Sunday, December 29, 2019

Upon The 50th Anniversary Of The Death Of The "King Of The Beats" Jack Kerouac- On The 60th Anniversary Of Jack Kerouac's "On The Road" (1957) Beat Writers' Corner- John Clennon Holmes' Famous Article -"This Is The Beat Generation"

Ti Jean wondered sitting on Pawtucketville silts listening to the rushing rock-strewn Merrimack coming by, wondered like maybe those old-time Dutch sailors sighting that green fresh breast of land that would become  Long Island as they entered the sound, another waterway a metaphor for Jack life, and found a new world unspoiled for that fifteen minutes before they laid anchor and claim on the cheap. That wonder drove Jack boy, all fourteen- year old Jack boy so not worried by red dress Paula Cole coming hither Friday night dates or that damn Maggie down by the almost Chelmsford dream side of the river, damn already the river is in play with her Irish braids and that god damn Bible between her knees to wonder if James was it MacNeil Abbott or Abbott MacNeil Whistler sat beside this same river thinking about his own Mere, his mother and how he could do justice to that forlorn Puritan face which razzled him with blacks, browns and greys, as if to mock the very idea of mother. Hell, James, he would never be called Jimmy like the other boys once he “did” his mother in those woe begotten colors decided he would use the old dame, and she was an old dame to star in his various studies of colors and only philistines would dare to call the work some mother lode draught.  

This is where the story gets interesting, although we know that Jack was not bothered just then by come hither girls in red dresses or Bible-kneed Irish girls since he had, playing hooky, crept into his holy of holy spots in the cubicle at the school library gone beyond the wonder of those muddy splat riverbanks where he first wondered the wonder akin to those Dutch sailors seeking his own fresh green breast of land, the land of the mind. Wondering how to stop wondering Jack picked up a biography of James Whistler complete with mother on the front except she was painting title called some study in black and white, something like that by one Lancelot Grey who Jack would later find out was the central figure in what he would wind up calling the pre-war art cabal that was attempting to “dress up,” read, protect American art and artists from the onslaught of European critics who basically call that art “folk art” meaning show the bastards the door and maybe get them shown in Peoria or better Grand Island but stay away from European shores.

Grey’s take on Whistler, taking the American born but life-long ex-patriate in was that he never left the American shores and stuff like that. What interested Jack though was not that art cabal stuff (art cabal a term he would not know until later when landing in New York he came face to face with the denizens of that cabal through various Student Art League girlfriends and others met in Village garrets when garrets were there and not in Soho). But that was after the war (World War II in case a younger reader has happened on this piece) when New York told cheapjack art Europe to fuck off, to step back and various abstraction movements were all the rage. Just then Grey delved into Whistler’s various non-mother pieces (than mother painting an iconic come on since back then only the art cabal knew other paintings and the publisher insisted that that painting be on the front).

The most interesting one, and one that seemed to contradict what the art cabal was doing to protect American artists, was a painting called The White Girl (now in the National Gallery but then in private hands). Jack was fascinated by the young woman portrayed who he learned from Grey had been one of Whistler’s mistresses. The title intrigued and confused him since somebody else called it that study in white gag that had handcuffed poor Mrs. Whistler when it suited her James. Jack would wonder, would have deep chaste Roman Catholic dreams (some say that would by his writings really always be his dreams, his Jesus-sweated dreams) and wonder what it was like to have been James’ girlfriend, and wondered too whether James wondered that he would paint his mistresses to help pay the rent. Jack would later laugh about how many girls he would con into paying the rent, walking the streets if necessary or going in some café back room to play the flute for the night’s booze and dope money and so he had kindred feelings for Brother James somewhat akin to the bandit prince Gregory Corso. But at fourteen in some library cubicle in Lowell mill-town hard by the Merrimack all he could think of was how long he would have to wonder about lots of things, too many things when the world was moving way to quickly but he would always say with pride that James was from Lowell and leave it at that. Even when he found out that James’ white girl was like his Mexican junkie- whore Tristessa. By then though that fresh green breast wonder had hardened into funk, dunk and drunk.

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Jack popcorn for eyeballs sitting in the last row of the orchestra section of the old Majestic Theater off of Bridge Street across from the offices of the Lowell Sun waiting as the screen heated up after some very ordinary news of the week reels and an off-color cartoon which he never did get even after watching several times over the next few Saturday matinee double-feature week. The films changed every Friday but Mr. Le Blanc cheapened up his operation by re-running those silly cartons built for ten-years olds with no brains but silly to a strapping boy of sixteen who actually took girls to the shows. (Le Blanc also sold stale popcorn with so much salt laid in it would make your eyelids curl and watered down the tonic, old-fashioned New England word for soda, so much it might as well have been water and even made boys like Jack with strong kidneys ran to restrooms frequently.) Of course, that was a totally different proposition, that messing with girls stuff that he had pretty much figured out by sixteen with  plenty of street advise some of it recklessly dangerous and no, zero, parent advise but that was when you asked a girl if she wanted to sit in the orchestra section or go up to the heavy-breathing pitch dark moaning balcony. If the former that would be a last date (one time he left the girl in the front lobby to fend her herself on the way home while he went off to Renoir’s Ice Cream Shop with Even Stephen and Dizzy Izzy). This day, this Thursday afternoon first show skipping afternoon classes was different when Jack was all business trying to figure some stuff out that was going to appear on the satin silk screen.  

Then it, no, she started. All fresh as a new born daisy fending off some sidewalk Lothario, if only in Jack’s imagination, really only some lug like a million lugs he knew in Lowell High School and who if he hadn’t been on a mission this afternoon could have stood in front of the high school at close of day and counted the number of lugs from the class of 1939 carousing out the door some he could name by name. So, no this lug was going nowhere, was getting nothing except the desert breezes from this girl. Jack swore the girl with the Bette Davis eyes after beating the clown off with a car jack sat in her dust-filled private reading spot reading some French poet from the fourteenth century. Jack pressed his popcorn eyeballs to see book jacket cover and his heart beat a mile a minute once he saw that she, Gabby let’s give her a name, was reading his hero prince bandit poet Francois Villon, like him a Breton when that meant something before the wave of diasporas which led angelized angel-headed Kerouacs to the shores of the Saint Lawrence River and downwardly mobile fates stripped the clan of their respective dignities.     

Yes, Villon the prince of thieves who Jack had discovered in that broken- down school library where he hid out when he could not deal with bullshit chemistry classes or some such subject around the time that he read that book by Lancelot Grey about that pimp daddy, holy goof (first use of the term “holy goof” came from reading Grey) James Whistler the artist who kept himself from the Thames and watery graves by selling his paintings or more usually “selling” his mistresses to make the rent money when times were tough. He still loved Whistler (although he could only mock a guy who had to practically handcuff his mother to the chair to get her to stand still for what he called a study in black and white, something like that) if only because he was Lowell, was a native son and that counted a lot for Jack then even if James was not a Breton. (Funny later he would go through seven kinds of hell with his own mother before telling her to kiss off.) But Villon was a legitimate bandit-prince who hung with the lumpen outside the guarded moats ready to pounce one minute on the next jackroll victim (some historians have speculated that Villon and his scumbags invented the jackroll, taking a bag of nails or coins if they had any wrapping them in a small cloth and under cover of darkness bopping some old lady or drunken sot for their dough). A lost art that Jack would use more than once in Times Square when some pansy hipster tried to do tricks on him and he bopped him for hot dog money at Howard Johnson’s stuff like that, yes, a lost but helpful art for those who lived outside the law, for those whose only road was the road.

And there she was the girl with the Bette Davis eyes all dewy even as a desert dust storm was brewing just outside the Gates of Eden reading Villon in French (her mother was French a catch for her woe begotten father during World War I service in France with the American Expeditionary Force who came back to Eden saw the dust and stone wood and left on the next train with some Singer sewing machine salesman with four quarters and a quart of wine). That Garden of Eden business a gag, a gag of sorts since the diner that he father owned, no, really her grandfather who was getting too old to run the place but too ornery to let his deadbeat son who couldn’t keep a French whore, Gramp’s words, in the middle of the desert from running away with the next time that came by with long pants on was just outside the main entrance to the Petrified Forest (couldn’t later a guy like Allan Ginsberg or even novice poet Dean Moriarty have a field day with that idea as the 1930s was tearing America, tearing the world apart, making the world turn in on itself). The gag was that Gramps an old Kentucky coalminer until he was thirteen and figured out that he would rather not die in Appalachia with the muskrats had headed out of the hills and hollows as fast as he could. Head out to California where he had heard had streets paved of gold and young girls ready to give whatever they had to give. But see Gramps and his forbears were sitting folk, were tied to the tired land so long that they would sit down anywhere where that didn’t have to pretend to seek prosperity. So Gramps stopped at the Petrified Forest once he ran into some Nevada Jane heading east after busting out heading west who worked at the diner and who played the flute for him until she too ran off with some calico salesman. Gramps just stayed put and married the first woman who smiled at him (Gabby’s grandma) and that ended the road west in that generation.         
      
So poor rattled and pestered Gabby was torn between sweet perfume dreams of Left Bank Paris cafes and that endless rock-hard dust. Then out of the blue some pretty hobo came walking up the road to the diner all dusty and road worn, a hobo whose name turned out to be Leslie Howard (that would be important later to Gabby if meaningless to Jack when she inherited his life insurance policy but that was later long after Jack had gathered in the wanderlust that set that first Breton to Canadian shores and that fucking raging Saint Lawrence River of no returns) Listen up, Jack did, this Leslie Howard was no stumble bum like half the hoboes, tramps, bums, and there are social distinctions among the brethren who were running around the country stopping at railroad jungle camps or sleeping under unkempt bridges and arroyos but a real live itinerant intellectual who had when he had seen the first turnings of the world inward in those times got the hell out of  Europe as fast as he could (he would be found later when Gabby looked for next of kin to see if anybody would contest the life insurance policy to have been Jewish not a good thing to be in Europe in those times to be a “rootless cosmopolitan”) This Howard, let’s call him that since it is as good as any other and who knows what he real name was if he was on the run bedazzled Gabby from minute one leaving that lug gas jockey out to dry with the trees. Knew his Villon cold, knew that he too was a bandit prince who hung outside the moats with the lumpen.

Right then Jack’s already strong flight of fantasy knew that he was kindred, here was guy who loved to read but could not settle down with at crazy-mixed up world pounding tattoos in his fevered brain. If anybody had been near Jack in that darkened orchestra section fit only for one-date girls and sullen adults they would have heard him gasp every time this Howard said anything of import to Gabby. Jack’s fevered mind started sketching things out, read like crazy, write like crazy and keep on the move, always on the move. What Jack would call later in one of his lesser but more philosophical books the quest, the grail hunt, the breaking from the holy goofs that keep you penned in and unfree, that holy goof a well-worn word in Jack talk. For now though just the germ of a plan.

They say that Bretons are not only are hearty but also headstrong and Jack sensed in Gabby just such characteristics even though she was nothing but some dirt farmer Okie, Arkie descendent. He would forever search for his Gabby but never find her, and frankly that search was just one among a number of searches later. This guy Leslie, what made him tick, why Jack was drawn to him like lemmings from the sea was more problematic. The Villon, hobo road warrior philosopher king part was straight up. He would have a million sleepless night visions of being out on some tramp road in say Winnemucca or Yuma facing no dough and no food or water and glad-tiding himself into soft spot, some soft bed if that was the way the thing played out. Pearl-diving, you know washing dishes for his meal in some such Garden of Eden diner somewhere if necessary just to stay on the road one more day. That part held romance, held him in thrall.

What Jack couldn’t figure out especially since the girl with the Bette Davis eyes was totally smitten by him and his wayward ways against the lugs, demented grandpas, jelly-fish fathers and abandoned down some Seine River mother not unlike the Merrimack always close to his dreams especially that rocky crest around the old Lowell Textile Institute why this modern day troubadour had so little regard for himself that he would let a bum like the notorious Duke Mantee, yes, that Duke who was the scourge of the West just then put two random slugs into his body. He tries, and would continue to try later to understand the idea of the retreat of the intellectuals, that the time of the caveman was making a reappearance after so much spent trying to come up from the mud and slime. Backwards. Damn, that bothered Jack, would bother him until his own dying breath when he turned on the intellectuals with a vengeance. The now dank dark movie hall left him utterly perplexed about what would happen to him when he had to face his own road west.

Outside the movie theater, actually he had been in the lobby when he spied her and then hailed her, Jack stopped that come hither Paula Cole and asked her if she would like to go to the movies that next Friday night when the films changed. When she answered yes Jack now a veteran of the ploy asked Paula -orchestra or balcony? Answer: “don’t be silly I would not have accepted if we weren’t going to the balcony.” With that he would put the fate of Howard in the back of his mind. First things first.

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Jack brought the Tokay, the cheap wine of the day that got him through the day and the only other wine beside kosher Mogen David mad monk (although just then demurely so) Allan Ginsberg, hereafter Monk, would drink to set himself up to read some sliver of a poem. This night expecting a bunch of people to of all things a North Beach (San Fran) converted garage gallery something the Monk would put an end to guys like T.S. Eliot, bum of the month Nazi-symp Ezra Pound and about fifty other guys and twenty other gals including his high school prose father. Would burn their old-fashioned words now of no account on a pile of burnt offerings, a pile of faggots (he would not learn until later that word’s common origins use to destroy brethren fellow homosexuals). Would get the world well, for a minute, in search of some fatherless compadre, in search of the father Jack claimed he had never known, and not he alone in the welter of great depressions and slogging through war. Maybe in the end they were searching for Father Death who knows. Jack passed the wine, passed all understanding before that search was consummated.    

