Tag Archives: Lawrence Ferlinghetti

5 Quotes about Jack Kerouac’s Influence on Bob Dylan

19 Oct

portablebeatreaderbobdylan

So you may have heard that Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize.

For Literature.

At first, no one could get ahold of him. Then, when they did, he rejected it. The initial news, though, set the literary community ablaze. He’s a singer. A songwriter. Are lyricists worthy of literary awards?

Some said no. In The New York Times article “Why Bob Dylan Shouldn’t Have Gotten a Nobel,” Anna North wrote:

Yes, Mr. Dylan is a brilliant lyricist. Yes, he has written a book of prose poetry and an autobiography. Yes, it is possible to analyze his lyrics as poetry. But Mr. Dylan’s writing is inseparable from his music. He is great because he is a great musician, and when the Nobel committee gives the literature prize to a musician, it misses the opportunity to honor a writer.

 

Bob Dylan, Nobel laureate? It’s not so strange, really” was the headline from the editorial staff of the Los Angeles Times, which went on to say:

The permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, which awarded Dylan the Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday, compared him to Homer and Sappho, and it’s a fact that great literature has its roots in lyrics that were set to music and transmitted from town to town and from generation to generation by a succession of minstrels, troubadours, cantors and choirs. And then records, radio and streaming services.

For me, it wasn’t all that shocking for Bob Dylan of all songwriters to have won a literary prize. Growing up, I knew very little of Bob Dylan. I knew that he was from Minnesota, like Prince, and like my mother. I knew he was a folk singer with a unique voice who’d famously brewed a storm when he went electric. And, I knew him as someone featured in the very first Beat book I ever bought — Ann Charter’s The Portable Beat Reader.

The Portable Beat Reader had included four pieces of Dylan’s in its pages:

  1. “Blowin’ in the Wind”
  2. “The Times They Are A-Changin'”
  3. “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”
  4. Tarantula (excerpt)

Ray Bremser, Jack Micheline, Peter Orlovsky, and Anne Waldman only got one a-piece. If Ann Charters and the editors at Penguin were any indication, Bob Dylan was as much a poet as other recognized poets.

 

The poets and writers of the Beat Generation encouraged Bob Dylan tremendously. The documentary Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder touches on this poignantly. Much has already been written extensively about Dylan’s literary influences, so here are just five quotes connecting Bob Dylan and Jack Kerouac:

  1. “’I read On the Road in maybe 1959. It changed my life like it changed everyone else’s,’” said Bob Dylan via BobDylan.com
  2. “But it captures what Dylan cherishes in Jack Kerouac, who understood freedom in much the same way….” — Cass R. Sunstein wrote about Dylan’s “Desolation Row” in “Dylan soars past Whitman as the great American poet” in the Chicago Tribune 
  3. “’Someone handed me Mexico City Blues in St. Paul in 1959,’ Dylan told him. ‘It blew my mind.’ It was the first poetry he’d read that spoke his own American language, Dylan said—or so Ginsberg said he said.” — Sean Wilentz wrote in “Bob Dylan, the Beat Generation, and Allen Ginsberg’s America” in The New Yorker 
  4. “Dave Van Ronk, in discussing both Dylan’s literary filiations and his well-known intolerance of the sixties rock revolution, noted that ‘Bobby is very much a product of the beat generation.… You are not going to see any more like him.’ Dylan likened his songs of this period to the cut-ups of William Burroughs, and there are notable similarities between these songs and the writings of Jack Kerouac, especially the Neal Cassady-inspired Visions of Cody and On the Road—not only in their phrasings but also in Dylan’s whole persona, which seemed almost to be modeled on Dean Moriarty, the ‘holy goof,’ the ‘burning shuddering frightful angel.’” — wrote Mark Polizzotti in “On Bob Dylan’s Literary Influences” via LitHub
  5. “In the East, some wended their way up to Lowell, becoming pilgrims at his grave, often leaving notes, mementos, or an empty wine bottle or half-pint of whiskey in salute. Then, in 1975, Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg, in Lowell on Dylan’s Rolling Thunder tour, made a trip to Kerouac’s grave, famously recorded in the film Renaldo and Clara. While Ginsberg rambles on about the famous graves he’s visited, Dylan is noticeably quiet as he ponders Kerouac’s brief dates and the ‘He honored life’ coda etched in the granite. ‘Is this what’s going to happen to you?’ asked Ginsberg, indicating Jack’s slab. ‘No,’ said Dylan, then just thirty-four. ‘I wanna be in an unmarked grave.’” — from John Suiter’s “Kerouac’s Lowell: A Life on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers

You can watch the video of Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg at Kerouac’s grave here.

