Wednesday, April 21, 2021

On death

 

Screen grab from the Alan Watts lecture mentioned below

My partner Crystal's sister, Linda, died after a sudden illness on Monday night. I lost a good friend, Charlie, on March 13. I just learned about a high school classmate dying. Death is a constant companion these days. It comes with the territory of growing old. Death is on my mind, and I was thinking about Jack Kerouac's obsession with death and his statement in Visions of Cody, "I'm writing this book because we're all going to die (1993, Penguin Books, p. 368). Writing about death seems like the thing to do right now, so here goes.

My thoughts on death have changed over the past few years. It seems like I once dreaded it, and now it’s not that big of a deal. I see it as part of the way things are: we’re born, we live, we die. It’s the great equalizer. The rich die, the poor, the powerful. No one escapes it.

I do have some fear about the manner of my death. That is, I would prefer to avoid a painful death, and I would prefer to avoid a slow, agonizing one, especially if quality of life were poor. But that is about dying, not death itself. Finally, I would like death to come in due time, not prematurely. I don’t really know what I mean by prematurely. I’ve noticed that old age is always 15-20 years older than I currently am. Sixty-five used to seem old to me, but not any more.

On a practical note, it’s good to think about death from both a metaphysical (as we are doing here) and a practical perspective. That is, make your death easy on those left behind. Have your affairs in order and make sure those left behind have a clear idea of your wishes, where to find important information (bank account numbers, passwords, etc.). Having a legally executed will is very important. Now, back to the metaphysical.

Alan Watts poses the question: What would it be like to go to sleep and never wake up? If you ponder that deeply, it is a comforting question because we’re not afraid of sleep (well, most of us at least). He goes on to ask: What would it be like to wake up after never having gone to sleep? That is what happens when we are born. It’s another worthwhile question to frame our notions of death. Whatever we are – our essence – arises from emptiness and returns there. And it’s not a problem for us unless we make it one.

One thought about death that I want to convey is captured in the country song about living like you were dying. What would you do, how would you live if you knew you had one day left or one week or one month or one year? Using that as a guide, you are less likely to arrive at death’s door with a bunch of regrets. I’ve always said we regret more what we don’t do (missed opportunities) than what we do (behaviors we’re not proud of). The lesson here is to focus on living. Hunter S. Thompson is credited with saying:
Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!”
Finally, as Alan Watts points out in his lecture on music and life, the point is to experience life as a musical thing and remember to dance all along the way versus thinking of it as a race to some finish line in the future. There is no future. There is only now. Be present and make the best of each moment.

Let death take care of itself.

And rest in peace, Linda, Charlie, Greg, and too many others. Too. Many. Others.




Sunday, April 18, 2021

Happy Birthday to Beat poet, Bob Kaufman

                                     


Beat poet Bob Kaufman, was born on this date -- April 18 -- in 1925.  He appeared as Chuck Berman in Jack Kerouac's Desolation Angels.

We said the following about Kaufman when we remembered him back on January 12 and it's worth repeating:
You can read Kaufman's bio and some of his poetry by clicking here. Kaufman took a vow of silence the day President Kennedy was assassinated and didn't speak until the end of the Vietnam War. That's an impressive feat. 
Kaufman was part of the Beat poetry movement in San Francisco. He started the journal, Beatitude, with Allen Ginsberg and others. His most recent collection of poetry was published by City Lights in October 2019 (available here). 
Interestingly -- to me at least -- the couple of times that he is mentioned in Gerald Nicosia's Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac, Kaufman is partying with Jack at significant transition points: once right after Gary Snyder leaves for Japan, and once right after Jack leaves Ferlinghetti's cabin in Big Sur. 
I get the sense that Kaufman is generally underestimated as a poet -- you would do well to check out his work.

Happy Birthday in Beat heaven, Mr. Kaufman.



Wednesday, April 14, 2021

RIP, Helen Weaver

 


According to reports on-line, Helen Weaver, who we interviewed for The Daily Beat in November 2019 HERE, died yesterday, April 13. She appeared in two of Jack Kerouac's works: as Ruth Heaper in Desolation Angels and as Eileen Farrier in Book of Dreams (expanded edition).

Ruth was a prolific literary translator and we reviewed her excellent memoir about her time with Jack Kerouac (yes, they were paramours), The Awakener: A Memoir of Kerouac and the Fifties, HERE.

I always greatly appreciated that she granted me an interview for this blog (making her one of two people who knew Kerouac that I've interviewed, the other being Al Hinkle). I hope her soul is flying on the wings of angels as she enters the great unknown.

