Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Today in history: Jack Kerouac and Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens (L) and Jack Kerouac (R)

On this date -- April 30 - in 1859, Charles Dickens'  classic novel A Tale of Two Cities was first published in the  periodical, All the Year Round (weekly installments until November 26). The Kerouac connection? Jack mentioned Dickens more than once in his journals and letters.

For example, in a letter to John Clellon Holmes on June 24, 1949, Kerouac wrote:
I've been thinking about you and have come to a pass where I feel qualified to suggest that, among other things, you should write immense novels about everybody, using the New York scene and the New York types (that is, us). But on a more social plane. Do you think you can write accurately about a madman like Allen? I should like to see you invent a potpourri out of [Alan] Ansen, [Bill] Cannastra, Allen G., the people who come to your parties, the San Remo the bars, the mad parties, big swirling vortexes like [Dostoyevsky's] The Possessed, not concentrating too much on one individual, but painting a large impassioned portrait like Dickens, only about the crazy generation. Because this is the Crazy Gen. If you do write the Allen novel . . . revelation is revolution . . . be sure to introduce everything else you can think of. This I believe to be your special genius: to see everybody as a whole. (Ann Charters' Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters 1940-1956, Penguin, 1995, pp. 199-200)

Maybe Holmes took Kerouac's advice a la Dickens to heart. His Beat novel, Go, saw print before Kerouac's On the Road by 5 years (1952 v. 1957), with the Allen Ginsberg character named "David Stofsky." Some say Go was the first Beat novel, while others point to Chandler Brossard's Who Walk in Darkness (1952).

According to Charters (Ibid., p. 448), Jack made an interesting entry in his notebook in 1954 about how he would reach Nirvana by the year 2000. Titled "Modified Ascetic Life," the entry concludes with:
Two philosophical falsehoods that led me astray:
1. The pathway to wisdom is through excess. (Goethe)
2. The details are the life of it. (Dickens)
Jack certainly pursued excess and wrote details. I can understand his feelings of being led astray by the former, but the latter is a bit mysterious. Is he saying too much focus on details kills the life of a story? Does he regret the exquisite detail he captured when describing people and events in his novels? Hmmm . . . .

Anyway, there's your Kerouac-Dickens connection for this Tuesday morning.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

It's Carolyn Cassady's birthday!

Carolyn Cassady was born on this date -- April 28 -- in 1923. Regular readers know her connection to Jack Kerouac (Neal Cassady's wife, Jack's lover/friend), but it needs to be said that she was a writer and painter and deserves recognition not just because of her association with Beat Generation figures but as an artist in her own right and a force of nature in general (from what I gather -- I never met her).

In February we reviewed her book -- published posthumously -- titled Travel Tips for the Timid: Or, What Guidebooks Never Tell (click here). She published two other books during her lifetime: Heartbeat: My Life with Jack and Neal (made into a movie starting Sissy Spacek) and Off the Road: My Years with Cassady, Kerouac, and Ginsberg (curated here). She got a B.A. in Drama from Bennington College and an M.A. in Fine Arts from the University of Denver.

Happy Birthday, Carolyn!

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Jack Kerouac, libraries, and chess

The other day we connected Jack Kerouac with the Library of Congress. Below are Jack's own words relevant to libraries from one of his novels. I'll let you guess which novel (post it in a comment -- first correct answer gets Beat Brownie Points). In this passage, Jack is describing items in his home when the family lived over the Textile Lunch.
Then, kitchen table, the light from the north window, gloom views of grief-stricken birch on hills beyond the white raw roofs--my chess set and book. The book from the library; Scotch Gambit, Queen's Gambit, scholarly treatises on the combination of openings, the glistening chess pieces palpable to dramatize defeats-- It was how I'd become interested in old classical-looking library books, tomes, chess critiques some of them falling apart and from the darkest shelf in the Lowell Public Library, found there by me in my overshoes at closing time--

What's that? You didn't know Kerouac was a chess fan? Click here for a November 30, 1957 letter from Jack to Allen Ginsberg discussing how he let Neal Cassady win at chess because he (Jack) was a bodhisattva. In June 1955 Jack wrote the following poem about chess (Source: posted by Dave Moore on the Jack Kerouac Facebook group January 29, 2015):

EXAMPLE OF MY BLUES (Watching Washington Sq. Chess Crowds) 
The Chessplayers Wont End
Still they sit
Millions of hats
In underwater foliage
Over marble games
The Greeks of Chess
Plot the Pop
Of Mate
King Queen
-- I know their game,
Their elephant with the pillar
With the pearl in it,
Their gory bishops
And vital pawns --
Their devout frontline
Sacrificial pawn shops
Their stately King
Who is so tall
Their Virgin Queens
Pree ing to Knave
The Night Knot
-- Their Bhagavad Gitas
Of Ignorance,
Krishna's advice,
The game begins --
But hidden Buddha
Nowhere to be seen
But everywhere .....
Like the sky
Already waits.

