Saturday, February 27, 2021

Guest post by Robin Andrea: the 1982 Kerouac Conference in Boulder and more


Abbie Hoffman, Johanna Lawrenson, Gregory Corso and Timothy Leary (L-R) on the deck
of one of the little cabins Naropa had rented for the 1982 Kerouac Conference
(c) Gregory Mansur

I received the below e-mail (between the *******) from Robin Andrea and got her permission to publish it as a post here on The Daily Beat. She also sent me the above picture taken by her ex-husband, Gregory Mansur, at the famous 1982 Kerouac Conference at Naropa in Boulder, CO.

HERE is a link to Robin Andrea's blog -- check it out. Thanks for reaching out, Robin. Fascinating stuff! It's unexpected e-mails like this that make my blogging efforts worthwhile!


Hello Rick Dale,

I found your blog today while googling around for some information about Lawrence Ferlinghetti and CU Boulder. After reading the sad news about Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s death, I was trying to remember if I had taken my parents to see Ferlinghetti reading poetry there back in 1982. Turns out it wasn’t Ferlinghetti but Gary Snyder, who I had taken them to see. Snyder was supposed to be at the conference but couldn’t make it. Your blog showed up during my search, and the very first image I saw on it was the poster from the Kerouac Conference of 1982. I was the Volunteer Coordinator at that conference. I wrote this on my blog about it several years ago:

"The closest I ever got to Jack Kerouac in spirit was to place flowers on his grave in Lowell, Massachusetts. The closest I ever got to him in life was to be with his dearest friends at a gathering in his honor back in 1982, during the 25th anniversary celebration of the publication of On the Road. It was a week-long celebration at Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Naropa has a Writing and Poetics Department called the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics (begun by Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman in 1974), so a gathering of this sort was absolutely essential to the curriculum. I had just moved to Boulder and was looking to do something before I started classes at CU, so I volunteered to be the volunteer coordinator for this event. For months many of us joyously labored to gather all the old beat authors and bring them together to do readings, hold workshops, teach classes, and celebrate the life of Jack Kerouac. Quite a gathering it was-- Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Ken Kesey, Gregory Corso, Abbie Hoffman, Tim Leary, even the obscure characters from Kerouac's books like Herbert Huncke, Carl Solomon (to whom Ginsberg's Howl is dedicated) came. Jan Kerouac, Jack's daughter, was there, as well as Neal Cassady's widow, Carolyn. What an occasion. Kerouac was truly honored by those who knew and loved him. They read his words, they sang his praises, and we raised our glasses in his honor."

I have a copy of that Kerouac Conference poster as well signed by almost all of the attendees, even by some whose names are not on the list— like Jack Micheline and John Clellon Holmes. It’s been almost 40 years, and some of the signatures have faded with time.

As the volunteer coordinator I matched other volunteers with conference participants. Volunteers picked up people at the airport and took them to the places where they were staying during the conference. If I remember correctly we booked a place in a state park that had cabins. I chauffeured Abbie Hoffman and his partner Johanna Lawrenson. I have a photo of them with Tim Leary and Gregory Corso. If I remember correctly, one evening I drove William Burroughs back to where he was staying. On the way back, he said in the most gravelly cryptic voice, “Please stop at the store so I can get some strawberries.” The way he said strawberries has stayed with me all these years!

I was fortunate enough to do an apprenticeship with Allen Ginsberg that summer. He read my poetry ( I am embarrassed to admit! ) and I filed away some of his paper work at his home in Boulder. He had a filing cabinet with many folders labeled “Faded Yellow Newspaper Clippings.” 

It was a wonderful summer back then in 1982. I love remembering it even on a sad day as this. Here is a link to a blog post I did about running into Lawrence Ferlinghetti a couple of years ago. 

I’m also a little embarrassed that my husband and I chose to call our blog The New Dharma Bums back in 2004. We are both such fans of the beats, we couldn’t resist. 

I hope you don’t mind me sharing these stories with you. I’m hoping you enjoyed them.

A fellow Kerouac fan,


Remembering Beat poet Elise Cowen


Beat poet Elise Cowen died on this date -- February 27 -- in 1962. She appeared as Barbara Lipp in Jack Kerouac's Desolation Angels and was a close companion to Allen Ginsberg (indeed, it is reported that they were lovers for a brief time). The bulk of her work, tragically, was destroyed after her death by suicide, but some of it survives, including the two poems here (after the bio -- which starts with an enlightening quote from Gregory Corso about the lack of women representation in the Beat movement).