For the connection between Homer and Jack Kerouac, go here.

 

Happy National Book Lovers Day!

9 Aug

StephanieNikolopoulos2

“There is no mistaking a real book when one meets it. It’s like falling in love.” ~ Christopher Morley

Happy National Book Lovers Day!

I don’t read as much as I used to these days. Or, maybe I read more. It’s hard to tell. As an editor, I read all day at my job. But it’s a different type of reading. It’s more like a spot-the-difference puzzle, where I’m on the lookout for Briticisms and double punctuation marks. It’s not reading for pleasure, though it is pleasurable.

I am a book lover.

Much of my life is what it is because of books. My mother used to bribe me with books when I was a child. Books opened up a world to me. Reading became not just an activity but a refuge, and not just a refuge but a part of my identity. When I went away to camp, I took a sign language class. We were told to use the letter from our first name and the sign for an activity we enjoyed to create a unique name for ourselves. My name was an “S” opening a book.

Later, in high school, I dropped math class and took an extra English class in addition to my AP English class. My first or second semester of college, I took three English classes at the same time. It was wonderful! It felt so me. I felt like I was living out my true self. On spring break, I went to City Lights in San Francisco and dragged my best friend around the city, reading her Lawrence Ferlinghetti‘s poems.

I absorbed myself in the pages of books for hours at a time, discovering not just kindred spirits and captivating lands but turns of phrases and how punctuation influenced a reading. When I learned to read, I also began to learn to write. Reading and writing were two sides of the same coin for me. One inspired the other. I am at my best, I feel my most authentic, when I am involved in both.

A few years ago, while working full time in book publishing and going to grad school full time for creative writing, I co-authored Burning Furiously Beautiful. It was a wild, intense time. I would wake up early before work and edit, a habit this non-morning person is not a natural at. I turned down plans with friends. I surrounded myself with books. And you know what? I miss it.

I miss the intensity of reading and writing and breathing words. I miss being assigned books that challenge me. I miss being exposed to new ideas. I miss the deadlines. I miss the workshops. I miss the camaraderie. I miss the solitude. The quiet nights. The passionate flurry of ideas.

I recently did a writing intensive with some friends. We tried to push out twenty pages a week. That’s more than I was required to do in grad school. It felt good. It wasn’t necessarily sustainable, but it got me back into the habit. As well, I’m doing the Goodreads reading challenge and trying to read a book a week. I’m woefully behind. Woefully. But it has gotten me back into the habit of reading for pleasure. I ask people to recommend books to me, so I still am being exposed to things I wouldn’t normally select for myself. Sometimes my friends read the same books; sometimes I read the book for my book club; sometimes I read the book for Bible study; and sometimes I get around to reading the books I excitedly bought but remained on my bookshelves. I read on the subway. I read in bed. I read in the bathtub. I read on NJ Transit.

And I’m about to read right now before bed! I’m finally getting around to reading Vivian Gornick‘s The Odd Woman and the City.

 

Coming Soon! Ferlinghetti’s Travel Journals

31 Mar

Ferlinghetti

In super exciting Beat-, travel-, poetry-, publishing- related news, Liveright Publishing will publish Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s travel journals in September 2015! The suspense is driving me crazy!!

Ferlinghetti is one of my most favorite poets. Back when I was in undergrad, I made my first pilgrimage to City Lights, the bookstore he founded, bought his San Francisco Poems, and proceeded to drag my biology-major friend all around the city to read the poems in their appropriate places. The fact that his travel journals are now being published may just inspire me to hit the road again.

