Wednesday, December 12, 2018

What does that have to do with Jack Kerouac?

The title of this post is the question I try to ask myself every time I post here on The Daily Beat, given that I have frequently proclaimed it as "the most Kerouac-obsessed blog on the planet." Sometimes I publish a post and it is not explicitly obvious that the post relates to Jack Kerouac, in which case I try to remember to make that connection explicit.

I hope when I do the latter that I am not being insulting to Kerouac aficionados. I have to keep in mind that some folks stumble on my blog posts who don't know a thing about Kerouac, and therefore would likely not know the connection to Jack. Since that connection is the sine qua non of this blog, I feel compelled to spell it out when it's not explicit.

For example, I might post about Allen Ginsberg. True Kerouac fans know the Kerouac connection there, but even quasi-fans might not, let alone non-fans. Therefore, I may point out what is obvious to many (i.e., for example, that Ginsberg was one of the Beat Generation core members, friend of Kerouac, etc.).

I hope all of the above made sense. And I hope that my use of that is, for example, and et cetera in one parenthetical did not overly violate writing decorum.

My mission here is to keep the spirit of Jack Kerouac alive. To that end, every post I publish needs to have some connection to him, even if it's tangential at best.

Like I always say, "everything connects to Kerouac." If you doubt it, comment with some obscure topic and I'll do my best to connect it to Kerouac in a reply.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Jack Kerouac on this date in 1963

Allen Ginsberg

On this date in 1963 -- December 11 (my birthday!) -- Jack Kerouac wrote from Northport, NY, to his friend John Clellon Holmes. With this letter, Kerouac sent a blurb for Holmes' book, Get Home Free, saying he liked it and that some parts of it were "great." Then Jack complains about Allen Ginsberg and the "bohemian beatniks" that hang around him:
Meanwhile, Allen G. is already here, I had no time to send him to you, as a matter of fact I dont even particularly wanta see him with his pro-Castro bullshit and his long white robe Messiah shot--I mean, actually too much mixup, I wanta stay home and think and read and write--Enough talk I've had these last 6 years around NY--He and all those bohemian beatniks round him have nothing NEW to tell me--I am Thomas Hardy now and that's that, back to my moor and my house (Ker) i' the moor (ouac)--Period. (p. 427)

(Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters 1957-1969 edited by Ann Charters, Penguin Books, 1999)

I don't have a lot to say about that excerpt, except to point out Jack's oft-expressed desire to be left alone to focus on reading and writing (and thinking). And, of course, his frequently stated disdain for aspects of the very countercultural movement he helped create.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Kerouac favorite book survey results update #2

Now that we have a whopping 13 responses, here is the breakdown from my survey asking respondents to pick their favorite Kerouac book from a list:

On the Road               38.5%
Visions of Cody          23.1%
The Dharma Bums     15.4%
Dr. Sax                         7.7%
Desolation Angels       7.7%
The Subterraneans      7.7%

There's a lot wrong with this survey. Too many choices for one item. Not a big enough response. No restriction on voting multiple times. No way to tell if a respondent had actually read all the choices and thus made an educated choice (versus, for example, picking the one book they had read).

Consequently, one cannot put any stock in the results, despite them looking pretty much as expected. But the point was fun (see original post), after all, and not science.

If a few more votes drift in, I'll provide another update.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Jack Kerouac on this date in 1964

James Joyce

On this date -- December 8 -- in 1964, Jack Kerouac wrote a letter to his friend, John Clellon Holmes. Jack was living in St. Petersburg at the time. He addressed Holmes in the greeting as "Dear John Boyo."

We can glean several important points from the letter.

1. Jack had been reading about James Joyce and was feeling motivated to return to his writing.
I've just finished reading the life of James Joyce and feel it's worthwhile after all to study and struggle through life and suffer and shit and sweat, while people laugh at you, rich or poor, famous or not-famous, and come to the margin of the sea at the end of life and say: "I've got my life work done, annaliviaplurabelle is the belle of all belles forever." Yowsah, John, it made me feel like getting back to my work.... 
But now, in the peace of this, my new Florida study, I'm starting to churn for new work, to add to that long shelf Duluoz Legend, fill in the gap thar between Maggie Cassidy and On the Road and don't think for one minute that I feel inferior to James Joyce because my lifework arrangement is in installments that are eventually going to number in the twenties and that are cast as "narratives in time" rather than as universal and linguistic mellings in 2 long "poems" like ULYSSES and FINNEGANS WAKE. No sir, I got my lil old bangtail way, to arrive at the same sea margin satisfied. (p. 439)
(Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters 1957-1969 edited by Ann Charters, Penguin Books, 1999)

