Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Kerouac fan Tyler from Flint, MI: Where are you?

A 19-year-old from Flint, Michigan, left a letter to Jack Kerouac on Jack's grave in Lowell, MA. The letter was dated 3-6-15 and written on lined yellow paper. It was stuffed in a bottle leaning against the newer gravestone. My friend and I read it today and returned it to the bottle.

It starts out with something like, "Here I sit at my bullshit job" and goes on to bemoan what has become of America and how disappointed Jack would be in it. It describes the writer's affinity for Kerouac and how his friends remind him of Jack and Neal.

The letter is signed Tyler (we think) with a last name that is unreadable.

Tyler from Flint, MI, we dig your letter, man, and I want to send you a free signed copy of my book in honor of your leaving such a heartfelt homage to Jack at his gravesite.

You can reach me by responding to this blog post or by sending me an e-mail at anamcara16933@yahoo.com.

I look forward to hearing from you. And hang in there!

The Memory Babe (Kerouac) archive, Part 2

As promised, here is a report from my trip to Lowell to access the Memory Babe archive (materials related to Gerald Nicosia's book, Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac). This is basically an overview of the whole trip: I'm leaving details about the archive visit itself to Part 3.

I met my friend, Richard Marsh, at the Lowell National Historic Park Visitor Center (parking is free there) at 11:30 on Monday March 30. It was a cold, windy March day with spitting snow. Being lunchtime, we walked over to the Club Diner on Dutton Street (a classic train car diner) where Richard wanted to get his traditional breakfast fare: eggs, home fries, toast, ham, and - especially - "breakfast beans." I had the same thing except with hash instead of ham. We did this because I wanted to take Richard to Jameson's for breakfast Tuesday morning. More on that later. Below is a sign that hangs inside the diner. Since it was established in 1938, can't you just imagine Leo Kerouac and Jack eating there? Maybe the whole family?

The Memory Babe archive is housed in the UMass Center for Lowell History, which is in the building which houses the Patrick J. Mogan Cultural Center. This is important. I thought the archive was in the Mogan Center itself, but that is not quite accurate. When I called the National Park ahead of the trip, I asked about the Mogan Center hours. They told me 1:30 to 5:00. In fact, the Center for Lowell History is open 9:00 to 5:00. Given that confusion and to kill some time, we walked to The Worthen on Worthen Street (actually the "Worthen House Cafe"), a place where Jack supposedly had a drink or two at some point. We had Sam Adams Cold Snap. Tasty. Oh, on a side note, the young bartender knew who Kerouac was. Not surprising given that a poster featuring Jack is on the wall right across from the bar and they host Lowell Celebrate Kerouac events.

Next we headed to the Mogan Cultural Center on French Street (very near Kerouac Commemorative Park). I will detail our visit to the archive in Part 3, coming soon,

After spending a few hours at the archive, we headed back to our cars and drove to the UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center to check in. We used Yelp to see if we could identify a dinner choice beyond our usual establishments and settled on Garcia Brogan, a Mexican Italian place on Middlesex Street. We got there and spent literally 5 minutes trying to find the entrance. When we finally did manage to get inside, we went to the bar and spent another 5 minutes wondering where the bartender was. Given those two shaky experiences right off the bat and its appearance as being for the younger set, we left and went to our back-up: Cobblestones on Dutton Street.

Somewhere in our meandering on Monday we passed Lowell High School and I took the below picture of the clock. Richard reports that Lowell Kerouac docent Roger Brunelle said that this clock was gifted after Jack was a student there, so it can't be the one he writes about kissing Pauline Cole (Peggy Coffey) under in Maggie Cassidy.

Our food at Cobblestones was very good, the bartender (LeeAnne) was nice, and the three Boulevard Dark Truth Stouts I drank (almost 10% alcohol) hit me pretty hard. See picture below.

Richard had three different brews only he can remember. We started back to the Inn after a leisurely dinner and good conversation and as we neared the turn to the Inn I heard Cappy's Copper Kettle calling our name so we stopped for a nightcap (Bushmills). Another Kerouac bar.

We retired fairly early with visions of breakfast grub, the grave, and the grotto dancing in our heads as we drifted off to sleep. We had two queen beds so inadvertent spooning was not part of the equation.

Bright and early we got some free coffee from the Inn's continental breakfast set-up and went outside to drink it while looking at the canal. There were many ducks: below is a picture of one pair. We couldn't have asked for a nicer day in terms of sun, although it was still chilly.