Some guy, some guy who claims that his mother had worked at City Lights Bookstore in those days and had had an affair with the poet Phillip Larkin and had brought the dago red and him to the reading. Claimed to know Jack, or maybe it was the Monk in the old days, in the days when they raged with so many words they couldn’t keep enough Woolworth 5 &10 notebooks in flannel shirts or golf scorecard pencils ready wrote this, second hand about being present at the creation, second hand. At this far remove it is hard to tell fact from fiction, tell who is bullshitting and who has the goods especially since virtually all the background characters are gone, some long gone. Make of that what you will.   

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I have seen the best poet of the generation before mine, no, let me start over, I have seen a universal max daddy poet speaking some truths to put old Homer and freaking staid T.S. Eliot in the shade. Starting off by   declaring that he had seen that the best minds of his generation, guys like brother in soul Kerouac, be-bop Charlie Parker, Phil Larkin when he was sober, Johnny Spain when off the needle and doing cold turkey and of course the daddy them all one Carl Solomon turn to mush. Turned out in the barren wilderness, not the friendly desert-scrapes heading west on lonely Greyhound buses or Tourist Bureau hang-ups wilderness out pass Butte or Boise but what a novelist named Nelson Algren who called the shots and gave many a troubled youth the keys to the fixer man and wellness  called the neon wilderness, called that place where the bright lights of the city blinded a proper man (or woman) some junkie Frankie Machine haven with a wife he hated and a girlfriend who couldn’t stick with him when he was on the junk. That neon beast from which no one returned except for quick stays in safe haven mental asylums (called ironically funny farms but even the Monk, whose own mother had her share of sorrows in such places could find no humor in such designations).

Get this, no, let me start again against the cold nose of my sister filled heart. Saw, he the Monk okay in case I lose my train of thought passing through Salt Lake City and thoughts of Joseph Smith’s grand hustle taking a bunch of farmers from burned over lands to the searing sun of the western depot. Saw the same Negro streets Jack, and one time Jack and he when he, Jack was looking for some rough trade sailors just off the China Seas pierce earring trail saw around Blue Hill Avenue and Dudley Street blank, 125th Street blank, Dearborn Street blank, MacArthur Boulevard blank, Central Avenue blank, Cielo Street in Tijuana blank, Plaza del Mayo, Montezuma revenge Mexico blank, and wasted in the sweated fetid humid Thunderbird-lushed night dreaming of pink Cadillacs and stony-faced fixer men getting wise by the hour on Carl’s ancient fears. (And, this is funny or so the winos and every hobo, vagrant, escapee, drifter and grafter yelling out in unison thought so “what is the word-Thunderbird-what is the price forty twice.” Ready to jackroll some senior citizen lady for the price, for fucking eighty cents which any self-respecting junkie could cadge in two minutes even in Cielo Street, Tijuana and that is a hard peso to drill,-ready to commit mayhem at Park Street subway stations for their “boy,” to be tamped by girl but I will be discrete since the Feds might raid the place sometime looking for the ghost of Trigger Burke who eluded them for a very long time. (Trigger who captured Jack’s imagination and the Monk’s but here is the weird part Carl’s too who started strutting like him too after the prince of bandit-poets Corso showed him how to do that slinky swagger on the last visit before the blade at Sandhill).

Thought that those angel-headed hipsters hearing choruses of angels strumming their noiseless wings, those cold as ice in a man’s veins hep cats hanging around Times, Lafayette, Dupont, Harvard squares (you can fill in your own squares, square the Monk laughed and Jack hee-hawed) crying in pools of blood coming out of the wolves-stained sewers around the black corner would never stop bleating for their liquor. Would not stop until they got popular and headed for the sallow lights of Harvard Square where they, those angel-headed hipsters in  case you (and Carl) forgot  hustled young college students, young impressionable college students green as grass whose parents had had their best minds, those hallowed students’ mines, okay, wasted in the turbid streets of south Long Island (not the West Egg of Gatsby’s dream out of Fitzgerald’s fresh green breast of land to stir even sullen rough trade Dutch sailors looking for whips and cuts, conquering everything in sight like any other poor-boy arriviste with too much money and not enough imagination and not East Egg of the fervid elites but any-town, Levitt-town of those who would escape to Boston or Wisconsin to face the angel of death, that angel frightening even Monk when Carl was not around to anchor his brain. Up front and say no go, pass, under luminous moons which light up sparks and say to that candid world which could have given a fuck hard times please come again no more.

Here is the beauty of the green as grass hustle working fast to get enough to fix that jones. Dangle some college guy, maybe with a girl, shy, with dreams of hard-core liquor or a well-twisted joints to loosen her up and her fragile come hither virginity (reminding Jack of that Paula Coe who played the flute for him more than one time in that Majestic Theater balcony some hardcore Friday night and the Monk, searching for some blue-eyed  Adonis, settling for some pimpled has been teenager seeking his own father dreams). Lay out the story-kid your booze and something for me. Done. Later, a big bottle wrapped tight in a paper bag. Trick, a very thin brew of whiskey split and cash for him to get himself well. Oh the hipster cons which would have made even the Monk laugh.        

The Monk saw hipsters cadging wine drinks from sullen co-eds staying out too late in the Harvard Square night who turned out to be slumming from some plebian colleges across the river maybe good Irish girls from frail Catholic parishes with rosaries in their fair-skinned hands and a novena book between their knees who nevertheless has Protestant lusts, strong Protestant lusts busting down the shrines to Immaculate Conception Virgin Marys pretty painted by guys like Tintoretto and marching to the church door just behind Martin Luther and his bag of lusts and Salvation Army clothing in their pallid hearts but unrequited. Here’s how-they those sullen salty Irish girls, not all redheads but close  would arrive at the Café Lana with ten bucks and their virginity and leave with both leaving some guy with dreams of salty sucking blowjobs walking out the backdoor and doing the whack job behind the dumpster –a waste of precious fluids and according to Norman Mailer who would have known from his perch down in Provincetown when the mix of homosexuals and straight, except those lusty lonely Portuguese fisherman Marsden Hartley loved to paint (and to love)  the waste of world-historic fucks which would product the best minds of the next generation all dribbled away.

You already know about what you need to know about Protestant girls with their upfront Protestant lusts although they would not be caught dead, or alive, in Sally splendor although they certainly could play the penny whistle and damn those world historic fucks. Maybe tasty Jewish girls from the shtetl not in East or West Egg who flocked to the other side of the river and gave Irish guys who previously had dribbled their spunk behind dumpsters after losing out to ten bucks and virginity in tack tickey-tack Catholic girls who refused to give that head that would have brought some of the best minds some freaking relief (better not say fucking relief because that would be oxymoronic). Maybe some off-center sullen fair-skinned and blonded Quaker, Mennonite, Primitive Baptist or Brethren of the Common Life kind of Protestant girls, like I said off-center, who spouted something about one god and no trinities, no god and no trinities and just feel good stuff.

All three varieties and yes there were more off-centers but who even knew of Quakers, Mennonites, lusty Amish girls run away from home, Tantric card-wheelers, and fresh- faced red light district sluts who at least played the game straight-played the cash nexus for pure pleasure and maybe to even up some scores. All-Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, yeah, Quakers (fakirs, fakers and Shakers included), the sluts, Mennonites and yes those lusty red-faced Amish runaways all coming together after midnight far from the negro streets, the Monk’s beat and no anachronism like saying black or Afro-American back to those Mister James Crow days, but not far from the all night hustlers and dime store hipsters with their ten-cent cigar store rings and cheap Irish whiskeys bought on the installment plan who converged around the Hayes-Bickford just a seven league jump from the old end of the line dead of night Redline subway stop in order to keep the angel of death at arms’ length. The angel of death a tough bitch to break, and tougher to cross when they deal went down. There to listen until dawn to homosexuality- affixed hungry for the keyhole blast or the running sperm fakir poets, the Monk number one of all the number ones  and slamming singsters (to keep up with the gangster, mobster, hipster theme, okay) fresh out of cheapjack coffeehouses where three chords and two-line rhymes repeated in call and response got you all the action you wanted although maybe a little light on the breadbasket sent around to show that you were appreciated. Yeah, now that I think about the matter more closely hard times please come again no more.                    

Saw the angel of death make her appearance one night at the Café Lana and then backstopped the Club Nana to fetch one young thing who warbled like heaven’s own angel. Some Norman Mailer white hipster (read the Partisan Review essay if you don’t get this about all kinds of cultural mishmash and sexual too just ask the Monk when he was in his hungers and not worried about singing some Walt Whitman song about the rotgut of his generation) turned her on to a little sister and then some boy and she no longer warbled. No longer warbled like that angel angle heaven- shamed chorus but did sweet candy cane tricks for high-end businessmen with homely wives or fruitless ones who had given up that sort of “thing” after the third junior had been born and who were ready to make her their mistress if she would just stop singing kumbaya after every fuck like she was still a freaking warbler. A freaking virgin or something instead of “used” goods or maybe good for schoolboys whose older brothers took them to her for their first fling at going around the world, welcome to the brotherhood or maybe some old fart who just wanted to relive his dreams before the booze, the three wives and parcel of kids did him in and then the hustler sent her back to the Club Nana to “score” from the club owner who was connected with Nick the dream doper man, what did Nelson Algren and Frankie Machine call him in dead of night, yes, the fixer man, Christ who would get him- and her well –on those mean angel-abandoned death watch streets. Who knew that one night at the Hayes (everybody called it just that after they had been there one night), one after midnight night where they had that first cup of weak-kneed coffee replenished to keep a place in the scoreboarded night where hari-kara poets dreamed toke dreams, and brought paper-bag wrapped Tokay wines just like Monk’s Jack and some Mister dreamed of fresh-faced singer girls looking for kicks. So please, please, hard times come again no more.              

I have seen frosted lemon trees jammed against the ferrous night, the night of silly foolish childhood dreams and misunderstanding about the world, the world that that poet spoke of in a teenage dream of indefinite duration about who was to have and who was to have not once those minds were de-melted and made hip  to the tragedies of life, the close call with the mental house that awaits us all. Yeah Monk was right even about Carl Solomon and all his sorrows before the knife.
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What the hell did sullen Carl Solomon start before he went under the knife with his pleading for his father, a father that he had never known since he had been left back in Poland to peddle his fruits and vegetables to his brethren and his mother and the four kids headed to the Americas on some tub of a boat and never looked back. Rumors abounded that he survived because he had a gentile mistress grabbed after his wife and kids left. That at least is the story Carl told, told endlessly which would not be so bad but the Monk picked it up in his own moment of despair.

Monk searched his valium brain for his own prose-filled father but that was not nearly good enough, kept him awake at night because he had strange dreams that his father was not some fake high school teacher writing awful poems in broken down post-war America. Was afraid that his real father was William Appleton Williams who denied him three times, didn’t want to believe that his broken words would mesh so well. Had better dreams that his real father was sexy Walt Whitman (this remember in dialogue with Carl Solomon before the knife so it is not clear whether Carl remembered) whose vagabond dreams matched his and his homosexual desire beating out some Johnny Reb who could give Walt the ride he desired. Here is the trick though the Monk had sweet dreams whenever he read Leaves of Grass (usually on grass) and he passed that on to Jack in some secret moment in Denver when some screwball Adonis was looking for his father.

Now Jack, funny before Carl grabbed Monk with the father who we never knew religion, always thought he knew his father, knew the con artist, poker cheater, movie theater ticket taker great bear of a French-Canadian who came down the Jackson, Maine road with five cents Canadian in his pocket and dreams of printing up ads. But that was not the father that he knew but some skinny stiff wino pissant who he sought out in greater Denver cattle yards. Always deferred to everlasting Mere, Mere out of some fresh Breton conceit never getting some whiplash from old father time who died before his time of heartache and heartbeats. So Jack conned himself into some holy goof, his words exactly, metaphysical search going up the Bear Mountain, Jackson, Wyoming Jackson not that trail of tears from down in Maine Jackson where the red brick and mortar spinning wheels beckoned and he spent and spilled his young manhood trying to get the fuck out from under even if he couldn’t drive, made him nervous, to save his life. Funny again that fame never stopped the bleeding inside looking behind some bushes for some father death, some father time pissing against that Tokay dream he figured out back in about 1946 but could never get past. The Monk did him no service on that long trail drive from Monument Creek to Sunnyvale and then drop off and outs at Big Sur where he got sober for a week.   

Damn that stuff is contagious, will drive you crazy, when twice removed Lance, me, went looking for the father he never knew too. Looked for him behind closed doors to his heart. That distant slightly dim figure who brought home not enough pay checks. Who never talked about but never got over the Pacific war like a lot of guys who found themselves on tubs picking up stray comrades from washed-up beaches, picking up too guys who got too close to chore, got wasted in some windless fire and fell down into the green-gray-blue surf that gets us all in the end. The old man, father, never talked much, much about anything that Lance, me would understand and so Jack-like Ma, Mere, Mom, Mere whatever you want to call her ran rough-shot over childish dreams and insecurities. Here’s the worst of it though, Jack-like, he never got to say good-bye to that father he never knew and crushed his days with regret, total regret that he didn’t have the sense of a holy goof, Jack talk, to have called a truce, even an armed truce to the madness that wracked his silly excuse for a family, and now all his has is slate grey stone to place the remnants down in some unknown holy place where he can never dwell, yes, Lawrence, me, got caught in the Monk’s version of Carl’s plainsong, no, got stuck in the damn mire.          

Silly to think that the father time search would only apply to men, young men, holy goofs like Lawrence, me, when the max daddy sin of all was the way Jack, in Jack speak, abandoned his Jan, his spitting image Jan, denied like Christ was denied three times by the count. Jan who would search like some strange Kenneth Rexroth figure for the father we all knew, or thought we knew once he pointed us toward the light, once we got the beat, the second-hand beat that washed us clean in places like Big Sur and Todo el Mundo where Jan still searches in some desperate wild water surf for some broken down guy who wasted away with drink, and she with drink too. Jesus, funny he was searching for his father too out in Middle Eastern wildernesses, will it never end.     