In case you didn't know (I didn't), Anna Livia Plurabelle is a character in Finnegans Wake. I've never successfully made my way through an entire Joyce work, and never even gave FW a spin. "Sea margin" is a nautical technical term about engine power needed to reach a certain speed given the wind, wave, and other factors. Jack may have been using that term as a metaphor for getting things right and reaching your ultimate destination successfully.

2. Kerouac's book, Desolation Angels, was making progress toward publication.
As you know, I guess, "Desolation Angels" is going into galleys now at Coward-McCann's. Twice as long as when you [illeg.] read it (another novel added on to it, the sequel.) I think I told you all this. (p. 439)
We could say a lot here about DA, but I will save that for another post.

3. Jack spent some time in jail.
I've been drunk, John, drunk on Scotch and beer chasers. Enough, now I'm through with that and going back to my private philologies. I went to jail on Thanksgiving night for putting a bun on in honor of the pilgrims. The cops saw me piss in the street. First time in jail. Okay, so I ain't spending no more money on the businesses of St. Petersburg but staying home to work on my private philologies. (p. 440)

I think it's worth noting that here, as in other letters, Jack acknowledges that he has a drinking problem and wants to remedy it.  It's too bad he wasn't able to do it -- the Kerouac canon might be much larger than it already is. By the way, philology is the study of literary texts (I had to look that one up).

4. Jack wanted his address kept secret (this was a postscript).
Keep my address secret--I'm too happy to be back with my books! J.

There are three reasons I can think of for Jack desiring such privacy. One is that he was sorely tired of the hassles caused by fans and the media seeking him out. Two is that he needed privacy in order to read and write (see #1 above). Three is that he liked to keep his whereabouts unknown from ex-wife Joan Haverty, in case she wanted to modify Jack's child support payments for their daughter, Jan (born in 1952). Reasons one and two I can understand, but number three is not okay in my book. You make a child, you support that child. Period.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Kerouac favorite book survey results update

Yesterday we launched a survey via Google forms asking respondents to pick their favorite Jack Kerouac book from a list. While we have limited numbers of respondents so far, there is currently a neck-and-neck tie between On the Road, The Dharma Bums, and Visions of Cody (33% each).

If you still haven't taken the survey, click here.

Yes, I voted and you likely know how.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

My Favorite Kerouac Book: A Quick Survey

Just for fun, I created a one-question survey in Google Forms asking respondents (that's you) to pick their favorite Kerouac book from a list.

I hope you'll respond. I will share the results here at The Daily Beat. I think you are able to take the survey multiple times, but please don't do that.

Here is the link: My Favorite Kerouac Book: A Quick Survey.

All you need to do is click on the link, pick a book, and submit your answer. I'll do the rest.

Thanks in advance.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Jack Kerouac on this date in 1968

1968 Mercury Colony Park Wagon

On this date -- December 5 -- in 1968, Jack Kerouac wrote to Tony Sampas, brother of Jack's wife, Stella. That same date he wrote Tony another letter dictated by Stella. These are the last two surviving letters from Kerouac in 1968.

In Jack's letter to Tony, he wrote a description of their move from Lowell to St. Petersburg in a "Lincoln Mercury stationwagon" driven by Red Doherty and Joe Chaput with Jack's mom (Mémère) on a mattress in the back with Stella on pillows and two cats ("with pre-tranquilized catfood"). Their furniture followed in another truck driven by Jim Dumphy.
I stayed awake all the way, drinking and yelling and playing harmonica and watching that old road, as usual, and I insisted on riding shotgun near the window because I told old Joe he was skinnier than I am, and Red was skinny--We piled right in--I was amazed when I thought of it a week later--Of course it cost money but we got here safe and fast like a long, soft river . . . . (p. 526)
(Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters 1957-1969 edited by Ann Charters, Penguin Books, 1999)

Can't you just picture it? Jack says they went 90 most of the way and made it in less than 24 hours. They got stopped for speeding in South Carolina but the cop took pity on them when he saw Mémère and Stella and the cats in the back.