Here's an excerpt from Kerouac's Desolation Angels
We stayed together for an awful long time, too, years—Julien called her [Alyce] Ecstasy Pie—Her best friend, the dark haired Barbara Lipp, happened by circumstance to be in love with Irwin Garden— Irwin had steered me to a haven. In this haven I slept with her for lovemaking purposes but after we were done I’d go to the outer bedroom, where I kept the winter window constantly open and the radiator shut off, and slept there in my sleepingbag. Eventually that way I finally got rid of that tubercular Mexican cough—I’m not so dumb (as Ma always said). (1995, Riverhead Books, pp. 329-330
Click here to read an interesting article about Cowen and her connection to poetry giant Emily Dickinson.

RIP, Ms. Cowen.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Sunday 2-28-21 online event to remember Lawrence Ferlinghetti


Click HERE for info on an online event to remember Lawrence Ferlinghetti happening Sunday 2-28-21 from 11 AM - 2 PM EST. It's being held by London's Bookmarks, The Socialist Bookshop.

Remembering Carl Solomon


Carl Solomon died on this date -- February 26 -- in 1993. He appeared in two of Jack Kerouac's works: as Carl Rappaport in Visions of Cody and as Carl Solobone in Book of Sketches.

Allen Ginsberg met Solomon in a psychiatric hospital and subsequently dedicated his famous poem, "Howl," to Solomon. Solomon worked as an editor for Ace Books, owned by his uncle A. A. Wyn. There are several published letters from Jack Kerouac to Solomon discussing Ace possibly publishing On The Road. The latter never happened, but Ace did publish William S. Burroughs' Junkie; Solomon wrote the Publisher's Note in one version and the Introduction in another. Here's an excerpt from an April 7, 1952 letter from Kerouac to Solomon:
But here's my main idea in this note (and apart from fact that I feel you're okay and wish you'd like me more), I have an idea we could publish ON THE ROAD regular hardcover and papercover, extracting 160-page stretch for 25c edition (the sexy narrative stretch, I'll designate it when I mail in full manuscript some time soon). (Jack Kerouac Selected Letters 1940-1956, 1995, Penguin Books, p. 342.
Click here to read a 1973 interview with Solomon by John Tytell titled, "Carl Solomon On Not Publishing Jack Kerouac." Oops.

RIP, Mr. Solomon.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

RIP, Roger Brunelle

Roger Brunelle

I learned last night that our friend, Roger Brunelle, died on February 10 at age 86. The last time I saw Roger was in October 2016 at the annual Lowell Celebrates Kerouac event in Lowell, MA.

Roger explicating about the Lonesome Traveler quote at the Kerouac Commemorative during
Lowell Celebrates Kerouac, October 2016

Roger was a longtime Lowellian and founding member of Lowell Celebrates Kerouac. He gave Kerouac tours of the city for 35 years. I often referred to him in blog posts as a Kerouac docent.

Roger loved Jack and he loved Lowell. He was of French-Canadian heritage and spoke and taught French, which connected him to Jack in an intimate way. A fond memory of Roger is from March 2016 during the annual celebration of Jack's birthday in Lowell. My great friend, Richard Marsh, and I had lunch at the Worthen and Roger had a beer while we ate. When Roger said he was going up to pay for his beer he surprised us and paid for our lunches, too.

Roger had a quick wit and I always got the impression that he did not suffer fools gladly. I used to love going on his Lowell tours -- he had deep Kerouac and Lowell knowledge -- and listening to him read sections from Jack's books that were relevant to where we were, using his 3x5 notecards that he lovingly prepared in advance.

I'm very sad to learn of Roger's death -- sad for myself and for his loved ones and friends, sad for Lowellians, and sad for future generations of Kerouac fans who will never benefit from Roger's  Lowell-Kerouac knowledge.

HERE is a link to Roger's obituary in the Lowell Sun.

Say hi to Jack for us, Roger, and rest in peace.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

RIP, Lawrence Ferlinghetti


I just learned from my great friend Richard Marsh that poet and book publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti died Monday morning, February 22, at the age of 101 at his Bay Area home. We had wished him a happy 101st on March 24 last year (click HERE). Ferlinghetti appeared as Lorenzo Monsanto in Jack Kerouac's Big Sur, the devastatingly honest account of Jack's mental health decline at the hands of alcohol and his futile effort to forestall the same at Ferlinghetti's Big Sur cabin near the Bixby Canyon Bridge.

