Sunday, July 23, 2017

Overcoming writer's block

Faithful readers of The Daily Beat know that I have been on a once-a-week posting schedule for over a year. That's not a particularly grueling schedule as blogging goes, yet here I am struggling to find something to say that is relevant and worthwhile. And that hasn't been said before. Writer's block, I guess -- something that finds us all sooner or later, even Jack Kerouac (speaking of which, this is a cool product).

When stymied in the past, my go-to has sometimes been an update on my top ten posts with the most pageviews of all time. That list hasn't changed a lot since my last report, so I discarded that idea.

I could report on Kerouac in the news, but many of you already know what I know because you're members of the excellent Facebook Kerouac group where tidbits like the closing of Ricardo's in Lowell (formerly Nicky's, where Jack hung out) are reported quickly.

Another idea would be some original writing, but I'm not feeling too original of late.

How about an opinion piece on current affairs? No, too fraught with ugliness and despair.

A piece on my latest reading endeavor (Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace)? Not far enough along to have perspective (yet).

An analysis of one of Jack's works? It's been done ad infinitum.

A new interview? Hmmm.... One is in the works but there's nothing "in the can."

Six degrees of Jack Kerouac (connecting Jack to another person, place, thing, or event in as few steps as possible)? I'm bereft of ideas.

Rehash or link to an old post? That's too easy.

What about posting something written by Jack? Ahh, there's the ticket.

Here's the process. I will turn to page 23 of the 23rd book in order on my Kerouac bookshelf (23 being a most mystical number with a Burroughs connection - see my December 18, 2008 post) and find a passage to quote. Your job? To identify the source. Here we go....

FOLLOWING LEE KONITZ the famous alto jazzman down the street and don't even know what for -- saw him first in that bar on the northeast corner of 49th and Sixth Avenue which is in a real old building that nobody ever notices because it forms the pebble at the hem of the show of the immense tall man which is the RCA building -- I noticed it only the other day while standing in front of Howard Johnson's eating a cone, or rather it was too crowded for me to get a cone and I was just standing there and I was thinking "New York is so immense that it would make no difference to anybody's ass if this building exists and is old" -- Lee, who wouldn't talk to me even if he knew me, was in the bar (from which I've made many phonecalls) waiting with big eyes for his friend to show up and so I waited on corner to think and soon I saw Lee coming out with his friend who'd arrived and it was Arnold Fishkin the Tristano bassplayer -- . . . .

Oh, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Richard!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey: My Thoughts

Yesterday I finished reading Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey. All 628 pages. The last blog entry here at The Daily Beat established the Kerouac-Kesey connection, so it's legitimate to talk about Kesey's book. I know. It's my blog and I can talk about whatever I like here, though I do tend to bend to my mission of always having a connection to Kerouac. Because everything connects to Kerouac. But I digress.

If you haven't read Notion, you're missing out on an excellent reading experience. It has beauty, depth, and insight. It features strong character development (at least for the men - a quibble typically aimed at Kerouac et al.). I must warn the reader that it is not an easy read. Especially at first. Kesey abruptly jumps around in time and he uses first person narrative for several of the characters. Sometimes it's difficult to keep track of who is talking (or thinking). However, that gets easier if you persevere long enough. It actually ends up seeming "necessary" and not just an author's trick. Along the way, Kesey describes Oregon's rainy beauty and the logging industry in gorgeous detail, providing a perfect context for the complicated family/community drama to play out. Love, sex, betrayal, jealousy, revenge -- it's all here.

Notion is a very different novel from One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, so don't expect a similar reading experience. I highly recommend you give it a shot. It's certainly one of the great American novels from the 20th Century.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Ken Kesey and Jack Kerouac

Ken Kesey (l) and Jack Kerouac (r)

A few months ago I picked up a copy of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey. I finished a couple of weeks ago and, enamored of his writing, sought to get my hands on a copy of his other well-known novel, Sometimes A Great Notion. In fact, my very own Neal Cassady, Keith Fisher, challenged me to read the "seldom-read other" Kesey novel when he saw I had read Cuckoo's Nest. Being the weekend, I couldn't borrow it from the local library (it's only open a bit on Saturday morning). Searching around the house for something to read in the interval, I happened upon A Farewell To Arms by Ernest Hemingway. That took me a week or so to finish, and now I am 237 pages into the 628 pages of Notion.

The first 100 pages or so was a hard slog. I just wasn't getting into it, partly because I couldn't follow all the time-jumping and narrator switching. Once I got used to that, I began to give a shit about the Stamper family drama and what was going to happen with all of that. Now I think I'll likely finish it.

What does that have to do with Jack Kerouac? Well, he and Kesey were no strangers to each other. Kerouac apparently praised Cuckoo's Nest when it came out (Kerouac: His Life and Work, 2004, Paul Maher Jr., p. 422). Readers of The Daily Beat need no reminder that Kerouac's muse, Neal Cassady, became the driver of Kesey's bus, Further, carrying the Merry Pranksters around the country turning people on to LSD. In Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac (1983, p. 653), Gerald Nicosia recounts the time that the Pranksters came to NYC and Kesey wanted to meet Kerouac. Jack agreed to come to one of the Prankster parties and was dismayed at their treatment of American flags (wearing them, sitting on them. It was less than an epic encounter. The two only ever met this one time (you can read about it from Sterling  Lord's perspective here).

What you might not know is that Kesey name-drops Kerouac on page 227 of Sometimes A Great Notion (this is narrator Lee speaking of his family home in Oregon to which he has recently returned):

'This is a land for childhood frolic, with forests dark and magical and shady sloughs alive with chubs and mud-puppies, a land in which young and snub-nosed Dylan Thomas would have gamboled, red-cheeked and raucous as a strawberry, a town where Twain could trade rats and capture beetles, a chunk of wild beautiful insane America tha Kerouac could have gud a good six or seven novels' worth . . . '

So there you have it: a Kerouac encounter in a Kesey novel.

Now, did Jack ever mention Kesey in a novel? That's your homework assignment.

Happy Sunday....

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Fantastic WaPo article with recent interviews of many of the surviving Beats

I have yet to finish reading the recent Washington Post article, "Driving the Beat Road" by Jeff Weiss (it's lengthy), but a great friend and Kerouacophile who knows more than I'll ever know said it was fantastic and the best article he's read in ages. I concur based on what I've read so far.

For this article, author Weiss recently interviewed Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael McClure, Gary Snyder, Diane di Prima, and Herbert Gold. Readers of The Daily Beat need no introduction to those names with the possible exception of Gold, who was what Weiss called "Beat-adjacent." In addition to text, the piece includes video, audio, and vintage pictures. 

Check it out. You won't be sorry. Plus you'll be supporting venerable and credible The Washington Post, which in today's political climate is a very Beat thing to do. Freedom of the press, baby! No government censorship! But I digress. Here is the link:


P.S. If you choose to read the comments at the end, please be advised that there is some flaming, negative, name-calling commentary there by Charles Plymell. I'd post a retort but am not in the mood to be in his cross-hairs. Talk about uncivil discourse. At least WaPo didn't censor him.