Friday, October 12, 2018
Channeling The Lost Ghost Of Ti Jean Kerouac- In Honor Of the 60th Anniversary Of The Publication Of “On The Road” (1957)
Channeling The Lost Ghost Of Ti Jean Kerouac- In Honor Of the 60th Anniversary Of The Publication Of “On The Road” (1957)
By Gordon Gleason
Even Phil Larkin could not remember when he first heard the name Jack Kerouac mentioned in his presence. Jack, his muse since early adult days in the late 1960s, was like a book sealed with seven seals in the Larkin household in the early 1960s when Rose Larkin prohibited any talk of atheist rabble commie unwashed beatniks in the house (the latter not the least in the list of Rose sins although atheist in the high holy Roman Catholic Larkin household where Jack apostate had some consideration). So it must have been sometime before that. Maybe name heard on a vagrant television show, The Steve Allen Show, which he sneak watched at midnight hours to see what was what and which Phil in perusing YouTube has noticed that hipster in exile Steve and “king of the beats” Jack bantered around many subjects of mutual interest under the sign of cool ass jazz and word play aficionado-hood. (One such clip of the show showed Jack reading the famous last page of his On The Road where he and Dean Moriarty are searching, endlessly searching, for the father they never just like Phil looked for literary father Jack when the time came among other things but that clip did not ring a bell when he tried to date that first heard name question ringing in his brain one Jack October in the railroad dream night.)
Phil, never much for deep introspection although overloaded with surface introspection like any half-arsed speculator writer (Irish expression check James Joyce if you please), in any case abandoned that endless thought, that father, literary father remember thought, as he tried to place Jack’s name in his head. A thought which was triggered once he read in a small publication magazine that the year 2017 would be the 60th anniversary of the publication of the sensational On The Road which would get many a young man and some young women on the road, on the car highway, bus sweat, freight train hobo, hitchhike thumb road, no question.
He guessed not having any success at pinpointing some exact event or date that the first time would have had to be about 1962 when his old high school friend from his growing up town, the Acre neighborhood of North Adamsville, Peter Paul Markin always known since junior high school as “Scribe” forced all the corner boys to read the damn thing under penalty that he would read it to them on those forlorn Friday and Saturday nights when without money, without a car to flee the burg, without some girl willing to go on a date via public transportation or walking and maybe willing to do the “dutch treat” number (and thus no hope, no fucking hope for testosterone-hammered boys, of coping feels, snatch, blowjobs since any girl who consented under those conditions saw the guy, saw Phil before he became known as Foul-Mouthed Phil which is a whole story for another time since is about father Jack time not Phil schemes for those feels, snatches, blowjobs) they would be huddled against the wall in front of Tonio’s Pizza Parlor. Hoping, endlessly cold-nosed hoping when first starting out in late freshman year that some girl (or girls) would come by and maybe go into Tonio’s and play the jukebox and that would get things started. At worst start the “con,” low con for sure about what songs those chicks played which was an art-form first perfected by shy-boy Scribe as his “come on” to the girls when he was too nervous to sweet baby talk them like any other guy, like Phil when he found out that some girls, some social butterfly girls and not just the school sluts liked to hear what in “polite” society would be considered vulgar language worthy if you were a Catholic boy, a Rose Larkin Catholic boy confession worthy and a hell of a lot of hail marys and acts of contrition.
On those nights when that low slung prospect did not look promising, Jesus were times that bad that some sweet thing come Friday night didn’t at least risk a fucking slice of pizza and iced Coke to at least tempt their fates and keep the Scribe from his altar, say around 10 PM, maybe a little later, which meant that whatever girls were going out had gone out for the night or were down Squaw Rock freely parting with feel, snatches and blowjobs and not just the school sluts either remember those social butterflies, the Scribe would take out his tattered and well-worn copy of the book and start reading. A book which he in high holy Roman Catholic Delores Markin household had to sneak buy over in Harvard Square at some dimly-lit bookstore (a bookstore that a couple of years later would be a place like lemmings to the sea where shy-boy Scribe would find the slightly neurotic, slim, okay skinny, black-attired girls that drove him wild and provide him with those freely given feels, snatches, blowjobs that he longed for in hometown high school).
