Monday, May 23, 2022

Two friends of Kerouac died on today's date


Alan Harrington (left) and Lew Welch

Despite our continued experiences with COVID-19 deaths, we should not become inured to the tragedy and significance of the date when someone takes the "night train to the big adios" (movie reference there -- for those who'd like to guess the film, please comment with your answer). To wit, today's date brings us to remember novelist Alan Harrington and poet Lew Welch, two friends of Jack Kerouac who shuffled off this mortal coil (or in Welch's case, disappeared) on this date, May 23 (Harrington in 1997, Welch in 1971).

We opined about this important Kerouac date previously and in that post we identify who Harrington and Welch appeared as in five of Kerouac's works, as well as provide some background on each. You can read that post by clicking HERE. That saves me repeating myself and unnecessarily using up bandwidth.

RIP, Mr. Harrington and Mr. Welch.

Happy Belated Heavenly Birthday to Sebastian "Sammy" Sampas


On yesterday's date -- May 22 -- in 1922, Sebastian "Sammy" Sampas was born. Sampas was one of Jack Kerouac's closest and dearest friends, and it would be hard to overstate the significant influence one had on the other (especially in ways literary and intellectual). Jack's third wife, Stella, was Sebastian's sister. Sampas appeared in the following Kerouac works (Source: Character Key to Kerouac's Duluoz Legend):

Kerouac Work                                               Character Name

Doctor Sax                                                    Sebastian
Visions of Cody                                             Sebastian
Book of Dreams                                            Silvanus Santos
Vanity of Duluoz                                            Sabbas (Sabby) Savakis
Visions of Gerard                                          Savas Savakis
Atop an Underwood                                      Sam
The Town and the City                                  Alexander Panos
The Haunted Life and Other Writings           Garabed Tourian

There are some wonderful letters back and forth between Sebastian and Jack in Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters 1940-1956 (1995, Penguin). Here is how one from March 1943 starts (p. 43):
You magnificent bastard! I was just thinking about you, and all of a sudden, I feel
very Sebastianish,
very Bohemian!
very Baroque!
very GAY!                                                                                                         (TURN!)
I was thinking, in a flash of glory, about all the things we've done!!!--and all the others we're going to do!
For  1. Vodka
        2. Love
        3. Glory. 

It would take an entire book to describe adequately the deep and loving friendship Sampas and Kerouac shared, so I won't attempt it here. Suffice to say that you can get a good sense of it from Kerouac biographies, letters between the two, and, of course, Jack's own words about Sampas in the above listed works.

Happy Belated Heavenly Birthday, Sammy!

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Happy heavenly birthday to poet Robert Creeley


Robert Creeley

On this date -- May 21 -- in 1926, the late poet Robert Creeley was born in Arlington, Massachusetts. Here's a link to a bio that contains a link to some of his poems: I particularly love Creeley's poetry, but that is not why we are honoring him on his birthday on The Daily Beat. It is because -- of course -- there is a Kerouac connection.

Creeley appeared as "Rainey" in two Kerouac books, Desolation Angels and Book of Dreams (expanded edition) (see Character Key to Jack Kerouac's Duluoz Legend). The two first met at Creeley's request of Allen Ginsberg to arrange a meeting. That meeting took place in 1956 at The Place, a North Beach bar in San Francisco frequented by the Beats. Creeley and Kerouac had a lot in common other than poetry, including drinking and jazz but also having grown up not far from each other in Massachusetts (from Gerald Nicosia's Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac, 1994, University of California Press).

In his published letters, Jack mentions Creeley a number of times. Here is his first mention (from a letter to John Clellon Holmes on May 27, 1956):
There's a new writer called Robert Creeley who went to Harvard and knew Roger Lyndon but doesnt [sic] remember Harrington, out here, lonely, sad, restless, one eye, tragic Spanish dark, just spent 4 years in Mallorca Spain printing his Black Mountain Review, is reading his poems tonight nervously before a disapproving audience of women because Kenneth Rexroth's wife is going to run away with him somewhere. I am Creeley's friend and Rexroth has conceived a great hatred for me and thrown in poor Neal too who hasn't even done anything. (Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters 1940-1956, 1995, Penguin Books, p. 579)
Creeley talked about Kerouac as part of a panel at the 1982 (the referenced page says 1981 but I think that is incorrect) Kerouac Conference at Naropa -- you can read the transcript here.

