Tag Archives: Christopher Barry

Jamming Jack

7 Nov

Friday night at Lowell Celebrates Kerouac we all headed over to the White Eagle Pub, a dive bar on Market Street.

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The evening started off with a viewing of Brent Mason’s documentary Grave Matters. The thirty-minute film got off to a riotous start when one of the people in the crowd fell or fainted off their chair! The film had to be stopped, but after it was determined she was okay, the documentary started rolling again. Whew, what excitement. Canadian musician and filmmaker Brent Mason explores Jack Kerouac’s life and legend by documenting his visit to the author’s hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts. Complete with interviews from people like Kerouac’s friend and eventual pallbearer Billy Koumantzelis.

Billy was there in the audience and afterwards he introduced me to Brent–who was there with his teenaged son–and Jim Sampas. Jim played some recordings of Jack reciting his work.

David Amram led Jamming Jack and was magnificent as always. I’ve seen him play a few times now, and each time feels unique.

He also invited people up to read and perform in what turned out to be an inspiring evening.

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Here Lowell’s very own actor and screenwriter Jerry Bisantz, of Image Theater, performs as Jack Kerouac.

Steve

Christopher Barry and his youngest brother Stephen Barry each performed their poetry. Stephen (pictured above) had flown all the way from California to be at the event. I’ve met Chris a few times, and it’s always a pleasure hearing him read. It was nice meeting his brother and seeing that talent obviously runs in the family.

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Jazz-poet Steve Dalachinsky, whom I’d heard read at Lowell Celebrates Kerouac two years ago, was back to read more poetry! He is brilliant. His wife Yuko Otomo was in the audience, and I wish she’d read too.

Drummer

Throughout the performances, David was playing the piano. He also selected some wonderful young musicians to accompany them. I believe the drummer and the guy on the tambourine were local students. The guy on the box-drum came from further away and was at LCK two years ago. If anyone has their names or contact info, please do pass it along. They were phenomenal.

Toward the end of the evening, David starts talking, says something about an author who wrote a new book, and that she doesn’t know he’s going to call her stage, and then calls out my name! The last time I read with David I was so nervous I could barely eat the entire day. I didn’t have time to get nervous this time around! I read one of Kerouac’s prose-poems. So beautiful! I don’t know that I did it justice, but it was such an honor to get to read Kerouac’s own words in his hometown and with so many phenomenal musicians and writers there.

The event made me kind of sad… It was so fun and inspiring, and I wish that Kerouac would’ve gotten to see that his literature continues to be appreciated to this day by people who are willing to come from far-flung locales of Canada and California and from people in their teens to people in their 80s.

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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!

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Confessions of an Awkward Lowell Celebrates Kerouac Attendee

5 Nov

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I hit the road last month to attend Lowell Celebrates Kerouac!

Confession time! In most circumstances I feel like a hanger-on if I’m in the company of whomever is the man or woman of the hour. Maybe it’s related to the Imposter Syndrome Sheryl Sandberg talks about in Lean In. Who am I to talk to someone of great stature? I never want to bother anyone, make it appear that I’m trying to get something out of them, or come out as some zealous fan. So, my typical response is to just keep to myself.

The first year I attended LCK I went alone and barely talked to anyone. I had been studying Kerouac’s literature for more than a decade and was fascinated by everything around me. It felt so surreal to be in Kerouac’s stomping grounds, to see his birth home, the Grotto, the Pawtucket Falls, the mill town he’d loved and written about. Roger Brunelle gave excellent tours, and I was enthralled by every moment of it. I loved every moment of it, and even though I had no one to share it with I didn’t really mind.

This year was completely different. My friend Julie Parker let me crash at her beautiful home outside of Boston, which was brimming with books and paintings and so full of inspiration. She’s a design consultant who does package design, marketing, and brand identity, so when we weren’t at the festival we had endless conversations about publishing and self-promotion.

I got to meet Paul! Oh my gosh, I was so nervous. Paul and I have been collaborating together for almost two years, and I probably spend more time talking on the phone with him than anyone else except maybe my mom when she’s in the States (when she’s in Greece, it’s difficult with the time difference), but we’d never met in person. I guess I was worried by meeting in person, something would change. It ended up being awesome. He gave Julie and me a tour of Lowell, and since he himself grew up there, his insight and stories were really personal.

I also got to catch up with David Amram and Billy Koumantzelis. I first got to know each of them from interviewing them about their friendship with Jack Kerouac, and since then I’ve been careful not to assume they’d remember me or talk to me beyond that. I completely understand that they’d have other, more important, people to talk to. But I didn’t want to go to my default of keeping my distance for fear that would make it seem like I didn’t want to talk to them. Ugh. My head gets so mixed up sometimes! Anyway, I did end up getting to spend time with both of them, and they’re both so gracious and fascinating individuals. For all the negative things that have been said over the years about Jack Kerouac, I have to say that he sure knows how to pick friends. These guys are stand-up gentlemen. Even though I first got to know them because of their friendship with Kerouac, that doesn’t even matter to me anymore. I just like talking to them and hearing their perspectives. When I had first interviewed Billy, I was curious about who he is, and at one point he stopped me and said, “Aren’t you here to ask me about Kerouac?”