Contagious that is what Sam Lowell said about the freaking search for that lost father world made up of pure sand and not much else. Some goof, the holy part excluded was looking for his father, his famous private detective father, a guy named Lew Archer, who back around Jack time in California ran the rack on few good cases and then rested for forty years something like that. Tried to claim that his father’s life death was due to his father’s overused whip, his sorrows that he could not go the distance with his wife, this goof’s grandmother, his code of honor that once he took a job he was in, totally in, for good or evil, and       
maybe that he drank too much Tokay, Jack-like when he wound up behind some freaking wino pissant dumpster saved but some sister of mercy who could not save him in the end. Get this though that junkie weirdo so-called grandson, some modern-day Carl Solomon without the sorrows before he went under the knife could not be searching for Lew, Lew Archer since Lew never had a son, had no children. Sorry goof,    

Out on the Jersey looking east first to see the great ocean that drove his forbears to search for fresh green breasts of land then west to seek dungeon filled fathers never known in Denver, Santa Fe, Salt Lake City Salvation Army hotels or whatever they call those blessed places of rest the whole deal was to figure out a way to look for some American cowboy past, looking for the Monk’s Adonis if he couldn’t make it with sexy Walt Whitman with the furl of whiskers. There sat Dean Moriarty, no, fuck that, one Neal Cassidy who would ride the freight trains west looking for that father the others really did think they had found. Neal’s old man was in some wino jailcell speaking in tongues to a candid world. Maybe Carl was right, Monk too we should all cry to the high heavens looking for the fathers we never knew.             



Upon The 50th Anniversary Of The Death Of The "King Of The Beats" Jack Kerouac- On The 60th Anniversary Of Jack Kerouac's "On The Road" (1957) Beat Writers'  Corner- John Clennon Holmes' Famous Article -"This Is The Beat Generation"




“Advertisements for Myself”-Introduction by Allan Jackson, a founding member of the American Left History publication back in 1974 when it was a hard copy journal and until 2017 site manager of the on-line edition.      

[He’s back. Jack Kerouac, as described in the headline, “the king of the beats” and maybe the last true beat standing. That is the basis of this introduction by me as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of his untimely death at 47. But before we go down and dirty with the legendary writer I stand before you, the regular reader, and those who have not been around for a while to know that I was relieved of my site manage duties in 2017 in what amounted to a coup by the younger writers who resented the direction I was taking the publication in and replaced me with Greg Green who I had brought on board from American Film Gazette to run the day to day operations while I oversaw the whole operation and planned my retirement. Over the past year or so a million rumors have, had mostly now, swirled around this publication and the industry in general about what had happened and I will get to that in a minute before dealing with Jack Kerouac’s role in the whole mess.

What you need to know first, if you don’t know already is that Greg Green took me back to do the introductions to an encore presentation of a long-term history of rock and roll series that I edited and essentially created after an unnamed older writer who had not been part of the project balled it all up, got catch flat-footed talking bullshit and other assorted nonsense since he knew nada, nada nunca and, about the subject having been apparently asleep when the late Peter Markin “took us to school” that history. Since then Greg and I have had an “armed truce,” meaning I could contribute as here to introductions of some encore and some origin material as long as I didn’t go crazy, his term, for what he called so-called nostalgia stuff from the 1950s and 1960s and meaning as well that Greg will not go crazy, my term, and will refrain from his ill-advised attempt to reach a younger audience by “dumbing down” the publication with odd-ball comic book character reviews of films, graphic novels and strange musical interludes. Fair is fair.

What I need to mention, alluded to above, is those rumors that ran amok while I was on the ropes, when I had lost that decisive vote of no confidence by one sullen vote. People here, and my enemies in the industry as well, seeing a wounded Allan Jackson went for the kill, went for the jugular that the seedy always thrive on and began a raggedy-ass trail on noise you would not believe. In the interest of elementary hygiene, and to frankly clear the air, a little, since there will always be those who have evil, and worse in their hearts when “the mighty have fallen.”  Kick when somebody is down their main interest in life.

I won’t go through the horrible rumors like I was panhandling down in Washington, D.C., I was homeless in Olde Saco, Maine (how could that be when old friend and writer here Josh Breslin lives there and would have provided alms to me so at least get an approximation of the facts before spinning the wild woolly tale), I had become a male prostitute in New York City (presumably after forces here and in that city hostile to me put in the fatal “hard to work with” tag on me ruining any chances on the East Coast of getting work, getting enough dough to keep the wolves from my door, my three ex-wives and that bevy of kids, nice kids, who nevertheless were sucking me dry with alimony and college tuitions), writing press releases under the name Leonard Bloom for a Madison Avenue ad agency. On a lesser scale of disbelief I had taken a job as a ticket-taker in a multi-plex in Nashua, New Hampshire, had been a line dishwasher at the Ritz in Philadelphia when they needed day labor for parties and convention banquets, had been kicking kids out of their newspaper routes and taking that task on myself, and to finish off although I have not given a complete rundown rummaging through trash barrels looking for bottles with deposits. Christ.

Needless to say, how does one actually answer such idiocies, and why. A couple of others stick out about me and some surfer girl out in Carlsbad in California who I was pimping while getting my sack time with her and  this one hurt because it hurt a dear friend and former “hippie girl” lover of mine, Madame La Rue, back in the day that I was running a whorehouse with her in Luna Bay for rich Asian businessmen with a taste for kinky stuff. I did stop off there and Madame does run a high-end brothel in Luna Bay but I had nothing to do with it. The reason Madame was hurt was because I had lent her the money to buy the place when it was a rundown hotel and built it up from there with periodic additional funds from me so she could not understand why my act of kindness would create such degenerate noise from my enemies who were clueless about the relationship between us.
I will, must deal with two big lies which also center of my reluctant journey west (caused remember by that smear campaign which ruined by job opportunities in the East, particularly New York City. The first which is really unbelievable on its face is that I hightailed it directly to Utah, to Salt Lake City, when I busted out in NYC looking for one Mitt Romney, “Mr. Flip-Flop,” former Governor of Massachusetts, Presidential candidate against Barack Obama then planning on running for U.S. Senator from Utah (now successful ready to take office in January) to “get well.” The premise for this big lie was supposedly that since I have skewered the guy while he was governor and running for president with stuff like the Mormon fetish for white underwear and the old time polygamy of his great-grand-father who had five wives (and who showed great executive skill I think in keeping the peace in that extended family situation. The unbelievable part is that those Mormon folk, who have long memories and have pitchforks at the ready to rumble with the damned, would let a sinner like me, a non-Mormon for one thing anywhere the Romney press operation. Christ, I must be some part latter day saint since I barely got out of that damn state alive if the real truth were known after I applied for a job with the Salt Lake Sentinel not knowing the rag was totally linked to the Mormons. Pitchforks, indeed.    

The biggest lie though is the one that had me as the M.C. in complete “drag” as Elsa Maxwell at the “notorious” KitKat Club in San Francisco which has been run for about the past thirty years or so by Miss Judy Garland, at one time and maybe still is in some quarters the “drag queen” Queen of that city. This will show you how ignorant, or blinded by hate, some people are. Miss Judy Garland is none other that one of our old corner boys from the Acre section of North Adamsville, Timmy Riley. Timmy who like the rest of us on the corner used to “fag bait” and beat up anybody, any guy who seemed effeminate, at what cost to Timmy’s real feelings we will never really know although he was always the leader in the gay-bashing orgy. Finally between his own feeling and Stonewall in New York in 1969 which did a great deal to make gays, with or with the drag queen orientation, a little less timid Timmy fled the Acre (and his hateful family and friends) to go to friendlier Frisco. He was in deep personal financial trouble before I was able to arrange some loans from myself and some of his other old corner boys (a few still hate Timmy for what he has become, his true self) to buy the El Lobo Club, his first drag queen club, and when that went under, the now thriving tourist trap KitKat Club. So yes, yes, indeed, I stayed with my old friend at his place and that was that. Nothing more than I had done many times before while I ran the publication.                   

But enough of this tiresome business because I want to introduce this series dedicated to the memory of Jack Kerouac who had a lot of influence on me for a long time, mostly after he died in 1969 
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All roads about Jack Kerouac, about who was the king of the beats, about what were the “beats” lead back to the late Pete Markin who, one way or another, taught the working poor Acre neighborhood of North Adamsville corner boys what was up with that movement. Funny, because we young guys were a serious generation removed from that scene, really our fathers’ contemporaries and you know how far removed fathers were from kids in those days especially among the working poor trying to avoid going  “under water” and not just about mortgages but food on tables and clothing on backs, were children of rock and roll, not jazz, the beat musical medium, and later the core of the “Generation of ‘68” which took off, at least partially, with the “hippie” scene, where the dying embers of the beat scene left off. Those dying embers exactly the way to put it since most of our knowledge or interest came from the stereotypes-beards before beards were cool and before grandfather times -for guys, okay, berets, black and beaten down looks. Ditto on black for the gals, including black nylons which no Acre girl would have dreamed of wearing, not in the early 1960s anyway. Our “model” beatnik really came, as we were also children of television, from sitcom stories like Dobie Gillis with stick character Maynard G. Krebs standing in for all be-bop-dom.        

So it is easy to see where except to ostracize, meaning harass, maybe beat up if that was our wont that day, we would have passed by the “beat” scene, passed by Jack Kerouac too without the good offices, not a term we would have used then, if not for nerdish, goof, wild and woolly in the idea world Markin (always called Scribe for obvious reasons but we will keep with Markin here). He was the guy who always looked for some secret meaning to the universe, that certain breezes, winds, metaphorical breezes and winds, were going to turn things around, were going to make the world a place where Markin could thrive. Markin was the one who first read Kerouac’s breakthrough travelogue of a different sort novel On The Road.
Now Markin was the kind of guy, and sometimes we let him go on and sometimes stopped him in his tracks, who when he was on to something would bear down on us to pay attention. Christ some weekend nights he would read passages from the book like it was the Bible (which it turned out to be in a way later) when all we basically cared about is which girls were going to show up at our hang-out spot, the well-known Tonio’s Pizza Parlor and play the jukebox and we would go from there. Most of us, including me, kind of yawned at the whole thing even when Markin made a big deal that Kerouac was a working-class guy like us from up in Lowell cut right along the Merrimac River. The whole thing seemed way too exotic and moreover there was too much homosexual stuff implied which in our strict Irish-Italian Catholic neighborhood did not go down well at all -made us dismiss the whole thing and want to if I recall correctly “beat up” that Allan Ginsberg character. Even Dean Moriarty, the Neal Cassidy character, didn’t move us since although we were as larcenous and “clip” crazy as any character in that book we kind of took Dean as a tough car crazy guide like Sonny Jones from our neighborhood who was nothing but a hood in Red Riley’s bad ass motorcycle gang which hung out at Harry’s Variety Store. We avoided him and more so Red like the plague. Both wound up dead, very dead, in separate attempted armed robberies in broad daylight if you can believe that.    

Our first run through of our experiences with Kerouac and through him the beat movement was therefore kind of marginal-even as Markin touted for a while that whole scene he agreed with us that jazz-be-bop jazz always associated with the beat-ness was not our music, was grating to our rock and roll-refined and defined ears. Here is where Markin was always on to something though, always had some idea percolating in his head. There was a point where he, we as well I think, got tired of rock and roll, a time when it had run out of steam for a while and along with his crazy home life which really was bad drove him to go to Harvard Square and check out what he had heard was a lot of stuff going on. Harvard Square was, is still to the extent that any have survived like Club Passim, the home of the coffeehouse. A place that kind of went with the times first as the extension of the beat generation hang-out where poetry and jazz would be read and played. But in Markin’s time, our time there was the beginnings of a switch because when he went to the old long gone Café Nana he heard folk music and not jazz, although some poetry was still being read. I remember Markin telling me how he figured the change when I think it was the late Dave Von Ronk performed at some club and mentioned that when he started out in the mid-1950s in the heat of beat time folk singers were hired at the coffeehouses in Greenwich Village to “clear the house” for the next set of poetry performers but that now folk-singing eclipsed poetry in the clubs. Markin loved it, loved the whole scene of which he was an early devotee. Me, well, strangely considering where I wound up and what I did as a career, I always, still do, hated the music. Thought it was too whinny and boring. Enough said though.                   

Let’s fast forward to see where Kerouac really affected us in a way that when Markin was spouting forth early on we could not appreciate. As Markin sensed in his own otherworldly way a new breeze was coming down the cultural highway, a breeze push forward by the beats I will confess, by the folk music scene, by the search for roots which the previous generation, our parents’ generation, spent their adulthoods attempting to banish and become part of the great American vanilla melt, and by a struggling desire to question everything that had come before, had been part of what we had had no say in creating, weren’t even asked about. Heady stuff and Markin before he made a very bad decision to quit college in his sophomore years and “find himself,” my expression not his, spent many of his waking hours figuring out how to make his world a place where he could thrive.

That is when one night, this is when we were well out of high school, some of us corner boys had gone our separate ways and those who remained in contact with the brethren spent less time hanging out at Tonio’s, Markin once again pulled out On The Road, pulled out Jack’s exotic travelogue. The difference is we were all ears then and some of us after that night brought our own copies or went to the Thomas Murphy Public Library and took out the book. This was the spring of the historic year 1967 when the first buds of the Summer of Love which wracked San Francisco and the Bay Area to its core and once Markin started working on us, started to make us see his vision of what he would later called, culling from Tennyson if I am not mistaken a “newer world.” Pulling us all in his train, even as with Bart Webber and if I recall Si Lannon a little, he had to pull out all the stops to have them, us, join him in the Summer of Love experience. Maybe the whole thing with Jack Kerouac was a pipe dream I remember reading about him in the Literary Gazette when he was down in Florida living with his ancient mother and he was seriously critical of the “hippies,” kind of banged on his own beat roots explaining that he was talking about something almost Catholic beatitude spiritual and not personal freedom, of the road or anything else. A lot of guys and not just writing junkies looking for some way to alleviate their inner pains have repudiated their pasts but all I know is that when Jack was king of the hill, when he spoke to us those were the days all roads to Kerouac were led by Markin. Got it. Allan Jackson    


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 I culled this from a Google search. The "my commentary" is from the person who placed it on the website.

