Saturday, February 02, 2019

On The 50th Anniversary Of The Passing Of The “King Of The Beats” -Ti Jean Kerouac-A Series Of Appreciations - On The 60th Anniversary Of Jack Kerouac's "On The Road" (1957)- NPR's Exploration Of Jack Kerouac's "On The Road"

On The 50th Anniversary Of The Passing Of The “King Of The Beats” -Ti Jean Kerouac-A Series Of Appreciations 

By Contributing Editor Allan Jackson

[Back in 2007 and then in 2017 when we commemorated the 50th and 60th anniversaries respectively of the publication of Jack Kerouac’s landmark travel book of a different kind On The Road which ignited a generation, maybe two. to “hit the road” I was the site manager, then called general editor, a throw-back from the times when American Left History was a hard copy publication. At those times I had been re-reading a series of Ti Jean’s books after senior writer Sam Lowell had pointed out to me that the previous years had been the 50th and 60th anniversaries respectively of fellow Jack “beat” brother Allan Ginsberg’s landmark poem (really screed) Howl which for a while took poetry into a different direction which we had neglected to commemorate (and which we did belatedly). Now Sam has again reminded that we have come to a certain commemoration date, the 50th anniversary of the death of Jack Kerouac and we are again in need of evaluation, no, re-evaluating the place of his work, his place as “king of the beats” whether than title fits or not and his place in the sun.   

Of course on those prior occasions I could assign whatever I wanted to whomever I wanted since I was the person who was handing out the assignments. Now after a prolonged internal fight in which I was deposed and sent into “exile” I am back but solely as a contributing editor, not as the person handing out assignments. That task is now in the capable hands of one Greg Green whom I knew over at American Film Gazette many years ago and had brought over a couple of years ago to run the day to day operation here. Greg and I have had our ups and downs especially after I was in desperate straits when I was sent into exile and had no current source of income and had to depend “on the kindnesses of strangers.” But that is past and since I was instrumental in the previous commemorations Greg decided that I should as with a couple of other major projects that I have done since my return oversee the Kerouac death watch anniversary this year.   

Needless to say, since this dark cloud anniversary is upon us I have to do a new introduction, a setting of the tone. One thing that I was not able to do when I was overseeing the previous commemorations was to write about something that has haunted me for a long time-how different Jack’s experiences were from those of my parents, from any Acre neighborhood parents despite some very strong similarities between the way he grew up and the way they did. In short they were near contemporaries having all been born and raised in the 1920s and forward experiencing youthful Great Depression and slog-through World War II. The three could not have been more different in their lifestyles and life dreams. It would take my parent’s son, me, not my other siblings who went very different ways, would take their son, and their son’s generation to at least momentarily connect with the older man and what he brought to the table. Maybe the link between “beat” and “hippie” was tenuous, but it was there, and is there fifty years after his passing to his unsettled grave. That will be the thread that runs through this new series. Adieu, Ti Jean.     


Jack fifty tears, fifty years gone in some bastard grave in holy, holy, holy Edson Merrimack River ground busted asunder by holy goofs looking for timely relics, looking for that one word which would spring them into some pantheon, some parity with the king (we will not even mention that other king that animated our dreams for we now speak of parent, parent of class of ’68 dream). Funny non-Catholic ground Lowell given his deep sea dive to right his ship around the beatitudes that the class of ’68 left in the shade if you wished to know. Mere, dear Mother Kerouac, turning in her old Quebec come down to the textile mills from desolate turn of the century farms which gave to the bloody English overlords, another common sticking point against heathen English overrunning the small patch farms with enclosures and encumbered debts devotion grave, with the times out of sorts the young passing before ancient hatreds mother. Not a stranger come the end on Hard Rock Mountain and no place but some stinking trailer benny and that fucking crucifix that never helped anybody that far gone into the haze.