The book, titled Writing Across the Landscape: Travel Journals, will cover the years 1950 to 2013. As I wrote in my recap of the film Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder, Ferlinghetti once traveled to Italy to seek out his family roots and promptly got arrested! He also happened to own a little cabin out in Big Sur, California, where Jack Kerouac stayed; Kerouac wrote a book about his time there that’s since been made into a film. For the record, Ferlinghetti does not consider himself a Beat, and he’s not one of the characters constantly described as sitting in the back of a car driven by Neal Cassady. He’s had his own set of adventures through Cuba, France, Haiti, Mexico, and North Africa.

Kerouac’s literary agent Sterling Lord brokered the deal for Ferlinghetti’s new book with Liveright’s editor-in-chief Robert Weil. You can read more about it in The New York Times.

Are the Beatniks Anti-American?

27 May

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAmerican flag outside Kerouac’s birth home

I came to read Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti with little to no preconceived ideas about the Beat Generation. I had heard of Gilligan but never Maynard G. Krebs. I associated goatees with Ethan Hawke and turtlenecks with Sharon Stone. I liked the poetry bit in So I Married an Axe-Murderer but associated it with the spoken word poets of 1990s coffeehouses. So when I picked up The Portable Beat Reader, edited by Ann Charters, I had no presupposed knowledge of the writers in it or the culture they apparently inspired, apart from having discovered the book in a photo spread of a teen girl’s magazine. The kids in the spread looked like how I looked–or, rather, the cooler version of how I wished myself to look. That seemed as good a reason as any to beg my mom to buy the book for me.

I discovered humor and beauty and sensitivity in the words of the poets and novelists associated with the Beat Generation. When I read Kerouac explain the definition of “beat” as being both beat down and beatific, I understood and believed his words. It enlightened the way I read On the Road, and yet I read it sympathetically in the first place. I was a lot like Sal Paradise, hanging out with a friend who was wilder than I was. I longing to hit the road, to escape the humdrum of the suburbs and walk the city sidewalks of New York.

It was only later that I discovered that many others viewed the Beats and their work quite differently. It was only through reading biographies and nonfiction books on the Beats that I came to see that these writers were referred to as “beatniks,” and that that had a negative connotation. The term was a derogatory amalgamation of “Beat” and “sputnik,” and not being up on my history in my teen years, I understood it simply to mean they were “far out,” like a satellite in the space race. I had certainly heard of the Cold War, but it took me longer to understand that “beatnik” suggested the writers were somehow anti-American.

The idea of the Beats as anti-American took a long time for me to wrap my head around. Kerouac had written such a beautiful novel about America. He seemed so in love with the country and even made me fall in love with it in a new way. Before then, as the daughter of an immigrant, I had considered travel as something to do outside of America. I’d been to Europe but never the West Coast. Reading the Beats, I wanted to know more about this splendid vision of America they described. Sure, Ginsberg challenged America, but growing up decades later than him I was encouraged in school to think independently as he did. One could speak up in love. One must speak up in love.

As I continued to study Kerouac in particular, I learned about how he had been in the Merchant Marine during World War II. So much of what I read emphasized that he’d gotten discharged from the US Navy after being diagnosed with “schizoid personality.” It took more digging to hear a story like this one of how much Kerouac respected even the American flag:

At a party with Kesey’s Merry Pranksters Kesey came up and wrapped an American flag around me. So I took it (Kerouac demonstrates how he took it, and the movements are tender) and I folded it up the way you’re supposed to, and put it on the back of the sofa. The flag is not a rag.

The Beats were far from squeaky clean, but anti-American? I don’t see it. Perhaps the Beats didn’t jive with sock hops and malt shops, but maybe that’s a good thing because those 1950s stereotypes whitewashed the truth and left out large segments of the population. Some of us had fathers who spoke with an accent the way Ricky Ricardo did. Some of were intelligent but didn’t like stuffiness. Some of us liked to play our music LOUD. Some of us were friends with the outcasts. Some of us were misfits ourselves.

This Memorial Day, remember that many who died fighting for our country were just kids looking for a chance to escape from home or hoping for a chance to make something of their lives or desiring to be a part of something bigger than themselves. And think about today’s generation of Americans, those who may be a little rough around the edges or a little outspoken but who are so full of life, liberty, and justice.

