We lost The Greatest to eternity yesterday, so that's been on my mind and it got me wondering about Jack Kerouac-Muhammad Ali connections. Jack mentions Cassius Clay in a 1964 interview with Miklos Zsedely conducted for the Northport Public Library's oral history project and arranged through Stanley Twardowicz. The following is excerpted from Paul Maher Jr.'s Empty Phantoms: Interview and Encounters with Jack Kerouac (2015 Expanded and Revised Edition). It's in the context of talking about the real fighting skills of novelists like Norman Mailer and Ernest Hemingway.
KEROUAC: Yeah, but if Mailer comes on now, like he's in the corner of the ring in the Esquire magazine, and he's going to take on all comers, like James Jones? he's going to take on in a fight in the ring?From there the interview goes in other directions (which it does frequently throughout). Interestingly, Ali was bestowed the holy name Muhammad Ali by the Nation of Islam on March 6, 1964. Given that the above interview took place on April 14 of that year, it's possible that Kerouac knew about the name change but was, like many at the time, not yet in the habit of referring to Clay by his new name. As I recall, it took some getting used to.
TWARDOWICZ: Well, you don't put it on a level...
KEROUAC: James Jones.
TWARDOWICZ: Well, yeah.
KEROUAC: Phew! Or me even. Or you!
TWARDOWICZ: You better be careful!
KEROUAC: And then, so then he writes a novel for Esquire magazine and he gets millions of dollars because he puts on this big pose, he rents out Carnegie Hall to say he's a two-fisted left winger. Left winger.
TWARDOWICZ: I think that's a very good description.
ZSEDELY: Probably he would make as good a writer as Cassius Clay a poet.
KEROUAC: Cassius Clay would take all of us here, and go out in the window.
ZSEDELY: In poetry?
KEROUAC: In fighting.
ZSEDELY: Yeah, I know, but in poetry?
KEROUAC: Hes not a poet -- he's a limericker. [LAUGHTER] I saw a girl one day/Out on the bay/She makes it fine. You know, limericks. And she had nice hair/And I was bare. Limericks. That's a limerick. He makes them up as he goes along.
Do you know of other instances where Jack mentions Ali/Clay in an interview, letter, book, etc.? Let us know in the comments.