I've never see Ferlinghetti in person, although I've been to his bookstore, City Lights, in San Francisco. You can read about his life in this L.A. Times obit (click HERE).

It would do him a great honor if you read some of his poetry today, or something he published at great personal and professional risk, like Allen Ginsberg's "Howl."

You lived a long, fascinating, and accomplished life, Mr. Ferlinghetti. Well-played, sir. Rest in peace.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Richard Brautigan and Jack Kerouac (UPDATED 2-26-21)


I just finished the final book in this 3-parter by Richard Brautigan (1935-1984). It was published in 1989 and includes his famous Trout Fishing in America (1967), a poetry collection The Pill versus the Springhill Mine Disaster (1968), and the prose piece In Watermelon Sugar (1968). I read them in that order and wanted to say something about all three and about Brautigan in general.

Of course, we have to dispense with the question, "What does this have to do with Jack Kerouac?" I don't know if Brautigan was a Beat author. Some say yes, some say no, some say he was a later-Beat. Indeed, he didn't make his way to San Francisco until 1956, which of course post-dates the Beat-rich 40s and early 50s but pre-dates the publication of On The Road. Brautigan certainly hung with the Beat crowd in Frisco (Allen Ginsberg, e,g.), although I can't confirm he met Kerouac from any of the biographies whose index I thumbed through or based on my Internet searching. The general sense in the Jack Kerouac Facebook group is that Brautigan and Kerouac never met face-to-face, although Kerouac scholar Dave Moore, the group's administrator, posted that Brautigan said, "I was a little disappointed over a critical reaction that tended to associate 'Confederate General' with the work of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, etc. I did not write my novel in an effort to imitate those writers." He is referring to hsis first published novel (1965), A Confederate General from Big Sur.

Brautigan and Kerouac have similarities. They both died in their 40s, Brautigan of a self-inflicted gunshot and Kerouac of self-inflicted alcoholism (Brautigan was an alcoholic, too). Their prose is poetic and quasi-autobiographical. They both spent time in the hospital with mental health diagnoses. Brautigan married twice and Kerouac married thrice.

Moving on. I liked Trout Fishing in America. It is hard to describe. It's a series of titled anecdotes that revolve around places in America and the people who inhabit them. There are some recurring themes and characters but no real plot as you would expect in a "novel." "Trout Fishing in America" is a phrase that's used in various unusual ways: person, place, and thing. Wikipedia has a pretty good overview of the book. It's definitely poetic prose, and satirical, comical, and worth checking out.

The Pill versus the Springhill Mine Disaster (1968)is a collection of 98 poems. The title poem is below:
The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster

When you take your pill
it's like a mine disaster.
I think of all the people
    lost inside of you.
The poems are mostly short and cover a variety of topics. Based on this collection, I can't say Brautigan is one of my favorite poets but he is certainly competent and worth reading.

In Watermelon Sugar was my favorite of the three works. It's similar in its experimental style to Trout Fishing in America, but has more of a plot and is even more fantasy-laced. It's about a group of people who live in a place called iDEATH and who make everything out of watermelon sugar, from clothing to building materials. I've heard its style referred to as magical realism. Once again, Wikipedia has a useful entry on the book. I note that the chapter titled "My Name" blew my mind -- I'm not sure why. Click HERE for an excerpt (about half the chapter). I was enthralled with the whole story, and I hope you will consider reading it if you haven't done so already.

Will I read more Brautigan? Yes. Do you have any suggestions based on what I've said above about what to read next? Maybe A Confederate General from Big Sur?

UPDATE (2-23-21): The following was posted in the Jack Kerouac Facebook group (which you definitely want join if you haven't already done so):

Back in 1991 when I was cataloguing books by other authors found in Sampas home on 2 Stevens St, Lowell, that belonged to Jack - I found a copy of Brautigan's "All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace." The book was not signed or inscribed by Brautigan but Jack had the book on his shelf.

