Thursday, October 31, 2019

Happy Kerouac Halloween

I was thinking about connections between Jack Kerouac and Halloween (beyond the obvious "jack-o-lantern") -- since today is October 31 -- and so I looked for something he has said on the subject. I didn't see anything in the two editions of his letters, and I thumbed through several novels to no avail. I have On The Road as a digital document  -- allowing for easy searching -- and I did find that Jack mentions Halloween three times as follows.

1. In Part One Chapter 9, Sal (Kerouac) is describing how Denver D. Doll (real-life Justin W. Brierly) has a habit of giving greetings that don't match the time of day or season:
Everybody knew him. "Happy New Year," he called, and sometimes "Merry Christmas." He said this all the time. At Christmas he said Happy Halloween. (Penguin Books, 1976, p. 54)

2. In Part One Chapter 13, the well-known section about Terry "the Mexican girl," Sal is describing the "wild streets of Fresno Mextown":
Strange Chinese hung out of windows, digging the Sunday night streets; groups of Mex chicks swaggered around in slacks; mambo blasted from jukeboxes; the lights were festooned around like Halloween. (Ibid., p. 93)

3. In Part One Chapter 14, Sal, after leaving Terry, is "going home in October. Everybody goes home in October" (Ibid., p. 103) and says:
The bus roared through Indiana cornfields that night; the moon illuminated the ghostly gathered husks; it was almost Halloween. (Ibid., p. 103)

So there you have it: all the references to Halloween from On The Road in one spot. You're welcome.

Happy Kerouac Halloween!

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Remembering Edie Parker, influential Beat Generation figure

Edie Parker (Edith Frances Parker Kerouac) died on this date -- October 29 -- in 1993. Edie was Jack Kerouac's first wife. She appeared in several of Jack's works: as Marie in The Subterraneans; as Elly in Visions of Cody; as Edna in Book of Dreams; as Edna (Johnnie) Palmer in Vanity of Duluoz; and as Judie Smith in The Town and the City.

Edie's memoir, You'll Be Okay: My Life With Jack Kerouac, is an excellent recounting of the early days of the Beat Generation (we curated it here). Her various apartments with Joan Vollmer near Columbia University were where Kerouac et al. frequently hung out and she was an active participant in their intellectual/literary forays and discussions. Thus, Edie was an influential figure in the genesis of the Beat Generation.

RIP to one of the many women of the Beat Generation whose contributions are under-valued.

Friday, October 25, 2019

A Kerouac birthday: Caroline "Nin" Kerouac, Jack's sister

Caroline with her brother, Jack

Caroline "Nin" Kerouac Blake was born on this date -- October 25 -- in 1918. That made her Jack Kerouac's older sister. She appeared in several of Jack's works: Nin Duluoz in Doctor Sax and Visions of Gerard; Nin in Book of DreamsMaggie CassidyVisions of CodyVanity of Duluoz; Ruth Martin in The Town and the City; and, Carolyn Blake in Book of Sketches. The excellent Character Key to Jack Kerouac's Duluoz Legend lists her twice for Maggie Cassidy (as Nin and Jeannette Bissonette). I asked Kerouac scholar and keeper of the key, Dave Moore, about that little wrinkle and he said (shared with permission):
Yes, it's weird. Both names are used in MC. In the first part, Jack wrote about his sister Nin, but later, when he's writing about the surprise birthday party, Nin is described as arranging it, but the hosts are described as Jeannette and Jimmy Bisssonette. (Nin married Charles Morisette in 1937.)
When I think of Nin, I always think of Jack's descriptions in The Dharma Bums (my favorite Kerouac novel) of staying with her and her husband and child at their house in Big Easonburg Woods near Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Which, of course, reminds me of the excellent book by John J. Dorfner, Kerouac: Visions of Rocky Mount (that you can purchase by contacting the author at Click here for a piece that John wrote about Rocky Mount for the Raleigh News & Observer.

Happy Birthday in heaven, Nin.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

A Kerouac-related birthday: Denise Levertov

Poet Denise Levertov was born this date -- October 24 -- in 1923. She appeared in Jack Kerouac's Desolation Angels as Alise Nabokov.

