Tag Archives: Paul Maher Jr.

Cornelia Meatpacking District

28 Sep

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For many years, the Cornelia Street Café was one of my favorite haunts in all of New York City. Situated on a tiny, quiet street in the Village, it burst with energy and innovation. “Minister of Culture, Wine Czar, Dean of Faculty” Robin Hirsch gave the stage to the exquisitely unique musicians and poets that make New York City so great.

Among the monthly guests was David Amram. Composer, author, veteran, he began his professional career playing French horn in the National Symphony Orchestra in 1951. A few years later, after serving in the US Army, he moved to New York and began playing in bands by jazz musicians Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, and Oscar Pettiford. A decade later, Leonard Bernstein selected him to be the New York Philharmonic’s first composer-in-residence. In between that time, he’d written the scores to such films as Splendor in the Grass and The Manchurian Candidate. To host a musician of Amram’s caliber spoke to the esteem of the Cornelia Street Café, though both the Café and Amram always brought in up-and-coming acts as well. At his monthly Monday night sessions at “the Cornelia Street Stadium,” as he always called the tiny venue, Amram shared not just his music but stories of life in the ‘50s and ‘60s in the Village. He’d talk about the great international instrument shop he frequented and the poetry and music venues that have now shuttered.

And then just like that Cornelia Street Café became one of them. Opened in July 1977, the café closed due to rising rents on New Years 2019.

The news of Cornelia Street Café’s shuttering is a huge loss to the literary community and to New York City. While New York’s profitability is positive, its rampant gentrification destroys the very thing that makes the city so exciting, beautiful, and unique. If a city loses its artists, it loses its heart, its pulse.

It was also a loss for me. My editor and mentor introduced me to Cornelia Street Café, urging me to check it out. Soon I began attending Amram’s jams, Three Room Press’s Beat-centric events hosted by founders Kat Georges and Peter Carlaftes, and a slew of other readings. I got to hear impressive poets like Steve Dalachinsky (who passed on September 16), Anne Waldman, George Wallace, you name it! It was also the place where Sopranos actor John Ventimiglia came in and sat across from me at the table where I was seated. Incredibly, more than once I found myself on stage. David Amram kindly invited me to read from Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” coauthored with biographer Paul Maher Jr.,which is one of the highlights of my life. I also had the great pleasure of reading a section from my memoir-in-progress at the Greek American Writers Association, thanks to an invitation from the ever-gracious Penelope Karageorge. I, in turn, introduced many of my friends to Cornelia Street Café, and when the news broke that it was closing, we grieved because it didn’t just mean the loss of a venue—it meant the loss of a community spirit.

So, when my mentor emailed to alert me that Cornelia Street in Exile was heading to the Meatpacking District for a Sunday afternoon outdoors at Gansevoort Plaza on September 15, I had to go! I was also intrigued. Though there was a beautiful—and ohmygosh delicious—restaurant at the street level, to get to the performance venue you had to descend down the stairs into the cavernous basement. It was dark and narrow, lit by candlelight. Plush red drapes and mirrors perhaps sought to make the tiny room elegant and more spacious, but in fact the space felt womblike. It was, after all, a place pregnant with creative possibilities, where one grew, evolved, and was, in a way, reborn into the slippery city night. So how would it work to for Cornelia Meatpacking District to be out in broad daylight, on the street, for passersby to wonder it?

 

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Hirsch and Amram

Incredibly well, actually. When it was open, Cornelia Street Café often hosted a full day of events over Memorial Day weekend that spilled out onto the sidewalks. It felt very much like one of those events. Of course, that’s probably thanks to the Shinbone Alley Stilt Band, who were a staple of the summer events and who helped create a seamless transition from one performer to the next at Cornelia Meatpacking District by stilt-walking from the stage to the crowd to perform between sets. That got people’s attention!

David Amram & Co. held the show together, playing many of our favorites and introducing—and even performing with—the other musicians and poets. It was a full afternoon of delight thanks to all the fun musicians and poets who read. As it was more performance-driven, I missed getting to hear David’s stories, which for me are always fascinating, but poet—and new dad—Frank Messina told how he’d met his wife at the Cornelia Street Café!

 

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Messina and Amram

The event also included Arturo O’Farrill Trio. Son of the legendary Latin jazz musician Chico O’Farrill, Arturo is a musician in his own right: the Grammy Award winning musician is known for his free jazz and experimentations with hip hop. There was also Rogerio Souza and the Billy Newman Quarteto.

