Tag Archives: Go

Remembering John Clellon Holmes

30 Mar

brother

Earlier this month we celebrated what would’ve been John Clellon Holmes’ 88th birthday. Today marks the anniversary of his passing from cancer at the age of 62 in 1988.

Holmes’ first published book was Go, a fantastic novel about the early Beat scene featuring the same cast of characters that Kerouac wrote about in On the Road. In fact, Kerouac and Holmes remained life-long friends, after initially meeting on their way to a party in 1948.

Somewhat recently — 2010 — Ann Charters and Samuel Charters edited Brother-Souls: John Clellon Holmes, Jack Kerouac, and The Beat Generation. Here’s the write up on Barnes & Noble:

John Clellon Holmes met Jack Kerouac on a hot New York City weekend in 1948, and until the end of Kerouac’s life they were–in Holmes’s words–“Brother Souls.” Both were neophyte novelists, hungry for literary fame but just as hungry to find a new way of responding to their experiences in a postwar American society that for them had lost its direction. Late one night as they sat talking, Kerouac spontaneously created the term “Beat Generation” to describe this new attitude they felt stirring around them. Brother Souls is the remarkable chronicle of this cornerstone friendship and the life of John Clellon Holmes.

From 1948 to 1951, when Kerouac’s wanderings took him back to New York, he and Holmes met almost daily. Struggling to find a form for the novel he intended to write, Kerouac climbed the stairs to the apartment in midtown Manhattan where Holmes lived with his wife to read the pages of Holmes’s manuscript for the novel Go as they left the typewriter. With the pages of Holmes’s final chapter still in his mind, he was at last able to crack his own writing dilemma. In a burst of creation in April 1951 he drew all the materials he had been gathering into the scroll manuscript of On the Road.

Biographer Ann Charters was close to John Clellon Holmes for more than a decade. At his death in 1988 she was one of a handful of scholars allowed access to the voluminous archive of letters, journals, and manuscripts Holmes had been keeping for twenty-five years. In that mass of material waited an untold story. These two ambitious writers, Holmes and Kerouac, shared days and nights arguing over what writing should be, wandering from one explosive party to the next, and hanging on the new sounds of bebop. Through the pages of Holmes’s journals, often written the morning after the events they recount, Charters discovered and mined an unparalleled trove describing the seminal figures of the Beat Generation: Holmes, Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Gregory Corso, and their friends and lovers.

In addition to reading any of Holmes’ works, Brother-Souls provides a portrait of an author whose work deserves more recognition.

Happy 88th Birthday to the Quiet Beat!

12 Mar

Go

John Clellon Holmes is the friend Jack Kerouac was talking to when he coined the phrase “Beat Generation.” Holmes actually found success more quickly than Kerouac did in writing about the scene when he published Go in 1952. The writing style is vastly different than Kerouac’s, as it takes a much more traditional approach to novel writing, but it is fantastic! Go is one of my favorite books of the so-called Beat canon. Holmes does a fantastic job bringing all the familiar characters — Gene Pasternak as Kerouac, Hart Kennedy as Neal Cassady, David Stofsky as Allen Ginsberg, Will Dennison as William S. Burroughs, and so forth — to life as he explores hipsters partying it up in New York City. Dare I say his descriptions of the 1940s party scene are more memorable to me than Kerouac’s?!

Holmes was born in Holyoke, Massachusetts, on this day in 1926. Celebrate his life and work by reading Go!

 

Remembering Neal Cassady

4 Feb

“I recently heard a quote in a play, the source I forget: ‘A man’s measure is not from the amount of love he gives to others but the amount he is loved.’ I have to think about that, but Neal was/is certainly loved.”

~ Carolyn Cassady

Just a few days shy of his forty-second birthday, Neal Cassady passed away. On February 3, 1968, he left a wedding party in Mexico, where he’d taken a barbiturate known for its hypnotic effects, and began walking along the railroad tracks in San Miguel to reach the next town. Somewhere along the way, he passed out. He was found in a coma the next morning. He was taken to a hospital, but died a few hours later. The autopsy report read: “general congestion in all systems.” He was apparently cremated.

Popular imagination most readily remembers Neal Cassady as a muse, a character in novels, the man behind the wheel of the bus Further in grainy film footage. Check him out in these “Beat” novels:

  • Dean Moriarty in On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  • Dean in Jazz of the Beat Generation by Jack Kerouac
  • Cody Pomeray in Visions of Cody by Jack Kerouac
  • Cody Pomeray in Book of Dreams by Jack Kerouac
  • Cody Pomeray in Desolation Angels by Jack Kerouac
  • Cody Pomeray in Book of Sketches by Jack Kerouac
  • Neal Pomeray in Neal and the Three Stooges by Jack Kerouac
  • Leroy in The Subterraneans by Jack Kerouac
  • Hart Kennedy in Go by John Clellon Holmes

Ken Kesey, Hunter S. Thompson, and The Grateful Dead also wrote about their experiences with Cassady.