You can read more about Levertov by clicking here (you can read some of her poems there as well). She had quite a career, editing poetry for The Nation and teaching at Brandeis, MIT, and Tufts. Levertov was associated with the Black Mountain poets and was influenced by William Carlos Williams (who influenced the Beats). And, of course, she associated with Beat poets like Allen Ginsberg.

We've said Happy Birthday to Levertov in the past (click here), mentioning that she was an influence on my poet friend, Charlie James, who turned me on to Levertov's husband, Mitchell Goodman, via his book, The Movement Toward a New America. Charlie's excellent and award-winning book of poetry, Life Lines, is available here.

Happy Birthday, Ms. Levertov (who would be 96 today).

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Another Six Gallery poet's birthday: Philip Lamantia

Philip Lamantia in 1981
Recently, we have pointed out the birthday of two poets who read at the famous 1955 Six Gallery poetry event in San Francisco (Michael McClure and Philip Whalen, October 20). Today, we wish a happy birthday to another poet who read at that event, Philip Lamantia.

Lamantia was born this date -- October 23 -- in 1927, meaning he would be 92 were he still alive today. He appeared in Jack Kerouac's The Dharma Bums as Francis DaPavia and in Desolation Angels as David D'Angeli.

At the Six Gallery event, Lamantia read the poems of a friend, John Hoffman, who had recently died (allegedly from peyote, to which Lamantia introduced Kerouac), but Lamantia was an accomplished poet himself.

In 1957 letters to Allen Ginsberg and Philip Whalen, Kerouac spoke with respect of Lamantia's visions and how they helped show the "general religiousness of 'beat'" (Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters 1957-1969, Penguin, 1999, p. 67):
Our Second Relig., whatever it will be, will be rooted in Gothic--greatest example (I name no names) is that amazing Lamantia who was a cool hepcat and then the Angel knocked him off the chair . . . . (Ibid., 68)
That same year, in another letter to Ginsberg, Kerouac said:
Lamantia was here and had mad days with him walking 5 miles down Broadway yelling--about God and ecstasy, he rushed into confession and rushed out, he flew off to Frisco, back soon, he got in big publicity interviews with me and was full of sacred eloquence. (Ibid., 107)
 Jack mentions Lamantia more in subsequent letters, but I will leave you to search that out.

According to Gerald Nicosia (Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac, University of California Press, 1994):
For Lamantia, as for Kerouac, the "beat" attitude was the only means of spiritual survival after the atom-bomb apocalypse. (p. 366)
Suffice to say that Lamantia was an influential person in Kerouac's life.

In honor of his birthday, you can read more about Lamantia and some of his poems by clicking here.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Jack Kerouac: Safe in heaven dead and free of that slaving meat wheel

My first visit to Jack's grave (December 1995, I believe)

I've used that title before, but it's a good one and I am recycling it this year on the 50th(!) anniversary of Jack Kerouac's death. The line comes from the 211th Chorus of his seminal book of poetry, Mexico City Blues. Jack died this date -- October 21 -- in 1969 at age 47. He would be 97 had his predilection for drinking not robbed the world of his gifts at too early an age.

It strikes me -- perhaps for the first time but my memory is so sketchy of late that I never know -- that inner circle Kerouac fans (I mean the truly initiated, not those who've read On The Road once and think he wore a beret and played bongo drums) call him by his first name. I am not aware, although it may be the case, that this happens with other authors. Do Hemingway diehards speak of "Ernest"? King fans speak of "Stephen"? Plath devotees speak of "Sylvia"? Dickinson enthusiasts speak of "Emily"?

I think the familiarity evidenced by our calling him Jack stems from how well we have gotten to know him through his writing, which, of course, in the main was about his real life. He wrote about real characters and events, changing the names and places to avoid libel lawsuits. In literature, as we have said many times, this is called roman à clef. Jack wrote about such real people and places with brilliant honesty, and allowed us into his thoughts about them with the ultimate in transparency; thus, we can know Jack like few other authors.

