Tag Archives: Columbia University

Remembering Lucien Carr

28 Jan

Because of the film Kill Your Darlings, much has been made recently of Lucien Carr’s murder of David Kammerer, but that’s not how he should be remembered. Carr served his time and tried to distance himself from that association, though he did remain lifelong friends with the people he’d met as a prank-loving student at Columbia. He even went so far as to have Allen Ginsberg take his name out of the dedication to Howl after learning of it in the first printing.

So what should we remember Lucien Carr for? He did not, after all, seek to capitalize on his name or associations with his own writing. Instead, he should remember for tirelessly working as an editor at UPI for close to five decades. There, he encouraged and molded young writers, just as he often did for his “Beat” friends.

Lucien Carr passed away on this day in 2005.

Recommended reading::: Eric Homberger’s obituary “Lucien Carr” for The Guardian.

Remembering Mark Van Doren

10 Dec

vandoren

Mark Van Doren passed away on this day in 1972, at the age of seventy-eight. Originally from Illinois, Van Doren worked for many years at Columbia University, at one point testifying on Allen Ginsberg’s behalf to keep the young poet from going to jail. Two days before his death, Van Doren underwent surgery at Charlotte Hungerford Hospital for circulatory problems. He is buried at Cornwall Hollow Cemetery in Connecticut.

 

 

Happy 99th Birthday, Robert Lax!

30 Nov

circus

Robert Lax was born on this day in 1915 in Olean, in the Southern Tier region of New York.

Lax studied poetry with Mark Van Doren at Columbia University and graduated in 1938, right before Jack Kerouac arrived on campus. Similarly, they both took on a life of wandering. Lax worked for some prestigious magazines — The New Yorker and Time — and then joined the circus as a juggler.

Eventually, he found his way to the Greek island of Patmos. The island is known as a place of pilgrimage, as the apostle John had lived there. Lax himself went on to live here for more than thirty years, living the life of a hermit and writing beautiful poetry.

Kerouac indeed did end up getting in contact with his fellow alum. You can read his letter to him in Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters, 1940-1956.

Remembering Ginsberg’s Teacher Lionel Trilling

5 Nov

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Lionel Trilling passed away on this day in 1975, at the age of seventy. He had lived through a lot: World War I, the Lost Generation, women’s suffrage, Prohibition, the Great Depression, World War II, the Beat Generation, Hippies, and Disco. It’s no wonder his politics, a topic on which he wrote, shifted and swayed and remain up for discussion.

Trilling taught Columbia’s Colloquium on Important Books, where among his students were Allen Ginsberg and Lucien Carr.

 

Before the Beats, Rimbaud Had a “Bohemian Life”

17 Apr

225px-RimbaudPhoto by Etienne Carjat (1871)

Rimbaud’s kinda cute, eh?

Before Jack Kerouac coined the term “Beat Generation” during a conversation on the Lost Generation with fellow writer John Clellon Holmes, before he went on the road and lived a bohemian life, he attended (and dropped out of) Columbia University. It was through his Columbia connections—which Paul and I explain in more detail in Burning Furiously Beautiful (it’s actually super interesting to discover how they all met and became friends)—that Kerouac met Lucien Carr and Allen Ginsberg. Back then, the phrase they were throwing around was a “New Vision.”

Carr had borrowed the phrase from Arthur Rimbaud, and the young friends in Morningside Heights used it to mean:

1) Naked self-expression is the seed of creativity. 2) The artist’s consciousness is expanded by derangement of the senses. 3) Art eludes conventional morality.[17]

As a teenager, Rimbaud was part of the Decadent movement in late-nineteenth-century France. The term “Decadents” refers to the clever poets who preferred to show off their literary skill rather than emote as naturally as the Romantics. The earlier Romantics—such as William Blake, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and John Keats—used more colloquial language than the highly stylized language of the Decadents.

In a letter to a friend, Rimbaud wrote:

I’m now making myself as scummy as I can. Why? I want to be a poet, and I’m working at turning myself into a seer. You won’t understand any of this, and I’m almost incapable of explaining it to you. The idea is to reach the unknown by the derangement of all the senses. It involves enormous suffering, but one must be strong and be a born poet. It’s really not my fault.