So happy heavenly birthday to Robert Creeley, not considered a Beat Generation writer but certainly an accomplished and celebrated poet who hung out with the Beats and was a friend of Jack's.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Remembering Leo Kerouac, Jack's father


Joseph Alcide Léon Kirouack, known as Leo, died on this date -- May 17 -- in 1946 at the age of 56 in Ozone Park, Queens, New York. Leo appeared in several of his son Jack's books: Emil Alcide Duluoz in Visions of Gerard, Emil (Pop) Duluoz in Doctor Sax/Visions of Cody/Vanity of Duluoz, George Martin in The Town and the City, Emil in Maggie Cassidy/Desolation Angels, Pa in Book of Dreams, Charlie Martin in The Sea is My Brother, and Joe Martin in The Haunted Life and Other Writings.

Leo's death greatly affected Jack, who promised Leo on his deathbed that he'd look after his mother, Gabrielle (and did -- some would say to a fault -- for the rest of his life). Jack tenderly and tragically describes his father's death at home from stomach cancer in The Town and the City (Chapter 3 of Part 5).

Leo is buried in the St. Louis de Gonzague Cemetery in Nashua, New Hampshire.

RIP, Mr. Kerouac.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Happy Birthday to poet Gary Snyder, Japhy Ryder from The Dharma Bums


Regular Daily Beat readers know that acclaimed poet and environmentalist Gary Snyder was immortalized in Jack Kerouac's best novel*, The Dharma Bums, as Japhy** Ryder (he also appears once as Gary, an editing error). He appeared as Jarry Wagner in Desolation Angels and Big Sur, and as himself in Vanity of Duluoz.

Snyder turns 92 today! He is the only reader left alive from the famous 1955 Six Gallery poetry reading, and he's also one of a small number of close friends of Kerouac who are still around.

Click HERE for a brief bio and some of his poetry.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Snyder. And many more....

*Regular readers likewise know that I am just trolling them by calling The Dharma Bums Jack's best novel. It is, indeed, my favorite, but I would hesitate to argue that it's his best work.
**JAPHY is our RV's license plate.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Remembering poet Michael McClure


Michael McClure in 2004
(c) Gloria Graham

Poet Michael McClure died 2 years ago today -- May 4, 2020. He was one of the longest-living central Beat Generation figures, and appeared in several Jack Kerouac novels: as Ike O'Shay in The Dharma Bums; as McLear in Big Sur; and, as Patrick McLear in Desolation Angels.

It would be an appropriate remembrance to read some of his poetry today, which you can easily do via some Googling. Or if you're so inclined, click HERE.

RIP, Mr. McClure

Nice email out of the blue


I got a very nice email out of the blue written by a young person from another country who has discovered the Beats and has found this blog very helpful in exploring the Beat Generation. The emailer wrote just to tell me that and to say thanks.

It really made my day. I told the emailer that if more people took the time to express appreciation to others, it would be a better world.

I appreciate you for being a Daily Beat reader!

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Review of Brad Parker's Kerouac: The Man & His Visions


Brad Parker's new book on Kerouac -- signed by the author -- arrived last week via the mail and I've already read it. Given my reading habits of late, this is unusual, but I found it hard to put down once I got started. Titled Kerouac: The Man & His Visions, this is a 100th Birthday Tribute and Volume 1 of what apparently is to be a series. One caveat: Brad is a friend of mine so this review is necessarily biased.

Parker is the author of another (brief) Kerouac biography -- Kerouac: An Introduction -- published in 1989 by the Lowell Corporation For The Humanities, Inc. for the twentieth anniversary of Kerouac's death. Which raises the question: Do we need another Kerouac biography and, if so, what gaps in scholarship would be filled by it? I hope to answer that question as I continue on with my thoughts on the book.