The lively music soon had people dancing at the front of the stage! Proprietor Robin Hirsch, publisher Kat Georges, attendees in the crowd, and a bold young woman who seemed to enjoy the attention danced and swayed and moved to the music. The sun then began to set over the Hudson, and with it the show came to a close.

Though it lacked some of the intimacy of the basement and felt commercial because the corporate sponsors were profusely thanked between each set, the event was a success. It showed the resilience of the arts and captured the beauty of community. Many of the familiar faces were there, but so were new people, intrigued by musicians playing jazz on stilts, the charm of VickiKristinaBarcelona Band, and folk musicians singing of bad dates. Four hours long, the Cornelia Meatpacking District felt organic—and hopeful.

Next up, Hirsch brings Yom Kippur for Yogis to the Integral Yoga Institute for Cornelia Integral on October 3 at 7pm. Tickets are $20. FMI: iyiny.org.

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Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Other Writers in Uniform

21 Sep
Flavorwire posted photos of writers from the Lost Generation’s F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway to the Beat Generation’s Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg in uniform. 
 
So often the media portrays writers as counter-culture rebels who refused to conform, but every once in a while we catch a glimpse of them wearing a uniform just like everyone else. In Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” Paul Maher Jr. and I were careful to show the tensions between Kerouac conforming and rebelling.
I think that’s how all our lives are. There are moments when we fall in line because it is advantageous to us or because we feel called to do so and moments when we blaze our own path.

We’re All Kerouacky!

2 Nov

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photo by author Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond

I had the great honor of opening the We’re All Kerouacky edition of Ronnie Norpel‘s fantastic reading series Tract 187 Culture Clatch — aptly* held at The West End — on October 1 with two passages from Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.”

Ronnie’s an amazing host. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Ronnie for a while now. We first met at an event organized by RA Araya that she emceed. She’s also the author of probably the only sports book I’ve willingly bought: Baseball Karma & the Constitution Blues.

She organized a killer line up for the event:

WE’RE ALL KEROUACKY EDITION
celebrating Jack Kerouac on the
45th anniversary of his becoming
a Desolation Angel

Featuring:
Kerouac Covers by Jane LeCroy
Monologues from Larry Myers
with Janice Bishop, Tom Fenaghty & Ronnie Norpel
Author Stephanie Nikolopoulos (Burning Furiously Beautiful:The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”)
Music by Elliott Levin, Saxophone (Philadelphia)

I had so much fun mingling and chatting with others who enjoy Jack Kerouac’s writing. I loved seeing the way music and spoken word intertwined. It was a beautiful way to remember Kerouac’s legacy.

Some of my friends from the Redeemer Writers Group even came out, which was really special.


*I say aptly because the writers associated with the Beat Generation used to hang out at a bar called The West End. The Broadway bar closed down years ago, and this new incarnation is at 
955 West End Avenue.

 

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You can purchase Burning Furiously Beautiful via lulu.

Follow Burning Furiously Beautiful on Facebook.

The Pits: Bridge That Jack Kerouac’s Watermelon Man Walked Demolished

27 Jun

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The other day I talked about how “karpouzi” is just one of those words I always say in Greek and shared my recipe for watermelon-and-feta salad. Since I’m a big fan of tying things together, can I tell you about a connection between watermelon and Jack Kerouac?

In his novel Dr. Sax, Kerouac writes about a man who died while carrying a watermelon across a bridge in Lowell. My coauathor for Burning Furiously Beautiful, Paul Maher Jr., actually discovered the identity of the man the memory is based on. You can read Paul’s story about Kerouac’s watermelon man in Pop Matters

At last year’s Lowell Celebrates Kerouac festival, the group visited the bridge where this took place (also known as the Textile Memorial Bridge, the University Bridge, and the Moody Street Bridge). Well, this February the bridge was demolished. In its place is the Richard P. Howe Bridge.

Maybe its a suburban thing but when I was a teenager, I used to hang out a lot at a bridge. Do you have memories of hanging out at this bridge or any other bridge?

I’m Soooooo Pretentious

18 Mar

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I told a boy I’m reading Proust, and he told me that sounds pretentious.

He suggested I check out Michael Crichton. …As in the author who writes about dinosaurs.