'This Is The Beat Generation' by John Clellon Holmes

This is the complete text of the article by John Clellon Holmes that ran in the New York Times Magazine on November 16, 1952. This article introduced the phrase 'beat generation' to the world, although the writers who would come to personify this generation would not be published for several years more. For more on the origin of the term 'beat', click here.

My commentary : There are some interesting points in this article, but I can't help feeling annoyed at the idea of categorizing an entire generation. I don't believe any true statement can be made about a million or more people, except statements that are so general they are true for all times. So, for the hipster and the Young Republican here, substitute the hippie and the straight of twenty years ago, or the slacker and the yuppie today. Newspapers and magazines love to get excited about how 'different' each new generation is, but each new generation is just going through the same crisis the one before it went through. It's called 'growing up.'

In saying this, I don't mean to 'flame' John Clellon Holmes, a good writer who recognized the inanity of labelling a generation and even alluded to it in this article. Furthermore, I'm sure the idea of defining a generation was nowhere near as played out in the early 50's as it is now.

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This Is The Beat Generation
by John Clellon Holmes
The New York Times Magazine, November 16, 1952


Several months ago, a national magazine ran a story under the heading 'Youth' and the subhead 'Mother Is Bugged At Me.' It concerned an eighteen-year-old California girl who had been picked up for smoking marijuana and wanted to talk about it. While a reporter took down her ideas in the uptempo language of 'tea,' someone snapped a picture. In view of her contention that she was part of a whole new culture where one out of every five people you meet is a user, it was an arresting photograph. In the pale, attentive face, with its soft eyes and intelligent mouth, there was no hint of corruption. It was a face which could only be deemed criminal through an enormous effort of reighteousness. Its only complaint seemed to be: 'Why don't people leave us alone?' It was the face of a beat generation.

That clean young face has been making the newspapers steadily since the war. Standing before a judge in a Bronx courthouse, being arraigned for stealing a car, it looked up into the camera with curious laughter and no guilt. The same face, with a more serious bent, stared from the pages of Life magazine, representing a graduating class of ex-GI's, and said that as it believed small business to be dead, it intended to become a comfortable cog in the largest corporation it could find. A little younger, a little more bewildered, it was this same face that the photographers caught in Illinois when the first non-virgin club was uncovered. The young copywriter, leaning down the bar on Third Avenue, quietly drinking himself into relaxation, and the energetic hotrod driver of Los Angeles, who plays Russian Roulette with a jalopy, are separated only by a continent and a few years. They are the extremes. In between them fall the secretaries wondering whether to sleep with their boyfriends now or wait; the mechanic berring up with the guys and driving off to Detroit on a whim; the models studiously name-dropping at a cocktail party. But the face is the same. Bright, level, realistic, challenging.

Any attempt to label an entire generation is unrewarding, and yet the generation which went through the last war, or at least could get a drink easily once it was over, seems to possess a uniform, general quality which demands an adjective ... The origins of the word 'beat' are obscure, but the meaning is only too clear to most Americans. More than mere weariness, it implies the feeling of having been used, of being raw. It involves a sort of nakedness of mind, and, ultimately, of soul; a feeling of being reduced to the bedrock of consciousness. In short, it means being undramatically pushed up against the wall of oneself. A man is beat whenever he goes for broke and wagers the sum of his resources on a single number; and the young generation has done that continually from early youth.

Its members have an instinctive individuality, needing no bohemianism or imposed eccentricity to express it. Brought up during the collective bad circumstances of a dreary depression, weaned during the collective uprooting of a global war, they distrust collectivity. But they have never been able to keep the world out of their dreams. The fancies of their childhood inhabited the half-light of Munich, the Nazi-Soviet pact, and the eventual blackout. Their adolescence was spent in a topsy-turvy world of war bonds, swing shifts, and troop movements. They grew to independent mind on beachheads, in gin mills and USO's, in past-midnight arrivals and pre-dawn departures. Their brothers, husbands, fathers or boy friends turned up dead one day at the other end of a telegram. At the four trembling corners of the world, or in the home town invaded by factories or lonely servicemen, they had intimate experience with the nadir and the zenith of human conduct, and little time for much that came between. The peace they inherited was only as secure as the next headline. It was a cold peace. Their own lust for freedon, and the ability to live at a pace that kills (to which the war had adjusted them), led to black markets, bebop, narcotics, sexual promiscuity, hucksterism, and Jean-Paul Sartre. The beatness set in later.

It is a postwar generation, and, in a world which seems to mark its cycles by its wars, it is already being compared to that other postwar generation, which dubbed itself 'lost'. The Roaring Twenties, and the generation that made them roar, are going through a sentimental revival, and the comparison is valuable. The Lost Generation was discovered in a roadster, laughing hysterically because nothing meant anything anymore. It migrated to Europe, unsure whether it was looking for the 'orgiastic future' or escaping from the 'puritanical past.' Its symbols were the flapper, the flask of bootleg whiskey, and an attitude of desparate frivolity best expressed by the line: 'Tennis, anyone?' It was caught up in the romance of disillusionment, until even that became an illusion. Every act in its drama of lostness was a tragic or ironic third act, and T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land was more than the dead-end statement of a perceptive poet. The pervading atmosphere of that poem was an almost objectless sense of loss, through which the reader felt immediately that the cohesion of things had disappeared. It was, for an entire generation, an image which expressed, with dreadful accuracy, its own spiritual condition.

But the wild boys of today are not lost. Their flushed, often scoffing, always intent faces elude the word, and it would sound phony to them. For this generation lacks that eloquent air of bereavement which made so many of the exploits of the Lost Generation symbolic actions. Furthermore, the repeatedinventory of shattered ideals, and the laments about the mud in moral currents, which so obsessed the Lost Generation, do not concern young people today. They take these things frighteningly for granted. They were brought up in these ruins and no longer notice them. They drink to 'come down' or to 'get high,' not to illustrate anything. Their excursions into drugs or promiscuity come out of curiousity, not disillusionment.

Only the most bitter among them would call their reality a nightmare and protest that they have indeed lost something, the future. For ever since they were old enough to imagine one, that has been in jeapordy anyway. The absence of personal and social values is to them, not a revelation shaking the ground beneath them, but a problem demanding a day-to-day solution. How to live seems to them much more crucial than why. And it is precisely at this point that the copywriter and the hotrod driver meet and their identical beatness becomes significant, for, unlike the Lost Generation, which was occupied with the loss of faith, the Beat Generation is becoming more and more occupied with the need for it. As such, it is a disturbing illustration of Voltaire's reliable old joke: 'If there were no God, it would be necessary to invent him.' Not content to bemoan his absence, they are busily and haphazardly inventing totems for him on all sides.

For the giggling nihilist, eating up the highway at ninety miles an hour and steering with his feet, is no Harry Crosby, the poet of the Lost Generation who planned to fly his plane into the sun one day because he could no longer accept the modern world. On the contrary, the hotrod driver invites death only to outwit it. He is affirming the life within him in the only way he knows how, at the extreme. The eager-faced girl, picked up on a dope charge, is not one of those 'women and girls carried screaming with drink or drugs from public places,' of whom Fitzgerald wrote. Instead, with persuasive seriousness, she describes the sense of community she has found in marijuana, which society never gave her. The copywriter, just as drunk by midnight as his Lost Generation counterpart, probably reads God and Man at Yale during his Sunday afternoon hangover. The difference is this almost exaggerated will to believe in something, if only in themselves. It is a will to believe, even in the face of an inability to do so in conventional terms. And that is bound to lead to excesses in one direction or another.

The shock that older people feel at the sight of this Beat Generation is, at its deepest level, not so much repugnance at the facts, as it is distress at the attitudes which move it. Though worried by this distress, they most often argue or legislate in terms of the facts rather than the attitudes. The newspaper reader, studying the eyes of young dope addicts, can only find an outlet for his horror and bewilderment in demands that passers be given the electric chair. Sociologists, with a more academic concern, are just as troubled by the legions of young men whose topmost ambition seems to be to find a secure birth in a monolithic corporation. Contemporary historians express mild surprise at the lack of organized movements, political, religous, or otherwise, among the young. The articles they write remind us that being one's own boss and being a natural joiner are two of our most cherished national traits. Everywhere people with tidy moralities shake their heads and wonder what is happening to the younger generation.

Perhaps they have not noticed that, behind the excess on the one hand, and the conformity on the other, lies that wait-and-see detachment that results from having to fall back for support more on one's capacity for human endurance than on one's philosophy of life. Not that the Beat Generation is immune to ideas; they fascinate it. Its wars, both past and future, were and will be wars of ideas. It knows, however, that in the final, private moment of conflict a man is really fighting another man, and not an idea. And that the same goes for love. So it is a generation with a greater facility for entertaining ideas than for believing in them. But it is also the first generation in several centuries for which the act of faith has been an obsessive problem, quite aside from the reasons for having a particular faith or not having it. It exhibits on every side, and in a bewildering number of facets, a perfect craving to believe.

Though it is certainly a generation of extremes, including both the hipster and the radical young Republican in its ranks, it renders unto Caesar (i.e, society) what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's. For the wildest hipster, making a mystique of bop, drugs and the night life, there is no desire to shatter the 'square' society in which he lives, only to elude it. To get on a soapbox or write a manifesto would seem to him absurd. Looking at the normal world, where most everything is a 'drag' for him, he nevertheless says: 'Well, that's the Forest of Arden after all. And even it jumps if you look at it right.' Equally, the young Republican, though often seeming to hold up Babbitt as his culture hero, is neither vulgar nor materialistic, as Babbitt was. He conforms because he believes it is socially practical, not necessarily virtuous. Both positions, however, are the result of more or less the same conviction -- namely that the valueless abyss of modern life is unbearable.


For beneath the excess and the conformity, there is something other than detachment. There are the stirrings of a quest. What the hipster is looking for in his 'coolness' (withdrawal) or 'flipness' (ecstasy) is, after all, a feeling on somewhereness, not just another diversion. The young Republican feels that there is a point beyond which change becomes chaos, and what he wants is not simply privelege or wealth, but a stable position from which to operate. Both have had enough of homelessness, valuelessness, faithlessnes.

The variety and the extremity of their solutions are only a final indication that for today's young people there is not as yet a single external pivot around which they can, as a generation, group their observations and their aspirations. There is no single philosophy, no single party, no single attitude. The failure of most orthodox moral and social concepts to reflect fully the life they have known is probably the reason for this, but because of it each person becomes a walking, self-contained unit, compelled to meet, or at least endure, the problem of being young in a seemingly helpless world in his own way.

More than anything else, this is what is responsible for this generation's reluctance to name itself, its reluctance to discuss itself as a group, sometimes its reluctance to be itself. For invented gods invariably disappoint those who worship them. Only the need for them goes on, and it is this need, exhausting one object after another, which projects the Beat Generation forward into the future and will one day deprive it of its beatness.

Dostoyevski wrote in the early 1880's that 'Young Russia is talking of nothing but the eternal questions now.' With appropriate changes, something very like this is beginning to happen in America, in an American way; a re-evaluation of which the exploits and attitudes of this generation are only symptoms. No single comparison of one generation against another can accurately measure effects, but it seems obvious that a lost generation, occupied with disillusionment and trying to keep busy among the broken stones, is poetically moving, but not very dangerous. But a beat generation, driven by a desparate craving for belief and as yet unable to accept the moderations which are offered it, is quite another matter. Thirty years later, after all, the generation of which Dostoyevski wrote was meeting in cellars and making bombs.

This generation may make no bombs; it will probably be asked to drop some, and have some dropped on it, however, and this fact is never far from its mind. It is one of the pressures which created it and will play a large part in what will happen to it. There are those who believe that in generations such as this there is always the constant possibility of a great new moral idea, conceived in desparation, coming to life. Others note the self-indulgence, the waste, the apparent social irresponsibility, and disagree.

But its ability to keep its eyes open, and yet avoid cynicism; its ever-increasing conviction that the problem of modern life is essentially a spiritual problem; and that capacity for sudden wisdom which people who live hard and go far possess, are assets and bear watching. And, anyway, the clear, challenging faces are worth it.

Friday, December 27, 2019

The Centennial Of Pete Seeger’s Birthday (1919-2014)- A Populist Folk Singer For The Ages- The Dust Bowl Refugee- Woody Guthrie: A Postscript Album- "Note Of Hope"

Click On The Title To Link To A YouTube Film Clip Of Woody Guthrie Performing This Land Is Your Land.

CD REVIEW

Note of Hope: A Collaboration In Words And Music-Woody Guthrie and Rob Wasserman, 429 Records, 2011

Although this space is mainly dedicated to reviewing political books and commenting on past and current political issues literary output is hardly the only form of political creation. Occasionally in the history of the American and international left musicians, artists and playwrights have given voice or provided visual reminders to the face of political struggle. With that thought in mind, every once in a while I have used this space to review those kinds of political expression.

This review was originally used to describe several of Woody Guthrie’s recordings. This review takes an end around look at some previously unknown, if not hidden, work from the 1940 and 1950s that were not songs, but poems, reflections, and “speak-outs” that came to mind when Woody he had his lucid moments. And best of all, best of all for those, like me, who worry about the future of folk music as the generation of ’68 dwindles these works are recreated here and put to music (including producer Rob Wasserman’s fatalistic bass, yes, bass work) by some younger artists who will carry the torch forward.