So there you have it: Jack Kerouac, libraries, and chess....

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Today in history: Jack Kerouac and Elvis Presley

On this date -- April 25 -- in 1956, Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel" went to number one on the charts. The connections between Elvis and Jack Kerouac are detailed in this article: https://www.elvis.com.au/presley/elvis-and-kerouac-americas-rebel-kings.shtml. You'll find at least one glaring factual inaccuracy about Jack in this article, but overall it is an interesting read.

In Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac, Gerald Nicosia points out that Jack and Gregory Corso watched Elvis' first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show "with great excitement," and goes on to discuss Elvis at length (University of California Press, 1994, p. 530).

Elvis and Jack, "America's rebel kings." Who knew there were so many parallels?*

*Who knew healthcare was so complicated? (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Today in history: Jack Kerouac and the Library of Congress

The Library of Congress

On this date in 1800 the Library of Congress was established by an act of Congress signed into law by President John Adams. The initial appropriation was $5,000 for books.

Let me now answer the obvious question: What does that have to do with Jack Kerouac?

Two things come to mind. One is that Jack -- ever the autodidact -- spent a great deal of time reading in the public library in his hometown of Lowell, MA, often skipping classes at Lowell High School to do so:
Once a week he cut classes to study on his own in the Lowell Public Library, reading Goethe and Hugo, showing off to himself that he could absorb things like William Penn's Maxims, methodically examining the Harvard Classics, and getting truly excited over H.G. Wells' Outline of History and the classic Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica. (from Gerald Nicosia's Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac, University of California Press, 1994, p. 50)

The other point is that there are Kerouac resources at the Library of Congress. Just visit https://www.loc.gov/ and search for Jack Kerouac. My search revealed 480 items with 79 of them available on-line.

Jack Kerouac and libraries. They go together like a horse and carriage....

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Today in history: Jack Kerouac and Sherlock Holmes

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes (L) and Jack Kerouac (R)

In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story, "The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist," we read Dr. Watson state:
On referring to my notebook for the year 1895, I find that it was upon Saturday, the 23d of April, that we first heard of Miss Violet Smith.

So the story begins. And hence the connection to today in history, Holmes being perhaps the most famous detective in literature. By the way, according to my Kindle I am currently 70% of the way through reading The Complete Sherlock Holmes cover-to-cover. Great stuff!

But what does this have to do with Jack Kerouac (this blog's raison d'être)? Simple: Sherlock Holmes was an influence on Kerouac. One need only read Kerouac's essay, "Origins of the Beat Generation," for evidence. In that essay, Kerouac is expounding upon what the Beat Generation "goes back to," and, among other things, he says:
To dear old Basil Rathbone looking for the Hound of the Baskervilles (a dog big as the the Gray Wolf who will destroy Odin)--to dear old bleary Doctor Watson with a brandy in his hand.

Kerouac is referring, of course, to actor Basil Rathbone's portrayal of Sherlock Holmes (the best portrayal!). You can watch that on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFsc4qQv9yg.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Today in history: Jack Kerouac and James Baldwin

James Baldwin (1924-1987)

On this date -- April 15 -- in 1965, James Baldwin's 3-act 1954 play, The Amen Corner, premiered in New York City at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. It closed June 26, 1965 after 84 performances (see Playbill).

I discussed the Jack Kerouac-James Baldwin connection previously on The Daily Beat, so I won't belabor it today. You can read that post by clicking here.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Today in history: Jack Kerouac and William Bullock

William Bullock

On this date -- April 14 -- in 1863 William Bullock patented a printing press that used a continuous roll of paper. The machine could print on both sides and cut sheets to size with precision.

The Kerouac connection here is, of course, that Jack was inspired when writing On The Road (in 3 weeks in April 1951) to type it on a continuous roll of paper so he could write it down as fast as possible, in a rush, just the way his experiences on the road actually happened. Jack extended this practice to other novels such as The Dharma Bums and Big Sur. The On The Road roll version was auctioned and sold in 2001 to Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay for almost $2.5 million.