After coffee and ducks, we walked over to Jameson's on Andover Street for breakfast. Crystal and I found that place last October during Lowell Celebrates Kerouac (recommendation from hotel desk clerk), and I had a scrumptious Irish Benedict (hash instead of Canadian bacon or ham). With visions of an Irish Benedict in my head, we walked up to the restaurant and it was . . . closed! On a Tuesday morning? Maybe it's out of business, we thought. I was bummed, but we decided to walk to The Owl diner (another classic train car diner) on Appleton Street (it's actually called Four Sisters - The Owl). We'd heard about this place for years, and I had an Irish Benny (that's what they call it). It was just as good as Jameson's and on top of that we got to  sit at the counter and watch the short order cook. He'd been working there nine years and was amazing to watch: perpetual motion. Busy place. I recommend it. They still have the old individual (nonfunctional) jukeboxes at the counter. See below.

After breakfast, we walked back to the Inn and checked out. It was time for the one required stop in Lowell: Jack Kerouac's grave at Edson Cemetery on Gorham Street. Below are a couple of pictures. Folks, please don't leave cigarette butts at the grave. It's disrespectful and gross.

The original gravestone as we found it minus all the cigarette butts Richard cleaned away

Rick at the "new" gravestone

Richard at the "new" gravestone
For the record, I don't like the new gravestone. The old one was understated and sufficient. The new one is overstated and unnecessary. On the plus side, it does make it easier to find Jack's grave. Or maybe that's not a plus. The way it was meant someone had to have some commitment to find it, Now any yahoo can spot it from Lincoln Street,

Among the many items left there, someone had stuffed a handwritten note on lined yellow paper into a bottle leaning against the "new" gravestone. Richard read it. It started out, "Here I sit at my bullshit job in Flint, MI" or something along those lines. It was a heartfelt letter to Jack from a somewhat America-disillusioned ("America is fucked, Jack") 19-year-old Kerouac fan named Tyler (last name unreadable). Tyler, if you're out there, hit me up with a message on this blog or send me an e-mail and I'll send you a free signed copy of my book for leaving one of the best things at the grave I've seen to date. We wanted to take a picture of the letter to post it here but the writing was too faded to show up.

I read some passages from Dr. Sax and Richard read from Maggie Cassidy (one must read aloud from one of Jack's Lowell books at the grave - it is a requirement). We had a few nips of good 10-year-old single malt Bushmills in Jack's honor (I know, he died from alcoholism and this is gauche and all of that, but I drink at his grave as a celebration of his life for my own reasons that make sense to me). Of course, as always I left a copy of my book (in a baggie with "Steal this book" written on it).

After the grave we drove to the Lady of Lourdes Grotto behind the Franco-American School on Pawtucket Street, a significant Kerouac location. Click here for some background. By the way, Jack's wake was held at the Archambault Funeral Home right next to the Grotto.

We stopped at each "Station of the Cross" and then made our way up the steps to the statue of Jesus crucified. In the cave underneath we read some of the prayers and stories visitors had left there. Moving. Below are a couple of pictures

And that was it. Richard took me back to my car at the Inn and we headed home in opposite directions. When we left Jack's grave Richard remarked how lucky we are to have something like Kerouac's work and life to be interested in and connect with others about, and I think I'll leave it at that. It's something he and I understand, as do a select few others. We'll leave it as an ineffable phenomenon, but suffice to say that the last couple of days were good for my soul.

See you in October, Lowell. ("Everybody goes home in October.")

P.S. Stay tuned for Part 3: details about our visit to the Memory Babe archive.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Memory Babe (Kerouac) archive, Part 1

On Monday, a friend and I are meeting in Lowell, MA with the express purpose of visiting the Memory Babe archive at the Patrick J. Mogan Cultural Center, part of the Lowell National Historic Park.

Click here for a link to the contents as posted by the Cosmic Baseball Association 14 years ago. My understanding from talking to librarian Martha Mayo in Lowell last October is that the archive is accessible, whereas there was a time when access was being litigated and, according to some, access was being denied. I don't want to open up that whole can of worms because it always ends up in the same place: accusations and vitriol. And Jack rolls over in his grave every time it happens. Don't even try to go there with comments about this post: they won't get published.

Gerald Nicosia's Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac is an early, oft-cited, and comprehensive Kerouac biography. As such, this archive is of note, Does the book contain mistakes? Of course. All biographies do. Is there controversy surrounding the author and his longstanding battle with the Sampas family over various estate-related issues? Yes. So what?