My musical tastes were formed, as were many of those of the generation of 1968, by Rock & Roll music exemplified by The Rolling Stones and Beatles and by the blues revival, both Delta and Chicago style. However, those forms as much as they gave pleasure were only marginally political at best. In short, these were entertainers performing material that spoke to us. In the most general sense that is all one should expect of a performer. Thus, for the most part that music need not be reviewed here. Those who thought that a new musical sensibility laid the foundations for a cultural or political revolution have long ago been proven wrong.

That said, in the early 1960’s there nevertheless was another form of musical sensibility that was directly tied to radical political expression- the folk revival. This entailed a search for roots and relevancy in musical expression. While not all forms of folk music lent themselves to radical politics it is hard to see the 1960’s cultural rebellion without giving a nod to such figures as Dave Van Ronk, the early Bob Dylan, Utah Phillips, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and others. Whatever entertainment value these performers provided they also spoke to and prodded our political development. They did have a message and an agenda and we responded as such. That some of these musicians’ respective agendas proved inadequate and/or short-lived does not negate their affect on the times.

As I have noted elsewhere in a review of Dave Van Ronk’s work when I first heard folk music in my youth I felt unsure about whether I liked it or not. As least against my strong feelings about The Rolling Stones and my favorite blues artist such as Howlin' Wolf and Elmore James. Then on some late night radio folk show here in Boston I heard Dave Van Ronk singing Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies and that was it. From that time to the present folk music has been a staple of my musical tastes. From there I expanded my play list of folk artists with a political message.

Although I had probably heard Woody’s This Land is Your Land at some earlier point I actually learned about his music second hand from early Bob Dylan covers of his work. While his influence has had its ebbs and flows since that time each succeeding generation of folk singers still seems to be drawn to his simple, honest tunes about the outlaws, outcasts and the forgotten people that made this country, for good or evil, what it is today. Since Woody did not have a particularly good voice nor was he an exceptional guitar player the message delivered by his songs is his real legacy.

And now we have a second legacy for the ages from the hard-edged American populist. Stick outs here include Lou Reed (yes, that Lou Reed from the Velvet Underground) on The Debt I Owe, Voice by Ani DiFranco, I Heard A Man Talking by the late Studs Terkel and Jackson Browne on You Know The Night. All backed up exquisitely by Brother Wasserman. A tip of the hat to Woody and Rob.

This Land Is Your Land-Woody Guthrie

This land is your land This land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and Me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway:
I saw below me that golden valley:
This land was made for you and me.

I've roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

From "The Rag Blog"- On 15th United States President James Buchanan's "Gayness"

Markin comment:

This article by Harvey Wasserman makes an interesting presentation on the question of Buchanan’s “gayness,” although there was also some to-do about his successor, Abraham Lincoln’s like “condition” a few years back, as well. However, and let’s keep our eyes on the prize here, whether Buchanan is a candidate for what W.H. Auden called the “Homintern” or not, he has much to answer for from history, from our left-wing, pro-Unionist, anti-slavery history, in letting the on-coming Southern Confederacy take wing in the period before Abraham Lincoln took office. There is a very good reason why he is almost universally rated at the bottom of the list for presidential efficacy, and it has nothing to do with his sexual orientation.

*****
Harvey Wasserman : Our Gay Commander-in-Chief

President James Buchanan. Image from Encyclopedia Dickensonia.

'Mister Fancy' James Buchanan:
Our gay Commander-in-Chief

By Harvey Wasserman / The Rag Blog / December 20, 2010

As “conservatives” scream and yell about gays in the military, they might remember that in all likelihood we have already had a gay Commander-in-Chief.

His name was James Buchanan. He was the 15th President of the United States.

A Democrat from Pennsylvania, Buchanan is discreetly referred to in official texts as “our only bachelor president.”

In fact, many historians believe that he may well have been “married” to William Rufus King, a pro-slavery Democrat from Alabama who was our only bachelor Vice President.

The two men lived together for years. Andrew Jackson, never one to shy from bullhorn bigotry, was among those who variously referred to them as “Aunt Nancy” and “Mr. Fancy.” Other Washington wags called them “Mr. and Mrs. Buchanan,” and the like.

The nature of their relationship was never officially confirmed or proclaimed in public. They were widely referred to as “Siamese twins,” slang at the time for a gay couple. But there was no incriminating gap dress or heartfelt double-ring ceremony, civil or otherwise. It was not uncommon at the time for men and women of the same gender to live together and even share a bed while remaining sexually uninvolved.

Buchanan was once engaged to marry a wealthy young woman named Ann Coleman. But the complex affair ended with her mysterious, untimely death. When King became ambassador to France in 1844, Buchanan complained that “I have gone wooing to several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any of them.”

With no Moral Majority or Bible thumping fundamentalists to plague them, the King-Buchanan liaison was generally embraced as a political and personal fact of life in a nation consumed with real issues of life and death, freedom and slavery.

In 1852 King was elected as Franklin Pierce’s Vice President. But on an official mission, King contracted a fever and died, leaving Buchanan alone and deeply distraught.

In 1856, Buchanan defeated John C. Fremont, the first presidential candidate from the new Republican Party. Buchanan did not run for reelection in 1860, when Abraham Lincoln was the victor.

Buchanan’s presidency was plagued by economic and sectional disaster. He was a “doughface” northerner with sympathies for southern slavery. Devoted to consensus and compromise, he was swept away by the intense polarization that led to Civil War.

Through his entire time in the White House, President Buchanan lived alone. His niece served as “First Lady.” He stayed unmarried, and had his personal letters burned upon his death, prompting further speculation on his sexual orientation.

Maybe it’s time those legislators who have been so fiercely opposed to gays in the military face the high likelihood that at least one Commander in Chief would probably be among them.

[Harvey Wasserman's History of the United States S is at www.harveywasserman.com, along with Passions of the Potsmoking Patriots “Thomas Paine,” which portrays George Washington as a gay potsmoker.]

The Rag Blog

Posted by thorne dreyer at 8:07 AM
Labels: American History, American Presidents, Gay, Harvey Wasserman, Homosexuality, Rag Bloggers

Upon The 50th Anniversary Of The "King OF The Beats" Jack Kerouac- On The 60th Anniversary Of Jack Kerouac's "On The Road"- Out In The Be-Bop Night- Fragments On Working Class Culture- Scenes From The Search For The Blue-Pink Great American West Night-Highway 1969

Ti Jean wondered sitting on Pawtucketville silts listening to the rushing rock-strewn Merrimack coming by, wondered like maybe those old-time Dutch sailors sighting that green fresh breast of land that would become  Long Island as they entered the sound, another waterway a metaphor for Jack life, and found a new world unspoiled for that fifteen minutes before they laid anchor and claim on the cheap. That wonder drove Jack boy, all fourteen- year old Jack boy so not worried by red dress Paula Cole coming hither Friday night dates or that damn Maggie down by the almost Chelmsford dream side of the river, damn already the river is in play with her Irish braids and that god damn Bible between her knees to wonder if James was it MacNeil Abbott or Abbott MacNeil Whistler sat beside this same river thinking about his own Mere, his mother and how he could do justice to that forlorn Puritan face which razzled him with blacks, browns and greys, as if to mock the very idea of mother. Hell, James, he would never be called Jimmy like the other boys once he “did” his mother in those woe begotten colors decided he would use the old dame, and she was an old dame to star in his various studies of colors and only philistines would dare to call the work some mother lode draught.  

This is where the story gets interesting, although we know that Jack was not bothered just then by come hither girls in red dresses or Bible-kneed Irish girls since he had, playing hooky, crept into his holy of holy spots in the cubicle at the school library gone beyond the wonder of those muddy splat riverbanks where he first wondered the wonder akin to those Dutch sailors seeking his own fresh green breast of land, the land of the mind. Wondering how to stop wondering Jack picked up a biography of James Whistler complete with mother on the front except she was painting title called some study in black and white, something like that by one Lancelot Grey who Jack would later find out was the central figure in what he would wind up calling the pre-war art cabal that was attempting to “dress up,” read, protect American art and artists from the onslaught of European critics who basically call that art “folk art” meaning show the bastards the door and maybe get them shown in Peoria or better Grand Island but stay away from European shores.

Grey’s take on Whistler, taking the American born but life-long ex-patriate in was that he never left the American shores and stuff like that. What interested Jack though was not that art cabal stuff (art cabal a term he would not know until later when landing in New York he came face to face with the denizens of that cabal through various Student Art League girlfriends and others met in Village garrets when garrets were there and not in Soho). But that was after the war (World War II in case a younger reader has happened on this piece) when New York told cheapjack art Europe to fuck off, to step back and various abstraction movements were all the rage. Just then Grey delved into Whistler’s various non-mother pieces (than mother painting an iconic come on since back then only the art cabal knew other paintings and the publisher insisted that that painting be on the front).

The most interesting one, and one that seemed to contradict what the art cabal was doing to protect American artists, was a painting called The White Girl (now in the National Gallery but then in private hands). Jack was fascinated by the young woman portrayed who he learned from Grey had been one of Whistler’s mistresses. The title intrigued and confused him since somebody else called it that study in white gag that had handcuffed poor Mrs. Whistler when it suited her James. Jack would wonder, would have deep chaste Roman Catholic dreams (some say that would by his writings really always be his dreams, his Jesus-sweated dreams) and wonder what it was like to have been James’ girlfriend, and wondered too whether James wondered that he would paint his mistresses to help pay the rent. Jack would later laugh about how many girls he would con into paying the rent, walking the streets if necessary or going in some café back room to play the flute for the night’s booze and dope money and so he had kindred feelings for Brother James somewhat akin to the bandit prince Gregory Corso. But at fourteen in some library cubicle in Lowell mill-town hard by the Merrimack all he could think of was how long he would have to wonder about lots of things, too many things when the world was moving way to quickly but he would always say with pride that James was from Lowell and leave it at that. Even when he found out that James’ white girl was like his Mexican junkie- whore Tristessa. By then though that fresh green breast wonder had hardened into funk, dunk and drunk.

************                               
Jack popcorn for eyeballs sitting in the last row of the orchestra section of the old Majestic Theater off of Bridge Street across from the offices of the Lowell Sun waiting as the screen heated up after some very ordinary news of the week reels and an off-color cartoon which he never did get even after watching several times over the next few Saturday matinee double-feature week. The films changed every Friday but Mr. Le Blanc cheapened up his operation by re-running those silly cartons built for ten-years olds with no brains but silly to a strapping boy of sixteen who actually took girls to the shows. (Le Blanc also sold stale popcorn with so much salt laid in it would make your eyelids curl and watered down the tonic, old-fashioned New England word for soda, so much it might as well have been water and even made boys like Jack with strong kidneys ran to restrooms frequently.) Of course, that was a totally different proposition, that messing with girls stuff that he had pretty much figured out by sixteen with  plenty of street advise some of it recklessly dangerous and no, zero, parent advise but that was when you asked a girl if she wanted to sit in the orchestra section or go up to the heavy-breathing pitch dark moaning balcony. If the former that would be a last date (one time he left the girl in the front lobby to fend her herself on the way home while he went off to Renoir’s Ice Cream Shop with Even Stephen and Dizzy Izzy). This day, this Thursday afternoon first show skipping afternoon classes was different when Jack was all business trying to figure some stuff out that was going to appear on the satin silk screen.  

Then it, no, she started. All fresh as a new born daisy fending off some sidewalk Lothario, if only in Jack’s imagination, really only some lug like a million lugs he knew in Lowell High School and who if he hadn’t been on a mission this afternoon could have stood in front of the high school at close of day and counted the number of lugs from the class of 1939 carousing out the door some he could name by name. So, no this lug was going nowhere, was getting nothing except the desert breezes from this girl. Jack swore the girl with the Bette Davis eyes after beating the clown off with a car jack sat in her dust-filled private reading spot reading some French poet from the fourteenth century. Jack pressed his popcorn eyeballs to see book jacket cover and his heart beat a mile a minute once he saw that she, Gabby let’s give her a name, was reading his hero prince bandit poet Francois Villon, like him a Breton when that meant something before the wave of diasporas which led angelized angel-headed Kerouacs to the shores of the Saint Lawrence River and downwardly mobile fates stripped the clan of their respective dignities.     

Yes, Villon the prince of thieves who Jack had discovered in that broken- down school library where he hid out when he could not deal with bullshit chemistry classes or some such subject around the time that he read that book by Lancelot Grey about that pimp daddy, holy goof (first use of the term “holy goof” came from reading Grey) James Whistler the artist who kept himself from the Thames and watery graves by selling his paintings or more usually “selling” his mistresses to make the rent money when times were tough. He still loved Whistler (although he could only mock a guy who had to practically handcuff his mother to the chair to get her to stand still for what he called a study in black and white, something like that) if only because he was Lowell, was a native son and that counted a lot for Jack then even if James was not a Breton. (Funny later he would go through seven kinds of hell with his own mother before telling her to kiss off.) But Villon was a legitimate bandit-prince who hung with the lumpen outside the guarded moats ready to pounce one minute on the next jackroll victim (some historians have speculated that Villon and his scumbags invented the jackroll, taking a bag of nails or coins if they had any wrapping them in a small cloth and under cover of darkness bopping some old lady or drunken sot for their dough). A lost art that Jack would use more than once in Times Square when some pansy hipster tried to do tricks on him and he bopped him for hot dog money at Howard Johnson’s stuff like that, yes, a lost but helpful art for those who lived outside the law, for those whose only road was the road.