Not strange for assuredly lapsed Catholic cum Buddha swings devotee coming out of Desolation Mountain, Dharma bum frills and assorted other spiritual trips, (won’t even think about that black boy, and he was just a boy, who against some grandmother dreads blew the high white note out to the China Seas, via, well, via Frisco Bay drove the writing, the what, the unvarnished truth  until it drove him into the ground. That and those endless whiskeys and cheap Thunderbird wines when dimes were scarce a few times down on his luck cadging wino bottles from buying for underaged kids, with his bottle the kicker and what the hell if he didn’t go it, didn’t get his some sterno junkie would dip into Salvation Army surplus and the thirst was great. Not “his” thirst but “the” thirst and don’t mix the two up buddy as he told that straggly bearded kid, some hippie bastard from Omaha clueless about the decadent night which lie ahead, the compromises too.

Strangely bisected, fuck finally my real point (another luxury of not having to be general editor with parsing and editing to make “nice” for the academic journals which thrive, which throttle on  Jack’s sputum and can get down in the mud with the real critics like Artie Shaw and Bugs Malone and not worry about half-ablaze in the head, half fire in the head Patti Griffin called it once),  through my own parents too who had no idea of hip, no idea of “beat,” except maybe mother in beatitude but that is a different story, a story about common roots high holy day Catholic stuff. Another common point, emerged in veiled tears, speaking of tears, to rear their ugly heads come feast days. (Wondering if her, their fairy sons would see the light, would submit to the calling that every grandmother hoped without saying leaving it to transient daughters to do their own parsing. Father no hipster born to the hills and hollows which hallowed by memory played no part in big boom beat-beat time coming out of World War II like houses on fire. No speedy cross-country by 1947 Hudson (hell no car a public transportation might as well say welfare crude bum and fuck that is all a guy like that deserved.) With big ideas of shaking things up, making merry with the always with us squares and other geometric forms. Jesus the worst part knowing that they knew not of square or any other geometric dreams. Too bad, too bad when they chance came around and the call went out looking for junkie hipsters, con men and queers hanging around public toilets on Seventh Avenue in New York City. 

No Dean Moriarty, hell call a thing by its right name, no Max Fame, no Allan Ginsberg, no Kenneth Rexforth, no Hank James, or his brother William speaking in tongues trying to figure what a guy named Freud meant when he wanted to go where his mother lived, after killing cosmic fathers and brothers, no Gregory Corso, no John three names somebody a throwback to ancient Boston Brahmin bouts with legitimacy speaking of bastards, trace the genealogy back to Mayfair swells days, nothing for the bastard who is bothering one Laura Perkins who I have been sweet on for an eternity but who only has eyes for Sam Lowell about her sexy takes on serious 19th century artist who were as capable of going down into the mud, blowing some high white note out in the Japan seas for a change. Above all no Neal Cassidy, no fake Dean Moriarty to skirt the libel laws with wives and mistresses searching for vagrant unknown fathers in some dusty coal bins but a poor old good old boy and maybe in another time said Dean, Adonis Dean against Father Sheik, would have wandered out in the cowboy West night looking for drunken fathers with hip-ness but that was not the play, not at all. Father Sheik coming like a bat out of hell from those hazardous coal bins looking to break the eternal hills and hollows existence that plagued his fathers since the time the first clan were cast out of England for stealing pigs or consorting with them in any case with not unfamiliar family refrain of “leave, or the gallows,” such were the tempers of the times.

And Father Sheik, hell, Adonis Dean too, with no way out except that passport via some Nippon adventure over Pearl always Pearl nothing else needed and he off to Pacific battles and raiments. Jack to the North Seas and merchant marine bunks with odd-ball seasick sailors (and me wondering whether having looked of late at YouTube should attribute my borrowed words but the hell with it plenty of seasick sailors had nothing to do with YouTube or song lyrics). And forsaken Dean too young to know the face of battles hung up in reformatory secret vices which an earlier generation (and later ones too) would “dare not speak their names” (Catamite, Sodomite, homosexual, pug ugly, suck-head, your call.) How quaint.