Gerry may be a controversial figure in the minds of some, but that doesn't discount the merits of his work. The archive includes over 150 people on tape, including Kerouac friends, family, and intimates who are no longer alive! How can one not be excited about that treasure trove of information?

With regard to the author himself, I count him as a friend. He has never been anything but gracious towards me, and his knowledge of Kerouac and the Beats never fails to astound me. But that is irrelevant to the case at hand and I only bring it up for the sake of transparency. The merits of the archive itself are why we're visiting it.

Suffice to say that, assuming we get access, there are a myriad of materials of interest. The Center is only open 1:30 - 5:00, so we will have to prioritize what we look at and listen to.

If there is something in the archive that  you think we should give particular attention, let us know with a comment. No promises.

I'll post Part 2, a follow-up to our visit, next week.

No trip to Lowell is complete, of course, without a visit to Jack's grave. I'll post pictures.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Happy Birthday, Gregory Corso

Gregory Corso was born this date in 1930. He became associated with the Beat writers after meeting Alan Ginsberg in 1951 (see Character Key to Kerouac's Duluoz Legend).

In honor of his birthday, I suggest you read some of his poetry.

Click here for a place to start.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

"Visions" in Kerouac's On the Road

Have you ever had a "vision" (the mystical kind)? Kerouac certainly seems to have been familiar with the experience. I was wondering just how many specific references to "visions" Kerouac made in On the Road, so I found as many as I could and listed them below (in order as they appear in the novel). I tried to make this an exhaustive list, but I may have missed something. Note that I didn't include a passage unless the word "vision" was in it (so, for example, I did not include the passage about the Shrouded Traveler in Part 2 Chapter 4). I'm not standing behind the accuracy of these quotes since I cut-and-pasted from here and only fixed up obvious errors. I avoided page numbers since we all use different editions. Have fun!

Part 1 Chapter 1
And a kind of holy lightning I saw flashing from his excitement and his visions, which he described so torrentially that people in buses looked around to see the "overexcited nut."

Somewhere along the line I knew there'd be girls, visions, everything; somewhere along the line the pearl would be handed to me.

Part 1 Chapter 3
Now I could see Denver looming ahead of me like the Promised Land, way out there beneath the stars, across the prairie of Iowa and the plains of Nebraska, and I could see the greater vision of San Francisco beyond, like jewels in the night.

I had visions of a dark and dusty night on the plains, and the faces of Nebraska families wandering by, with their rosy children looking at everything with awe, and I know I would have felt like the devil himself rooking them with all those cheap carnival tricks.
Part 1 Chapter 12
And here my mind went haywire, I don't know why. I began getting the foolish paranoiac visions that Teresa, or Terry-her name-was a common little hustler who worked the buses for a guy's bucks by making appointments like ours in LA where she brought the sucker first to a breakfast place, where her pimp waited, and then to a certain hotel to which he had access with his gun or his whatever.

Part 2 Chapter 3
I have visions all the time," said Ed Dunkel, nodding his head.

Part 2 Chapter 7
You had a vision, boy, a vision. Only damn fools pay no attention to visions. How do you know your father, who was an old horseplayer, just didn't momentarily communicate to you that Big Pop was going to win the race? The name brought the feeling up in you, he took advantage of the name to communicate. That's what I was thinking about when you mentioned it. My cousin in Missouri once bet on a horse that had a name that reminded him of his mother, and it won and paid a big price. The same thing happened this afternoon." He shook his head. "Ah, let's go. This is the last time I'll ever play the horses with you around; all these visions drive me to distraction."

As we ran I had a mad vision of Dean running through all of life just like that -his bony face outthrust to life, his arms pumping, his brow sweating, his legs twinkling like Groucho Marx, yelling, "Yes! Yes, man, you sure can go!"

Part 2 Chapter 10
It made me think of the Big Pop vision in Graetna with Old Bull.

Part 3 Chapter 2
"The first day," he said, "I lay rigid as a board in bed and couldn't move or say a word; I just looked straight up with my eyes open wide. I could hear buzzing in my head and saw all kinds of wonderful technicolor visions and felt wonderful. The second day everything came to me, EVERYTHING I'd even done or known or read or heard of or conjectured came to me and rearranged itself in my mind in a brand-new logical way and because I could think of nothing else in the interior concerns of holding and catering to the amazement and gratitude I felt, I kept saying, 'Yes, yes, yes, yes.' Not loud. 'Yes,' real quiet, and these green tea visions lasted until the third day. I had understood everything by then, my life was decided, I knew I loved Marylou, I knew I had to fir my father wherever he is and save him, I knew you were buddy et cetera, I knew how great Carlo is. I knew a thousand things about everybody everywhere. Then the third day began having a terrible series of waking nightmares, and they were so absolutely horrible and grisly and green that I lay there doubled up with my hands around my knees, saying, 'Oh, oh, oh, ah, oh . . .' The neighbors heard me and sent for a doctor. Camille was away with the baby, visiting her folks. The whole neighborhood was concerned. They came in and found me lying on the bed with my arms stretched out forever. Sal, I ran to Marylou with some of that tea. And do you know that the same thing happened to that dumb little box?-the same visions, the same logic, the same final decision about everything, the view of all truths in one painful lump leading to nightmares and pain-ack!