276 pages, with 17 pages of endnotes, Kerouac: The Man & His Visions takes a deep dive into several aspects of Kerouac's life, informed by Kerouac's works, letters, and journals, including some items in the Berg collection, and various other biographers such as Gerald Nicosia. Of course, despite Kerouac's books being roman à clef, we know that he took many liberties in fictionalizing real-life events and timelines, so it is with caution that any biographer should rely on those books for facts, especially if not triangulated with the subject's own journals and letters and with other dependable sources of information. Parker does a good job with such triangulating.

A main feature of Parker's biographical approach is to pull disparate but similar experiences into one place. To wit, Chapter 1 of the book focuses on Kerouac's various times spent in Mexico. These seven visits to Mexico are spread across Kerouac's works, journals, and letters, but Parker pulls all such visits into one coherent description, beginning thus:

It was in a 1937 Ford two-door sedan jalopy that Kerouac entered Mexico City for the first time in June, 1950. He had been the driver for part of the 1700-mile route, but it was the frenetic Neal Cassady who commanded the car most of the way from Denver, where Jack had been signing copies of The Town and the City, published three months earlier to less than stellar acclaim. A new friend, Frank Jeffries, close in age to Kerouac and an ex-serviceman, rounded out the trio. (p. 1)

Chapter 2 delves into Kerouac's foray into Buddhism and details both his passion for as well as his misgivings about this eastern way of being in the world. Naturally, this chapter relies on works such as The Dharma Bums, Some of the Dharma, and The Scripture of the Golden Eternity, but also presents information gleaned from a number of letters as well. 

In Chapter 3 Parker describes no less than 20 times when Kerouac made his way across the United States (counting each coast-to-coast leg as one trip). I had no idea Kerouac had made so many trips, but Parker backs up each one with endnotes. This is one area where Parker relies a little too heavily on Kerouac's fiction and could bolster this section with more triangulation of facts.

Chapter 4 describes Kerouac's solo adventure on Desolation Peak in the Cascades, a trip to Europe, and concludes with publication of On The Road and instant fame. Some would say Parker's endnoting is a hindrance because it is so frequent, but I would counter and say it is not enough, as there are plenty of quotations that are not endnoted and the reader must make assumptions about the source. There is an occasional typo as well, but not enough to hinder comprehension.

In Chapter 5 Parker pulls together the stories of three major loves in Kerouac's life: Mary Carney (Maggie Cassidy), Alene Lee (Mardou Fox of The Subterraneans), and Esperanza Villaneuva Tercerero (Tristessa). It is interesting to read about Kerouac's three major relationships juxtaposed. I might have added a section on Bea Franco, the "Mexican girl" from On The Road.

Chapter 6 provides a brief look at each of three less well-known Kerouac works: Pic, Old Angel Midnight, and cityCityCITY. Chapter 7 focuses exclusively on analyzing Big Sur, Jack's "last significant book" (p. 240). Finally, Chapter 8 concludes the book and looks at Book of Dreams, starting with the caveat that one must be "careful about slipping into interpretation of Kerouac's dreams" (p. 250). This chapter, and thus the book, stops rather abruptly, which brings me to a small criticism. I was always taught that, in good writing, the author tells you what she is about to say (introduction), says it (content), and then tells you what she said (conclusion). Kerouac: The Man & His Visions is all content, and could be strengthened by a traditional introduction and conclusion.

I found Parker's book eminently readable, hard to put down (as I said before), and unique in its approach to a Kerouac biography, pulling together various but similar information into one place (e.g., Kerouac's 7 visits to Mexico, his 20 cross-country road trips, and his three major loves). I don't know of another Kerouac biography that attempts this, at least with these specific subjects. That uniqueness answers the question I posed earlier about the need for another Kerouac biography. Parker is obviously passionate about Kerouac and it shows in his writing -- some of it is Kerouacian prose in style. It is always interesting to see Kerouac through another person's lens, and I say keep the biographies coming if they fill a gap as Parker has done here.