Two years and two places do make a different no Bette Davis eyes in the hills and hollows but Jack-induced Merrimack adventures of boys seeking pleasures in riverside woods and hamming it up for all the world to see. If only the old man could have written out his dreams, if he could have written out anything. Jack to the library born to take his fill of whatever classics that river textile town had to offer and whiskey you’re the devil which should have given even a blinded son something to think about with dear Jack fifty years dead and the old man still trembling in his teeth. My God.

But he never made, he the old man never made New York ever as far as I could tell, knew none but obvious landmarks like tall Empire State Building or Lady Liberty. Mother Jacked on some Cape Cod Canal cutaway small steamer to the Big Apple (not Big Apple then but who knows) and Automats, evoking Laura’s Edward Hopper sad-assed dreams of a guy who couldn’t even draw smiling faces and hence the queen of 20th century angst and alienation and five cent ferry rides to Staten Island. The Village, okay for me to call it Village as I was a denizen once for Jack too might as well have been on some planet’s moon for all she knew-him too, too rich for his blood but Jack’s meat, no problem. Even if strangely Times Square hipsters, grifters, drifters and Howard Johnson hot dog eaters were mixed into the new wave, then new wave against Big Band Duke, Artie, Lionel jazz boys coming up with their sullen lipped riffs to spring a new alienated be-bop on the square world. Jack knew square, knew father square, knew mother, Mere, square in large letters of unrequited love but shook it off long enough to cross the great desert America giving Lady Liberty the boot, the un-shod sole, or maybe taking a cue from Jack book lamming it out on Bear Mountain just for the hell of it. But this old mother, not Mere mother, never knew, never had an idea of even in her big Catholic, Irish Catholic dream of meeting the boy next door and finding steady white-collar civil servant heaven. Jesus is that what she was about when the deal went down and Jack split for Ohio with two bucks and six bologna sandwiches stale well before Toledo believe me I know.            

Life took a different tact though she never found that clever test-worthy boy next door (he was some greaser with a big hog of a bike which would have inflamed Dean, would have gotten his wanting habits on and maybe a run to the Coast). So she having had her fill of Coney Island dreams and Automat five cent pies took a chance on the Sheik (strange on looking at Jack photographs how sheik-like our boy was and father too like some lost tribe members) found guarding the country’s defense not far from her home but he of Pacific wars, many with manly Marines. Jack flopped the Navy but did dangerous merchant marine runs out in the North Atlantic, out to the Murmansk seas (that makes three China and Japan alongside) not honored even in Washington until much later down in front of Arlington National bravos resting places. And a not so funny twist of sagging fate brought her dish loads of kids and some undefined alienation from which she was excluded, and he too by association. They didn’t prosper far from it but they also didn’t have that run, no, those runs, to the West looking for lost fathers, looking for the Adonis of the West to shake up his love. Could two worlds be any more different and only about say forty miles apart. That not a question but maybe a quiet condemnation for some woe-begotten life of quiet desperation, her mantra for all the good it did her.

It would take a son, some son, some great girth of sons and daughters to jailbreak, to Jack their ways out of that parent, remember their parents’ contemporary, that snare set for those who didn’t get to Times Square, didn’t get to the Village but stuck it out in Hoboken, Elko, Oceanside. It would take some unsettled sense that all was not right with the world, that too many kids were stuck with Modesto hot-rod dreams, Hell’s Angels angers, Louisville thwarts, and many La Jolla searches for perfect waves to jumpstart what Jack, and not just Jack but he is fifty tears, fifty years gone. Oh, what might have been. 


On The 60th Anniversary Of Jack Kerouac's "On The Road" (1957)- NPR's Exploration Of Jack Kerouac's "On The Road"

Click on title to link to National Public Radio's(NPR) presentation of Jack Kerouac's iconic "On The Road" that has influenced several generations, including my own, since its publication in 1957.

In Honor Of Jean Bon Kerouac On The 60th Anniversary Of “On The Road” (1957)

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.           

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