You may also be interested in Memorial Day: Kerouac in the Merchant Marines.

What a Garifuna-Breton Party Has to Do with Jack Kerouac

15 Mar

James-Lovell

photo via ELA

After a short hiatus for renovations and new partnership, Bowery Poetry is back—dropping “Club” from its title—and they’re hosting a Garifuna-Breton party! I’ve posted before about endangered languages—both of which these are—but why I specifically want to mention this party is because Jack Kerouac claimed to have descended from a Breton nobleman.

Bretons are people from Brittany, a Celtic nation located in France. During Kerouac’s day and age there were more than one million Breton speakers. The Brythonic language (Welsh, also endangered, is another example of a Brythonic language) was originally well regarded and spoken among the upper classes, but as people began assimilating it became known as the language of the commoners. Today,  most Bretons today speak French, and only about 200,000 people—particularly in the western area—speak Breton. In the 1960s, the language was being forced out of schools—just like many Native American and Sami languages were. Today, schools are returning to bilingualism, particularly through the efforts of Diwan schools, which were founded in 1977 as an immersion program. Even so, UNESCO classifies Breton as a “severely endangered” language. For more on the history of the language visit Breton Language and visit the US Branch of the International Committee for the Defense of the Breton Language.

Kerouac’s family was French Canadian, and growing up in Lowell, Massachusetts, his first language was the working-class French-Canadian dialect joual. It’s interesting to note that both Breton and joual are associated with commoners; perhaps this is a key to understanding Kerouac and his literature. As far as my current research shows, he was not familiar with the Breton language. However, I recently saw Christopher Felver’s documentary Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder, which told the story of how one day Kerouac was sitting on the beach in Big Sur with poet and City Lights founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti repeated the phrase “the fish in the sea speak Breton.” Kerouac perked up, hearing the connection to his roots, and asked Ferlinghetti about it and wrote it down in the little notebook he always carried with him. The phrase found its way into his novel Big Sur.

Satori in Paris, which came three years after Big Sur, recounts Kerouac’s travels to France and Brittany in search of his roots. For a fascinating look at Kerouac’s trip and ancestral lineage, check out Dave Moore’s article “The Breton Traveller” on Beatdom.

Here’s the press release for the Garifuna-Breton party:

BOWERY POETRY

IS BACK WITH

A GRAND GARIFUNA-BRETON PARTY!

Poetry! Music! Dance!

Sunday*, March 18 from 6pm-11pm

Admission $10

Bowery Poetry, 308 Bowery (at 1st Street)

Endangered Language groups unite in a call to action to focus attention on the fact that more than half the world’s languages will disappear this century  

Two cultures who met through the Endangered Language Alliance, will celebrate their differences (Breton being Celtic and Garifuna being Arawak), and their similarities (both on the Endangered Language spectrum), but mainly will just celebrate with live music, dance and poetry. This event is being produced by the Bowery Arts + Science Endangered Language Program, and will be one of the first events at the newly renovated Bowery Poetry space at 308 Bowery.

Breton

The strong Breton cultural movement, known as Fest-Noz,  has preserved the expression of a living and constantly renewed practice of inherited dance repertoires with several hundred variations, and thousands of tunes. About a thousand Festou-Noz take place every year with participants varying from a hundred to several thousand people, thousands of musicians and singers and tens of thousands of regular dancers.

Garifuna

Descendants of Arawak, Carib, and African warriors, the resilient Garifuna people of Central America and the Caribbean are known for their rich traditional folklore, including music, dance, food and language. James Lovell is a New York based Belizean Garifuna drummer, recording artist, performer, teacher, and Garifuna cultural activist who grew up with stories told by his elders about the bravery of the Garifuna people and their military leader, Chief Joseph Chatoyer, against efforts by the British colonialists to deny them their identity and the right to speak the Garifuna language.  

 

 

*I double-checked this, and according to the Endangered Language Alliance the event is on MONDAY the 18th.