Once they got to St. Petersburg, Jack put Red and Joe up in a motel for a couple of nights while they waited for Dumphy, who had lost his way. They
went out and played pool and drank by the Gulf of Mexico waves at the Red Barn club, Red Doherty played partners all night with a cute young women detective (!) but me and Joe won most of the games . . . . (p. 526)

There's still a Red Barn Tavern in St. Petersburg at 5300 Haines Road North, but I doubt if it is the same place -- it's 5 miles from 5169 Tenth Avenue North where Jack and Stella and Mémère had mid-November 1968, but it's not "by the Gulf of Mexico waves."

Speaking of young women detectives, I am reading the first of Michael Connelly's Detective Renee Ballard series, The Late Show. It's not Kerouac, but it's pretty good.

What were you doing on December 5, 1968? I was about to become a teenager and had no idea Jack Kerouac existed, although at some point I may have seen his name in the Playboys we hid from our parents. We didn't read the articles . . . .

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Jack Kerouac and bluegrass music

What about Jack Kerouac and bluegrass music, two passions of mine? Is there a connection?

We know Jack loved jazz, and jazz and blues influenced the originator of bluegrass, Bill Monroe, along with traditional music from Ireland/Scotland/England (think fiddle tunes) and southern gospel music.

Previously I've mentioned bluegrass 15 times here on The Daily Beat:

July 22, 2018
March 5, 2018
February 8, 2018
June 13, 2017
March 31, 2017
December 4, 2016
March 28, 2016
March 18, 2016
April 3, 2011
February 2, 2010
December 22, 2009
March 21, 2009
March 6, 2009
March 3, 2009
November 18, 2008

Railroad Earth, a currently popular Americana band that does some bluegrass, got their name from Kerouac's "The Railroad Earth" in Lonesome Traveler.

And then there's this from p. 217 of Gerald Nicosia's Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac (speaking of Jack circa 1948 in NYC):
Performances of blues were rare in New York, but everyone in Cannastra's group bent an ear to his old race records, to hear in this music the roots of jazz. They listened to almost all forms of country music too, especially Bluegrass, which in New York was then called "plucking music" or "truckstop jukebox music." Jack shared their enthusiasm for it, and like the others he often danced to its driving rhythms. In one year they wore out twenty copies of "The Beatty Steel Blues," a straight instrumental, steel-guitar piece that later influenced rock-'n'-rollers like Elvis Presley. Although Bluegrass lacked the intricacy and revolutionary qualities of bop, it generated a fierce excitement just as bop did, and for that reason it was equally important to them. The folk singer Rambling Jack Elliott, a friend of Cannastra's, introduced the group to the classic Depression ballads of Woody Guthrie.

I'm going to assume here that the bluegrass Nicosia is referring to is truly bluegrass as we know it from Monroe on down to today (e.g., steel guitar is not a bluegrass instrument). I will quibble with the depiction of bluegrass as not having the intricacy of bop; it's always been intricate and has only gotten more complex since Bill Monroe's time. Revolutionary? Bluegrass is one of the few truly American genres of music.

Quibbles aside, it is good to think that Jack Kerouac enthusiastically listened to and even danced to bluegrass music. Knowing that may have been the case only makes me love him more.

As a bonus, click here for a link to my band, North Fork, performing a song I wrote, "Cry of the White Pine." That's me singing and playing the banjo. I played semi-professionally for 30+ years until my hand quit listening to my brain (dystonia).

Fortunately, I can still type. Typists get dystonia, too.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Jack Kerouac on this date in 1950

Jack Kerouac wrote a long letter to his muse, Neal Cassady, on this date -- December 3 -- in 1950. According to editor Ann Charters,
The newly married couple moved into Gabrielle's apartment in Richmond Hill to save money so they could travel to Mexico after Christmas . . . . Sitting at the rolltop desk in his "den" piled high with Joan's dressmaking material, Jack smoked a joint and wrote to Cassady while his wife showered and his mother watched a news program on television about the escalating war in Korea.
(Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters 1940-1956 edited by Ann Charters, Penguin Books, 1995, p. 237)