UPDATE #2 (2-26-21): The following was posted in the Jack Kerouac Facebook group:

Maybe this helps, Rick--this is from William Hjortsberg's Brautigan biography, 'The Jubilee Hitchhiker':
"Jack Kerouac’s thirty-one-year-old daughter, Jan, sat in the hotel’s breakfast room with her companion, Milo, when Brautigan came lurching in, wearing jeans and a red T-shirt emblazoned with a Montana logo. Suffering from jet lag, Richard slumped at a nearby table, burying his head in his hands, “muttering something about a bottle of whiskey.” Jan and Milo started a conversation with the disheveled stranger. Brautigan told them about his close encounter in Harlem. When finished, he pulled his funny hat from his back pocket. “So, you see,” Richard said, “this hat saved my life.”
Kerouac left Milo alone with their new friend. Brautigan wasted no time before buying a bottle of whiskey and getting Milo “thoroughly plastered.” When Jan returned early in the afternoon, she found them both unconscious on her hotel room floor. Richard, Milo, and Jan started hanging out together. She made no mention in her memoir, Trainsong, of the time Brautigan encountered her father passed out under a urinal in a Big Sur bar. Perhaps he never told Jan that story. When Richard related the episode to Greg Keeler, “he seemed to light up—as if passing out under a urinal was . . . one of the top things a guy could do.” Jan Kerouac estimated that Brautigan consumed at least six quarts of whiskey over the next three days before his scheduled poetry reading. In the end, she thought Richard had drunk himself sober."

Remembering Kerouac friend, artist Robert LaVigne


On this date -- February 20 -- in 2014, artist and Kerouac friend Robert LaVigne died. LaVigne (I've seen it with the V capitalized and not capitalized) was Guy Levesque in Jack Kerouac's Desolation Angels. That is it according to the Character Key to Kerouac's Duluoz Legend, yet Allen Ginsberg himself identifies LaVigne as Robert Browning in Big Sur (see Ginsberg link below). The Duluoz Key says Browning was William Morris. I asked Key curator Dave Moore about this discrepancy.

Dave Moore sent me the below scan from one of Kerouac's notebooks (titled "Duluoz Legend Personae Names"), where we can see in Jack's own handwriting that Robert Browning in Big Sur was William Morris, a painter friend of Philip Whalen. And so, we will defer to Jack and assume that Alan was wrong.

In a 1955 letter to Allen Ginsberg, Kerouac refers to Lavigne as a "canuck painter." There are no letters to or from LaVigne included in either of Ann Charters' compilations. Ginsberg referred to LaVigne as a "Painter friend of Poets." Natalie Jackson, who we remembered here, was a model of LaVigne's. A well-known story about LaVigne is that it was his portrait of Peter Orlovsky -- his model and lover -- that caused Allen Ginsberg to request an introduction to Orlovsky, beginning a life-long relationship between the two.

LaVigne has papers archived at Columbia University. See (this resource includes a concise biographical sketch).

LaVigne's drawing of Jack adorns the cover of one version of The Scripture of the Golden Eternity (see below).

RIP, Mr. LaVigne.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Happy Birthday to Jan Kerouac


Jan Kerouac

Had Jack Kerouac's daughter, Jan, not died at a young age, she would have turned 69 today. Unlike the rest of his family and many of his friends, she never appeared in any of Kerouac's books. Her mother was Joan Haverty, Jack's second wife.

An accomplished author in her own right, Jan published Baby Driver and Trainsong during her lifetime and left behind the as-yet-unpublished novel, Parrot Fever (an extract of the latter in chapbook format is available from Gerry Nicosia by clicking here).

Jan is worth getting to know through her novels, but you can also read about her in Nicosia's Jan Kerouac: A Life in Memory, available here and at the above link.

I didn't start out to write a commercial here, so I'll finish with some of Jan's own words to inspire you to read some of her writing. This is about one of the two times in total she ever saw her father in person (and they talked on the phone once).

Jack's reaction to me was shrugs and uncertain smiles. He said "Hi" but didn't make much of a fuss. When the doorway back-slapping and bantering was done with, he went back to rocking again, calling to his brethren across the room, "Hey, why doesn't somebody turn this thing down, I can't hear myself think!" This seemed odd, for he was closer to the TV than anyone else in the room. But someone did turn it down for him, and he continued to guzzle his giant baby bottle [a fifth of whiskey], rocking himself as if in a cradle. 
The relatives all left, and Jack nodded a casual so-long to them over his shoulder. I watched him curiously, once again with the feeling that I had to be careful of what I said, like I'd felt the first time I met him on Avenue B when I was nine. He was desperately trying to keep his shield in place, at a loss for what to say. (Baby Driver, 1981, St. Martin's Press, p. 184)

You'll learn where this took place and what Jack was wearing when you read Baby Driver.

