Archive | October, 2013

Warby Parker Glasses for Halloween

31 Oct

alvie_small-900x620via Warby Parker

Happy Halloween! Though I tortured my sleepover guests with classic horror films when i was a preteen, I’ve never been real big into the scary stuff of Halloween. I do, however, think it’s a super fun opportunity to play dress and reinvent one’s identity for a day.

Then again, I’m a bit of a chameleon when it comes to my style and personality even on an average day. You know how in The Breakfast Club there was the jock, the princess, the brain, the basket case, and the criminal? Or how when you ride the L train you can always tell who’s going to get off at Union Square versus who’s going to Bedford Avenue? I’ve never really identified with one social group or another. One day I might dress preppy in pearls and a button-down shirt with a sweater over it and the next day I might wear lots of dark eye shadow and all black. Likewise, some days I wear glasses and some days I wear contacts. It would be fun to own multiple pairs of glasses to switch out depending on my mood.

Glasses are such a defining accessory/medical need. Certain glasses styles have become synonymous with certain celebrities. Think John Lennon’s little circles. Buddy Holly’s thick frames.

Warby Parker says, “There are plenty of characters to be channeled with the right pair of glasses.” They’re featuring costume ideas like Tootsie, and Dr. Strangelove, Alvie Singer (Annie Hall) on their blog, complete with the prescription glasses they sell. Oh sure it’s a gimmick to get you to buy their merch, but — and I’m not at all affiliated with them and not getting anything for saying this — it’s a rather clever idea. Because sometimes it’s fun to channel someone else for a day!

Also, I really like Warby Parker’s business model: for every pair you buy, they donate to someone in need.

Oh, and get this: their name is a Jack Kerouac reference! Here’s the story:

We’ve always been inspired by the master wordsmith and pop culture icon, Mr. Jack Kerouac. Two of his earliest characters, recently uncovered in his personal journals, bore the names Zagg Parker and Warby Pepper. We took the best from each and made it our name.

So what I want to know then is why they don’t have a blog post for dressing like Allen Ginsberg?! You can’t help but think of his glasses when you visualize him. Plus, with all the Hollywood attention on the Beats lately — characters based on Ginsberg or Kerouac’s alias for him appear in On the Road and Kill Your Darlings — you’d think he’d be a fun person to dress up as for Halloween.

Or maybe I’m the only nerd who thinks dressing like authors and literary characters is a perfectly normal Halloween costume?

And, for a story about the time Allen Ginsberg lost his glasses, check out Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.” It’s available as an ebook and paperback.

 

Extraordinary Women of the Fifties: The Beat Women

30 Oct

“Moreover, I was puzzled to read in her introduction how ‘our idea’ of the Fifties is one of a decade reviled for being full of dull and docile women. This does a disservice to so much writing on the “other” Fifties, from Elizabeth Wilson on lesbianism and Angela McRobbie on girls’ subcultures to Deborah Philips and Alison Light on women and fiction,” writes Sheila Rowbotham in “Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women Of The Fifties, by Rachel Cooke, review” for The Telegraph.

Missing from both lists were the women associated with the Beat Generation. Here were women who defied the stereotype of being “dull and docile.” They were renting apartments on their own at a time when women generally lived with their parents until they got married. They were pursuing higher education. They were creating their own innovative, beautiful works.

Much of modern discourse surrounding the Beat Generation has to do with its masculinity and misogyny. Those are important discussions to have. However, I think it does a great disservice to the many talented female writers who were associated with this literary grouping. These weren’t just muses in black stockings. They were and continue to be powerful writers.

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

Is Hollywood Glamorizing the Beats or Just Retelling Their Stories?

29 Oct

“The flat Hollywood characterization allows viewers to live vicariously through Ginsberg, Kerouac and the gang, but it almost mythicizes them. Hollywood digs right into the drama — catering to what people want to see — and ignores the very human parts of them. But it may be a hard balance to keep. Even when depicting that soul-searching, it’s easy to fall to sentiment. The Beat Generation’s search for belief ends up being something we believe in. We’re all drawn to the image of explorers after all: modern pilgrims, earnestly due west like Lewis and Clark in Mustangs, toward the unknown destination,” writes Karen Yuan in her closing paragraph to “Notebook: Hollywood shouldn’t glamorize the Beat Generation’s self-destruction” in The Michigan Daily.

