Saturday, November 16, 2019

Remembering a Kerouac acquaintance: Alan Watts



Spiritual entertainer and philosopher/writer Alan Watts died on this date -- November 16 -- in 1973. He appeared in two Kerouac novels: as Arthur Whane in The Dharma Bums and as Alex Aums in Desolation Angels.

Here's an excerpt about Watts from Gerald Nicosia's Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac from when Jack was living with Gary Snyder in his shack in Mill Valley up above Locke McCorkle's house:
He [Kerouac] and Gary went to dinner at Alan Watts', and Jack and Watts got on fine, Jack liking his "sincerity." (1994, University of California Press, p. 518)
Kerouac said the following about Watts (Whane) in The Dharma Bums:
I went out to the bonfire to hear Cacoethes' [Rexroth's] latest witti­cisms. Arthur Whane was sitting on a log, well dressed, necktie and suit, and I went over and asked him "Well what is Bud­dhism? Is it fantastic imagination magic of the lightning flash, is it plays, dreams, not even plays, dreams?" 
"No, to me Buddhism is getting to know as many people as possible." And there he was going around the party real af­fable shaking hands with everybody and chatting, a regular cocktail party. (1976, Penguin Books, p. 195)
Watts has his critics, but I like how he presents Eastern concepts for the Western mind in his writing and also in his speaking (much of which is available on YouTube as well as official sites like alanwatts.org). I posted about Kerouac and Watts on July 24, 2011 (click here).

Kerouac and Watts had two major -isms in common: Buddhism and alcoholism, the latter likely killing them both although Watts made it to 58, whereas Jack was only 47 when he died.

RIP, Mr. Watts.


Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Remembering a Kerouac friend: Alan Ansen

Alan Ansen in 1973

Writer Alan Ansen died on this date -- November 12 -- in 2006. He appeared in several of Jack Kerouac's works: as Rollo Greb in On The Road; Austin Bromberg in The Subterraneans; Irwin Swenson in Book of Dreams and Visions of Cody; Amadeus Baroque in Doctor Sax; and, Allen Ansen in Book of Sketches. 

Jack talks about Ansen (Rollo Greb) in On The Road as follows:
Everything happened. We found the wild, ecstatic Rollo Greb and spent a night at his house on Long Island. Rollo lives in a nice house with his aunt; when she dies the house is all his. Meanwhile she refuses to comply with any of his wishes and hates his friends. He brought this ragged gang of Dean, Marylou, Ed, and me, and began a roaring party. The woman prowled upstairs; she threatened to call the police. "Oh, shut up, you old bag!" yelled Greb. I wondered how he could live with her like this. He had more books than I've ever seen in all my life--two libraries, two rooms loaded from floor to ceiling around all four walls, and such books as the Apocryphal Something-or-Other in ten volumes. He played Verdi operas and pantomimed them in his pajamas with a great rip down the back. He didn't give a damn about anything. He is a great scholar who goes reeling down the New York waterfront with original seventeenth-century musical manuscripts under his arm, shouting. He crawls like a big spider through the streets. His excitement blew out of his eyes in stabs of fiendish light. He rolled his neck in spastic ecstasy. He lisped, he writhed, he flopped, he moaned, he howled, he fell back in despair. He could hardly get a word out, he was so excited with life. Dean stood before him with head bowed, repeating over and over again, "Yes . . . Yes . . . Yes." He took me into a corner. "That Rollo Greb is the greatest, most wonderful of all. That's what I was trying to tell you--that's what I want to be. I want to be like him. He's never hung-up, he goes every direction, he lets it all out, he knows time, he has nothing to do but rock back and forth. Man, he's the end! You see, if you go like him all the time you'll finally get it."
          "Get what?"
"IT! IT! I'll tell you-now no time, we have no time now." Dean rushed back to watch Rollo Greb some more. (Penguin Books, 1976, p. 127)

Notice, in particular, that Ansen had "IT," which I write about in my book, The Beat Handbook: 100 Days of Kerouactions, on Day 85 (click here for a post about that particular entry).

Understanding what IT is can be a challenge, but it's important and I hope the below excerpt from my book helps:
Dean and Sal are sitting in the back of a travel bureau car at the beginning of their way back East. Dean has been going on about IT. What is IT? I can't explain it with concepts and even if I could you couldn't understand it with your mind. Maybe it's that state where you find yourself and you lose yourself, like Bodhi talks about in the movie, Point Break. Or maybe it's the state Mihaly Csikszentmihaly calls "flow" (1991). Or maybe it's the state of no mind, beginner's mind, where you know everything and you know nothing and you know that this moment is everything and nothing at the same time and words don't matter at all. It is understanding without words, without thought, like when you and a friend both experience something and look at each other and words are unnecessary. 
But what's the Kerouaction, you ask? Be fully present every moment. Experience everything like you were going to die tomorrow. See, feel, smell, hear, and taste with reckless abandon whatever is in the moment. Things are fine just like they are, right this minute, right now. And there is no need to label what is. As Alan Watts pointed out, the sound of the rain needs no explanation. (p. 187)

I may be off-base on IT, but then it's an ineffable concept so even if I fully understood it, I would be incapable of defining it adequately.