I'll conclude by saying that Jan was surprisingly forgiving of her father, understanding that he "belonged to the world." 

Happy Birthday, Jan.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Remembering Stella Sampas, Jack Kerouac's third wife


Jack Kerouac and Stella Sampas Kerouac

Today -- February 10 -- we remember Stellas Sampas, who died on this date in 1990. Jack's third wife (married 11-18-66), she appeared in one Kerouac work, Vanity of Duluoz, as Stavroula Savakis. They knew each other from childhood on and he wished her a Happy Valentine in a February 13, 1959 letter:
Happy Valentine and good luck to all the family.
I hope you understand why I dont write, or visit. My mother is moving back to a small house in Florida now, with me, because it is too expensive in New York. I dont have as much money as people think. I didnt even sell On the Road to the movies yet but the movies are coming out soon with big pictures using the same theme. So I lost out and wont be rich at all. It's a shame but it always works that way. I dont need much money for myself, in any case. The awful abuse that I have been getting from critics resulted in the complete neglect of Dharma Bums. For some reason my name has become associated with bearded beatniks with whom I never had anything to do at all. I'm angry now, for sure, I'm going to Paris this spring and forget it all, and write something beautiful about Paris. When I'm an old man I'll at least have my jug of wine and a loaf of bread too. (Jack Kerouac Selected Letters 1957-1968, Ann Charters (ed.), Penguin Books, 1999, p. 210)

Stella inherited Jack's estate when Jack's mom, Gabrielle, died in 1973, triggering the well-known Kerouac estate controversy over the forged will (so said a judge) and endless vitriole on-line about the whole matter. The Sampas family controls the estate to this day. For an insider's look at estate details, grab a copy of Kerouac: The Last Quarter Century by Gerald Nicosia (reviewed here).

Stella was the sister of  his closest childhood friend, Sebastian Sampas. Most would agree that theirs was mainly a marriage of convenience (she looked after Jack's invalid mother). Nevertheless, she played a major role in the Kerouac saga.

RIP, Mrs. Kerouac.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Happy Birthday to Neal Cassady


On this date -- February 8 --  Neal Cassady was born (in 1926). Cassady served as a significant muse for Jack Kerouac and appeared as Dean Moriarty in On The Road*; Cody Pomeray in Visions of CodyBook of DreamsBig SurDesolation Angels, and Book of Sketches; Leroy in The Subterraneans; and Neal Cassady in Lonesome TravelerDesolation Angels, and Satori in Paris.

So much has already been said about Cassady that is strains my brain to think of anything original to say. Thus, we'll let Kerouac's description of Dean's parking attendant prowess from On The Road suffice:
The most fantastic parking-lot attendant in the world, he can back a car forty miles an hour into a tight squeeze and stop at the wall, jump out, race among fenders, leap into another car, circle it fifty miles an hour in a narrow space, back swiftly into tight spot, hump, snap the car with the emergency so that you see it bounce as he flies out; then clear to the ticket shack, sprinting like a track star, hand a ticket, leap into a newly arrived car before the owner's half out, leap literally under him as he steps out, start the car with the door flapping, and roar off to the next available spot, arc, pop in, brake, out, run; working like that without pause eight hours a night, evening rush hours and after-theater rush hours, in greasy wino pants with a frayed fur-lined jacket and beat shoes that flap. (Penguin Books, 1976, p. 9)

To the ever-kinetic Neal Cassady -- Happy Birthday in Beat heaven.

P.S. Happy Birthday, also, to my friend Keith Fisher, who turned me on to Kerouac in the first place and served as my Dean Moriarty on quite a number of adventures in life.

*According to the Find feature on my electronic version of On The Road, "Dean" appears 825 times.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Book review: Following Richard Brautigan by Corey Mesler


In my Kerouacian journey, I have occasionally happened upon the name, Richard Brautigan, but I must confess I have never read any of his work. That is ending today as I just received his Trout Fishing in America in the mail. Why? Because of the mysteries that unfold if you say yes.