With descriptions like “wide, fruited plains,” “all vintage Cadillacs and cigarette escapism,” and “slick cool and soft anarchy,” Yuan’s turns of phrases are beautiful in this article. I commend her attention to language in this journalistic essay about writers. It’s a breath of fresh air from so many dry works of criticism. Furthermore, she brings up a valid point on the complexity of Hollywood trying to encapsulate the human experience. Whether one is a so-called Beat, a journalist, or a movie-goer our lives cannot be easily summed up in one film or three films … or even several volumes of literature, as it may be. Yuan herself makes that very point when she says “But it may be a hard balance to keep.”

Consequently, she seems to have out-argued her own thesis, “However, what [Hollywood] doesn’t realize is that the Beats are nothing to be glamorized,” by acknowledging the intricacy of life and that portraying “clouds of brooding angst” doesn’t create balance or reality anymore than depicting “carefree, YOLO-esque youth” does. Though she rightly suggests the Beats’ perpetual movement is related to their “existential search,” it is unclear what she thinks a more accurate adaptation of On the Road or Big Sur would be or how the murder of David Kammerer should have been told.

I would argue that the film adaptation of On the Road did a fine job of showing both sides. It perhaps doesn’t do the existential search justice but there are intimations of it, particularly in the scenes when Sal Paradise hallucinates among the Catholic saints, with the insertion of Proust, and when Dean Moriarty confesses that he doesn’t know why he does the things he does. The go! go! go! mentality comes to a screeching halt in the closing scene, indicating that maybe all those wild times weren’t all they were cracked up to be. Meanwhile, Yuan says Kill Your Darlings contains “tantalizing hints of murder,” when in fact the film does not hint but tells of the events leading up to a murder that landed three of the Beats in jail, with one of them doing time in a reformatory. It does not paint any one character as the villain, but again shows that the people involved and the events that unfolded were complex. Existentialism is a recurring theme of the film as seen through the New Vision. I haven’t seen Big Sur yet, but I’ve read the reviews of the film, and it seems to me that it’s far from glamorizing Kerouac’s life. More so, I’ve read the novel twice and know that it’s actually the antithesis of glamorizing the Beat Generation machine.

So here’s the question … or rather, I should say questions: Is documenting a life, an event, or a novel automatically glamorizing it? Where is the line between telling the truth and glorifying—when storytelling? Do stories have to be redemptive? If they are not redemptive, must they be cautionary tales? If they do not fall into these categories, are we better off ignoring them?

The pastor of the church I grew up in used to say, “Ignorance is not bliss.” Being downright oblivious or purposely ignoring issues doesn’t make them go away. The truth of the matter is the “intrigue and montages of reckless drug use” were a part of the life of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and so forth. And I would gather that the parties and drugs and casual affairs were a lot of fun as they were happening. That’s why people do those things. To categorically demonize these things does a disservice to the truth. The truth of course is much more complex. Consequences aren’t always immediate or even a given. We can look now in hindsight at On the Road and know that Jack Kerouac died at only forty-seven years old, after abusing alcohol. However, we can cast our collective eye on Burroughs and see a man who did a lot of hard drugs who didn’t pass away until he was eighty-three years old.

Yuan says, “They wanted to rebel against this new middle-class United States and find something new to believe in….” Today’s suburban teens and Ivy League undergrads may very well still be searching for something to believe in. I think the Beats’ stories go on, not because they glamorize illicitness, but because they speak to that very basic human need to feel like more than just a cog in the machine but like we’re actually living, that our lives have meaning. I think this is part of what Yuan is advocating for, and I think it’s actually there in the films and in the literature. It’s just not whitewashed, pristine, perfect. But then again, neither is life.

 

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

The Day We Said “No” during World War II

28 Oct

If there had not been the virtue and courage of the Greeks, we do not know which the outcome of World War II would have been Winston Churchill

Today is Oxi Day. The day Greeks said “No” during World War II.