 

Sounds like something Kerouac might write, doesn’t it? Not because the author of On the Road sought to make himself scummy by any means, but because he shook off pretensions and suffered for his art, appreciating the authenticity of experience.

I couldn’t find a translation of any of Rimbaud’s poetry that was in the public domain, so here is Rimbaud’s “My Bohemian Life (Fantasy)” in the original French:

Ma Bohème (Fantaisie)

Je m’en allais, les poings dans mes poches crevées ;
Mon paletot aussi devenait idéal ;
J’allais sous le ciel, Muse ! et j’étais ton féal ;
Oh ! là là ! que d’amours splendides j’ai rêvées !

Mon unique culotte avait un large trou.
– Petit-Poucet rêveur, j’égrenais dans ma course
Des rimes. Mon auberge était à la Grande Ourse.
– Mes étoiles au ciel avaient un doux frou-frou

Et je les écoutais, assis au bord des routes,
Ces bons soirs de septembre où je sentais des gouttes
De rosée à mon front, comme un vin de vigueur ;

Où, rimant au milieu des ombres fantastiques,
Comme des lyres, je tirais les élastiques
De mes souliers blessés, un pied près de mon coeur !

You can read a 1962 English translation by Oliver Bernard here.

 

Happy 89th Birthday to Lu the Glue!

1 Mar

“Lu was the glue,” said Allen Ginsberg, talking about how integral Lucien Carr was to connecting the people who would go on to become collectively known as the Beat Generation. Carr and Ginsberg met when Ginsberg came knocking on his dorm door at Columbia (well, technically they were attending Columbia but lodged at Union Theological Seminary) to discover who was playing the delightful music of Brahms. Carr was also friends with a fun-loving student named Edie Parker who introduced him to her boyfriend Jack Kerouac. Meanwhile, around that same time, Carr’s stalker, David Kammerer, and William S. Burroughs, whose family Carr had known back in their hometown of St. Louis, arrived in New York City. A charismatic wit, Carr drew this circle together and came up with the idea of a New Vision that embodied “naked self-expression,” a “derangement of the senses,” and the doing away with conventional morality” when it came to art.

Lucien Carr was born on this day in 1925 in New York City.

Happy 88th Birthday, Neal Cassady!

8 Feb

firstthird

Neal Leon Cassady was born on this day in 1926 in Salt Lake City, Utah. His mother, Maude Jean (Scheuer), passed away when he was just ten years old, and his father, Neal Marshall Cassady, went on to raise him on the mean streets of skid row in Denver, Colorado. With an alcoholic father, Cassady soon turned to a life of crime, and was arrested when he was only fourteen years old. At nineteen years old, and fresh out of prison, Cassady married a vivacious fifteen year old by the name of LuAnne Henderson. Together they set out for New York City in 1947 to meet up with a Denver friend who had gone on to study at Columbia. It was through Hal Chase that Cassady met two other young guys who studied at Columbia: Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. His life would forever change.

Returning to Denver, Cassady met Carolyn Robinson, a young teaching assistant at the theater arts department of the Denver Art Museum, whom he married, after divorcing LuAnne. By 1950 he was in a bigamous relationship with Diane Hansen. Cassady’s romances, command of a steering wheel, and zeal for life inspired Kerouac’s writing, and he became Dean Moriarty in On the Road and the title character of Visions of Cody.

What is sometimes overlooked, though, and which I want to celebrate on his birthday is Cassady’s own writing. It was Cassady’s great “Joan Anderson letter” that took Kerouac’s writing to the next level, inspiring him to become more confessional and spontaneous. Although he died in 1968, Cassady also left us with his own memoir, The First Third. Here’s how it’s described on Barnes & Noble:

Immortalized as Dean Moriarty by Jack Kerouac in his epic novel, On the Road, Neal Cassady was infamous for his unstoppable energy and his overwhelming charm, his savvy hustle and his devil-may-care attitude. A treasured friend and traveling companion of Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and Ken Kesey, to name just some of his cohorts on the beatnik path, Cassady lived life to the fullest, ready for inspiration at any turn.