Before long he would be stopped, usually by the naturally selected leader of this motley crew, Frankie Riley, who threatened murder and mayhem if the Scribe continued. Those guys were no surplus literary bums or wannabe dharma bums of some later Phil dream but hard-nosed corner denizens who were as likely to jack-roll some “faggy” guy, some punk kid or some father/uncle/older brother drunken sot paycheck fresh (and short) from Irish Grille/Dublin Pub/ Johnny Murphy’s and you don’t have to consult Mister James Joyce as look at you. Whatever short-comings the Scribe had in the manly prowess province the long and short of it was that at some point Phil and almost every other guy on the stoop read the book if only to see what the Scribe was talking about or just to keep him quiet on those depressing empty nights.
It took a long time for Phil to realize that what drew the Scribe to Jack Kerouac (the Scribe would always call him Ti Jean once he heard somebody in school who knew French call out John name that way) was that there were many affinities between the way Jack grew up a generation before them in factory-strewn Merrimack River textile heavy from Frenchie/ Irish/ Hungary/Italy Lowell about sixty miles away and working-class ship-building North Adamsville. Knew want and hungry a bit, knew more importantly “wanting habits” which drove a lot of the Scribe’s (and the rest of the Tonio corner boys) baser instincts. Knew that same craving for privacy that never came in cold water flats above vacant stores with mother hectoring and crying out one venial and about seven mortals sins per hour 24/7/365. No room to breathe. Knew that desire to break out from the tedium of what was to be scheduled fate wrapped in a big fat package box unless the break-out came and soon.
(Prelude to Jack breakout aside from vivid memory black and white film Majestic Theater Saturday afternoon haunts and hanging with the boys cool daddy jazz, big swing jazz big bad ass bands led by guys named Duke, Count, Earl, hell, maybe Emperor with some snow white song-bird fronting except when black as coal Billie fronted and blown them snowbirds all away even before the “fixer” man came calling around midnight and later, late 1940s later cool as a cucumber jazz with plenty of variations and riffs, riff to blow that high white note out to the Frisco Bay China seas like happened one night in North Beach by some unknown cat who just blew and blew and maybe is still blowing that one time high white note and is dead ass dead having run himself raged and culled looking for that sequel in some dead night fog horn freighter of the world. Prelude to Tonio boys breakout aside from vivid memory black and white film Strand Theater Saturday afternoon matinees double-features and hanging with the boys hot off the presses big daddy rock and roll music any old way you use it proclaimed by the President, President of rock and roll Chuck Berry that one Mister Mozart and his crew (Bach, Brahms, that Russian guy) that they had best leave town because a new high sheriff was in town to shake, rattle and roll and later when the sniff of Jack dope, tea-head dope turned to modern Moloch chemical madness cloud-covered French curves and swirls acid rock.)
The funny thing about the Scribe’s crazed campaign was that Phil, beside his lack of deep introspection then, was not any kind of bookworm-then (a pejorative term on the Tonio corner which would usually have banned a guy like the Scribe from that place except he had a double-heart, had as well as that literary funk an exceptionally larcenous heart and produced in quality well-thought out plans to grab dough, grab it any way they could although nobody in their right mind would let him carry out those plans that was left to the clever Frankie Riley already mentioned). The funny part was that later, several years later when he was in the Army and confined to the base for disciplinary reasons, he ambled into the base library one afternoon and noticed that On The Road and several other books by Kerouac were on a bookshelf he was perusing looking for something by sci-fi writer Kenneth Koch. And that was that. That was that being he re-read Road and scampered through such Jack works as Dharma Bum and Desolation Angels (and in the end much more than that but check some Jack bibliography and you will have pretty much encompassed what Phil read before the fall).