Review: Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder

14 Mar

ferlinghetti_splash

I caught the documentary Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder (2009) at Anthology Film Archives this past weekend. Lawrence Ferlinghetti is one of my favorite poets, for his use of language and whimsy. I’ve long appreciate his commitment to freedom of speech, and this documentary made me more aware of how he used his position as a poet and bookseller for activist purposes. Quirky fact: he uses the windows of his office at City Lights as a “blog,” writing his political thoughts for all who pass by to see.

Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder is star-studded, including informative interviews and clips with everyone from Amiri Baraka, David Amram, Jack Hirschman, Michael McClure, Anne Waldman, and George Whitman to Giada Diano, Bill Morgan, Dave Eggers, and Lorenzo Ferlinghetti. It impresses upon the viewer just how important Ferlinghetti is by indicating his support of Bob Dylan, his place in American poetry, awards given to him, and the naming of a street after him.

The biographical background information is fascinating, particularly when we hear about Ferlinghetti’s rearing in France, how his mother’s ineptitude at caring for him led to his being raised by the daughter of the founder of Sarah Lawrence College, and his service in World War II (spoiler alert: he saw Nagasaki right after the bomb dropped). There’s even a scene in which Ferlinghetti searches for his roots in Italy, where he was arrested for trespassing when he tried to get a sneak peek at where his father grew up! This of course is all balanced with his founding of City Lights, the Howl trial, and the Human Be-In.

All of it is wonderful, but its broad scope and pacing left the film falling flat in terms of its aesthetics. As a biographer, I understand how director/producer Christopher Felver must have struggled with the editing process. How could he cut anything out when it’s all so important? No one wants to see significant and appealing research fall on the cutting room floor. As a viewer, though, I would have preferred a more limited scope or narrative approach. It would have been a stronger film if Felver, who worked on the documentary for ten years, ruthlessly edited his work to give it a story arc. This film is best suited for those interested in learning more about the free speech movement, poetry in America, the Beat Generation (though Ferlinghetti adamantly declares in one scene “Don’t call me a Beat! I never was a Beat!”), San Francisco, and the 1950s and ‘60s. I’d recommend Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder for high-school English classes as well as for writers in general, as it motivates one to consider poetry as subversive action.

Gift Guide for the Beat Reader

14 Dec

The writers associated with the Beat Generation were anti-Consumerism, and I have a hard time believing they’d want anyone to buy beatnik merch. They would want you to buy and read their literature instead. However, if you have friends who love Beat literature, you may be hesitant to buy them On the Road because chances are they probably already have dog-eared paperbacks of both the standard novel and the scroll version. Here are a couple of alternative Beat-inspired gifts.

Amram

Musician and author David Amram did jazz-poetry performances with Kerouac and other poets. He also wrote the scores to films such as Splendor in the Grass and The Manchurian Candidate and has jammed with a wide variety of musicians. David Amram: The First 80 Years chronicles his genius talent. (You can watch a video of me reading with Amram here.)

logo

Another gift-worthy film is Ginsberg’s Karma, a “documentary about the legendary poet Allen Ginsberg and his mythical journey to India in the early 1960s that transformed his perspective on life and his work.” The film was edited, produced, and directed by Ram Devineni, and features poet Bob Holman. I saw this film at the PEN World Voice Literary Film Feast a few years ago and was inspired to get involved in some of their subsequent projects.

billykoumantzelis

Billy Koumantzelis was a friend of Kerouac’s back in their hometown of Lowell and served as a pallbearer at his funeral. I picked up this CD when I was at Lowell Celebrates Kerouac in 2011. It’s full of stories about Kerouac hanging out at bars, getting into fights, and appearing on The William Buckley Show and makes a great gift for someone who wants to hear stories from someone who knew Kerouac. (I got to meet Koumantzelis last week, and he is a true gentleman. I’ll be sharing stories from that soon.)

corso2

Allen Ginsberg had a portrait of poet Walt Whitman hanging in his apartment. This framed portrait of Gregory Corso is a great tribute to a poet who loved the Classics.