Part 3 Chapter 5
As a child lying back in my father's car in the back seat I also had a vision of myself on a white horse riding alongside over every possible obstacle that presented itself: this included dodging posts, hurling around houses, sometimes jumping over when I looked too late, running over hills, across sudden squares with traffic that I had to dodge through incredibly-" "Yes! Yes! Yes!" breathed Dean ecstatically.

Part 4 Chapter 2
Suddenly I had a vision of Dean, a burning shuddering frightful Angel, palpitating toward me across the road, approaching like a cloud, with enormous speed, pursuing me like the Shrouded Traveler on the plain, bearing down on me.

Part 4 Chapter 3
We saw a vision of the entire Western Hemisphere rockribbing clear down to Tierra del Fuego and us flying down the curve of the world into other tropics and other worlds.

Part 4 Chapter 5
I looked out the window at the hot, sunny streets and saw a woman in a doorway and I thought she was listening to every word we said and nodding to herself--routine paranoiac visions due to tea.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Never never on a Monday

I haven't been posting a lot of late, and if I bothered to analyze the data I suspect Mondays would rank low on days most likely to post. In that spirit, here is a Monday post with apologies to Petula Clark (with whom there is a Kerouac connection but I will leave it to your Googling skills to determine what it is).

The above is from Lisa Brown's blog, 3 Panel Book Reviews. Click here for more of her work. I got a kick out of it and thought you might, too.

Yass, yass, and yair!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Your Sunday Kerouac

If it weren't for work, one could get some stuff done. Like blogging. Or practicing the guitar. Or writing poetry.

I know, I know: I've got all the time there is and it's a matter of how I use it. I could practice the guitar instead of watching Black Sails or any of the other TV series I'm hooked on. I could write poetry instead of catching up on Facebook.

I could blog instead of eating breakfast on Sunday morning (when I usually make myself some eggs instead of pouring my breakfast out of a cereal box and a milk jug).

No, I'm not skipping breakfast -- but I am delaying it long enough to post something. Anything.

The blank screen taunts me. Wait. Wait. I feel an inspiration coming around the corner of my mind.

Got it. I'll give a shameless plug for my book, The Beat Handbook: 100 Days of Kerouactions. Why? Because I just retrieved the Sunday paper from the front porch and just about put my back out lifting it from all the advertisements. Sunday is advertisement heavy, at least for the newspaper, so we'll follow suit. Besides, I haven't plugged my book in a while.

Part companion reader (to On the Road and The Dharma Bums), part memoir, part journal (lots of white space to write in), The Beat Handbook takes the reader on a  journey through two of Kerouac's novels, riffing on passages that answer the question, "What would Kerouac do?" My premise is that to discern the answer to that question, one need only know what the characters in his novels do (since they are quasi-autobiographical, that is, roman à clef). There are 100 entries (hence the title) that wander through the The Dharma Bums and On the Road in order, analyzing various passages in a sometimes humorous and sometime serious attempt to apply a Beat character's behavior ("Kerouaction") to today's world. Each entry includes a suggested "Kerouactivity" and a place to write about your attempt.

For the Kerouac or Beat aficionado in your life, The Beat Handbook makes a great gift and it's easily obtainable on Amazon. If you want an autographed copy, we can work that out via e-mail

There, I feel better. I blogged and I hawked my book.

Insert bon mots here!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Kerouac's Mexico City Blues cut-ups: bitchy wine

Cut-up from the 42nd and 43rd Choruses of Jack Kerouac's Mexico City Blues
("bitchy wine" caught our attention)

Today the students in my First Year Seminar (focused on Jack Kerouac) read aloud choruses from Mexico City Blues and then applied a Burroughsian cut-up method to their selections. Click here to see the result.

