A Sketch From The Pen Of Frank Jackman
“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 describe 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
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
The Ghost Of Tom Joad, Indeed
A Sketch From The Pen Of Frank Jackman
A while back, maybe a year or so ago, early in 2014, Josh Breslin, the old-time writer for some of the alternative presses and houses that started up in the throes of the 1960s counter-cultural explosion did a book review of John Steinbeck’s skid row classic, Cannery Row. Back in the 1960s there had been a plethora of both which had surfaced and flowered in order to give out a different view of the world, different cultural takes, and different activist politics than the ones that were presented by mainstream media and Josh’s book and record reviews had a certain following in those alternative oases around the country.
Yes, I can see the scratching of heads about the rationale for this recent effort as readers are unable for the life of them to figure out why anybody would review such a book now, even such a classic book, which was published in 1945. As if the book had not been thoroughly reviewed unto death at the time, a timely time in any case, unlike his belated project, but Josh, as usual and I have known him long enough to be able to say the words, had a certain method to his madness.
See, Josh, although theoretically and quite reasonably retired, still writes occasionally for the dwindling remnant of alternatives presses and publishing houses which produce many of the radical and progressive magazines, newspapers, and books, which lay around today on some hipster’s coffee table, unread, as a show that, well, the owner is hip. Or had been back in the day when names like the Village Voice, City Lights, Rolling Stone, New Directions, and Free Press meant sometime to anybody with any pretenses to hip-dom. Fair enough though, since Josh still has things to write that are worth reading, especially by the younger set who seem to studiously avoid to their regret, as we did in our time a subject we continually return to over a drink or two on a cold night, learning any lessons provided by, well, older folk. Besides you cannot teach an old dog new tricks, or Josh anyway, and a guy who writes is like some old general who refuses to fade away and so he still writes for some of those outlets. But in addition to his writerly habits this Cannery Row review that he did was not done by happenstance but had followed shortly thereafter as a result of Josh having a vision, a vision of Tom Joad, or shades of the ghost of Tom Joad, out on the California highway, out on the Pacific Coast Highway, no lie.
Needless to say nobody, certainly no reader who does not know or remember Josh when he was in the full flower of his youth, has to believe that an old man, now in his turn an old time writer himself, actually saw Tom Joad, actually saw a fictional character on that coast highway road (or even a Henry Fonda trance who played Joad in the original film adaptation of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes Of Wrath). Nor does one have to believe in some legend of Tom Joad even though folksinger Woody Guthrie wrote songs about the man back in the dust bowl back-breaking 1930s. Nor for modern sensibilities even though rocker Bruce Springsteen wrote about Joad’s ghost in the 1990s. Hear me out though, or rather hear Josh out as he presents his case like he presented it to me one night a couple of weeks ago in the bar at the Sunnyville Grille in Cambridge where he lives mostly lives now, Cambridge that is not the bar, although he still maintains the old family house where he grew up in Olde Saco, Maine.
Let me set the context first to enlighten those who do not the Josh history which led to this “vision.” Josh, having lived out in California back in the 1970s and 1980s off and on, in some good times and bad, now likes to go back out there every once in a while. Usually when he has time to spent a week or two, more importantly, when he has some extra dough in his pockets to fly out since the old hitchhiking days when he thought nothing of holding out his thumb, a small green rucksack on one shoulder and bedroll, complete with canvass ground cover to guard against wet blanket sleepless night, on the other and head across the country holds no appeal these days. Besides the roads are now dangerous with all kinds of off-hand weirdos that provide the 24/7/365 news outlets with plenty of copy; American psychos who have always been with us but who seem now to be more visible and vicious, malcontents of every description and pleading, grifters always on the hustle, and beady-eyed cops, looking to fill their monthly quotas, ready to pounce on you if you breathe wrong. He had lived mostly in Oakland (then as now infinitely cheaper than Frisco) while doing some political work, some political writing, usually involving as well raising dough for things like the Black Panther Defense Fund, although do not ask Josh even today the manner in which he raised the dough just in case the statute of limitations has not run out. Just say that the Panthers were under murderous assault then by every itchy law enforcement agency from some Podunk deputy sheriff to J. Edgar Hoover and his G-men, needed money for legal defense constantly as the governmental agencies honed in on them, and nobody was too particular, nobody could afford to be too particular, about how the money was raised when the deal went down.