YouCantGoHomeAgain

Jack Kerouac was inspired by author Thomas Wolfe. Bundle up Look Homeward, Angel and You Can‘t Go Home Again for the Kerouac fan.

the-visitation

Kerouac wrote about the Grotto in Lowell, which is a beautiful and peaceful space to visit. Artist Jonathan Collins, whom I met at one of my readings, did a series based on the Grotto, which would make a lovely gift.

Larry-Closs_Beatitude_Anthony-Freda-194x300

Another person I met at a reading was Larry Closs, author of the book Beatitude.
 I stayed up late one night reading this heartbreaking-but-hopeful book of love, friendship, and the power of literature. You can read the synopsis here.

museum-sign

I haven’t finished my California road trip posts yet (so many posts, so little time!), but it will include my visit to The Beat Museum in San Francisco. I was greeted by none other than proprietor Jerry Cimino himself, whose stellar work in preserving Beat history I’ve been following for many years. He took some time out to chat with me and show me the plethora of rare and first-edition Beat books. Even if your budget isn’t big enough for a first edition, you can still get archival lit mags, which make a really cool gift.

Sea

Another place soon to be featured on my California road trip is City Lights Bookstore. In addition to rare and signed copies of books, you can also get some exclusive works here. At Sea is an “Exquisite handmade letterpress edition of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s new poem” for poet Pablo Neruda.

Of course there are tons of biographies, walking tour books, graphic novels, films, and so forth that would also make great gifts, but if you’re looking for something a bit more off the beaten path (heh), these might be the gifts you’re looking for.

A Manhattan in Big Sur: Cocktail Recipe for Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur Manhattan

16 Oct

Big Sur tells the story of Jack Kerouac’s alter ego escaping the pressures of fame brought on after the publishing success of On the Road by hiding out at the desolate cabin owned by his friend, City Lights Bookstore owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti (called Lorenzo Monsanto in the novel).  Kerouac had a notorious sweet tooth, perhaps most noticeably evident by all that delicious apple pie a la mode he writes of eating in On the Road.  In Big Sur, his friends point out his taste for a sweet of a different sort—sweet drinks!

Kerouac’s drink of choice in Big Sur is the classic cocktail the Manhattan, which gets its sweetness from vermouth, orange bitters, and a maraschino cherry.  The Manhattan has been called “the drinking man’s drink,” though, probably because of all the whiskey in it.

Here’s the history of the Manhattan, as told by That’s the Spirit!:

Samuel J. Tilden was elected Governor of New York in 1874, and to celebrate, socialite Jenny Jerome threw a party at the Manhattan Club in New York City.  Jerome asked the bartender to create a drink for the occasion. The bartender mixed 1 1/2 ounces bourbon, 1 1/4 ounces each of sweet and dry vermouth, and a dash of bitters. It met with Jerome’s approval and she named the drink the “Manhattan,” after the club.  Jenny Jerome later earned her place in history as she later became Lady Randolph Churchill, mother of Sir Winston Churchill, one of England’s most famous Prime Ministers.  The Manhattan became a classic cocktail that has survived a number of changes over the years and is presently enjoying a comeback alongside its cousin, the Martini.

That’s the most popular version of the story, but of course, like most cocktail history, there are other versions of the story as well.

That said, there are also variations of Manhattans.  It can be made with rye whiskey or bourbon.  Although Big Sur doesn’t specify, Kerouac would probably have preferred the bourbon variety, since rye whiskey is more on the bitter side.  Likewise, there are different types of vermouth: sweet and dry.  The bitters can either be traditional Angostura bitters or Angostura Orange.  Some people add a lemon peel for garnish.

On almost any given page of Big Sur there is a reference to alcohol, as the book documents Kerouac gripped by the disease of alcoholism.  While many culture critics have accused Kerouac of promoting a nefarious lifestyle, Kerouac makes the dangers of alcohol quite plain in Big Sur as he portrays himself in deplorable states of breakdown.  In addition to the maraschino cherry, some bartenders will even add a bit of the cherry juice to the drink.  Yum!

Big Sur also describes Kerouac drinking a lot of port wine.  A Manhattan made with port instead of vermouth is called a Ruby Manhattan.  Since he frequented the famous Nepenthe in Big Sur, though, I’m going to go with their recipe.  It’s quite possible the restaurant has changed its cocktail recipe since Kerouac’s autobiographical novel was published in 1962, but their current Manhattan ingredients includes Makers Mark, sweet vermouth, and blood orange bitters.