The pages aren't all oriented the same way so you'll have to use your PDF Rotate tool, but I think it's worth the effort. Most students cut-up two choruses into 8 segments with one horizontal and one vertical (navigating between whole words) cut per chorus and randomly pieced them back into two poems. They've identified the source by chorus number in case  you want to see the originals. (We used the 1990 Grove Press edition.)

The checkmarks started out as a "vote for your favorite" activity but I don't think it came to fruition so don't put much stock in them.

If you take the time to read all of these, you may see some mad phrases worthy of "borrowing" for  your own poetic inspiration, giving Jack credit, of course.

P.S. Kudos to my students for being good sports and going along with activities like this even when they are not directly tied to a "grade." 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A unique and special Happy Birthday to Jack Kerouac

Half of our Kerouac class (posted with permission)
The other half of our Kerouac class (posted with permission)

As some of you know, I am currently teaching a college course focused on Kerouac. Our class meets Tuesdays and Thursdays. Since Jack's birthday was going to fall on a class day (today, March 12), last week I asked the class what we should do to celebrate.

One student suggested we eat apple pie and ice cream since that is what Sal ate all across the United States in On the Road, I could say nothing except "That's a great idea!" I must admit that while uttering that phrase, in my head I was running through the logistics of feeding 18 college students.

Today, on his birthday, we honored Jack Kerouac in our class in three ways. We ate apple pie and ice cream. Jack would have appreciated that. While eating we listened to Wardell Grey and Dexter Gordon ("The Hunt") and other jazz musicians. Jack would have dug that. At the same time, students were using Google docs to give each other feedback on their research paper outlines. Jack would have dug that as well.

Apple pie and ice cream. Jazz. Writing.

Happy Birthday, Jack. We saved you a slice and a scoop.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Pageview milestone celebration?

389,254. That's how many pageviews this blog has had since September 2008. By my rough calculation that is over 5,000 per month on average.

We are closing in on 400,000 all-time pageviews, and in honor of that milestone we need to do something special. I haven't figure out quite what that is yet, but it probably involves someone getting a free autographed copy of The Beat Handbook for a beat action they take in response to some future blog post.

Wait for it . . . .

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Review: Diane di Prima's The Poetry Deal

As the back cover states, "The Poetry Deal is the first volume of new poetry in decades from legendary Beat poet, Diane di Prima." I've had this book on the shelf for review for a few months, and picked it up last night after reading her Memoirs of a Beatnik cover-to-cover in one sitting. After that pornographic - and I mean that in the best possible way - read, I was compelled to read her latest poetry. I wasn't disappointed.

The Poetry Deal is 56 poems sandwiched between two prose statements, the first an homage to her adopted city of San Francisco and the last a tribute to poetry. The latter was unnecessary as di Prima's poems themselves are tributes. Tributes to the lost, tributes to San Francisco, tributes to City Lights, tributes to environmental consciousness. She is in fine form here and especially with pieces like "Haiti, Chile, Tibet," in which she puts forth eight beautiful suggestions for changing the social contract and saving this "rather small rock" populated by a "handful of tribes."
can you call it looting when anyone breaks plate glass
              comes out with radios       medicine
              camping supplies              whatever is needed
is that looting or just plain sanity?               keeping a family, keeping each other, alive
In this social media world, she longs for real connection in "Where Are You?"
stay in touch means you touch each other, lovers or
Some of her poems are untitled and short and light:
my dream of last night
has been lying in wait all day
in the folds of my pillow
Others, like "Zoron, Your Death," span several pages and take up heart-wrenching subjects like a friend dying of AIDS:
next morning I got the call:
                                             you had died
before Yeshe got there

                                               but I knew
in yr armchair the day before
when I was with you
looking together into that
                    small patch of sky

you had somehow taken refuge
in all of Space

You owe it to yourself to get a copy of The Poetry Deal from City Lights. This is the kind of poetry book that one comes back to over time, gleaning new insights and making fresh connections. The poems are real, they are significant, and they are well-crafted: as one would expect from the Poet Laureate of San Francisco.

P.S. I also recommend Memoirs of a Beatnik. Readers of this blog looking for a Kerouac fix won't be disappointed as di Prima spends most of one chapter recounting, in graphic detail, a group sexual encounter with Jack and Allen Ginsberg and two of her New York friends. Critics will point out that this was a piece of erotica she wrote for money, and thus the sexual escapades are likely exaggerated. Thus, one could get a superficial impression of the Beats from Memoirs, but at the same time it does give one an insider's view of what it was like in the 1950s/60s for a woman to live in a way that women weren't supposed to live. I found it engaging and well-written. Poetic, in fact. And di Prima knows how to write about sex - that is for sure.