Friday, February 01, 2019
On The 50th Anniversary Of The Passing Of The “King Of The Beats” -Ti Jean Kerouac-A Series Of Appreciations-Introduction
On The 50th Anniversary Of The Passing Of The “King Of The Beats” -Ti Jean Kerouac-A Series Of Appreciations-Introduction
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.