I said yes to an author, Ken Janjigian, who asked me to review his book, A Cerebral Offer, and that manifested this past week HERE. What I neglected to mention in that review was that the publisher, for some reason I can only guess at, included with my review copy of Janjigian's book a copy of Following Richard Brautigan (FRB) by Corey Mesler (Livingston Press, 2010). This was my inspiration to order Brautigan's book (which also includes The Pill versus the Springhill Mine Disaster and In Watermelon Sugar).

I started reading FRB yesterday and finished it today (202 pages). It's a delightful read, zany yet articulate, recounting the youthful adventures of the narrator (yes, it's yet another first-person novel), Jack, as he travels to San Francisco in search of Brautigan, fails but falls in love with the mesmerizing and sexy Sharilyn, returns home to Oklahoma City where he subsequently is haunted by Brautigan's ghost and follows him back to San Francisco (and Sharilyn, too) in a buddy road saga that ranks right up there with the best of them. 

Grab a dictionary or keep Google handy while reading this engaging story. These are just a few of the words I was unsure of along the way: ensorcelled, decuman, halidom, euchologion, propylaeum, ostiary, agley, velleities, prothalamion, escritoire, pizzle, fuliginous, pellucid, sortilege, theurgy, benison, colubrine, adjuvant, suppurated, campestral, gunsel, thaumaturgy, ecdysiast (who knew there was a fancy name for stripper?), cozenage, ridotto, and tumulus. It's okay to say you are unsure of a word, especially if you look it up and learn it.

But don't let that dissuade you from getting a copy -- it's very readable despite the high-level vocabulary. There are plenty of literary references, too, and remember that Google is your friend in this regard.

Along the way are plenty of heartbreaks and laughs. Check out the reviews on Amazon to get a good sense of what Mesler has created here. Like Jack Kerouac, he writes prose like a poet. His writing is Brautigan-esque according to some reviewers, but I cannot (yet) attest to that similarity. I hope to find out for myself once I dig into my Brautigan book.

I highly recommend Following Richard Brautigan. I'm pretty sure that if you dig Kerouac, you'll dig this book.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Happy Birthday to William S. Burroughs


Core Beat Generation member, writer, and cultural icon William S. Burroughs was born this date -- February 5 -- in 1914. He appeared in several of Jack Kerouac's works: as Old Bull Lee in On The Road; Frank Carmody in The Subterraneans; Bull Hubbard in Book of DreamsDesolation AngelsDoctor Sax, and Visions of Cody; Bull in Tristessa; Bill/William Seward Burroughs in Lonesome Traveler; Wilson Holmes Hubbard in Vanity of Duluoz; Bill Dennison in The Haunted Life and Other Writings; and, Will Dennison in The Town and the City and And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks.

Here is some of what Kerouac said about Burroughs in On The Road:
It would take all night to tell about Old Bull Lee; let's just say now, he was a teacher, and it may be said that he had every right to teach because he spent all his time learning; and the things he learned were what he considered to be and called "the facts of life," which he learned not only out of necessity but because he wanted to. He dragged his long, thin body around the entire United States and most of Europe and North Africa in his time, only to see what was going on; he married a White Russian countess in Yugoslavia to get her away from the Nazis in the thirties; there are pictures of him with the international cocaine set of the thirties--gangs with wild hair, leaning on one another; there are other pictures of him in a Panama hat, surveying the streets of Algiers; he never saw the White Russian countess again. He was an exterminator in Chicago, a bartender in New York, a summons-server in Newark. In Paris he sat at cafe tables, watching the sullen French faces go by. In Athens he looked up from his ouzo at what he called the ugliest people in the world. In Istanbul he threaded his way through crowds of opium addicts and rug-sellers, looking for the facts. In English hotels he read Spengler and the Marquis de Sade. In Chicago he planned to hold up a Turkish bath, hesitated just for two minutes too long for a drink, and wound up with two dollars and had to make a run for it. He did all these things merely for the experience. Now the final study was the drug habit. He was now in New Orleans, slipping along the streets with shady characters and haunting connection bars. (Penguin Books, 1976, pp. 143-144)

Regular readers of The Daily Beat need no biographical details on Burroughs, and others can simply Google his name to reveal a trove of information on this seminal Beat figure, author of classics such as Naked Lunch and Junky.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Burroughs.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Book Review: A Cerebral Offer by Ken Janjigian


This is the second novel of its genre I've received for review in the last 3 months (see Circus of the Sun). I say "genre" for lack of a better categorization; suffice to say they're both novels written memoir-style (in first person), contain many Beat Generation references/themes, are set in San Francisco, revolve around a burning hot love affair, and include a lot of pop culture references (in Circus of the Sun, music, in A Cerebral Offer, movies).