While it was an impressive feat to write On The Road in 3 weeks on 120 feet of continuous paper in one single-spaced paragraph, I don't like to ignore the fact that Jack was writing the novel -- or parts of it - as early as 1947, plus it was subject to a lot of editing after the roll version manifested. Comparing the classic version to the roll version reveals major differences. I've opined about this in the past and on that particular post, Kerouac scholar Gerald Nicosia weighed in with a lengthy comment. Click here to read that post.

I doubt Kerouac was influenced directly by Bullock, but I have to imagine that Jack was familiar with continuous roll printing, probably from his father Leo's printing business, which would likely have been using aspects of the technology Bullock patented.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Today in history: Jack Kerouac and William Saroyan

William Saroyan (1908-1981)

On this date -- April 13 -- in 1939, William Saroyan's play, My Heart's in the Highlands, premiered in New York City. The Kerouac connection here is that Saroyan was an influence on Jack. Gerald Nicosia, in Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac (University of California Press, 1994) says:
Sammy [Kerouac's friend, Sebastian Sampas] quickly infected Jack with his passion for William Saroyan. Here was a writer who wrote with tender humor about small-town people, a writer who found the simplest actions of everyday life worthy of investigation, and who most often tempered his judgments with sympathy. The fact that Jack's father considered Saroyan an idiot--feeling Saroyan had no sense of the tragedy of a life like Leo's--only increased Leo's belief that Sammy was a bad influence on Jack. (p. 72)

According to Nicosia, Jack himself described his collection of short stories, Atop an Underwood, as "'in the Saroyan-Hemingway-Wolfe style'" (Ibid., p. 91).

For a comparison of Kerouac's The Town and the City with Saroyan's The Human Comedy, see Nicosia's analysis on pp. 303-304 in Memory Babe.

In his most famous book, On The Road, Jack gives a shout-out to Saroyan:
He drove me into buzzing Fresno and let me off by the south side of town. I went for a quick Coke in a little grocery by the tracks, and here came a melancholy Armenian youth along the red boxcars, and just at that moment a locomotive howled, and I said to myself, Yes, yes, Saroyan's town. (Penguin, 1976, p. 80)

Jack knew that in William Saroyan’s The Human Comedy, Ithaca, CA is based on Saroyan’s  hometown of Fresno. I note that Jack mirrors this practice of masking actual geographical place names in much of his work.

For more from Jack's own words, one need only look to the biography he wrote for Grove Press editor Don Allen to use in an upcoming publication (in a letter dated October 1, 1959):
At 18 I read Hemingway and Saroyan and began writing little terse short stories in that general style. (Jack Kerouac Selected Letters, Penguin, 1999, p. 248) 
That is the only Saroyan reference in the index of that particular volume of letters, but in Jack Kerouac Selected Letters 1940-1956, the index includes 5 separate references. I will let you dig those out on your own.

It is clear that Saroyan influenced Kerouac. With that knowledge in mind, the true Kerouac aficionado will check out Saroyan works like The Human Comedy in order to understand the origins of Jack's writing style.

Reading what Kerouac read is a very Kerouacian thing to do.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Today in history: Jack Kerouac and The Beatles

On this date -- April 12 -- in 1963 The Beatles released the song, "From Me to You," in the UK. But, you ask, what does that have to do with Jack Kerouac? That is, what is the Kerouac-Beatles connection?

According to Ellis Amburn, in Subterranean Kerouac: The Hidden Life of Jack Kerouac (St. Martin's Griffin, 1998):
Kerouac told me that Ginsberg had recently been with Bob Dylan in London for Dylan's Royal Albert Hall concert, and that Ginsberg and Dylan were "thickern thieves." At a party after Dylan's concert, Ginsberg met the Beatles and lectured them about the Beat Generation. John Lennon subsequently contacted Kerouac, revealing that the band's name was derive from "Beat." "He was sorry he hadn't come to see me when they played Queens," Kerouac said, referring to the Beatles Shea Stadium concert in 1965. "I told him it's just as well, since my mother wouldn't let them in without a haircut." (p. 342)

Amburn has been criticized for his accuracy, but I've seen no evidence that discounts this story. The haircut comment definitely sounds like something Jack would say, and I can see Mémère barring the door to such longhairs.