I have to laugh at the suggestion of sounding pretentious for reading Marcel Proust, though. I’m usually called immature and not well read for reading Jack Kerouac. The irony is that my inspiration for reading Proust is Kerouac. David Amram had actually mentioned to me how he and Jack read Proust’s A Remembrance of Things Past, and when Walter Salles and Ann Charters spoke after a screening of the film adaptation of On the Road they talked about the role of Proust (Swann’s Way is seen a few times onscreen). Paul and I decided to read Swann’s Way, and each got different translations, which I think will give us a well-rounded perspective.

I just can’t win! Either I’m pretentious or I’m banal. Haha, good thing I’ve never cared what people thought of my reading habits.

Two Love Stories Inspired by Jack Kerouac

14 Feb

“Boys and girls in America have such a sad time together; sophistication demands that they submit to sex immediately without proper preliminary talk. Not courting talk- real straight talk about souls, for life is holy and every moment is precious.” ~Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Happy Valentine’s Day! I just want to take a moment on this sappy holiday to say how thankful I am for each and every one of you who reads my blog, leaves comments, and forwards it to friends. The life of a writer can be quite solitary at times, as we hole ourselves up in a room with our notebook or computer, and I’m so thankful for the community I’ve made through writing, researching, giving readings, and social media. Maybe I’m a big old nerd for spending so much time in front of a computer, but through blogging, I met my coauthor and made friends along the way so that has to count for something!  Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to read and support my writing!!

If you’re looking for a Valentine’s Day read this weekend, here are two great love stories inspired by On the Road.

 

Beatitude by Larry Closs

 

Mañana Means Heaven by Tim Z. Hernandez

Will you be my Valentine?

Bernadette Sees Visions

11 Feb

Bernadette_soubirous_2_publicdomainimage via Wikipedia

While out collecting firewood near a French grotto near Massabielle, on February 11, 1858, a fourteen-year-old miller’s daughter by the name of Bernadette Soubirous had a vision of the Immaculate Conception. Some people believed her; others did not. Bishop Laurence questioned her and believed, and today Bernadette is recognized as a saint. The message she had heard from the Immaculate Conception was to build a chapel in the grotto. Today there are many chapels in Lourdes.

There is also a grotto devoted to Our Lady of Lourdes in Lowell, Massachusetts. Jack Kerouac wrote about it, and Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and Bob Dylan have visited it when stopping by the Beat novelist’s hometown.

I had the good fortune of visiting Lowell’s Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes with eminent Beat scholar Roger Brunelle, who shared some of his own stories. I wrote about it in my Church Hopping column for Burnside Writers Collective. Two years later I visited again, this time with my Kerouac biography coauthor Paul Maher Jr.

 

Contest: Show Us Your Burning Furiously Beautiful

21 Nov

Show us YOUR copy of Burning Furiously Beautiful for a chance to win Jack Kerouac memorabilia.

Paul is giving away his own personal copy of an audio cassette that Carolyn Cassady made for him, labeled with her handwriting (with also the mailer too, which bears her signature), of Jack and Neal Cassady reading into a tape recorder. It’s one-of-a-kind and can be yours.
Rules: Just buy yourself a copy and find a cool as Miles Davis place to take a picture of it or of you holding it and post it on the official Burning Furiously Beautiful Facebook page and then find everyone you know to LIKE it. Only “likes” on the Facebook page — not if you post the pic here or elsewhere on Facebook — will be counted. The entry with the most “likes” by November 28, 2013, will win

How to purchase:

We’ve already received some really creative entries, which I’m excited to share with you! Even if you’re not interested in entering the contest, you can cast your vote for your favorite photo.

Contest1Richard Marsh

Contest2Kate Levin

Contest3Roxanne Leinhauser-Brennan

Contest4Katie Ingegneri

Contest5Anne-Marie Giroux

Contest6Ben Stables

Vote or enter here!

The British Are Coming!: The Beat Generation’s Influence on The British Invasion

11 Nov

In her fascinating article “Won over by the West: The irresistible allure of Americana for post-war Britons” for the November 2013 issue of British GQ, Olivia Cole posits that imported media of post-World War II America attracted the British to the United States—and specifically points to influence of the Beat Generation.

This week I’ll be talking about Cole’s thesis in greater depth, but I think it’s important to kick this off with the relevant background information. My reasoning for this isn’t just that a lot of people may not be familiar with pop culture history but rather that by stressing the history we may actually come to a stronger argument in support of her thesis.