Before he died in Mexico in 1968, just four days shy of his forty-second birthday, Cassady had written the jacket blurb for this book: “Seldom has there been a story of a man so balled up. No doubt many readers will not believe the veracity of the author, but I assure these doubting Thomases that every incident, as such, is true.”

As Ferlingetti writes in his editor’s note, Cassady was “an early prototype of the urban cowboy who a hundred years ago might have been an outlaw on the range.” Here are his autobiographical writings, the rambling American saga of a truly free individual.

For a critical analysis on the “facts” of The First Third, check out David Sandison and Graham Vickers’ Neal Cassady.

While the salacious details of his personal biography are important perhaps to understanding where he came from and his perspective on life, they should not be confused for the totality of who he is and what he offered the world. Contrary to his wild persona, his prose is tame. He methodically plots out his lineage, trying his best to adhere to some intangible idea of what it means to sound literary. Yet it’s also raw. Cassady refuses to conform to the standard rules of grammar, instead allowing his words to gush over the page.

In honor of Cassady’s birthday, read some of his work! It’s the best way to understand the man behind the myth.

What do you think of Neal Cassady’s writing style? Do you have a favorite biography about Cassady?

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!

Happy Birthday, Amiri Baraka!

7 Oct

BluesPeople

Happy birthday to the great poet, playwright, critic, and activist Amiri Baraka!

Baraka was born on this day in 1934 in Newark, the same New Jersey city where eight years earlier Allen Ginsberg had been born. His given name was Everett LeRoi Jones, and he went by LeRoi, eventually changing his name in the late 1960s to Amiri Baraka. Baraka had studied at Rutgers University and Howard University before, like  Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, studying at Columbia University. Also like Kerouac, he took classes at The New School. However, while Ginsberg and Kerouac could be found in the English departments, Baraka’s major fields of study were philosophy and religion. It is not surprising, then, that he became known for his social criticism.

As his website states:

Baraka started his professional career by joining the US Air Force in the early fifties.  Destined to be an accomplished author, he did not serve the military for long and switched to a completely different domain by opting to work in a warehouse for music records. This is where his social circle expanded and added the Black Mountain Poets, New York School Poets and the Beat Generation to it. Also, it developed his interest in Jazz music which later matured in making him one of the most sought after music critics. 

Around that same time, in 1958, he married Hettie Cohen. Together they founded the short-lived lit mag Yugen. He also edited the lit mag Floating Bear with Diane DiPrima. His first book of poems, Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note, was published in 1961. Perhaps the book he is best known for is the 1963 jazz criticism Blues People: Negro Music in White America.

Baraka has gone on to receive the PEN Open Book Award, the James Weldon Johnson Medal for contributions to the arts, an Obie Award (for Dutchman), and the American Academy of Arts & Letters award, and become Professor Emeritus at the State university of New York at Stony Brook and the Poet Laureate of New Jersey.

This is barely even scraping the surface of who Baraka is and the importance of his work. My emphasis on his connection to Ginsberg, Kerouac,  DiPrima, and the Beat Generation is an artificial construct, simply to navigate my usual Kerouac readers. Baraka’s literature and activism is integral to our nation’s history and development. The Poetry Foundation offers a more thorough biography.

Read an excerpt from Blues People on Barnes & Noble.

Find out more on Amiri Baraka’s website.

The Great Valhouli Fauxlore: Atlantic Uncovers Truth Behind Kerouac-Burroughs Fight

9 Aug

No5

Those of us who devote our time studying the life and work of Jack Kerouac and yet who simultaneously spend a lot of our time on Facebook already called “hoax” on that photograph that was being circulated around about a plaque on how Kerouac and William S. Burroughs got into a drunken fight over the Oxford comma. I assumed it was a digitally manipulated photograph. As it turns out, though, it has a fascinating back story. Alexis C. Madrigal uncovered the truth behind the plaque — which actually exists — in the story “Facebook Fauxlore: Kerouac, Burroughs, and a Fight Over the Oxford Comma That Never Was” in The Atlantic.

It’s a great piece — minus the odd portrayal of the Greek American behind the plaque. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

Hot on the trail of something fishy, Madrigal contacted sources Paul Marion; The Morgan Center; Martha Mayo, head of the Center for Lowell History; and Tony Sampas. Marion, author and employee at UMass Lowell Center for Arts and Ideas, had seen the plaque and knew that it was created to promote Mill No. 5 at 250 Jackson Street in Kerouac’s hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts.