And there she was the girl with the Bette Davis eyes all dewy even as a desert dust storm was brewing just outside the Gates of Eden reading Villon in French (her mother was French a catch for her woe begotten father during World War I service in France with the American Expeditionary Force who came back to Eden saw the dust and stone wood and left on the next train with some Singer sewing machine salesman with four quarters and a quart of wine). That Garden of Eden business a gag, a gag of sorts since the diner that he father owned, no, really her grandfather who was getting too old to run the place but too ornery to let his deadbeat son who couldn’t keep a French whore, Gramp’s words, in the middle of the desert from running away with the next time that came by with long pants on was just outside the main entrance to the Petrified Forest (couldn’t later a guy like Allan Ginsberg or even novice poet Dean Moriarty have a field day with that idea as the 1930s was tearing America, tearing the world apart, making the world turn in on itself). The gag was that Gramps an old Kentucky coalminer until he was thirteen and figured out that he would rather not die in Appalachia with the muskrats had headed out of the hills and hollows as fast as he could. Head out to California where he had heard had streets paved of gold and young girls ready to give whatever they had to give. But see Gramps and his forbears were sitting folk, were tied to the tired land so long that they would sit down anywhere where that didn’t have to pretend to seek prosperity. So Gramps stopped at the Petrified Forest once he ran into some Nevada Jane heading east after busting out heading west who worked at the diner and who played the flute for him until she too ran off with some calico salesman. Gramps just stayed put and married the first woman who smiled at him (Gabby’s grandma) and that ended the road west in that generation.         
      
So poor rattled and pestered Gabby was torn between sweet perfume dreams of Left Bank Paris cafes and that endless rock-hard dust. Then out of the blue some pretty hobo came walking up the road to the diner all dusty and road worn, a hobo whose name turned out to be Leslie Howard (that would be important later to Gabby if meaningless to Jack when she inherited his life insurance policy but that was later long after Jack had gathered in the wanderlust that set that first Breton to Canadian shores and that fucking raging Saint Lawrence River of no returns) Listen up, Jack did, this Leslie Howard was no stumble bum like half the hoboes, tramps, bums, and there are social distinctions among the brethren who were running around the country stopping at railroad jungle camps or sleeping under unkempt bridges and arroyos but a real live itinerant intellectual who had when he had seen the first turnings of the world inward in those times got the hell out of  Europe as fast as he could (he would be found later when Gabby looked for next of kin to see if anybody would contest the life insurance policy to have been Jewish not a good thing to be in Europe in those times to be a “rootless cosmopolitan”) This Howard, let’s call him that since it is as good as any other and who knows what he real name was if he was on the run bedazzled Gabby from minute one leaving that lug gas jockey out to dry with the trees. Knew his Villon cold, knew that he too was a bandit prince who hung outside the moats with the lumpen.

Right then Jack’s already strong flight of fantasy knew that he was kindred, here was guy who loved to read but could not settle down with at crazy-mixed up world pounding tattoos in his fevered brain. If anybody had been near Jack in that darkened orchestra section fit only for one-date girls and sullen adults they would have heard him gasp every time this Howard said anything of import to Gabby. Jack’s fevered mind started sketching things out, read like crazy, write like crazy and keep on the move, always on the move. What Jack would call later in one of his lesser but more philosophical books the quest, the grail hunt, the breaking from the holy goofs that keep you penned in and unfree, that holy goof a well-worn word in Jack talk. For now though just the germ of a plan.

They say that Bretons are not only are hearty but also headstrong and Jack sensed in Gabby just such characteristics even though she was nothing but some dirt farmer Okie, Arkie descendent. He would forever search for his Gabby but never find her, and frankly that search was just one among a number of searches later. This guy Leslie, what made him tick, why Jack was drawn to him like lemmings from the sea was more problematic. The Villon, hobo road warrior philosopher king part was straight up. He would have a million sleepless night visions of being out on some tramp road in say Winnemucca or Yuma facing no dough and no food or water and glad-tiding himself into soft spot, some soft bed if that was the way the thing played out. Pearl-diving, you know washing dishes for his meal in some such Garden of Eden diner somewhere if necessary just to stay on the road one more day. That part held romance, held him in thrall.

What Jack couldn’t figure out especially since the girl with the Bette Davis eyes was totally smitten by him and his wayward ways against the lugs, demented grandpas, jelly-fish fathers and abandoned down some Seine River mother not unlike the Merrimack always close to his dreams especially that rocky crest around the old Lowell Textile Institute why this modern day troubadour had so little regard for himself that he would let a bum like the notorious Duke Mantee, yes, that Duke who was the scourge of the West just then put two random slugs into his body. He tries, and would continue to try later to understand the idea of the retreat of the intellectuals, that the time of the caveman was making a reappearance after so much spent trying to come up from the mud and slime. Backwards. Damn, that bothered Jack, would bother him until his own dying breath when he turned on the intellectuals with a vengeance. The now dank dark movie hall left him utterly perplexed about what would happen to him when he had to face his own road west.

Outside the movie theater, actually he had been in the lobby when he spied her and then hailed her, Jack stopped that come hither Paula Cole and asked her if she would like to go to the movies that next Friday night when the films changed. When she answered yes Jack now a veteran of the ploy asked Paula -orchestra or balcony? Answer: “don’t be silly I would not have accepted if we weren’t going to the balcony.” With that he would put the fate of Howard in the back of his mind. First things first.

********************

Jack brought the Tokay, the cheap wine of the day that got him through the day and the only other wine beside kosher Mogen David mad monk (although just then demurely so) Allan Ginsberg, hereafter Monk, would drink to set himself up to read some sliver of a poem. This night expecting a bunch of people to of all things a North Beach (San Fran) converted garage gallery something the Monk would put an end to guys like T.S. Eliot, bum of the month Nazi-symp Ezra Pound and about fifty other guys and twenty other gals including his high school prose father. Would burn their old-fashioned words now of no account on a pile of burnt offerings, a pile of faggots (he would not learn until later that word’s common origins use to destroy brethren fellow homosexuals). Would get the world well, for a minute, in search of some fatherless compadre, in search of the father Jack claimed he had never known, and not he alone in the welter of great depressions and slogging through war. Maybe in the end they were searching for Father Death who knows. Jack passed the wine, passed all understanding before that search was consummated.    

Some guy, some guy who claims that his mother had worked at City Lights Bookstore in those days and had had an affair with the poet Phillip Larkin and had brought the dago red and him to the reading. Claimed to know Jack, or maybe it was the Monk in the old days, in the days when they raged with so many words they couldn’t keep enough Woolworth 5 &10 notebooks in flannel shirts or golf scorecard pencils ready wrote this, second hand about being present at the creation, second hand. At this far remove it is hard to tell fact from fiction, tell who is bullshitting and who has the goods especially since virtually all the background characters are gone, some long gone. Make of that what you will.   

********
         
I have seen the best poet of the generation before mine, no, let me start over, I have seen a universal max daddy poet speaking some truths to put old Homer and freaking staid T.S. Eliot in the shade. Starting off by   declaring that he had seen that the best minds of his generation, guys like brother in soul Kerouac, be-bop Charlie Parker, Phil Larkin when he was sober, Johnny Spain when off the needle and doing cold turkey and of course the daddy them all one Carl Solomon turn to mush. Turned out in the barren wilderness, not the friendly desert-scrapes heading west on lonely Greyhound buses or Tourist Bureau hang-ups wilderness out pass Butte or Boise but what a novelist named Nelson Algren who called the shots and gave many a troubled youth the keys to the fixer man and wellness  called the neon wilderness, called that place where the bright lights of the city blinded a proper man (or woman) some junkie Frankie Machine haven with a wife he hated and a girlfriend who couldn’t stick with him when he was on the junk. That neon beast from which no one returned except for quick stays in safe haven mental asylums (called ironically funny farms but even the Monk, whose own mother had her share of sorrows in such places could find no humor in such designations).

Get this, no, let me start again against the cold nose of my sister filled heart. Saw, he the Monk okay in case I lose my train of thought passing through Salt Lake City and thoughts of Joseph Smith’s grand hustle taking a bunch of farmers from burned over lands to the searing sun of the western depot. Saw the same Negro streets Jack, and one time Jack and he when he, Jack was looking for some rough trade sailors just off the China Seas pierce earring trail saw around Blue Hill Avenue and Dudley Street blank, 125th Street blank, Dearborn Street blank, MacArthur Boulevard blank, Central Avenue blank, Cielo Street in Tijuana blank, Plaza del Mayo, Montezuma revenge Mexico blank, and wasted in the sweated fetid humid Thunderbird-lushed night dreaming of pink Cadillacs and stony-faced fixer men getting wise by the hour on Carl’s ancient fears. (And, this is funny or so the winos and every hobo, vagrant, escapee, drifter and grafter yelling out in unison thought so “what is the word-Thunderbird-what is the price forty twice.” Ready to jackroll some senior citizen lady for the price, for fucking eighty cents which any self-respecting junkie could cadge in two minutes even in Cielo Street, Tijuana and that is a hard peso to drill,-ready to commit mayhem at Park Street subway stations for their “boy,” to be tamped by girl but I will be discrete since the Feds might raid the place sometime looking for the ghost of Trigger Burke who eluded them for a very long time. (Trigger who captured Jack’s imagination and the Monk’s but here is the weird part Carl’s too who started strutting like him too after the prince of bandit-poets Corso showed him how to do that slinky swagger on the last visit before the blade at Sandhill).

Thought that those angel-headed hipsters hearing choruses of angels strumming their noiseless wings, those cold as ice in a man’s veins hep cats hanging around Times, Lafayette, Dupont, Harvard squares (you can fill in your own squares, square the Monk laughed and Jack hee-hawed) crying in pools of blood coming out of the wolves-stained sewers around the black corner would never stop bleating for their liquor. Would not stop until they got popular and headed for the sallow lights of Harvard Square where they, those angel-headed hipsters in  case you (and Carl) forgot  hustled young college students, young impressionable college students green as grass whose parents had had their best minds, those hallowed students’ mines, okay, wasted in the turbid streets of south Long Island (not the West Egg of Gatsby’s dream out of Fitzgerald’s fresh green breast of land to stir even sullen rough trade Dutch sailors looking for whips and cuts, conquering everything in sight like any other poor-boy arriviste with too much money and not enough imagination and not East Egg of the fervid elites but any-town, Levitt-town of those who would escape to Boston or Wisconsin to face the angel of death, that angel frightening even Monk when Carl was not around to anchor his brain. Up front and say no go, pass, under luminous moons which light up sparks and say to that candid world which could have given a fuck hard times please come again no more.

Here is the beauty of the green as grass hustle working fast to get enough to fix that jones. Dangle some college guy, maybe with a girl, shy, with dreams of hard-core liquor or a well-twisted joints to loosen her up and her fragile come hither virginity (reminding Jack of that Paula Coe who played the flute for him more than one time in that Majestic Theater balcony some hardcore Friday night and the Monk, searching for some blue-eyed  Adonis, settling for some pimpled has been teenager seeking his own father dreams). Lay out the story-kid your booze and something for me. Done. Later, a big bottle wrapped tight in a paper bag. Trick, a very thin brew of whiskey split and cash for him to get himself well. Oh the hipster cons which would have made even the Monk laugh.        

The Monk saw hipsters cadging wine drinks from sullen co-eds staying out too late in the Harvard Square night who turned out to be slumming from some plebian colleges across the river maybe good Irish girls from frail Catholic parishes with rosaries in their fair-skinned hands and a novena book between their knees who nevertheless has Protestant lusts, strong Protestant lusts busting down the shrines to Immaculate Conception Virgin Marys pretty painted by guys like Tintoretto and marching to the church door just behind Martin Luther and his bag of lusts and Salvation Army clothing in their pallid hearts but unrequited. Here’s how-they those sullen salty Irish girls, not all redheads but close  would arrive at the Café Lana with ten bucks and their virginity and leave with both leaving some guy with dreams of salty sucking blowjobs walking out the backdoor and doing the whack job behind the dumpster –a waste of precious fluids and according to Norman Mailer who would have known from his perch down in Provincetown when the mix of homosexuals and straight, except those lusty lonely Portuguese fisherman Marsden Hartley loved to paint (and to love)  the waste of world-historic fucks which would product the best minds of the next generation all dribbled away.

You already know about what you need to know about Protestant girls with their upfront Protestant lusts although they would not be caught dead, or alive, in Sally splendor although they certainly could play the penny whistle and damn those world historic fucks. Maybe tasty Jewish girls from the shtetl not in East or West Egg who flocked to the other side of the river and gave Irish guys who previously had dribbled their spunk behind dumpsters after losing out to ten bucks and virginity in tack tickey-tack Catholic girls who refused to give that head that would have brought some of the best minds some freaking relief (better not say fucking relief because that would be oxymoronic). Maybe some off-center sullen fair-skinned and blonded Quaker, Mennonite, Primitive Baptist or Brethren of the Common Life kind of Protestant girls, like I said off-center, who spouted something about one god and no trinities, no god and no trinities and just feel good stuff.

All three varieties and yes there were more off-centers but who even knew of Quakers, Mennonites, lusty Amish girls run away from home, Tantric card-wheelers, and fresh- faced red light district sluts who at least played the game straight-played the cash nexus for pure pleasure and maybe to even up some scores. All-Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, yeah, Quakers (fakirs, fakers and Shakers included), the sluts, Mennonites and yes those lusty red-faced Amish runaways all coming together after midnight far from the negro streets, the Monk’s beat and no anachronism like saying black or Afro-American back to those Mister James Crow days, but not far from the all night hustlers and dime store hipsters with their ten-cent cigar store rings and cheap Irish whiskeys bought on the installment plan who converged around the Hayes-Bickford just a seven league jump from the old end of the line dead of night Redline subway stop in order to keep the angel of death at arms’ length. The angel of death a tough bitch to break, and tougher to cross when they deal went down. There to listen until dawn to homosexuality- affixed hungry for the keyhole blast or the running sperm fakir poets, the Monk number one of all the number ones  and slamming singsters (to keep up with the gangster, mobster, hipster theme, okay) fresh out of cheapjack coffeehouses where three chords and two-line rhymes repeated in call and response got you all the action you wanted although maybe a little light on the breadbasket sent around to show that you were appreciated. Yeah, now that I think about the matter more closely hard times please come again no more.                    