Usually in those days accompanying that political work was some complicated adventure in Josh’s topsy-turvy relationship with women. In Oakland, at least when I visited him in those days he almost always had some woman friend living with him (or a wife, having been married three times, one of them during the California days but that marriage trance doesn’t have anything to do, or little to do, with this story so we will move on) because he said he had to have a stable place to reside. Those days, those early 1970s days when will all knew, or most all of us knew the ebb tide of the 1960s was swooping down on us were still good times, good times to write about then, and now, especially about the mad monk happenings in California.
But there was another side to the Josh living in California story which will help better explain his how he came to his Tom Joad vision. That side was about living out in the air in the mid-1970s, out for a while with the “brothers under bridge” along the railroad tracks, down in the arroyos, and wherever else he could find kindred , to steal a phrase from a later Bruce Springsteen song about Vietnam veterans who for their own reasons could not make it in the “real” world after ‘Nam.
The times that due to his own hubris, to his own “from hunger” genetic code, to his own outlandish “wanting” habits he found himself when he ran out of money, women, or luck. Previously those hardtack times in places like Big Sur beach south of Monterey, Todo el Mundo just south of Big Sur, Point Magoo above Malibu, and down near the caves in La Jolla meant living “free,” free meaning camping out for weeks at a time, some old army tent (World War II surplus, not the ‘Nam stuff which was not fashionable then, for ex-soldiers or renegade writers), an old Coleman stove (and sometimes just sterno cups) for cooking and a few toilet articles. Then when his world crashed in the mid-1970s, when his school boy days wanting habits got the best of him, a later side after the hubbub had died down from the 1960s jail break-out which had ebbed before its rightful time and which he could not accept gracefully then he found himself in the hobo “jungle.” Under the same impetus in the early 1980s when his addictions, mainly but not exclusively drugs, had gotten the better of him he had wound up living out in Jack K.’s cabin rent free in that same Todo el Mundo where they earlier had all thought they had found the paradise they had been California looking for when they had headed West, trying to dry out, trying to unsuccessfully go “cold turkey.” Hell he could not recount the infinite number of times in those days that he cadged floor space in too many locales to mention, mostly in Frisco though, laying down low in flophouses all over the coast, and finally, when the bottom totally fell out, when he had cynically and dishonestly called in every favor he could and had run out of friends to con (including me when he was really desperate), a few tours in skid row, Cannery Row skid row, in Monterey. He had also written about those experiences recently in a short piece in the East Bay Eye under the title In Search Of Todo el Mundo.
So as luck would have it Josh had been out in Monterey this recent time that we are talking about in order to retrace some ancient steps about what had happened to him in those dreaded 1980s before he got sober in the 1990s after another unsuccessful love affair had run its course (a little more germane to the story than the three divorced wives but it should not hog the space since it had become somewhat faded and somewhat weird on reflection by the time of this adventure although earlier it caused many sword thrusts to his heart). He had not been in Monterey since the late 1980s, since just before he finally got his dope addictions mercifully under control with the help of Melissa, Melissa of the straight talk and straight arrow life which held him together for a while before she moved on when another guy, a less “dramatic” guy as she called him upon breaking up with Josh swept her away, adios mi corazon. And Monterey had automatically brought Big Sur and Todo el Mundo into mind as places to go to and reflect on those ancient times and how they had formed him, and formed his life. Hell, it’s his story let him tell you what he was up to instead of me trying to remember every tidbit that Sunnyville night when I was filled with too many high-shelf scotches. Let him tell about his vision:
“A blonde long-haired and long unkempt bearded young man was standing on the side of the highway in a light rain, the Pacific Coast Highway to be exact, in the dead heart of Big Sur out in ocean California with his thumb out heading north toward Monterey. I noticed as I drove by heading south that the young guy had a trusty old rucksack and bedroll stacked a bit away from his person (that bedroll looked to be in proper order from a quick look, sheet, blanket and most important of all learned from more than one wet night’s sleep, or rather half-sleep, a sturdy ground cover against those nights, the inevitable nights on the road when such support is necessary). That placing your gear away from the road is important too, shows career hitchhiker savvy since an average driver, usually a guy back in the day and probably more so now with all the news of weirdoes and psychos out there bothering average drivers foolish enough to pick them up, will more likely take a chance on stopping for a guy who looks like he is just stranded for the moment a few miles from home rather than a notorious fully-life’s possessions road bum, or worse.