How about Jack's own words? In a June 22, 1965 letter to Arabelle Porter of the New American Library bemoaning the unavailability of On The Road in paperback, Kerouac reminds her of the Beats-Beatles connection:
If you're in business be businesslike. Don't let incompetents tell you Road or anything connected with it is "dead." Beatles is spelled Beatles and not Beetles. (Jack Kerouac Selected Letters 1957-1969, Penguin, 1999, p. 458)

For some connections between the Beat Generation and The Beatles, see this Beatdom story, or this blog post by Stephanie Nikolopoulos.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Today in history: Jack Kerouac and the civil rights movement

On this date -- April 11 -- in 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Known as the "Fair Housing Act," the law provided for equal housing opportunities regardless of race, religion, or national origin.

What does this have to do with Jack Kerouac? I find a June 4, 1968 letter from Kerouac to Ginsberg in which he says:
I never was arrested in my life till the civil rights movement made the cops jittery and paranoid of everybody they see on the sidewalk. (Selected Letters 1957 -1969, Penguin, 1999, p. 513)
This, of course, is older, cynical, bitter Jack talking, not the young Jack who hung out with the disenfranchised and espoused compassion for all. I like to think that that Jack would have applauded equal opportunity in housing, given his compassion for others and the struggles his own ancestors faced in this country re: discrimination.

I note that on the date this law was enacted, Jack wrote a letter (unmailed) to editor Ellis Amburn. Signed Ti Jean and outlining a proposed manuscript, Jack said:
. . . and mindful too, be ye, that envy rules, but fate judges. (Ibid, p. 510)

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Jack Kerouac photo mystery

(L-R) Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, unknown man, Neal Cassady

Someone posted the above picture on the Jack Kerouac Facebook group (which you should join!), and no one can positively identify the man standing to the right of Jack. Guesses on the post include Bill Cannastra, Justin Brierly, Robert Creeley, Lucien Carr, Robert Lavigne, Bob Burford, Bill Tomson, John Hollander, Bob Malkin, and others. There was even an argument that this might not be Jack in the picture, but most agree that it is. Anyway, the commenters on this thread include at least several Kerouac scholars and the back-and-forth, while it doesn't come to a conclusion (yet), is fascinating. There is some evidence that this may be NYC in 1950.

If you have a reasoned guess as to who the fourth man in the picture is, please let us know in a comment.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Write a sad story in only three words

The title of this post is a writing prompt I saw on Twitter and I thought it would be fun to adapt the exercise by adding Jack Kerouac to the mix. Thus the prompt becomes:

Pretend you're Jack Kerouac and write a sad story in only three words.

Of course, one could substitute any famous person for Jack Kerouac and have fun with this, but we'll stick with Jack since this is a Kerouac-obsessed blog.

Here is what came to my mind:

Brother gone young. 

Post your 3-word story as a comment.

P.S. This reminds me of the legendary 6-word story: "For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn." This story gets attributed to Ernest Hemingway (Kerouac connection!) but I've seen that claim refuted as urban legend.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Remembering Allen Ginsberg

Allen Ginsberg died on this date in 1997 at the age of 70. You can read his NY Times obit here for a recap of his larger-than-life accomplishments. Notice that I didn't call it the "Failing NY Times" like our President because, unlike him, I respect freedom of the press and I am confident in the reporting accuracy and integrity of "The Gray Lady." Just because you don't like what a newspaper prints doesn't mean it's fake. Bully-pulpiting about that is dictator-style censorship at best.

Pardon my waxing political. Of course, Mr. Ginsberg would likely appreciate that given his robust political activism.

The Kerouac connection here is, of course, that they were great friends and along with William S. Burroughs comprised what some have called the Beat Generation triumvirate. There were, of course, other, albeit lesser known, Beats such as Diane di Prima and Gregory Corso and Herbert Huncke and Hettie Jones and the list goes on and on and on . . . .

In honor of Ginsberg's death, read some of his poetry today (click here). Aloud if you can.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Spam policy reminder

This is a reminder to readers that on any given day we receive dozens of anonymous spam comments such as the following, which was left yesterday on this post:
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Consequently, if you send us a comment and you want it to be published (we vet each one), you must comply with three rules:

1. You must use a screen name. It doesn't have to be your own, but if the commenter's name shows as "Anonymous" the comment will not get published.

2. Your comment has to have something to do with the post it targets. If a post is not about gynecological locations in Thailand, then a comment about gynecological locations in Thailand will not get published.

3. Your comment must be civil. That is, snarky ad hominem comments and the like will not get published.

FYI, I label all comments that fail to meet the above criteria as "spam" for Google to deal with, so be warned.