A Cerebral Offer (Livingston Press, 2020) is a 334-page novel written by Ken Janjigian, who is an assistant dean at American University. He lived in San Francisco for several years in the 90s. While both novels describe actual San Francisco places in depth, this one is based in modern times (with references to Trump and Biden along the way). It's the story of a man, Harry Gnostopolos, who makes a bio film about Kerouac (aptly titled Kerouac) and comes into enough money from it to purchase an old-time movie theater in San Francisco's Richmond District (on Cabrillo street and, appropriately, named the Cabrillo. His girlfriend through all of the trials of making a go of an art-house indie movie theater in a less-than-thriving section of San Francisco is Dana, a graphic designer who lives with Harry in an apartment above the theater.

The novel starts with an uplifting quote from On The Road when Kerouac first sees "the fabulous white city of San Francisco on her eleven mystic hills." But all is not well for the Cabrillo despite having added a small bar and making other modifications, and the financial stress is deepening a rift between Harry and Dana, who thinks Harry is obsessed with Kerouac and the Beats, "just a bunch of juvenile misogynists who never grew up" (p. 72). Along the way, a Neal Cassady-type character named Jackson Halifax re-enters Harry's life (they had been part of a counterculture group dubbed The Sunsetters in San Francisco's bohemian heyday) and disrupts things in a couple of ways. First, he is instrumental in connecting Harry with Nadine, beginning a torrid but inconsistent love affair. And second, he talks Harry into a two-part money-making crime caper that ultimately involves a well-known conspiracy theory about John F. Kennedy. 

Janjigian's descriptive prose is evocative, beginning with the opening paragraph about the fog rolling in from the bay across the Richmond District. 
Richmond's most frequent visitor was actually the fog. It rolled in early and daily all white and pristine over the Marin County hills from the north, majestically crossing the bay as if it were on a mission before it grayed and slowed to a shrouded pause right about the Cabrillo." (p. 7)
His characters are sharply defined and believable. Nadine is everything Dana is not, including her completing her MA thesis on the influence of Beat women on feminist 60s literature. Jackson is a wildman -- successful writer, boxer, unsuccessful vintner, and supreme disturbance in Harry's life. The relationship between Harry and Nadine is well-crafted and nicely captures that heady feeling you get when you start a star-crossed romance.

Harry loves Woody Allen movies, something he acknowledges requires "separating the art from the artist" (p. 144). I note that this is necessary with the male Beat writers as well, something Nadine is able to do. She even goes so far as to say that the Beat writers "are really less sexist than they appear once you dig deeper" (p. 119).

I'll stop there with storylines. Another reviewer aptly called A Cerebral Offer a Beat thriller, and I don't want to spoil the thrills.

One doesn't need to be a Beat aficionado to understand and enjoy A Cerebral Offer, but it helps with certain references like mentioning the On The Road moment when Dean abandons Sal in Mexico (pp. 314-315) or dropping the following parenthetical sans explanation: "I did not subscribe to first thought, best thought" (p. 323). If anything, the novel provides enough pointers that any Beat neophyte interested will have enough information to go exploring successfully on their own. Burroughs, Corso, Ginsberg's "Howl," di Prima, Johnson, Waldman, and Hettie Jones all get mentioned.

If my speed in reading a novel is any indication of my engagement -- and I think it is -- then this is one engaging read because I read it over the course of two days. It is coherently written, bittersweet at times, insightful, funny, and of course, you had me at Kerouac (catch the movie reference there?).

I recommend A Cerebral Offer highly. It's available on Amazon, Bookshop, and other booksellers.


A significant date in Kerouac history (6-for-1)


L-to-R top row: Neal Cassady, Albert Saijo, Joan Vollmer Adams; L-to-R bottom row: Gabrielle Kerouac, Mary Frank, Allen Temko

February 4 is a date on which no less than 6 people that Jack Kerouac immortalized in his works were born or died. I am not aware of another similarly synchronous and significant date (purposeful alliteration there).