Nepenthe doesn’t include the ingredient breakout, but based on other general Manhattan recipes, this is my take on Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur Manhattan:

  • 3 oz. Makers Mark
  • 2 oz. sweet vermouth
  • dash of blood orange bitters
  • a Maraschino cherry as garnish, but while you’re at it add a splash of cherry juice to sweeten

Stir the ingredients over ice, then strain into a cocktail glass (the Martini glass) to serve straight up. Garnish with the cherry.

Big Sur and the Best Laid Plans….

15 Oct

I just got back from a trip where everything seemed to go awry.

On my recent trip to San Francisco for a friend’s wedding, I had big plans to visit John Steinbeck’s Monterey, where Cannery Row is set, and Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur, where he spent time in his friend poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s cabin and the title of one of his books.  This idea, mind you, came after plans had already gone awry when I discovered none of my other friends were able to make it to the wedding or were flying in just in time for the wedding, leaving me with a few days to myself.  I’d been to San Francisco a few times and already done the big touristy things and the Beat literary things in the city (minus the Beat Museum, which wasn’t around the last time I was there–and which will have its own post coming up soon!), so I figured I’d take my literary wanderings a bit further south.

Steinbeck’s Cannery Row came out in 1945, two years before Kerouac made that first big trip out West.  Post-World War II, both Steinbeck and Kerouac spent time in the same area of California—Monterey, Big Sur, Salinas—and wrote about migrant workers, the working class, the down and out, absurd heroes.  Steinbeck writes of Cannery Row:

Its inhabitants are, as the man once said, “whores, pimps, gamblers and sons of bitches,” by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, “Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,” and he would have meant the same thing.

Steinbeck’s message is very much Kerouac’s as well.  Kerouac writes about “the holy con-man with the shining mind” and other Beat characters whom society might consider derelicts but whom he considers saint-like.

I planned to do a close study of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and to reread Kerouac’s Big Sur to compare and contrast the places, characters, themes, and language.  Visiting a place can sometimes be the best form of research.  You see and hear things that aren’t in books, get a sense of proportion and distance, and see how the landscape has changed.  I wanted to see the land, to feel the sand between my toes, to have the salty ocean breeze whip through my hair, to smell the sardines.  I wanted to experience the rough terrain that so embodied Kerouac’s mind frame in Big Sur.

Unfortunately, a trip to Big Sur would not happen for me.  My plans went awry when I discovered that after Labor Day public transportation to Big Sur stopped running during the week and that the only tour that stops at Big Sur was sold out before I got to book it.  Discovering this two days before I was supposed to leave—okay, so they weren’t exactly “the best-laid plans…”—put a wrench in my itinerary.

Well, here’s my Pinterest inspiration board for Big Sur.

Here’s an article called “Steinbeck vs. Kerouac: Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!” from Big Think.

And here’s an article from Monterey County Weekly on the film adaptation of Kerouac’s Big Sur.

I was, however, able to book a different tour that at least went to Monterey.  I had to get up super early–did I mention there were several conferences going on in San Francisco so the only hotel I could find within my budget was an hour away?–to get to the 9am bus.  I got there right on time, getting one of the few remaining seats in the very back of the bus, on the side that wouldn’t have a good view.  …Two hours later, we were still in San Francisco.  The bus was blowing hot air through the vents and overheating–not great for all the senior citizens on the trip (oh, did I not mention the demographic was ever-so-slightly older?).  They brought in mechanics, and when they failed to fix it, we eventually got a new bus.  About half the people on the tour were so mad that their precious vacation time was wasted that they refused to get on and left the tour completely.  The good news: I got a better seat.

Here are a few pictures from Salinas and Monterey.

John Steinbeck references the aphorism “the best-laid plans of mice and men often goes awry” in the title of one of his other books, Of Mice and Men.  The phrase can be traced back to Robert Burns’ poem “To a Mouse”:

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley

Don’t you love that eighteenth-century Scottish English?  (One day I will have to describe my misadventures in Scotland too….)