Jack was newly married to Joan Haverty, who bore him his only child, daughter Jan. Richmond Hill was in Queens, NYC. In this letter, Jack is playing around with titles for what would become On the Road:
Another welter piling up is not only the need for me to write and sell stories, and a new job I have doing synopsis for 20th Century at home for pay, but to write that fucking Road. Down the road night; American road night; Look our for Your Boy; Boy on the road; Hit the road; Lost on the road--I don't even know what to call it. (pp. 237-238)
This reminds me of a famous passage from On the Road:
"What's your road, man?--holyboy road, madman road, rainbow road, guppy road, any road. It's an anywhere road for anybody anyhow. Where body how?"
(On the Road, Penguin Books, 1976, p. 251)

In this letter Jack uses "elitch" as a code word for marijuana: "Elitch is bad for muscles unless you keep going like you do all day" (p. 239).

Jack continues to be unhappy with the reception and sales of his first published novel, The Town and the City:
My book is not being mentioned by the Xmas lists and not only that the critics who raved about my book have completely forgotten it . . . some who said it was one of the best novels of the year do not mention it . . . I have had the worst shitluck possible with that book and it is the same thing all the time with whatever I do . . . the curse of Melville . . . gods don't even want their favorites to have one peaceful shit in their lifetime [and so on] . . . . (p. 239).

Most of the rest of this letter is a detailed description of a bar fight involving Bill Cannastra (click here), Lucien Carr, and Jack against six or seven "hoodlums." The bar is not named but Kerouac calls it "that bar" so Neal is familiar with it; it is on a corner near Cannastra's house. I think Cannastra may have been living at 125 W. 21st Street, but I don't know NYC well enough to guess in which bar this fight took place and my quick run-through of Kerouac biographies didn't reveal anything. I doubt it was the San Remo as that was too far away (albeit it was on a corner). Maybe you know? Tell us in a comment.

I encourage you to get this collection (see below) and read Kerouac's rollicking letter to Neal Cassady for yourself.

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Sunday, December 2, 2018

New book about Los Angeles includes a Kerouac mention

A new book edited by David Kipen, Dear Los Angeles: The City in Diaries and Letters 1542 to 2018, seeks to provide various perspectives on Los Angeles via diaries and letters from 1542 to present day. According to this review in the NY Times, our boy Jack Kerouac is included in the mix. I don't know which Kerouac letter or journal is referenced, but it has something to do with drinking "'jumbo beers' in the hot sun." Maybe some astute reader can put their finger on the reference and let us know.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Jack Kerouac on this date in 1958

Jack Kerouac wrote Gary Snyder (Japhy Ryder in The Dharma Bums) a long letter on this date -- December 1 -- in 1958. It is full of important insights about various topics. I point out four such topics below.

1. Jack was stressed out from all the attention he was getting in the limelight.
I haven't written because five thousand sillinesses have kept me from it: emergency letters and gaddam telegrams thrown on my doorstep noon and night and I have to answer them all one way or t'other.... If you only knew how horrible it was to be "famous" you wouldn't want it, in fact you don't want it.... I wanted to give you idea of what a crock of shit it is to have to satisfy every tom dick and harry stranger in the world.
(Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters 1957-1969 edited by Ann Charters, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 192-193)

2. Jack was drinking too much.
I have to get some whiskey.... I have just been insulted again in Esquire who don't take my stories any more because I slept on the floor or their photography editor. At noon, drunk....
(Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters 1957-1969 edited by Ann Charters, Penguin Books, 1999, p. 193)

3. Some content in Visions of Gerard came from Jack's mother, not his prodigious memory.
I have to go over Visions of Gerard and stick in a few new anecdotes (true ones) my mother remembers.
(Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters 1957-1969 edited by Ann Charters, Penguin Books, 1999, p. 192)

4. Jack used Buddhist concepts to understand himself and the world.
I am going to stop calling it samsara and call it vicious circle.... I was in love with the world through blue purple curtains when I knew you and now I have to look at it through hard iron eyes. I will survive as myself just the same. I read the Diamond Sutra and I still know all about that self shit.
(Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters 1957-1969 edited by Ann Charters, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 192-194)

And there's more. If you haven't read this letter, or the rest of this book, what are you waiting for? Where else are you going to find prose like this: "I was in love with the world through blue purple curtains when I knew you"? Make it an early Christmas present to yourself.