You can read my post on the history of this day here.

 

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

Happy 155th Birthday, Theodore Roosevelt!

27 Oct

HuntingTheGrisly

Ten years ago — wow, time flies! — I had the pleasure of penning an introduction to Rough Rider Theodore Roosevelt’s adventure memoir Hunting the Grisly and Other Sketches. As part of my research, I toured his birthplace, a gorgeous brownstone right here in New York City. I loved hearing the inspirational story of how he was a sickly child whose love for reading and nature led to him becoming an advocate for conservation. Just like Jack Kerouac later would, Roosevelt read Leo Tolstoy and dime-store westerns, traveled America, dreamed of ranching (Roosevelt actually did ranch; Kerouac was a lot of talk), became associated with hyper-masculinity, and created a legend out of himself through his writing.

Today marks the 155th anniversary of Theodore Roosevelt’s birth.

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

We’re in Empty Mirror!

14 Oct

Empty Mirror published an excerpt from Burning Furiously Beautiful!

The excerpt is from the sections “The Sea Is My Brother” and “Schizoid” from the beginning of the biography. It begins with Jack Kerouac’s Lowell friend, a Greek American named Sebastian Sampas, going off to Camp Lee and then tells of Kerouac’s time in boot camp. During this time period, the young author was working on the book The Sea Is My Brother.

 

Want to read another excerpt?

Here’s one on the tragic life story of Kerouac’s father.

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

Friday Links: Lowell Celebrates Kerouac!

11 Oct

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Lowell Celebrates Kerouac (LCK) is already in full force. If you’re among the many 9-to-5ers, though–hey, we can’t all be full-time writers!–you likely won’t be getting to the festival until the weekend. Here’s a round-up of related links for those attending and for armchair travelers.

The official Lowell Celebrates Kerouac website

The festival line up

The basics you need to know when attending LCK, including public transportation

Steve Dalachinsky will be reading his poetry at LCK! Find out more about him here and check out this Huffington Post interview with him

David Amram will be performing and sharing stories at LCK!

Kerouac’s hometown friend Billy Koumantzelis has a CD out called On the Lowell Beat: My Times with Jack Kerouac

This year’s festival celebrates the 50th anniversary of perhaps my favorite of Kerouac’s books

It’s also the 25th anniversary of the thoughtful Kerouac Commemorative, designed by Ben Woitena

The abstract work of Barbara Gagel will be on display at the Ayer Lofts Gallery throughout LCK

I wrote this Church Hopping article about the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, after touring it during LCK

After all the hoopla, I think I’m going to have to visit Mill No. 5

Kerouac’s play Beat Generation premiered during LCK last year; what did you think of it?

My Burning Furiously Beautiful coauthor, Paul Maher Jr., talks about growing up in Lowell

J. Haeske, author of Retracing Jack Kerouac, visited Lowell and took photos

My Pinterest board On the Road: Lowell

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

Limited Time Offer: 10% Off the Paperback of Burning Furiously Beautiful

10 Oct

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Exciting news!

Pop the champagne! The paperback edition of Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now on sale.

Limited-time offer

We’re giving you an extra 10% off now through the end of Lowell Celebrates Kerouac. (Unfortunately, the books won’t arrive in time for us to sell physical copies at the festival, but at least you’ll get a discount!)

What’s the book about, you ask?

Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is the most up-to-date and accurate account of the development of American writer Jack Kerouac’s groundbreaking 1957 novel, On the Road. Using archival resources as the foundation of this book, Kerouac scholars Paul Maher Jr. and Stephanie Nikolopoulos have fashioned a gripping account of the internal and external experiences of Kerouac’s literary development.
Fueled by coffee and pea soup, Jack Kerouac speed-typed On the Road in just three weeks in April 1951. He’d been traveling America for the past ten years and now, at last, the energy of his experiences flowed through his fingertips in a mad rush, pealing forth on a makeshift scroll that he laboriously taped together. The On the Road scroll became literary legend, and now Burning Furiously Beautiful sets the record straight, uncovering the true story behind one of America’s greatest novels.
Burning Furiously Beautiful explores the real lives of the key characters of the novel—Sal Paradise, Dean Moriarty, Carlo Marx, Old Bull Hubbard, Camille, Marylou, and others. Ride along on the real-life adventures through 1940s America that inspired On the Road. By tracing the evolution of Kerouac’s literary development, this book explains how it took years—not weeks—to write the seemingly sporadic 1957 novel. Through new research and exclusive interviews, this revised and expanded edition of Jack Kerouac’s American Journey (2007) takes a closer look at the rise of Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation, giving insight into Kerouac’s family roots, his time at sea, the shocking murder that landed Kerouac in jail, his romances, and his startlingly original writing style.
Who is my coauthor?

