unceasing compassion flows from Gerard to the world even while he groans in the very middle of his extremity."

We were honored to have the fantastic Franco-American vocalist, Michele Choiniere, sing a traditional song in French that Jack may have sung, "A La Claire Fontaine." Michele is from Vermont, and, like Jack, grew up speaking French and didn't learn English until she was 6 years old. Click here for a video clip of Michele singing at the grave.

Michele Choiniere singing at Jack Kerouac's grave on October 12, 2013
(c) 2013 Rick Dale
Roger Brunelle read at the grave, as did Alan Crane, and the aforementioned Brent Mason sang a brief a capella piece. Here's a close-up of the grave that day taken by John Wight. Someone had cleared away the bottle of Bushmills and my book. I just hope they are not in the cemetery caretaker's dumpster (especially the Bushmills since we left a couple of shots in it - my books are a dime-a-dozen).

Jack Kerouac's grave on October 12, 2013
(c) 2013 John Wight

After the homage we drove into Lowell and had lunch with our friend Kurt at Cobblestone's. We found parking in the high school lot just behind the restaurant. I had a tasty Oatmeal Stout and a cheeseburger. Crystal and Kurt both had fish tacos. We had a great visit and then walked over to the Parker Lecture given by Jim Sampas. We got there late and it was standing-room only. We got to hear Jim discussing his documentary One Fast Move Or I'm Gone and the new movie he co-produced, Big Sur. He concluded with a Q & A, and was asked about upcoming movie adaptations of Kerouac's novels. Jim said they don't all work as films; he never thought of On The Road as a film and hasn't even seen it. He intimated that he was currently working on the next adaptation, though, and while he wouldn't tell us which novel, he did say he hoped it would be filmed in Lowell. Earlier in his talk he mentioned that Maggie Cassidy was an example of one of Jack's novels that could be adapted to film, and it's my guess that it's the next one in the pipeline.

I would absolutely love to see one of the Lowell books made into a film. I haven't seen Big Sur, but I hear it's pretty good. Let's keep our fingers crossed for what's to come.

Crystal and I walked to the Worthen for open mike, and along the way we got a chance to meet Paul Maher, Jr., who was on the street talking to Kurt Phaneuf. Paul recently published Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac's On the Road, which he co-wrote with Stephanie Nikolopoulos. It was good to put a face to a name I've heard over the years. I saw Stephanie at Talking Jack on Friday, but didn't get a chance to meet her all weekend.

We didn't participate at the open mike, having not prepared anything to read, and stayed for about an  hour before we drove back to the Courtyard. The next event we were going to attend was at the Old Court Pub, so we made dinner reservations for an hour earlier than the 8 PM event. Our taxi was late, but reservations weren't really necessary and we ate at the bar downstairs (the event was upstairs). I had really good bangers and mash, featuring 6 imported Irish sausages with mashed potatoes and beans. The sausages sat like little cannonballs in my stomach the rest of the night, but it was worth it.

Richard and Michelle saved us a couple of barstools upstairs, and we enjoyed an evening of music and poetry featuring David Amram, Brent Mason, Michele Choiniere, Steve Dalachinsky, and Bob Martin. We left as the finale was wrapping up and took a taxi back to the Courtyard. Our driver remembered us from taking us back from the White Eagle on Friday night (it wouldn't be hard to remember me - I get a bit loud and obnoxious when intoxicated).

We slept in on Sunday and decided to head back to Maine and the routines of life. We had breakfast buffet at the Courtyard and started out around 11 AM. We would miss the LCK! events of the day (and the next day - today), but all-in-all, as usual, we had a great time and hope to return next year. Unfortunately, this year no one said the magic word ("fellaheen") to win a free copy of my book (past winners were Melissa and Jason).

Kudos are due to members of the LCK! Committee who pull this off each year. If you've never been to Lowell for this annual event, now is the time to book your room for October 2014. Maybe we'll see you there. For information, visit the LCK! website by clicking here.












4 comments:

Crystal said...

Great overview of a great weekend, Sweetie!

Paul Maher Jr. said...

I am honored to be mentioned in your blog . . . it was great to see both of you as well. Maybe next year I can have more time to make a stay of it.

Anonymous said...

A weekend of Kerouac and friendship... still have a warm feeling. Richard Marsh

Crootey Songo said...

I love the tours, I love the conversation, I love the readings, I REALLY love the H.S. poetry competition...but LCK is about camaraderie, reconnecting with old friends and making NEW friends through the sacred keyhole of Jack Kerouac's prose. Thanks for capturing that sensibility in your report, Rick...