The Scribe and Jack connection would intersect Phil’s life several times before The Scribe’s early violent death down in Mexico from still unknown and uninvestigated by the Federales causes around a busted drug deal. Probably the most dramatic connection driven by Jack hitchhike road dreams in the late 1940s before Interstate Route 66 car-hopping night had been Phil’s involvement through the Scribe in the westward trek to what has been called the Summer of Love out mainly in San Francisco in 1967 (although some action happened in Monterey at the first Pops Festival but that was before Phil headed out and in Todo el Mundo south of Big Sur when he/they hitched a ride from a moving house of a converted yellow school bus). The Scribe, partially influenced by Jack’s book and partially by his own endless predictions that things were going to go through a sea-change especially among the young in this country and had dropped out of college in Boston his sophomore year to see what was what out west. A couple of months later the Scribe came back and practically force-marched all the corner boys still around to head west as soon as they could. Phil under the Jack spell (and having no money a la Jack most of the time as well and no permission a la Rose Larkin who had a bloody fit when she found out where he was and had Father Lally say about ten prayers for Phil’s already damned soul) hitchhiked out with Frankie Riley in a spasm of high adventure. Phil, not in school, no money, working at some madness Robert Hall men’s clothing store to kill time and make some college-bound dough, at the height of the madness in foreign country Vietnam would only stay out there a couple of months since he received a draft notice in late August to report for a physical in September. But while he was out west he imbibed in all the dope, music, sex and whatnot available that Mother Larkin had railed against citing one John Kerouac, lapsed Catholic sweet cherib big tubby Buddha in his brain now as correspondent. Even went to Jack beat down, beat around beatitude if you want to call it that spots in North Beach like Eddy’s and Big Max’s (where that skinny kid blew the high white note out into the Frisco Bay China seas and never looked back) to see what that earlier cultural scene had been all about.
This year’s (2017) 50th anniversary commemoration of the Summer of Love out again mainly in San Francisco which Phil had not been aware of until Alex James, one of his old corner confederates, had been out there and seen an art exhibition all about the music, fashion, poster art (advertising upcoming concerts in Golden Gate Park, the Avalon, Fillmore and so on) and photography and when he came back to Boston had gathered all the remaining corner boys who had gone out in ’67 together to write their memoirs for a small Scribe tribute book had sparked some remembrances beyond that event. Got him thinking about how much Jack Kerouac, his dog-ear short life (Kerouac had died at 47), had influenced him. How episodes in Jack’s life had some meaning. One night Phil was sitting with Alex in Jimmy’s Irish Pub in downtown Adamsville (an old haunt of theirs where the drinks were cheap for no money boys when they came of drinking age just like their fathers, uncles and older brothers before them) ostensibly to talk the talk about the mad monk Scribe when he laid out to Alex what he was thinking about. Mainly thinking about from having in the subsequent years read most of Jack’s books (and remember check out some Jack bibliography and you will have an idea of how cuckoo Phil Jacked).
Phil, a fairly well-known writer himself for a while for alternative newspapers when they were in vogue and small literary magazines when they were not, startled Alex by saying that most of what he wrote, had written in the past, sketches and articles for magazines and journals about his early youth and young adulthood, had been fired in his imagination by Jack. He then began a long screed (that was Alex’s expression when he mentioned it to a couple of guys later reflecting that Phil had gon eon about two hours without stop) about Jack starting from some mystical river (the Merrimack) which gave Jack life and which he compared with his own river experience at the local Adamsville River. Talked of Jack boyhood Tom Sawyer-like river adventures up among the Dracut woods, about those boyhood bonding experiences and visions and about Sampas, the ghost of Sampas, the holy goof who was to do so much in the literary world but who laid his head down in World War II. Saw the Scribe as such a kindred holy goof also laid low as a result of war.
