For Ti Jean Kerouac On The 50th Anniversary Of His Death And The “Assistant King Of The Beats” Allan Ginsberg-Hard Rain’s A Going To Fall With Kudos To Bob Dylan “King Of The Folkies"
A "YouTube" film clip for the movie trailer of "One Fast Move Or I’m Gone: Jack Kerouac’s “Big Sur”.
One Fast Move Or I’m Gone: Jack Kerouac’s “Big Sur”, Jack Kerouac, his “beat” friends, and some latter-day literary followers, Kerouac Films, 2008
No one who knows this space, or at least knows this space since sometime last year needs to be reminded of my admiration for the literary work of the “king of beats”, Jack Kerouac. I have reviewed most of his beautifully, if painfully, written works that illuminated the middle third of the 20th century for those of us who had hungry “be-bop” rhythm- craving ears to listen and blossoming word- starved eyes to read. On the top of the pyramid, way up on top as it turns out, of course, is the master work of beatitude, “On The Road”. That mad adventure of a Dean Moriarty/Neal Cassady-mastered-minded, now very lost hitchhike old road, fast car-driving, white-lined, two-laned road America, even at a remove, gave us a way to plod through those lonely Eastern (or Western) nights when the road was dark and we wandered to find some light, even if only a flicker from someone else’s lantern in the distant skyline. Thanks, Ti Jean.
In a very direct sense, but a bad, bad sense, as this documentary, poignantly at times, makes very clear, that vision projected out beyond those lonely, hard fought roads was Jack’s downfall. Jack’s vision of the pitfalls, pratfalls and punkishness of the modern world, as filtered through the stream-of-consciousness prism of a medieval-craving mind, crushed him beneath the weight of his new found notoriety, fame, and media and fan targetability after the too, too belated 1957 publication and positive reviews (and hurtful negative reviews, as well) of “On The Road.” Some writers might have craved the limelight generated by that notoriety; swinishly bellied-up and hogged it; cleared everyone else away from its reflected glow; asked for more, hell, demanded more; or, at least, wrapped it around themselves for the entire world to see. Novelist Norman Mailer, Jack’s near contemporary, comes readily to mind.
But not Jack. He, frankly, wrapped himself around that old favorite of an older generation of American writers, alcohol, to stop the ringing in his head that all the notoriety produced and that was fogging up his mind from creative activity. And, maybe, wrapped himself, as well, around his ever-hovering mother’s shield, which could also help explain his later literary and personal decline. But that is a separate story, and a lesser one for the subject here. The long and short of it was that Jack, San Francisco-ed, West Coasted, toasted, and roasted as “king of the beats” had to get away, away from the crowds, away from the questions, away from the acolytes. And get away not just anywhere but, like a lemming to the sea, to his Breton-rooted ocean. Well, before they became some kind of Mecca for the ill-at-ease of the world such a place in Northern California would either be Mendocino or Big Sur. Here, it comes up Big Sur courtesy of poet, bookman, and City Lights Bookstore entrepreneur, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. And what comes out of it, beyond a deeper, deeper, drinking problem (to be kind) is a secondary masterpiece of Kerouacian word play and thought, the novel/confession/diary/ cry in the wilderness, “Big Sur”.
This documentary, including a run through of the cast of usual suspects seen in other, earlier such efforts reviewed in this space; his surviving (as of 2008) old “beat” buddies and old flames (including old, best buddy and inspiration Neal Cassady’s wife, Carolyn, keeper of the Neal "flame"), new aficionados, creative personalities influenced by Jack’s work, like Tom Waits and Dar Williams, and the usual crew of “talking heads” who add “color” to such productions walk, talk, and cry their way though the creative process that lead to “Big Sur”. Some of it is over-blown, some mere trade-puffing. However, collectively, they have some very decent insights into what Jack was trying to do, trying to work through, and trying to break out by his various sojourns to Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s cabin in Big Sur in an attempt to figure out his new world reality.
As a fellow aficionado I am here to say they all get part of the story right, including Lowell’s Paul Marion who has assigned himself the task of being the local “keeper” of the Kerouac flame. But, I am still left with a hole in my head about what the sodden Jack was all about in “Big Sur”, which when all is said and done, is not a masterwork on the level of “Road”, other than as an example of the maddening descend into hell. Unless great works can thrive and survive the bouts with alcohol. It is certainly left as an open question, this film commentary aficionados’ novel puffing aside, about its world view value, at least in my mind.
To give my two cents worth I do not believe that Kerouac ever got over his big man in a small pond status in youthful football-drenched Lowell and certainly never broke, despite Buddha-tranced, Desolation Angel momentarily escape, from that damn Catholic thing that drove, and inhibited, his work. I know that Catholic weight-heavy chain by heart, and his Gallic-derived version which is even worst, as well. One quick ride up the road to Lowell convinced me of that- Lowell is still that old beat mill town that Jack left long ago. But here is what you don’t realize until you get up close- there are about eight zillion Catholic churches there. Well maybe not that many but the place reeks of ritual, relics and that everlastin’ guilt. Guilt for living, guilt for not living, guilt at maybe living. Jesus, how did he get out alive, except by pure writerly inspiration. So watch this thing but just don’t get carried away with the “skinny” from the talking heads and other aficionados about “Big Sur’-go back to the roots and read the earlier Lowell-based stories, like “Maggie Cassidy”, for that.