I won't rank these in any particular order of importance, and I'm not going into much detail about any of them for sake of time. When relevant, I included links to other posts I've written about the person or to biographical information of some sort.

Today is the date in 1968 that Kerouac muse and friend Neal Cassady died. Kerouac immortalized Cassady in On The Road as the central character, Dean Moriarty, but also dedicated an entire book to the Holy Goof, Visions of Cody, in which he appeared as Cody Pomeray. Cassady also appeared as: Cody Pomeray in Book of DreamsBig SurDesolation Angels, and Book of Sketches; Leroy in The Subterraneans; and Neal Cassady in Lonesome TravelerDesolation Angels, and Satori in Paris.

Kerouac friend and writer Albert Saijo was born this date in 1926. Albert appeared as George Baso in Big Sur and co-authored Trip Trap: Haiku on the Road with Kerouac and Lew Welch based on a road trip across America in Welch's jeep.

Core early Beat Generation figure, Joan Vollmer Adams, was born this date in 1923. She appeared as Jane Lee in On The Road; Jane in The Subterraneans; June Evans in Book of DreamsDesolation Angels, and Vanity of Duluoz; June Hubbard in Visions of Cody; Joan in The Haunted Life and Other Writings; Mary Dennison in The Town and the City; and "my old lady" in And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks.

Jack Kerouac's mother, Gabrielle, was born this date in 1895. She appeared as 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.

Visual artist and wife of photographer Robert Frank, Mary, was born this date in 1933. She appeared as Mary Frank in Lonesome Traveler. She is the only one of the six characters featured today who is still alive as of this posting. Her picture above was grabbed from this clip of Kerouac et al. in NYC in 1959 (see her talking to Jack around the 2:10 mark).

Architectural critic, writer, Pulitzer Prize winner, and Kerouac friend Allen Temko was born this date in 1924.  He appeared as: Roland Major in On The Road; Irving Minko in Book of Dreams; Irwin Minko in Desolation Angels; Allen Minko in Visions of Cody; and, Alan Minko in Book of Dreams (expanded edition).

RIP, Mr. Cassady and Happy Birthday to Mr. Saijo, Ms. Adams, Ms. Kerouac, Ms. Frank, and Mr. Temko.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Happy Birthday to Ed White, Kerouac friend

Ed White, close friend of Jack Kerouac, was born this date -- February 2 -- in 1925. He appeared in several Kerouac works: as Tim Gray in On The Road; Ed Gray in Visions of Cody; Guy Green in Book of Dreams; and, Al Green in Book of Dreams (expanded edition). Here's an excerpt about Hal (as Tim Gray) from On The Road (setting: Denver):

The Rawlinses lived a few blocks away. This was a delightful family--a youngish mother, part owner of a decrepit, ghost-town hotel, with five sons and two daughters. The wild son was Ray Rawlins, Tim Gray's boyhood buddy. Ray came roaring in to get me and we took to each other right away. We went off and drank in the Colfax bars. One of Ray's sisters was a beautiful blonde called Babe--a tennis-playing, surf-riding doll of the West. She was Tim Gray's girl. And Major, who was only passing through Denver and doing so in real style in the apartment, was going out with Tim Gray's sister Betty. I was the only guy without a girl. I asked everybody, "Where's Dean?" They made smiling negative answers. (Penguin Books, 1976, p. 41)

Notably, White is credited with suggesting the practice of sketching with words to Kerouac, a practice Kerouac implemented in the notebooks he always carried with him. Kerouac defined it in a 1955 letter to Neal Cassady as "writing fast without thought of words" (Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters 1940-1956, Penguin Books, 1995, p. 473).

In a May 18, 1952 letter to Allen Ginsberg, Jack said:

Sketching came to me in full force on October 25th, the day of the evening Dusty and I went to Poughkeepsie with Fitzgerald--so strongly it didn't matter about Carl's offer and I began sketching everything in sight, so that On The Road took its turn from conventional narrative survey of road trips etc. into a big multi-dimensional conscious and subconscious character invocation of Neal in his whirlwinds. Sketching (Ed White casually mentioned it in 124th Chinese restaurant near Columbia, "Why don't you just sketch in the streets like a painter but with words") which I did . . . . (Ibid, p. 356)

To which I say, one never knows when a passing comment will have significant influence on another person.

Happy Birthday in heaven, Mr. White.