All of this information, all of this sullen knowledge, learned long ago when I hitched my own hitchhike road. I must say that I was startled to see that young man of the roads standing there since rarely, even in California, do I see anybody hitching anymore, certainly not on highways but not even on back roads like the one in Big Sur. The last time I had picked up hitchhikers I had been driving up U.S. 5 around Carlsbad from San Diego when I spotted a young guy and young gal on the entrance ramp and immediately jumped three lanes and pulled over. They were heading toward L.A. while I was heading to Laguna for some art show and as we talked, or rather as I talked about the old days on the road I decided to drive them up to L.A. probably motivated by the many rides I had accumulated back in the day and I was merely passing the torch.
That rainy day though I was heading toward Todo el Mundo just south of Big Sur to meet someone or I would have stopped, turned around, and driven the young bearded guy back to Carmel anyway since he didn’t appear to be having any luck with the drivers passing back, it was raining and I was gathering strength to do another good turn in memory of my old hitchhike days. All of this introduction of course to set up what I really wanted to talk about when I thought about that guy later, thought about seeing a vision of old Tom Joad.
My first thought later when I began to think about the old days after reaching the hard to find and extreme back road even now Todo el Mundo and the guy was to meet to get a story from was that I probably had hitched a ride from around that very spot where the younger hitchhiker stood on the side of the road which if you are familiar with that section of the Pacific Coast Highway was not that far from Big Sur beach. You know Jack Kerouac’s beach, featured in every retro “beat” film about the place, featured on every Big Sur photo shoot, featured on every hot spot places of California where he wrote a famous zen-like poem in honor of the sound of the ocean at that particular place when he was trying to dry out and when he wrote a book about the experience. That had been in the days before a bunch of us, including Jack K. the old small press publisher and bookstore owner from Mendocino who would eventually own a cabin there and Larry, another small press publisher who had owned a big bookstore in Frisco, who then had a cabin in Big Sur found the even more remote and severe Todo el Mundo. I had my own addiction drying out experiences there later in the 1980s but the time I am talking about is not the 1980s when Jack K. saved my bacon, or tried to, and got nothing but heartache and rebuff for his trouble but back in the bright days, back in the 1960s days when everybody who roamed the highways had some stories to tell, owed some debt to Kerouac and the “beats” and who lived to tell about it.
Funny the first time I hit the California highway roads (first time starting in California not the east-west cross-country trips from New England) I didn’t think I would get a ride because some trucker, a real good guy who fed me at the trucker diner stops, gave me plenty of cigarettes, and some bennies that he practically lived on left me out in the lurch. He was going to see his girlfriend in Modesto and so that is where he left me off. But that is a tough spot to hitch from with traffic flying by (by the way also maybe a sign of the times then this Mr. America straight arrow by-the book-trucker had a wife and kids beside the gal, so there). A state trooper passed by, passed by twice, and then let it go but I wound up grabbing some sleep on the side of the road, a little off in some trees really, before I got a ride to Frisco from another lonely truck-driver the next morning.