Marion referred Madrigal to Ted Siefer’s article “Mill No. 5 brings transformation to Lowell” in The Boston Globe, which explained that developer Constantine Valhouli, with business partner Jim Lichoulas III, was transforming the former textile mill into an office building:

with a kind of fun-house brio to attract the eclectic, off-beat, and hip: boutique movie theater, yoga studio, farm-to-table restaurant, a lounge/library in the style of an English manor — the whole thing decorated with architectural materials salvaged from the likes of Dr. Seuss’ house.

It would appear that Valhouli ascribes to the same Beat philosophy of improvisation as Kerouac. Siefer says:

Valhouli likens the development of the project to how jazz musicians build a song. “We’ve not built from a plan,” he said. “You play a theme, and you just keep playing improvisations over it.”

Madrigal points to the pivotal paragraph in The Globe story for proving the plaque is a fake:

And there, in the 13th paragraph, was proof that we were looked at a false sign: “Inside the entry hall will be a reconstructed early 19th-century New England schoolhouse,” the Globe wrote, “an exhibit that will be part of what Valhouli calls the Lowell Atheneum [AHA!], which will also feature a collection of hand-painted pseudo-historical plaques from New England history [DOUBLE AHA!].”

Madrigal, who went on to interview Valhouli, then explained that Valhouli and Lichoulas thought up the idea of creating “a series of plaques commemorating events that never happened” to support Mill No. 5. They hired Ould Colony Artisans‘ Robert and Judy Leonard to paint the plaque by hand. The artists had created many other historical signs in the Massachusetts area.

I found Madigral’s investigative reporting enthralling.

Still, I was put off by this aside:

I had to get in touch with this Valhouli character, who was, no doubt, swirling his mustache near some railroad tracks looking for damsels.

Okay, I’ll concede that Constantine Valhouli certainly sounded like a “character” for faking people out — although I’m not sure we generally refer to conceptual artists or those who come up with brilliant marketing schemes as “characters.” Instead, I think we tend to use terms like “inspired” and “business-savvy” to describe people who manage to get others talking about their work. A quick look at Mill No. 5’s Facebook page, and the tongue-in-cheek branding is evident:

We’re working on the bathrooms at Mill No. 5 today. Which made us think of the central question of paleontology:
Q: Why can’t you hear a pterodactyl go to the bathroom?
A: Because the P is silent.

Brilliant Subway Panhandling Prank Flips the Script

Hahahahahaha. This. Oh this. The Hipster Logo Design Guide.

But there was “no doubt” in Madrigal’s mind that Valhouli had a mustache and that he swirled it, like some sort of old-timey Western villain? Is the mustache assumption because he’s Greek American or because The Boston Globe article referred to his work as “Disneyland for hipsters”? Where did the leap from real-estate developer to someone who hung out at a train station get made? Was this supposed to tie him closer to Kerouac — or make him sound like some sort of train-hopping hobo? He was out “looking for damsels”? What??

With today’s access to personal information on the Internet, it took only seconds to find Valhouli’s LinkedIn page, and — unless it too is a hoax — discover he (fittingly) received his BA in English and fine art from Georgetown University, where he went on to get his MA in interactive technology. From there, he got his MBA from Columbia University’s Business School. He received the Charles G. Koch Fellowship and was a Peter Agris Fellow. He did equity research for Morgan Stanley and was director of business development for Incogniti before becoming principal at The Hammersmith Group, which describes itself as “a boutique strategy consulting firm with concentrations in real estate and technology.” His LinkedIn summary reads, in part:

Constantine has been featured in the BBC, Businessweek, CNN, Forbes, Fortune, Newsweek, and the Wall Street Journal. He has guest lectured at Columbia Business School, MIT, New York University, and has served as a panelist on internet industry events and at the U.S. Department of State.

There wasn’t a profile picture to verify him peeking out of a train tunnel to leer at women. The Atlantic has created its own “fauxlore” about Constantine Valhouli. Oh, how the tables have turned.

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This post has been updated to correct the publication to The Atlantic.