Saw the angel of death make her appearance one night at the Café Lana and then backstopped the Club Nana to fetch one young thing who warbled like heaven’s own angel. Some Norman Mailer white hipster (read the Partisan Review essay if you don’t get this about all kinds of cultural mishmash and sexual too just ask the Monk when he was in his hungers and not worried about singing some Walt Whitman song about the rotgut of his generation) turned her on to a little sister and then some boy and she no longer warbled. No longer warbled like that angel angle heaven- shamed chorus but did sweet candy cane tricks for high-end businessmen with homely wives or fruitless ones who had given up that sort of “thing” after the third junior had been born and who were ready to make her their mistress if she would just stop singing kumbaya after every fuck like she was still a freaking warbler. A freaking virgin or something instead of “used” goods or maybe good for schoolboys whose older brothers took them to her for their first fling at going around the world, welcome to the brotherhood or maybe some old fart who just wanted to relive his dreams before the booze, the three wives and parcel of kids did him in and then the hustler sent her back to the Club Nana to “score” from the club owner who was connected with Nick the dream doper man, what did Nelson Algren and Frankie Machine call him in dead of night, yes, the fixer man, Christ who would get him- and her well –on those mean angel-abandoned death watch streets. Who knew that one night at the Hayes (everybody called it just that after they had been there one night), one after midnight night where they had that first cup of weak-kneed coffee replenished to keep a place in the scoreboarded night where hari-kara poets dreamed toke dreams, and brought paper-bag wrapped Tokay wines just like Monk’s Jack and some Mister dreamed of fresh-faced singer girls looking for kicks. So please, please, hard times come again no more.              

I have seen frosted lemon trees jammed against the ferrous night, the night of silly foolish childhood dreams and misunderstanding about the world, the world that that poet spoke of in a teenage dream of indefinite duration about who was to have and who was to have not once those minds were de-melted and made hip  to the tragedies of life, the close call with the mental house that awaits us all. Yeah Monk was right even about Carl Solomon and all his sorrows before the knife.
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What the hell did sullen Carl Solomon start before he went under the knife with his pleading for his father, a father that he had never known since he had been left back in Poland to peddle his fruits and vegetables to his brethren and his mother and the four kids headed to the Americas on some tub of a boat and never looked back. Rumors abounded that he survived because he had a gentile mistress grabbed after his wife and kids left. That at least is the story Carl told, told endlessly which would not be so bad but the Monk picked it up in his own moment of despair.

Monk searched his valium brain for his own prose-filled father but that was not nearly good enough, kept him awake at night because he had strange dreams that his father was not some fake high school teacher writing awful poems in broken down post-war America. Was afraid that his real father was William Appleton Williams who denied him three times, didn’t want to believe that his broken words would mesh so well. Had better dreams that his real father was sexy Walt Whitman (this remember in dialogue with Carl Solomon before the knife so it is not clear whether Carl remembered) whose vagabond dreams matched his and his homosexual desire beating out some Johnny Reb who could give Walt the ride he desired. Here is the trick though the Monk had sweet dreams whenever he read Leaves of Grass (usually on grass) and he passed that on to Jack in some secret moment in Denver when some screwball Adonis was looking for his father.

Now Jack, funny before Carl grabbed Monk with the father who we never knew religion, always thought he knew his father, knew the con artist, poker cheater, movie theater ticket taker great bear of a French-Canadian who came down the Jackson, Maine road with five cents Canadian in his pocket and dreams of printing up ads. But that was not the father that he knew but some skinny stiff wino pissant who he sought out in greater Denver cattle yards. Always deferred to everlasting Mere, Mere out of some fresh Breton conceit never getting some whiplash from old father time who died before his time of heartache and heartbeats. So Jack conned himself into some holy goof, his words exactly, metaphysical search going up the Bear Mountain, Jackson, Wyoming Jackson not that trail of tears from down in Maine Jackson where the red brick and mortar spinning wheels beckoned and he spent and spilled his young manhood trying to get the fuck out from under even if he couldn’t drive, made him nervous, to save his life. Funny again that fame never stopped the bleeding inside looking behind some bushes for some father death, some father time pissing against that Tokay dream he figured out back in about 1946 but could never get past. The Monk did him no service on that long trail drive from Monument Creek to Sunnyvale and then drop off and outs at Big Sur where he got sober for a week.   

Damn that stuff is contagious, will drive you crazy, when twice removed Lance, me, went looking for the father he never knew too. Looked for him behind closed doors to his heart. That distant slightly dim figure who brought home not enough pay checks. Who never talked about but never got over the Pacific war like a lot of guys who found themselves on tubs picking up stray comrades from washed-up beaches, picking up too guys who got too close to chore, got wasted in some windless fire and fell down into the green-gray-blue surf that gets us all in the end. The old man, father, never talked much, much about anything that Lance, me would understand and so Jack-like Ma, Mere, Mom, Mere whatever you want to call her ran rough-shot over childish dreams and insecurities. Here’s the worst of it though, Jack-like, he never got to say good-bye to that father he never knew and crushed his days with regret, total regret that he didn’t have the sense of a holy goof, Jack talk, to have called a truce, even an armed truce to the madness that wracked his silly excuse for a family, and now all his has is slate grey stone to place the remnants down in some unknown holy place where he can never dwell, yes, Lawrence, me, got caught in the Monk’s version of Carl’s plainsong, no, got stuck in the damn mire.          

Silly to think that the father time search would only apply to men, young men, holy goofs like Lawrence, me, when the max daddy sin of all was the way Jack, in Jack speak, abandoned his Jan, his spitting image Jan, denied like Christ was denied three times by the count. Jan who would search like some strange Kenneth Rexroth figure for the father we all knew, or thought we knew once he pointed us toward the light, once we got the beat, the second-hand beat that washed us clean in places like Big Sur and Todo el Mundo where Jan still searches in some desperate wild water surf for some broken down guy who wasted away with drink, and she with drink too. Jesus, funny he was searching for his father too out in Middle Eastern wildernesses, will it never end.     

Contagious that is what Sam Lowell said about the freaking search for that lost father world made up of pure sand and not much else. Some goof, the holy part excluded was looking for his father, his famous private detective father, a guy named Lew Archer, who back around Jack time in California ran the rack on few good cases and then rested for forty years something like that. Tried to claim that his father’s life death was due to his father’s overused whip, his sorrows that he could not go the distance with his wife, this goof’s grandmother, his code of honor that once he took a job he was in, totally in, for good or evil, and       
maybe that he drank too much Tokay, Jack-like when he wound up behind some freaking wino pissant dumpster saved but some sister of mercy who could not save him in the end. Get this though that junkie weirdo so-called grandson, some modern-day Carl Solomon without the sorrows before he went under the knife could not be searching for Lew, Lew Archer since Lew never had a son, had no children. Sorry goof,    

Out on the Jersey looking east first to see the great ocean that drove his forbears to search for fresh green breasts of land then west to seek dungeon filled fathers never known in Denver, Santa Fe, Salt Lake City Salvation Army hotels or whatever they call those blessed places of rest the whole deal was to figure out a way to look for some American cowboy past, looking for the Monk’s Adonis if he couldn’t make it with sexy Walt Whitman with the furl of whiskers. There sat Dean Moriarty, no, fuck that, one Neal Cassidy who would ride the freight trains west looking for that father the others really did think they had found. Neal’s old man was in some wino jailcell speaking in tongues to a candid world. Maybe Carl was right, Monk too we should all cry to the high heavens looking for the fathers we never knew.             


On The 60th Anniversary Of Jack Kerouac's "On The Road"- Out In The Be-Bop Night- Fragments On Working Class Culture- Scenes From The Search For The Blue-Pink Great American West Night-Highway 1969






By Book Critic Zack James


To be honest I know about On The Road Jack Kerouac’s epic tale of his generation’s search for something, maybe the truth, maybe just for kicks, for stuff, important stuff that had happened down in the base of society where nobody in authority was looking or some such happening strictly second-hand. His generation’s search looking for a name, found what he, or someone associated with him, maybe the bandit poet Gregory Corso, king of the mean New York streets, mean, very mean indeed in a junkie-hang-out world around Times Square when that place was up to its neck in flea-bit hotels, all-night Joe and Nemo’s and the trail of the “fixer” man on every corner, con men coming out your ass too, called the “beat” generation. (Yes,  I know that the actual term “beat” was first used by Kerouac writer friend John Clemmon Holmes in an article in some arcane journal but the “feel” had to have come from a less academic source so I will crown the bandit prince Corso as genesis) Beat, beat of the jazzed up drum line backing some sax player searching for the high white note, what somebody told me, maybe my older brother Alex they called “blowing to the China seas” out in West Coast jazz and blues circles, that high white note he heard achieved one skinny night by famed sax man Sonny Johns, dead beat, run out on money, women, life, leaving, and this is important no forwarding address for the desolate repo man to hang onto, dread beat, nine to five, 24/7/365 that you will get caught back up in the spire wind up like your freaking staid, stay at home parents, beaten down, ground down like dust puffed away just for being, hell, let’s just call it being, beatified beat like saintly and all high holy Catholic incense and a story goes with it about a young man caught up in a dream, like there were not ten thousand other religions in the world to feast on- you can take your pick of the meanings, beat time meanings. Hell, join the club they all did, the guys, and it was mostly guys who hung out on the mean streets of New York, Chi town, North Beach in Frisco town cadging twenty-five cents a night flea-bag sleeps, half stirred left on corner diners’ coffees and cigarette stubs when the Bull Durham ran out).

I was too young to have had anything but a vague passing reference to the thing, to that “beat” thing since I was probably just pulling out of diapers then, maybe a shade bit older but not much. I got my fill, my brim fill later through my oldest brother Alex. Alex, and his crowd, more about that in a minute, but even he was only washed clean by the “beat” experiment at a very low level, mostly through reading the book (need I say the book was On The Road) and having his mandatory two years of living on the road around the time of the Summer of Love, 1967 an event whose 50th anniversary is being commemorated this year as well and so very appropriate to mention since there were a million threads, fibers, connections between “beat” and “hippie” despite dour grandpa Jack’s attempts to trash those connection when they acolytes came calling looking for the “word.” So even Alex and his crowd were really too young to have been washed by the beat wave that crashed the continent toward the end of the 1950s on the wings of Allan Ginsburg’s Howl and Jack’s travel book of a different kind (not found on the AAA, Traveler’s Aid, Youth Hostel brochure circuit if you please although Jack and the crowd, my brother and his crowd later would use such services when up against it in let’s say a place like Winnemucca in the Nevadas or Neola in the heartlands). Literary stuff for sure but the kind of stuff that moves generations, or I like to think the best parts of those cohorts. These were the creation documents the latter of which would drive Alex west before he finally settled down to his career life as a high-road lawyer (and to my sorrow and anger never looked back).             

Of course anytime you talk about books and poetry and then add my brother’s Alex name into the mix that automatically brings up memories of another name, the name of the late Peter Paul Markin. Markin, for whom Alex and the rest of the North Adamsville corner boys, Frankie, Jack, Jimmy, Si, Josh (he a separate story from up in Olde Saco, Maine),   Bart, and a few others still alive recently had me put together a tribute book for in connection with that Summer of Love, 1967, their birthright event, just mentioned.  Markin was the vanguard guy, the volunteer odd-ball unkempt mad monk seeker who got several of them off their asses and out to the West Coast to see what there was to see. To see some stuff that Markin had been speaking of for a number of years before (and which nobody in the crowd paid any attention to, or dismissed out of hand what they called “could give a rat’s ass” about in the local jargon which I also inherited in those cold, hungry bleak 1950s cultural days in America) and which can be indirectly attributed to the activities of Jack, Allen Ginsburg, Gregory Corso, that aforementioned bandit poet who ran wild on the mean streets among the hustlers, conmen and whores of the major towns of the continent, William Burroughs, the Harvard-trained junkie  and a bunch of other guys who took a very different route for our parents who were of the same generation as them but of a very different world.

But it was above all Jack’s book, Jack’s book which had caused a big splash in 1957(after an incredible publishing travail since the story line actually related to events in the late 1940s and which would cause Jack no end of trauma when the kids showed up at his door looking to hitch a ride on the motherlode star, and had ripple effects into the early 1960s (and even now certain “hip” kids acknowledge the power of attraction that book had for their own developments, especially that living simple, fast and hard part). Made the young, some of them anyway, like I say I think the best part, have to spend some time thinking through the path of life ahead by hitting the vagrant dusty sweaty road. Maybe not hitchhiking, maybe not going high speed high through the ocean, plains, mountain desert night but staying unsettled for a while anyway.    

Like I said above Alex was out on the road two years and other guys, other corner boys for whatever else you wanted to call them that was their niche back in those days and were recognized as such in the town not always to their benefit, from a few months to a few years. Markin started first back in the spring of 1967 but was interrupted by his fateful induction into the Army and service, if you can call it that, in Vietnam and then several more years upon his return before his untimely and semi-tragic end. With maybe this difference from today’s young who are seeking alternative roads away from what is frankly bourgeois society and was when Jack wrote although nobody except commies and pinkos called it that for fear of being tarred with those brushes. Alex, Frankie Riley the acknowledged leader, Jack Callahan and the rest, Markin included, were strictly “from hunger” working class kids who when they hung around Tonio Pizza Parlor were as likely to be thinking up ways to grab money fast any way they could or of getting into some   hot chick’s pants any way they could as anything else. Down at the base of society when you don’t have enough of life’s goods or have to struggle too much to get even that little bit “from hunger” takes a big toll on your life. I can testify to that part because Alex was not the only one in the James family to go toe to toe with the law, it was a close thing for all us boys as it had been with Jack when all is said and done. But back then dough and sex after all was what was what for corner boys, maybe now too although you don’t see many guys hanging on forlorn Friday night corners anymore.