It was at that point, after Alex had flipped out over what Phil had been blasting into his head for a couple of hours, that Phil went into cruise control about the nodal points of Jack’s life as related through books and what others had grabbed onto about him. Some of it commonplace, working class 1930s commonplace, Lowell Merrimack River textile pile up for want of customers where that other want and hunger had a field day and wanting habits, wanting habits from notebook-clutched writings to visions of unclad maidens, got great gobs of reinforcement from that want and hunger, made a small-time, small-town mill boy reach up big-handed for the stars, took notes in dime-store notebooks (Woolworth’s on Merrimack Street remember, or Hancock Street in North Adamsville where hungry boys waited on lunch counter waitresses to cook up melted chesses sandwiches the cheapest thing on the menu and later downtown Boston the scene of picket lines by young white people mainly supporting the right, Jesus yes, the right of black people down South and not just down South to have that same melted cheese sandwiches at those same lunch counters cooked by those same waitresses the cheapest thing on the menu).
Thought long and hard Jack thoughts from early childhood about the mysteries of life, about later lionized beat down beatitudes driven by station of the cross images and desires, from early on about redemption and mystery of life, of birth and of dead and older brother passed to the heavens and why and why papa died so young and such as befell Kerouac family linen (and like Irish also a Catholic thing not in public washed, fuck no, even though every other family had black sheep and secret woes). The Scribe beautiful in his chaste desires not worrying about beatitudes worrying more about Minnie Murphy’s well-turned ass sitting three rows behind her in lascivious church pews) Mentioned cannibal mother, maybe eternal cannibal mothers, mere, who make a big deal of strictly venial sins and let the older brother whoopers pass in silence) who nose-dived him every chance she could get yet he in the end, get this, could never cut that string that bound the two generations like some naughty Greek myth, mentioned not fit for work father (no, not the father searched for and never known he died in some abandoned freight yard bludgeoned by some railroad bull or from an overdose of sterno you can take your pick of the accumulated legends of the road when Neal/Dean blew out of reform school blues and hitched to Denver to begin that search that would never end unto the grave, a sullen grave down in Mexico or Florida) who died young from misery and his own small-hood hubris.
Passed the passing time of young boy Catholic schools at old Saint Joseph’s the church of good immigrant clans from up north in the North Country over the border in Quebec who came down a few generations back to get off of starvation farms, seriously starvation places filled with robust churches and fallow fields, no mercy, have mercy, and look for work in noisy spinning mills until exhaustion set in.
Transferred over to Acre Bartlett school and all the miseries of junior high school boy and girl hormone troubles from no give French-speaking girls whose no give made those Irish Catholic girls up the street with a Bible tucked between their knees look like street whores and so real miseries until high school track and football hero times when some be-bop girl with a big band swing voice and a flaming red dress which said come thither slaked his thirst. Then back to that Irish cunt up the streets who wouldn’t give anything and she didn’t even have a Bible between her knees. Hell he wrote a whole book about it, about her, hell, never really got over her every time he hit mother Lowell town he would ring the ring but not tot to be under some civil servant dream cloud when the age demanded, not craved unto civic death mad monk poets and guys who could make sense of what was what in the jungle of post-war America, yeah as would soon be found out craved poets, junkies, surfers, dead-of-night hot rod hipsters and outlaw motorcyclists with big cajones, called it Mary Magdalen or something like that whose younger sister who had not use for Bibles between her knees and a mouth made for carnal knowledge knowing Jack value would have given whatever she had to give if he looked her way once-thems the breaks.