Through one of David’s concerts at Cornelia Street Café, I’d met the poet Christopher Barry. He was at LCK too and introduced me to his brother, Stephen Barry, who is also a poet. Chris is a great guy, and it was fun chatting with him and his brother. David also introduced me to Steve Dalachinsky and Yuko Otomo, who are these amazing poets from New York City. Seriously. Probably among the best I’ve ever heard read—and I’ve heard a lot of poets read over the years. I probably would’ve been too shy to ever introduce myself if it weren’t for David. Billy also introduced me to Jim Sampas. You know, the guy behind One Fast Move or I’m Gone and the new film Big Sur. I sat there kind of stunned, saying, “I’m a big fan of your work.” I gave him a postcard for Paul’s and my book, Burning Furiously Beautiful, and Jim said, “I think I’ve heard of this.” Wow. I also got to meet the documentary filmmaker (Grave Matters) Brent Mason. Super nice guy. I met Stephen D. Edington, the organizer of LCK. He’s given sermons at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashua, which I’ve read online and found quite interesting.  And, I got to meet Roger Brunelle and his wife, both of whom were so warm. I don’t know why I get so nervous to introduce myself and talk to people sometimes….

Another highlight, though, was meeting people from the Burning Furiously Beautiful Facebook page. I was so touched when they came up and introduced themselves. I am so thankful for the network we have on that page, and it’s been great meeting like-minded people offline.

I guess I write all this to show that even if you sometimes are predisposed toward awkwardness, shyness, and over-thinking things, good things happen when you step out of your comfort zone. A colleague of mine recently posted on Facebook about how his daughter was having trouble with good greetings, that it took her a while to warm up to even people she knew when she’d see them again. I feel a lot like that little girl sometimes. Although this is supposed to be a recap of my time at LCK, I think it’s important that I share my true story. I’ve gotten the impression sometimes that people think if you read Kerouac, you’re trying to be cool. I never really had the impression of Kerouac as the cool guy. I always thought of him as the guy shambling after his friends. I think if you really read and study Kerouac, you understand that he too battled shyness, that although he had a lot of successes he also had a lot of failures, that he was prone to both self-assurance and worry. I think that if we just be ourselves and use our gifts and if we are open to opportunities and push ourselves little by little out of our comfort zone, we will surprise ourselves by what we can do. The key though is that it’s not about being in the spotlight or about others in the spotlight; it’s about the blessings of creating art, doing what we love, and fellowshipping with others.

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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!

A Ginsberg Love Fest at First Blues

22 Jan

 

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Oh, I am still on cloud 9 after the First Blues event to celebrate Allen Ginsberg’s recording!! I got there a bit late, and it was jam-packed with white-haired men who’d probably known various beat poets back in the ‘40s and ‘50s, and earnest, young, bearded hipsters, and girls in leggings and berets. I spotted the incredible poet Steve Dalachinsky and poet-painter Yuko Otomo, whom I’d met at Lowell Celebrates Kerouac, in the crowd. I got to talk with poet Christopher Barry. I had heard another author I know was supposed to be there but there were so many people I couldn’t find him to say hi.

 

David Amram was his usual self: inspiring. The way he transmutes cultures into music and bends the “rules” of how to play instruments floors me every time. Watching him teaches me that Art is creative and fun, which is something after years of schooling and rule enforcing I often forget. He talked about how the best university is “hangoutology,” that we learn through other people and that we too should always generously teach others.

Kevin Twigg played glockenspiel with Amram. I’d normally heard him play in a full band, but hearing just him and Amram play was special. Twigg’s music sounded like magic!

Anne Waldman, who with Allen Ginsberg founded Naropa University, the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, gave an intense reading. Back in undergrad at Scripps in my 1950s Core class, I heard a recording of Ginsberg reading Howl that forever changed my understanding of the poem because of its moaning intensity. After singing a Blake poem, Waldman did a “Howl” that was transfixing. Hearing her howl live was a glimpse of what it must’ve been like to hear Ginsberg first read “Howl” at the now infamous Gallery Six reading.

Hettie Jones, who is a fantastic and generous writer, read, and I wish she would’ve read longer because it went by too, too quickly.

My eighteen-year-old self would never have imagined that not only would I one day ever-so-casually get to hear all these people read and make music and perform in a bookstore but that I’d actually know so many of them. I couldn’t find Jones after the reading, but she had graciously spent time talking to me when I met her in a class at The New School. A few years ago, I was in the same circle of conversation as Waldman at a party. Twigg asked me to sign a book, which he showed me had been signed by pretty much everyone associated with the Beats. Here he is this amazing musician with tons of covet-worth signatures, and he made me feel like a million bucks by asking me to sign too. Amram, always swamped by the masses, still made time for me, and again made me feel like I was the star. I hope that I do that for other people. He introduced me to his daughter, who was really sweet. He also introduced me to Bill Morgan, whose books have been a tremendous resource to me over the years. It’s so surreal to meet someone you’ve footnoted.

There were also other musicians and poets there, including Ambrose Bye, CA Conrad, Steven Taylor, and Arthur’s Landing, whom I’d never heard before and yet who captured my attention, making me want to explore their work.

Amanda Bullock, who plans the events at Housing Works and whom I’d heard speak about social media at the CLMP literary conference at The New School, was there kicking us all out at the end because we all kept mingling and having hurried, beautiful conversations.

I could hardly sleep from all the excitement.