RIP, Ms. Weaver.


Friday, April 9, 2021

Happy Birthday to Al Hinkle

                                         


Al Hinkle was born on this date -- April 9 -- in 1926. He was represented in Jack Kerouac's works as follows: Big Ed Dunkel in On The Road; Slim Buckle in Desolation Angels and Visions of Cody; Ed Buckle in Book of Dreams; and, Al Buckle in Lonesome Traveler.

Regular readers need no introduction to Hinkle. We remembered him on December 26 -- click HERE.

Happy Birthday in Beat heaven, Mr. Hinkle.


Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Buddhism-inspired poetry - UPDATED 4-11-21

 


Jacob Rabinowitz, whose book -- Blame it on Blake: a memoir of dead languages, gender vagrancy, Burroughs, Ginsberg, Corso & Carr -- we reviewed HERE in May 2019, has had two poems published in BUDDHIST POETRY REVIEW (click HERE). Check them out.

The connection to Jack Kerouac? Jack studied and knew a lot about Buddhism, referencing it frequently in his works. Four of his books are specifically about or are heavily influenced by Buddhism: Some of the DharmaWake Up: A Life of the Buddha; The Scripture of the Golden Eternity; and, The Dharma Bums (my favorite Kerouac work).  And that's not counting Desolation Angels, which has lots of Buddhist themes. The only book he took with him for 2+ months on Desolation Peak was Dwight Goddard's A Buddhist Bible and Jack had a practice of re-reading sections of "The Diamond Sutra" daily. That's according to John Suiter in Poets on the Peaks, but Thomas Holloway pointed out in a comment that Jack references in Desolation Angels another book he had up there, The God That Failed (see comment below). So it may be that Jack had more than A Buddhist Bible at hand. Maybe A Buddhist Bible was the only book he took with him, but there were other books awaiting him that had been left there by previous occupants? What do you think?

UPDATE 4-11-21
I've learned since posting this (never too old to learn) that Jack had a number of books at his disposal on Desolation Peak. How they got there is a mystery to be solved. Below is a list of books he had up there:

1. A Buddhist Bible by Dwight Goddard (ed.)
2. A John Barrymore biography (Good Night, Sweet Prince)
3. Devils in Baggy Pants by Ross Carter
4. A Kathleen Norris novel (title?)
5. The God That Failed
6. A "cowboy book" (title?)
7. A medical book (title?)
8. A synopsis of Shakespeare's plays (Tales from Shakespeare ed. by Charles and Mary Lamb)


Monday, April 5, 2021

Remembering Alan Ginsberg

 

Alan Ginsberg (left) with Jack Kerouac

Poet and core Beat Generation member, Alan Ginsberg, died on this date -- April 5 -- in 1997. Ginsberg needs no introduction to understand the Kerouac connection. He appeared in too many Kerouac works, under aliases of course, to mention here, but you can determine what those were by visiting the excellent Character Key to Jack Kerouac's Duluoz Legend. I will point out that in the two Kerouac novels -- On The Road and The Dharma Bums -- that inspired my book, The Beat Handbook: 100 Days of Kerouactions, Ginsberg appeared as Carlo Marx and Alvah Goldbrook, respectively.

Allen would be honored if you read -- or listen to him read -- some of his poetry today. You can find it in several places on-line. Here are a couple of links to get you started:

Poetry Foundation

Ginsberg reading "Howl"

It is an instructive exercise to read along while listening to Ginsberg read "Howl."

Despite his living until 1997, when I was 41, I never saw Ginsberg in person. I came into the Kerouac fold late in life, around 2002, 5 years after Allen passed.

RIP, Mr. Ginsberg. I'm sorry I never got to meet you.


Thursday, April 1, 2021

It's my son's birthday!

 

Today is my son Jason's birthday! Yes, he was born on April Fool's Day. That's the handsome devil up there with his lovely wife, Adri.

What does this have to do with Jack Kerouac, you ask? Not a whole lot, but then this is my blog and I can post about whatever I like. Beside, anyone connected to me is connected to Kerouac by default. So there's that. And there's this --

In January 2013 we visited The Beat Museum in San Francisco and Jerry Cimino took this picture of us in the car used in the On The Road film.

Rick, Crystal, Adri, Jason (L-R)


Today I'm thinking about a special day 41 years ago and wishing my son a Happy Birthday, health and happiness, and a long life.

Love . . . . Dad