First things first, a mini timeline:

  • 1922: Jack Kerouac was born
  • 1939-1945: World War II
  • 1947-1991: The Cold War
  • 1955: Allen Ginsberg’s Howl published
  • 1957: Jack Kerouac’s On the Road published
  • 1964: The British Invasion

World War II and the Beat Generation

Born in 1922, Jack Kerouac was college-aged during World War II. As Paul Maher Jr., my coauthor for the book Burning Furiously Beautiful, writes:

Jack Kerouac set sail for Greenland on July 18, 1942 aboard the S. S. Dorchester. He had enlisted in the Merchant Marines and, if we take the romantic view of things,  was looking for intense experiences that could possibly stimulate him as an emerging writer.

Kerouac served in the Merchant Marines and in the United States Navy and was honorably discharged. England and the US were allies. I specifically wanted to reference Greenland, though, because it reminds me of the famous Beatles quip when a reporter asked the Beatles how they’re enjoying their 1964 tour of the United States:

Reporter: How do you find America?

Ringo Starr: Turn left at Greenland.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

Kerouac’s novel was indeed an overnight success and influenced the culture of the time period. However, many derided the Beat Generation as tearing at American values. In 1958, the derogatory term “beatnik” was coined by journalist Herb Caen. It was an amalgamation of the word “beat” and “Sputnik.” Sputnik was a Russian satellite. Remember: this was during the Cold War, and Russia was not our ally. I’m belaboring this point for a reason:

The United States was invaded—culturally—by its ally. We had a British Invasion—on our music.  We did not experience a feared political Russian invasion.

While Beatles record burnings would occur in the years to come, the Beatles—the forerunners of the British Invasion—arrived in the United States, wearing dapper suits and singing about wanting to hold hands. Our allied invaders appeared (though anyone who actually knows their Liverpool and Hamburg start will laugh at this) much more squeaky clean than our own author, Jack Kerouac, who was writing about drugs and s-e-x.

After all the patriotism surrounding World War II and the “beatnik” fad had played out by the sixties, America was primed to look elsewhere—as long as elsewhere was still “safe.”

The British Invasion

The British Invasion occurred less than a decade after Kerouac’s groundbreaking novel On the Road was published, but it was not an immediate reaction to the Beat Generation.

The year 1964 is the year The Beatles landed in America. This set off the British Invasion. The British Invasion refers to British bands such as The Beatles and The Kinks (who were formed in 1964) but also The Rolling Stones (who were formed in 1962) and The Who (who were formed in 1964), not to mention bands who may be less familiar today but still influential such as The Animals, Peter and Gordan, and Herman’s Hermits, who dominated the music scene and wildly impacted the culture of the United States in the mid-60s.

Cole’s article begins with The Kinks’ Ray Davies’ new memoir, mentions the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards’ memoir, and concludes with Iain Sinclair’s new memoir. A little background information to tie them together: Richards and Sinclair were born in 1943, Davies was born in 1944. Davies and Richards were born in the greater London area, and Sinclair in Wales. In other words, all were born in the UK within a year of each other. While Sinclair is writer and filmmaker and not technically part of the British Invasion, and while Cole herself does not use the phrase, it is central to her themes. Let me state the obvious: These Britons were not peers of Kerouac’s. In fact, they were about twelve or thirteen when On the Road came out.

It’s reasonable to conjecture that it takes a generation for ideas to create momentum and impact culture. Beatnik shtick around the height of the Beat Generation—itself a marketing tool—was gimmick.

The ideas presented by the so-called Beat Generation took hold perhaps in a more powerful way as it basted in young, impressionable minds, who were more willing to see things from a fresh vantage point and implement change. The new generation of creatives could actually impact culture in a much more meaningful way. This is how we see that the bands that rose to prominence during the sixties were more directly impacted by the Beat Generation than perhaps the Beat Generation’s own peers. This is evident in American music of the time as well: Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, born in 1931, was influenced by Kerouac, and Bob Dylan, born in 1941, was encouraged by the Beats.

Now, whether they all truly understood the message behind the different Beat writers works is a different story—as is that hopefully not-too-subtle remark I just made that the writers associated with the Beat Generation can’t all be lumped into one category with one thought. They were individuals and did not always agree with one another’s politics.

The British may have been inspired by the Beat Generation and their work may have resonated with the American audience in the mid-1960s, but Jack Kerouac wanted no credit for the hippie movement that followed. He felt that they distorted his views. If You Walk in Your Sleep…’s “Collective Memory: Kerouac Hated Hippies” speaks to this.

The British are coming! The British are coming! Tune in tomorrow when I talk about the relationship between The Beatles and The Beat Generation.

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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!

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!