We love comments here at The Daily Beat, but we will not suffer bullshit, which is what almost all daily comments consist of for one reason or another. I don't know from where or how or why (for what purpose) these comments hit my blog each day, but if you are responsible: Man, you can go fuck yourself.

On the other hand, if you want to send us a can of Spam (chopped pork and lunch meat in a can), we will gladly fry that up and have it on a sandwich for lunch. And if you've sent in a legit comment and I missed it, my apologies for that -- past, present, and future.

What does any of this have to do with Jack Kerouac? I bet he ate Spam. Other than that, here's a Kerouac quote for you:
I wrote my first novel at age 11, in a 5¢ notebook, about an orphan boy running away, floating down a river in a boat . . .  (Heaven & Other Poems, Grey Fox, 1977, p. 39)

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

If it's Wednesday this must be Western Haiku Day

April snow
Shovel put away
Thirsty flowers

Nothing to get
No one to get it
Emptiness an illusion

The parrot said
What's on your mind?
I laughed

Sixty-four haikus later
Devastated and spent
No matter the price of ink

Note: To understand what a Western Haiku is, read Jack Kerouac's explanatory note in Scattered Poems (accessible here). By the way, Happy National Poetry Month.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Numerology project complete

31 days ago we undertook what I call a "numerology project" in which we presented a sentence from a book on my Kerouac bookshelf each day that corresponded to the date and the book's placement on my bookshelf. On the 1st of the month we presented the 1st sentence of the 1st book, on the 2nd we presented the 2nd sentence of the 2nd book, and so on (seemingly ad infinitum). The project ended yesterday, April 1, because we started on March 2 and I wanted to capture a full 31-day month's worth of entries.

All that remains is to present the whole set of sentences in one post. That is what follows in block indent. Make of it what you will, I think it reads amazingly well in terms of coherence. For the copyright police, all these passages are cited in their relevant individual entry posted previously and available by clicking the first word of each sentence. It strikes me that this exercise has two Burroughs connections. One is the numerology aspect, with which he was familiar (click here). The other is that this is rather like his "cut-up" method, where new text is created by cutting up existing texts and randomly arranging the passages.

How do you think this came out?

This old Greek reminded me of my Uncle Nick in Brooklyn who'd spent 50 years of his life there after being born in Crete, and wandered down the gray streets of Wolfe Brooklyn, short, gray suit, with a gray hat, gray face, going to his various jobs as elevator operator and apartment janitor summer winter and fall, and was a plain old ordinary man talking about politics but with a Greek accent, and when he died it seemed to me Brooklyn hadn't changed and would never change, there would always be a strange sad Greek going down the gray streets. 
Shortly before my birth my father had begun a small theatrical publication known as the "Spotlight Print," a unique weekly filled with news, comments, anecdotes, editorials, and advertisements dealing with the theatre [sic] and cinema of the time around Lowell and Boston. 
Prior to that I'd always dreamed of going west, seeing the country, always vaguely planning and never specifically taking off and so on. 

Monday, April 1, 2019

1st sentence of the 1st book

The 1st book on my Kerouac bookshelf is Jack Kerouac's Good Blonde & Others (Grey Fox, 1993), and the 1st sentence (in honor of today being the 1st day of the month) is:
This old Greek reminded me of my Uncle Nick in Brooklyn who'd spent 50 years of his life there after being born in Crete, and wandered down the gray streets of Wolfe Brooklyn, short, gray suit, with a gray hat, gray face, going to his various jobs as elevator operator and apartment janitor summer winter and fall, and was a plain old ordinary man talking about politics but with a Greek accent, and when he died it seemed to me Brooklyn hadn't changed and would never change, there would always be a strange sad Greek going down the gray streets. (p. 5)

And there you have it -- all 31 days of March (we started on March 2 so today was actually the 31st entry) accounted for in our numerology project to align books, sentences, and days of the month. All that remains is to pull all 31 entries into one post, which should* happen tomorrow. That's going to take some cutting-and-pasting, but it's pretty do-able. Then we can read the whole set of sentences quickly in order and see what it all means (if anything).

Thank God it's almost over . . . .

Oh, and Happy Birthday to my son, who turns 39 today! Wow.

*This word is responsible for more human mental suffering than perhaps any other single word. It is part of the kind of distorted thinking that cognitive behavior therapy addresses. To rephrase, let me say "it would be nice if it happened tomorrow, but unforeseen events may cause a delay."