One of the things I love best about On the Road is Jack Kerouac’s candor that trips often do go awry.  When Sal Paradise, the narrator based on Kerouac, starts his first big road trip from the East Coast to the West, he has grand plans of traveling one great highway all the way there.  That doesn’t work out—nor does he even get out of state before having to turn back and come home again.  He’d been trying to hitchhike his way out of New York City and ended up stranded in a torrential downpour in Bear Mountain, one of the places my own family frequented when I was growing up.  Not one to let problems rain on his parade, Paradise/Kerouac heads back to New York City and buys fare for public transportation that will take him to the first leg of his destination.

Sometimes you just gotta keep on truckin’!  It’s a good lesson for traveling and for life.

What’s the worst that has ever happened to you on your vacation?

* * *

I’m reading tonight at 7pm at  The Penny Farthing (103 3rd Ave., downstairs in the speakeasy) here in New York City! This is a Storytellers event, hosted by C3.  I’ll be reading from Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Roadcoauthored with Paul Maher Jr.

Banned Book Week 2012

1 Oct

It’s Banned Books Week!

I’ve been in a few conversations recently about censorship that really got me thinking.  In one, I admitted I’m probably a “square.”  I like following the rules.  That said, I believe 100% in the freedom of speech and the freedom of expression.  I don’t believe the government or libraries or anyone else should ever block our access to literature.  In fact, I believe we should have more free access to information and the written word.  As cliche as the saying is, knowledge is power.  Books are an incredible source for people looking to gain knowledge but also for those trying to understand themselves and the world around them a little bit better.  Censorship is dangerous to our well being.

The other conversation I had was in regard to ratings for children’s books.  Now, personally, I don’t really think ratings are all that helpful.  I’ve seen PG-13 movies that were more offensive to me than movies rated R.  The documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated exposes why this occurs.  This brings me back to literature: the YA books I read as an adolescent were far more scarring than the books I read today.  So many of the books I grew up reading were about teens that had been raped or physically abused or had other terrible things happen to them.  I suppose these were the moral books that were supposed to scare me into being square so bad things didn’t happen to me.  The books I read today may have adult language or themes, but these classics and New York Times bestsellers intended for adult readers are generally milder and less damaging than the books I read when I was younger.  I don’t think ratings on YA books would necessarily change reading habits, and I do believe teens should have free access to the reading material of their choice, but perhaps both parents and young readers should be aware that the YA label can be a bit misleading.

If you’ve never seen HowlBanned Books Week would be a good week to watch it.  The film portrays the true-life events surrounding the obscenity case over City Lights’ Shig Murao and Lawrence Ferlinghetti selling Allen Ginsberg’s Howl.  The book Howl on Trial: The Battle for Free Expression reports on this historical trial, going into more depth.  From the City Lights product page:

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Howl and Other Poems, with over 1,000,000 copies in print, City Lights presents the story of editing, publishing, and defending the landmark poem within a broader context of obscenity issues and censorship of literary works.

The collection includes:

* The complete “The Howl Letters” — correspondence between Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, John Hollander, Richard Eberhart, Louis Ginsberg, and others – with first-person insight into Ginsberg’s thinking and the significance of the poems to the author and his contemporaries.

* Ferlinghetti’s account of hearing “Howl” read at the Six Gallery, of editing the book, and of his court battle to defend its publication.

* A timeline of censorship in the U.S. that places the Howl case in the broader historical context of obscenity issues and censorship of literary works.

* Newspaper reportage, magazine essays, cartoons, photographs, and letters to the editor that illuminate the cultural climate of the mid-1950s, when sexual expression in print was suppressed.

* Excerpts from the trial transcript that show the brilliant criminal lawyer Jake Ehrlich in action.

* ACLU Defense Counsel Albert Bendich’s reflections on the Howl case, and his thoughts about challenges to Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.

*A look at how the fight against censorship continues today in new forms. 

Interestingly, it was a conservative judge who saw the value in Ginsberg’s Howl, finding it to have “redeeming social importance.”

Find out more about Banned Books Week here.