What made this tribe different, the Tonio Pizza Parlor corner boys, was mad monk Markin. Markin called by Frankie Riley the “Scribe” from the time he came to North Adamsville from across town in junior high school and that stuck all through high school. The name stuck because although Markin was as larcenous and lovesick as the rest of them he was also crazy for books and poetry. Christ according to Alex, Markin was the guy who planned most of the “midnight creeps” they called then. Although nobody in their right minds would have the inept Markin actually execute the plan. That was for smooth as silk Frankie now also a high-road lawyer to lead. That operational sense was why Frankie was the leader then (and maybe why he was a locally famous lawyer later who you definitely did not want to be on the other side against him). Markin was also the guy who all the girls for some strange reason would confide in and thus was the source of intelligence about who was who in the social pecking order, in other words, who was available, sexually or otherwise. That sexually much more important than otherwise. See Markin always had about ten billion facts running around his head in case anybody, boy or girl, asked him about anything so he was ready to do battle, for or against take your pick.

The books and the poetry is where Jack Kerouac and On The Road come into the corner boy life of the Tonio’s Pizza Parlor life. Markin was something like an antennae for anything that seemed like it might help create a jailbreak, help them get out from under. Later he would be the guy who introduced some of the guys to folk music when that was a big thing. (Alex never bought into that genre, still doesn’t, despite Markin’s desperate pleas for him to check it out. Hated whinny Bob Dylan above all else) Others too like Kerouac’s friend Allen Ginsburg and his wooly homo poem Howl from 1956 which Markin would read sections out loud from on lowdown dough-less, girl-less Friday nights. And drive the strictly hetero guys crazy when he insisted that they read the poem, read what he called a new breeze was coming down the road. They could, using that term from the times again, have given a rat’s ass about some fucking homo faggot poem from some whacko Jewish guy who belonged in a mental hospital. (That is a direct quote from Frankie Riley at the time via my brother Alex’s memory bank.)


Markin flipped out when he found out that Kerouac had grown up in Lowell, a working class town very much like North Adamsville, and that he had broken out of the mold that had been set for him and gave the world some grand literature and something to spark the imagination of guys down at the base of society like his crowd with little chance of grabbing the brass ring. So Markin force-marched the crowd to read the book, especially putting pressure on my brother who was his closest friend then. Alex read it, read it several times and left the dog- eared copy around which I picked up one day when I was having one of my high school summertime blues. Read it through without stopping almost like Jack wrote the final version of the thing on a damn newspaper scroll in about three weeks. So it was through Markin via Alex that I got the Kerouac bug. And now on the 60th anniversary I am passing on the bug to you.           


*******
The scene below stands(or falls) as a moment in support of that eternal search mentioned in the headline.

Scene Three: A First Misstep In The Search For The Blue-Pink Great American West Night


Let me tell this story, okay, this story about a couple of guys that I picked up hitch-hiking out on the 1960s highway. I’ll get to what highway it was later because it could have been any highway, any American or European, or maybe even African or Asian highway, if those locales had such highways, at least highways for cars back in those days. Anyway it’s their story, these two guys, really, and maybe around the edges my story, and if you are of a certain age, your story, just a little anyway.

Some of it though just doesn’t sound right now, or read right, at least the way they told it to me but we will let that pass ‘cause it has been a while and memories, mine in this case, sometimes seize up even among the best of us. Ya, but this part I do remember so let’s just subtitle this one a segment on that search for the blue-pink great American West night and that makes this thing a lot of people’s story. Let’s get to it right now by picking up where they and I intersect on the great American 1960s road:

Two young men were standing pretty close together, talking, up ahead at the side of a brisk, chilly, early spring morning 1969 road, a highway really, a white-lined, four-laned, high-speed highway if you want to know, thumbs out, as I came driving down the line alone in my Volkswagen Beetle (or bug, hey, that’s what they were called in those days, you still see some old restored or well-preserved ones around, especially out on the left coast), see them, and begin to slow down to pick them up. I would no more think not to pick them up than not to breathe. A few years earlier and I would have perhaps been afraid to pick up such an unlikely pair, a few years later and they would not have been on that road. But the thumbs out linked them, and not them alone on this day or in this time, with the old time hitchhike road, the vagabond road that your mother, if she was wise or nervous, told you never ever, ever to take (and it was always Ma who told you this, your father was either held in reserve for the big want-to-do battles, or else was bemused by sonny boy wanting to spread his wings, or better yet, was secretly passing along his own long ago laid aside blue-pink highway dreams).

This pair in any case, as you shall see, were clearly brothers, no, not brothers in the biological sense, although that sometimes was the case, but brothers on that restless, tireless, endless, hitchhike road. My hitchhike road yesterday, and maybe tomorrow, but today I have wheels and they don’t and that was that. No further explanation needed. I stopped. From the first close-up look at them these guys were young, although not too young, not high school or college young but more mid-twenties maybe graduate student young. I’ll describe in more detail how they looked in a minute but for those who desperately need to know where I picked them up, the exact locale that is, let me put your anxieties to rest and tell you that it was heading south on the Connecticut side of the Massachusetts-Connecticut border of U.S. Interstate 84, one of the main roads to New York City from Boston. Are you happy now? Not as sexy as some of those old-time Kerouac-Cassady late 1940s “beat” roads, but I believe their ghosts were nevertheless hovering in the environs. Hell, now that I think about it, would it have mattered if I said it was Route 6, or Route 66, or Route 666 where I picked them up. I picked them up, that was the way it was done in those halcyon days, and that’s the facts, man, nothing but the facts.

Hey, by the way, while we are talking about facts, just the hard-headed fact of this pair standing on the side of a highway road should have been enough to alert the reader that this is no current episode but rather a tale out of the mist of another American time. Who in their right mind today would be standing on such a road, thumb out, or not, expecting some faded Dennis Hopper-like flower child, or Ken Kesey-like Merry Prankster hold-out to stop. No this was the time of their time, the 1960s (or at the latest, the very latest, about 1973). You have all seen the bell-bottomed jeans, the fringed-deerskin jackets, the long hair and beards and all other manner of baubles in those exotic pre-digital photos so that one really need not bother to describe their appearances. But I will, if only to tempt the fates, or the imaginations of the young.

One, the slightly older one, wispy-bearded, like this was maybe his first attempt at growing the then de rigueur youth nation-demanded male beard to set one apart from the them (and from the eternal Gillette, Bic, Shick razor cuts, rubbing alcohol at the ready, splash of English Leather, spanking clean date night routine, ah, ah, farewell to all that). Attired: Levi blue-jean’d with flared-out bottoms, not exactly bell-bottoms but denims that not self-respecting cowboy, or cowboy wanna-be would, or could, wear out in the grey-black , star-studded great plains night; plaid flannel shirt that one would find out there in that bronco-busting night (or in backwoodsman-heavy Maine and Oregon in the time of the old Wobblies or Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion); skimpily-sneakered, Chuck Taylor blacks, from the look of them, hardly the wear for tackling the great American foot-sore hitchhike road which makes me think that these are guys have started on something like their maiden voyage on that old road; and over one shoulder the ubiquitous string-tied bedroll that speaks already of ravine sleep, apartment floor pick your space sleep, and other such vagabond sleep certainly not of Holiday Inn or even flea-bag motel sleeps; and over the other shoulder the also ubiquitous life’s gatherings in a knapsack (socks, a few utensils, maybe underwear, and the again maybe not, change of shirt, a few toilet articles, not much more but more than the kings (and queens) of the roads, 1930s ancestor forbears carried, for sure , ask any old Wobblie, or bum-hobo-tramp hierarch- take your pick-who took that hard-scrabble, living out of your emptied pocket road).

And the other young man, a vision of heaven’s own high 1960s counter-cultural style: long-haired, not quite a pony tail if tied back and maybe not Easy Rider long but surely no advertisement for Gentleman’s Quarterly even in their earnest days of keeping up with the new tastes to corner the more couth segments of the hippie market; cowboy-hatted, no, not a Stetson, howdy, Tex, kind of thing but some Army-Navy store-bought broad brimmed, sun-bashing, working cowboy hat that spoke of hard-riding, branding, cattle night lowing, whiskey and women Saturday town bust-ups, just right for a soft-handed, soft-skinned city boy fearful of unlit places, or places that are not lit up like a Christmas tree; caped, long swirling cape, like someone’s idea of old-time film Zorro stepping out with the senoritas; guitar, an old Martin from the look of it, slung over one shoulder, not protective cased against the winds, rains, snows, or just the bang-ups of living, but protective in other ways when night falls and down in the hills and hollows, or maybe by a creek, heaven’s own strum comes forth. Woody Guthrie’s own child, or stepchild, or some damn relative. I swear.

Welcome brothers, as I open up the passenger side door. “Where are you guys heading?” This line is more meaningful than you might think for those who know, as I know, and as these lads will know, as well, if they spent any time on the hitchhike road. Sometimes it was better, even on a high-speed highway, to not take any old ride that came along if, say, some kind–hearted local spirit was only going a few miles, or the place where a driver would let you out on the highway was a tough stop. Not to worry though these guys, Jack and Mattie, were hitchhiking to California. California really, I swear, although they are stopping off at a crisscross of places on their way. A pretty familiar routine by then, playing hopscotch, thumbs out, across the continent.

These guys were, moreover, indeed brothers, because you see once we started comparing biographical notes, although they never put it that way, or really never could just because of the way they thought about things as I got to know them better on the ride, were out there searching, and searching hard, for my blue-pink night. Christ, there were heaven’s own blessed armies, brigades anyway, of us doing it, although like I said about Jack and Mattie most of the brothers and sisters did not get caught up in the colors of that night, like I did, and just “dug” the search. Jack and Mattie are in luck, in any case, because on this day I’m heading to Washington, D.C. and they have friends near there in Silver Springs, Maryland. The tides of the times are riding with us.

And why, by the way, although it is not germane to the story or at least this part of it, am I heading to D.C.? D Well, the cover story is to do some anti-war organizing but, for your eyes only, I had just broken up, for the umpteenth time, with a women who drove me to distraction, sometimes pleasantly but on that occasion fitfully, who I could not, and did not, so I thought, want to get out of my system, but had to put a little distance away from. You know that story, boys and girls, in your own lives so I do not have to spend much time on the details here, although that theme might turn up again. Besides, if you really want to read that kind of story the romance novels section of any library or the DVD film section, for that matter, can tell the story with more heart-throbbing panache that you will find here.

I’ve got a kind of weird story to tell you about why Jack and Mattie were on this desolate border stretch of the highway in a minute but let me tell a little about what they were trying to do out on that road, that west road. First, I was right, mostly, about their ages, but Jack and Mattie were no graduate students on a spring lark before grinding away at some master’s thesis on the meaning of meaning deconstuct’d (although this reference is really an anachronism since such literary theories were not then fashionably on display on the world’s campuses, but you get the drift) or some such worthy subject in desperate need of research in a time when this old world was falling apart and the bombs were (are) raining (literally) on many parts of the world.

In one sense they were graduates though, graduates of the university of hard knocks, hard life, and hard war. They had just a few months before been discharged, a little early as the war, or the American ground troops part of it, was winding down, from the U.S. Army after a couple of tours of duty in ‘Nam (their usage, another of their privileged usages was “in-country”). I swear I didn’t believe them at first, no way, they looked like the poster boys for the San Francisco Summer of Love in 1967. Something, something big was going on here and my mind was trying to digest the sight of these two guys, “good, solid citizens” before the “man” turned them around in that overseas Vietnam quagmire who looked in attire, demeanor, and style just like the guy (me) who picked them up.

Ya, but that is only part of it and not even the most important part, really, because this California thing was also no lark. This is their break-out, bust-out moment and they are going for it. As we rode along that old super highway they related stories about how they came back from “in-county”, were going to settle down, maybe get married (or move in with a girlfriend or seven), and look forward to social security when that distant time came. But something snapped inside of them, and this is where every old Jack London hobo, every old Wobblie, every old bummer on the 1930s rail highway, hell even every old beat denizen of some Greenwich Village walk-up was a kindred spirit. Like I said, and I am sitting right in the car listening to them with a little smirk on my face, the boys are searching that same search that I am searching for and that probably old Walt Whitman really should take the blame for, okay. I’ll tell you more, or rather; I’ll let them tell you more some other time but let me finish up here with that weird little story about why they were at that god forsaken point on the highway.

Look, everybody knows, or should know, or at least knew back then that hitchhiking, especially hitchhiking on the big roads was illegal, and probably always was even when every tramp and tramp-ette in America had his or her thumb out in the 1930s. But usually the cops or upstanding citizenry either ignored it or, especially in small towns, got you on some vagrancy rap. Hey, if you had spent any time on the hitchhike road you had to have been stopped at least once if for no other reason than to harass you. Still some places were more notorious than others in hitchhike grapevine lore in those days, particularly noteworthy were Connecticut and Arizona (both places where I had more than my own fair share of “vagrancy” problems).

So I was not too far off when I figured out that Jack and Mattie were on their maiden voyage. Thumbs out and talking, the pair missed the then ever-present Connecticut state police cruiser coming from nowhere, or it seemed like nowhere, as it came to a stop sharply about five feet away from them. The pair gulped and prepared for the worst; being taken to some state police barracks and harassed and then let go at some backwater locale as the road lore had it. Or getting “vagged”. Or worst, a nice little nasty trick in those days, have “illegal” drugs conveniently, very conveniently, found on their person.

But get this, after a superficial search and the usual questions about destination, resources, and the law the pair instead were directed to walk the few hundred yards back across the border line to Massachusetts. Oh, I forgot this part; the state cop who stopped them was a Vietnam veteran himself. He had been an MP in ‘Nam. Go figure, right. So starts, the inauspicious start if you think about it, in one of the searches for the blue-pink great American West night. Nobody said it was going to be easy and, you know, they were right. Still every time I drive pass that spot (now close to an official Connecticut Welcomes You rest stop, whee!), especially on any moonless, starless, restless, hitchhiker-less road night I smile and give a little tip of the hat to those youthful, sanctified blue-pink dreams that almost got wrecked before they got started.