Paul Maher Jr. is the author of the critically acclaimed biography Kerouac: His Life and Work and Empty Phantoms: Interviews and Encounters with Jack Kerouac
Check out my exclusive interview with Paul here.
You can judge our book by its cover
We’ve gotten a lot of compliments on our cover. Credit goes to Igor Satanovsky. He’s an award-winning cover designer that I’ve worked with for many years now on various publishing projects. Igor also is a poet (buy his book here!) and studied with Allen Ginsberg.

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

Hot Tip: 7 Kerouac-Related Places to Visit in Lowell Not Covered by Lowell Celebrates Kerouac

10 Oct

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Lowell Celebrates Kerouac (LCK) has done another fantastic job creating an itinerary that explores the town in which Kerouac was born and where he was laid to rest. If you’re spending time in Lowell and want to explore a few places off the beaten track, though, there are still many Kerouac-related places to check out. This is by no means an inclusive list, but it’s a few options if you’re staying in Lowell longer, creating your own tour, or looking to dig deeper into Lowell’s history.

1.  Kerouac’s typewriter is on display at the Mill Girls and Immigrants Exhibit at the Morgan Cultural Center … unfortunately, due to the government shut down you probably won’t be able to see it right now.

2.  It seems fitting that the National Streetcar Museum is in the hometown of the author of On the Road. Visiting the museum will give you context to the transportation history that played an important role in Kerouac’s life and literature.

3.  The  Pow-Wow Oak Tree is believed to have stood for 300 years! It was a sacred meeting place for Native Americans. Given Kerouac’s Native American ties, this may be a unique stop on your tour. Unfortunately, the tree was cut down just this year, but you can still visit the place where it stood.

4.  Kerouac’s birth home, which is on the LCK tour, has yet to be made into a museum, but painter James McNeill Whistler’s birthplace has been owned by the Lowell Art Association since 1908 and is now a museum. Kerouac would have walked past it and known about this famous artist. In 1993, John Suiter showed his photographs Rumors of Kerouac here.

5.  The Sun is important to Kerouac’s legacy. Kerouac worked for the newspaper, and journalist Charles Sampas reviewed Kerouac’s work in its pages. It used to be located in Kearney Square, but more recently moved to the American Textile History Museum.

6.  Visit Monument Square, and you’ll pass by the same statues Kerouac once did.

7.  Dana’s Fruit & Confectionery has been around since 1914. We all know Kerouac had a sweet tooth, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he stopped in here. …Just don’t try to take any pictures inside!

You may also like:

My photographs of places in Lowell from Kerouac’s time that are still around today

 

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

5 of the Most Famous People and Things to Come Out of Lowell

9 Oct

200px-Whistler_SelbstporträtWhistler’s self-portrait

You already know that Jack Kerouac was born in Lowell and set many of his books there, but the Massachusetts town is also the birthplace of several other famous people and inventions. With Lowell Celebrates Kerouac going on this week, I thought it would be fun to explore 5 fun facts about Lowell:

1.  The first AOL instant message was sent by a Greek American from Lowell

2.  Remember the drink Moxie? It was invented in Lowell. You can buy it here and visit the roadside attraction the Moxie Bottle House in Union, Maine

3.  The son of a railway engineer, painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler was born in Lowell and there you can visit the Whistler House Museum of Art

4.  The brilliant Greek American photographer Christopher Makos is from Lowell

5.  Lowell is also the birthplace of Bette Davis

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!