So be IT.


Monday, November 11, 2019

A Kerouac-related birthday: Stella Sampas Kerouac

Stella and Jack Kerouac

Stella Sampas Kerouac, Jack's third wife, with whom he was living when he died in Florida in 1969, was born this date -- November 11 -- in 1918. She appeared once in Kerouac's works under pseudonym: as Stavroula Savakis in Vanity of Duluoz.

That particular book, dedicated to Stavroula, starts out:
All right, wifey, maybe I'm a big pain in the you-know-what but after I've given you a recitation of the troubles I had to go through to make good in America between 1935 and more or less now, 1967, and although I also know everybody in the world's had his own troubles, you'll understand that my particular form of anguish came from being too sensitive to all the lunkheads I had to deal with just so I could get to be a high school football star, a college student pouring coffee and washing dishes and scrimmaging till dark and reading Homer's Iliad in three days all at the same time, and God help me, a WRITER whose very 'success', far from being a happy triumph as of old, was the sign of doom Himself. (Penguin Books, 1994, p. 9)

True Kerouacians know that Stella was the sister of Sebastian Sampas, Jack's close friend of youth and a significant influence on his intellectual and emotional development. Stella was instrumental in providing care to Jack's mother, who lived with them, and some have suggested that was the main reason he married her. Since it's Stella's birthday, we won't get into the Kerouac estate controversy that swirled around her and her family.

Suffice to say that she played a critically important role in the Kerouac story, and we wish her a Happy Birthday in Heaven.


Saturday, November 9, 2019

A Kerouac-related birthday: Robert Frank



Photographer/filmmaker Robert Frank was born this date -- November 9 -- in 1924. We said a bit about Frank on the occasion of his death recently (click here), so we won't dwell on details except to say that he and Jack Kerouac were close; despite that, Frank only appeared once in Kerouac's works -- as Robert Frank, not under pseudonym, in the short piece "On the Road to Florida" which appeared in Evergreen Review in January 1970 and later in Good Blonde & Others (1993).

I hope you'll check out my other post about Frank -- it includes a link to the acclaimed film, Pull My Daisy, narrated by Kerouac and bringing to film the third act of his play, Beat Generation. You can also see Frank's silent 1959 short film of Kerouac, Ginsberg et al. in NYC's East Village by clicking here. The woman that Kerouac is having the intense conversation with around the 2:10 mark is Mary Frank, Robert's wife.

Happy First Birthday in heaven, Mr. Frank. Give Jack our regards.




Friday, November 8, 2019

I provide a Jack Kerouac quote and you figure out the book



Today's Jack Kerouac quote (from one of his books) is:
The second-hand kisses the minute-hand sixty times an hour 24 hours a day and still we swallow in hope of life.
Your job is to identify the book that is the source of the above quote and post it in a comment.

I await your response. Remember to follow our comment policy (over there on the right), which includes not posting anonymously.



Wednesday, November 6, 2019

A Kerouac-related birthday: Bill Cannastra

Bill Cannastra

Recently, on October 12 (click here), we noted that it was the date when William "Bill" Cannastra died in 1950. Today -- November 6 -- we celebrate his birthday in 1921.

Cannastra was apparently a "wild man" figure* in the early Beat days, and he appeared in Jack Kerouac's works as follows: Finistra in Visions of Cody; Cannastra Finistra in Book of Dreams; and (probably) Charley Krasner in The Subterraneans. We have mused previously (click here) that without Cannastra in the Beat story, we may not have had the same Kerouac we love and we may not have had Jan Kerouac at all (Jack married Jan's mother, Joan Haverty, a few weeks after Cannastra's death and she had been the latter's girlfriend).

Of further import, Kerouac supposedly got the paper from Cannastra on which he (Jack) typed On The Road. You can read more about that and other things Cannastra by clicking here (it's a link to a piece by Brian Hassett).

Happy Birthday, Mr. Cannastra.


*Cannastra's antics are well-documented in Gerald Nicosia's Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac. There you can read about Bill appearing at a party dressed as a palm tree wearing only a jockstrap and enormous headdress, or the time he and Jack ran around the block naked.








Sunday, November 3, 2019

A Sunday haiku


Lady coming to
Look at refrigerator
I sure hope it sells




P.S. Just for the hell of it, I consciously went 5-7-5 despite Jack Kerouac routinely avoiding that constraint.




Saturday, November 2, 2019

Jack Kerouac audio books on YouTube




My great friend Richard Marsh sent me a link to an audio version of Jack Kerouac's And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks, and it gave me the idea for this post. Below are several links to audio versions of Kerouac's works.

And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks (co-written with William S. Burroughs)

On The Road

Big Sur

The Dharma Bums (Part 1 of 2 and I cannot locate Part 2)

Lonesome Traveler excerpt ("Alone on a Mountaintop")


If you know of other Kerouac books on YouTube, let me know in a comment. I know there's other audio out there (The Northport Tapes, e.g., and Jack on The Steve Allen Show), but I am interested in readings of his written work, especially full books or at least chapters.