On this sobering date, take a moment and read some Kerouac. Not On The Road, but something less pop culture, like The Subterraneans or Visions of Gerard or Dr. Sax. And do it aloud.

If you don't have any of those, click here for a convenient compilation of opening lines from a number of Jack's novels. Remember to read them aloud.

RIP, Jack. Thankfully, about you the old saw "Johnny we hardly knew ye" is not apropros.

Below are links to what I've said on or near this date in the past:



10/20/10 (not his death date but I posted an RIP anyway)



10/21/12 (a particularly good one, if I do say so myself)







Saturday, October 19, 2019

A Kerouac-related birthday: Michael McClure UPDATED and UPDATED

On this date -- October 20 -- poet Michael McClure was born in 1932. McClure, of course, was one of the poets who read at the famous Six Gallery reading in San Francisco in 1955. He appeared in several Jack Kerouac novels: Ike O'Shay in The Dharma Bums; McLear in Big Sur; and, Patrick McLear in Desolation Angels.

You can read more about McClure as well as some of his poetry by clicking here.

McClure is alive as of this posting and he is one of the few Kerouac compatriots I've had the privilege of seeing in person (details and pictures here).

Happy Birthday, Mr. McClure!

UPDATE #1: Today is also poet Arthur Rimbaud's birthday (1854). He was a big influence on Kerouac et al.

UPDATE #2: Jerry Cimino of the Beat Museum reminded me that October 20 is also poet Philip Whalen's birthday (1923). He likewise read at the Six Gallery event!

Friday, October 18, 2019

Remembering Lenore Kandel

On this date -- October 18 -- in 2009, poet Lenore Kandel died. She appeared in Jack Kerouac's Big Sur as Romana Swartz. Kandel was born in New York City but moved to San Francisco in 1960. There she fell in with Gary Snyder et al. and became Lew Welch's girlfriend for a time. She was portrayed in Big Sur the movie by Stana Katic of  the TV series, Castle.

One of Kandel's more famous books of poetry, The Love Book, was confiscated from stores, including City Lights, for obscenity. You can read about that and more by clicking here. You can read some of her poetry by clicking here.

An interview with Kandel appears in Jack's Book: An Oral Biography of Jack Kerouac by Barry Gifford and Lawrence Lee (curated here).

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Happy Birthday to Bea Franco (Kerouac's "Mexican girl" in On The Road)

Bea with son Alberto
Photo/Beatrice Kozera estate

On this date -- October 13 -- in 1920, Bea Franco was born. She was represented as Terry in Jack Kerouac's 1957 classic novel, On The Road. An excerpt about Terry, titled "The Mexican Girl," was published as a stand-alone short story in Paris Review in 1955; you can read it here. Bea also appeared in Book of Dreams as Bea.

Also of note, author Tim Z. Hernandez found Bea alive in 2010 after a multi-year search and as a result wrote the award-winning novel about her life, Mañana Means Heaven, which we reviewed here at The Daily Beat (click here). We also curated the book twice (click here and here), and featured a guest blog by the author (click here). You can read an interview with Tim here.

Happy Birthday in heaven, Bea.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

A Kerouac "two-fer" date

(L-R) Jack Kerouac, Caroline (Nin) Kerouac, Gabrielle Kerouac, Leo Kerouac, Bill Cannastra

Today's date in Kerouac history is a "two-fer." Jack's mom, Gabrielle (Mémère) died on this date -- October 12 -- in 1973, and early Beat scene member Bill Cannastra died on this date in 1950.

Mémère was an omnipresent and potent force in Jack's life. He lived with her off and on throughout his life, and thus she often was the anchor for his footloose wanderings. That is, he always had a home to which he could return. Jack made a deathbed promise to his father that he'd look after Mémère, and in his own way he did that right up until his death in 1969. She was a strong influence on his Catholicism. Gabrielle Kerouac appeared in a number of Kerouac's works: Angie in Vanity of Duluoz and Desolation Angels; Ma in Book of Dreams; Angy in Maggie Cassidy; Angy Duluoz in Doctor Sax; Ange Duluoz in Visions of Gerard; Marguerite Martin in The Town and the City; and Sal's aunt in On The Road.

