Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Six Degrees of Jack Kerouac: Robert De Niro

I love actor Robert De Niro. How couldn't I? I don't really consider him a "beat" personality, although he's played a couple of beat roles in his time. I've never connected him to Jack in any way.

Until last night.

I've been reading Lonesome Traveler (admittedly, for the first time). It's a collection of unrelated short stories rather than a straight-through novel. It's the source of this quote:

Am known as "madman bum and angel" with "naked endless head" of "prose" (1960, p. vi).

That's one of the phrases engraved on a pillar at Kerouac Park in Lowell. Crystal really likes that one. Me, too.

For sure, Lonesome Traveler epitomizes that description. It's more poetry than prose. As is much of Jack's prose, I think.

But I digress.

In the chapter, "New York Scenes," Jack is describing how he and his friends spend time in the city. On p. 116, Charley Mills is

walkin down the street with bums drinkin bottle of wine singing in twelve tone scale.

"Let's go see the strange great secret painters of America and discuss their paintings and their visions with them--Iris Brodie with her delicate fawn Byzantine filigree of Virgins--"

"Or Miles Forst and his black bull in the orange cave."

Or Franz Klein and his spiderwebs."

"His bloody spiderwebs!"

"Or William de Kooning and his White."

"Or Robert De Niro."

Robert De Niro? Couldn't be the actor, I thought to myself. A little Internet research reveals that Robert De Niro, Sr. (1922-1993) - born same year as Jack - was an abstract expressionist painter who lived in the Village and went to Black Mountain College and was bisexual and .... Well, a beat character!

And father of actor Robert De Niro! I had read that De Niro's father was a painter, but I never went beyond that simple factoid.

So, what is actor Robert De Niro's Kerouac number?

1. Jack wrote about painter Robert De Niro, Sr. in Lonesome Traveler.

2. Actor Robert De Niro is painter Robert De Niro's son.

Actor Robert De Niro's Kerouac number is 2.

Now I have to go do some surfing and look at his dad's paintings.

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