Roll Columbia, roll on all up in arms bigtime when Columbia New York City was big time and football hero Saturday afternoon dreams which would make that famous Lawrence hero game laughable but he couldn’t give up the time to pass some science test and then he broke his fucking bones and so long big time Columbia when Columbia was big time granite grey autumn afternoon gridiron exploits with crazy New York jacks and jills to make the Barnard co-ed wet. Sorry Jack but Time Square hipsters, con men, fags, yes that is what they called them then like now in hidden rooms fags, fairies, queens, queers, drags, fixer man junkies, wide-eyed dope fiends sucking benny tablets from Rexall drug store pharmacies, bent whores who for the price of once around the world would take you for a ride, would later put you up in Mexico City junkie whorehouses with short side clap and leave you restless and broke howling at some ill-spent moon-some later day be-bop world king said that. Learned to navigate with the dime store junkies (not Woolworth’s this time but some Bargain Basement hooker hang-out doing dime needles and back street blowjobs for room and board) and street wise bandit gangster poets and Harvard-trained morphine madmen.
Most importantly maybe not recognized then but would play later when he was gone (at freaking 47 just when his juices should have been flowing, when that great big American anti-novel could have been written, hell, the material was there for it all the way from Lowell town via Quebec provinces to Denver nights and San Fran hump big high white note to the Japan seas swales) a faggy Jew boy who could croon with the Molochs, fathom up hipster angels and dank negro streets or knew the magic of medieval kabala, said high Kaddish when the time came, could sing of the long gone Whitman night with that same sadness, a fag but what of it as long as he didn’t try any rough stuff, did try to break your crack. Howled at San Fran winds and blew his own high white note and drove everybody, every square-assed poet bleeping about some bull flowers, love, romance, bugs, lepers, and gone daddies and mommies to the showers-gone. Yes, he would deliver the totem to a disbelieving world, a reckless dangerous world not looking for second –hand second-coming Messiahs.
Start to write like some dervish mad man on any available surface. Skip a few our mother the sea scenes and cabin fever pitches up in Artic waters near death from drowning Greenland waters and bring in the new world a-borning. A time with acre lots and ranch house breezeways and dishwaters coveted by men in grey flannel suits taking gobs of liquid medicine and headache wives all in one. Cheap jack stuff, stuff not fit for flannel-shirted, moccasin-shod, dungaree-panted Jack swilling wine in North Beach lots and new age poem reads. And he, Jack he, looking for the meaning of existence thinking that it was on some lame Robert Frost road less travelled so crisscrossed the continent looking for what the Scribe called in his time the great blue-pink American West night (strangely both city boys, both welded Eastern city boys and so of the same mesh when all was said and done the Scribe too Jack-like done in by pitching his wanting habits to far above). A time when Jack tired of same old, same old traversed and trailed around looking for some model father Adonis Oedipus mother and wound up in a Latimer Street junkie wino hotel with wheelman to the Gods Dean Moriarty and you know how that storied began (and ended). Ended in balmy San Fran nights listening to the willows belch and cool daddies take big brass and blow baby blow, benny, sister, brother, cousin high to make tea-head moan and moan. Wrote about it on all those well-kept and organized notebooks and blasted out in some speed demon time a paper roll of words and adventures.
...Then hiatus, writing ever writing but not hip enough to make the New York publishing industry cut until the time of his time came (although he would always groan it was well pass his time, pass the time of Mexican whores, New York City weirdos and father pimps, dope-chokers and wino flippers and he may have been right who knows) Known: Jack caught some pregnant fever pitch among the young post-war maddened atomic bomb death walk-outs who took up surfing, hot cars, wandering, outlaw motorcycles and to while their times and forget those bomb shelter Hiroshima dead. The rest would be history.
Strangely the rest would be played out in small coffeehouses and cabarets, out in open air parks and other greenspaces by guys like now straight as an arrow if not straighter Alex James and bent out of shape Scribe seeking that newer world that he never was able to catch up to. Caught in notoriety and big bang televisions shows with guys asking him about why if he was looking for that lost father he was father to hell-bent stragglers and misfits, the lord of the misfits he was called and maybe they were right. When the deal went south though he was blocked up with wifey, mere, and a junkie’s gin bottle all for a candid world to see. Sixty years later it still beats a quickened heartbeat to a sullen world. Thanks Ti Jean