Bill Cannastra died young and in a tragic manner, which you can read about here. More about Bill's life is accessible here. He appeared in Kerouac's works as follows: Finistra in Visions of Cody; Cannastra Finistra in Book of Dreams; and (probably) Charley Krasner in The Subterraneans.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Lowell Celebrates Kerouac 2019

The annual Lowell Celebrates Kerouac Festival kicked off last night in Jack's Massachusetts hometown. You can see the schedule for this year by clicking here.

I won't be attending. We have been on the road a lot this summer and fall in our new RV. We just got back from Acadia National Park and are heading out for Pennsylvania mid-week, so LCK just wasn't in the travel cards this year. There is only so much money and so much time.

In case you didn't already know about it, there is one Kerouac event that isn't on the schedule. It's hosted by Kerouac biographer Gerald Nicosia and takes place tomorrow. Below is a post from Gerry from the Kerouac Facebook group page with the details.
For all those who will be in Lowell later this week, I am putting on a legacy event for Kerouac, in honor of the 50th anniversary of his death, at Edson Hall of St. Anne's Church, 10 Kirk Street in downtown Lowell, Saturday October 12, 3:30-6PM. I will read from and discuss (briefly) my new book KEROUAC: THE LAST QUARTER CENTURY, and then I will present several people, mostly poets and artists, performing and speaking about Kerouac's importance in their life. Among the more notable who have already committed to speak, perform, and/or show their work, are poet Louise Landes Levi, musician Willie "Loco" Alexander, and painter Jonathan Collins.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Happy Birthday to Gore Vidal

Gore Vidal in 1983
Photo by Ulf Andersen

On this date -- October 3 -- in 1925, writer and bon vivant Gore Vidal was born. You can read a brief bio of Vidal at Friends of Kerouac.

Vidal appeared in Jack Kerouac's The Subterraneans as Arial Lavalina and in Old Angel Midnight as Gore Bedavalled.

When one thinks of Kerouac and Vidal, one cannot help but ruminate on their supposed one-night liaison in New York's Chelsea Hotel in the summer of 1953. According to Gerald Nicosia (Memory Babe, 1994),
In the San Remo one night Bill (William S. Burroughs, who had a crush on Vidal and once planned with Kerouac to lure him to Guatemala, p. 391) finally got his chance to meet Gore Vidal, but before he could get to first base, Jack  himself started flirting with Vidal. Despite Alene's pleas for Jack to come home with her, he sent her home alone, promising to follow in a couple of hours. After kissing Vidal's hand, and showering the most abject flattery on his writing, Jack talked him into going to bed. But at Vidal's room in the Chelsea Hotel, Jack proved impotent. (p. 444)
This conflicts with Vidal's own words about the event: "I fucked him" (Ellis Amburn, Subterranean Kerouac, 1998. p. 40). Amburn goes into detail about the tryst on pages 193-194. Amburn claims that Jack bragged about blowing Vidal, yet Kerouac called Vidal a "pretentious little fag" in a November 21, 1953 letter to editor Malcolm Cowley (Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters 1940-1956).

Kerouac often said one thing and did another where homosexuality was concerned, but there is little argument that something sexual happened between the two on that night in the Chelsea.

Regarding Vidal's writing, Jack was a critic. In a May 18, 1952 letter to Allen Ginsberg, Jack wrote:
. . . and trying to read Gore Vidal's "Judgment of Paris" which is so uglily transparent in its method, the protagonist-hero who is unqueer but all camp (with his bloody tattoo on a thigh) and craptalk, the only thing good, as Bill says, are the satirical queer scenes, especially Lord Ayres or whatever his name . . . and they expect us to be like Vidal, great God. (Regressing to sophomore imitations of Henry James.) (Ibid, p. 357)
I've never read any of Gore's novels, but doing so is on my list of things to do at some point. I'm not sure which one to try. Any suggestions?

Happy Birthday, Mr. Gore. I came to appreciate your intellect and wit from the 2015 documentary film, Best of Enemies (re: your debates with William F. Buckley, Jr. during the 1968 Presidential election). Recommended viewing, by the way.