Tag Archives: Visions of Cody

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.

 

The Literary Career of Joyce Johnson

14 Sep

Joyce Johnson is an award-winning author who also has an important role in the Beat Generation.

After Jack Kerouac’s death, she helped get Visions of Cody published. In a 2012 interview with Michael del Castillo at Literary Manhattan, she explained:

In 1972, when I was an associate editor at McGraw Hill, I was able to realize my dream of publishing the entire novel.  I edited it in the way Jack would have liked me to—in other words, hardly at all, mostly conforming the names of the characters and correcting typos.

In 1983 Joyce Johnson won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Minor Characters (described below). In 1987 she won the O. Henry Award for “The Children’s Wing,” published in Harper’s Magazine in July 1986.

Here are 8 books by Joyce Johnson:

 

 

comeandjointhedance2

Come and Join the Dance (1962):

The daring debut of the Beat Generation’s first woman novelist It’s 1955. Seven days before her graduation from Barnard College, Susan Levitt asks herself, “What if you lived your entire life without urgency? just before going out to make things happen to her that will shatter the mask of conformity concealing her feelings of alienation. If Susan continues to be “good”, marriage and security await her. But her hunger is rising for the self-discovery that comes from existential freedom. After breaking up with the Columbia boy she knows she could marry, Susan seeks out those she considers “outlaws” the brave and fragile Kay, who has moved into a rundown hotel, in order to “see more than fifty percent when I walk down the street” the vulnerable adolescent rebel Anthony; and Peter, the restless hipster graduate student who has become the object of Kay’s unrequited devotion. This fascinating novel-which the author began writing a year before her encounter with Jack Kerouac-is a young woman’s complex response to the liberating messages of the Beat Generation. In a subversive feminist move, Johnson gives her heroine all the freedom the male Beat writers reserved for men to travel her own road”

— image and synopsis via Amazon

badconnections

Bad Connections (1978):

The award-winning author of Minor Characters writes with delicious transparency about a love that cannot be harnessed and a woman who refuses to be deceived In the great wave of husband-leaving ushered in by the Sexual Revolution, Molly Held frees herself from her cold, flagrantly unfaithful husband after their final quarrel turns violent. With her five-year-old son, she lights out for an Upper West Side apartment and the new life she hopes to find with Conrad Schwartzberg-the charismatic radical lawyer who has recently become her lover. Having escaped from a desert, she lands in a swamp. While Conrad radiates positive energy, he is unable to tell Molly-or anyone who loves him-the truth. No longer the wronged wife, Molly now finds herself the Other Woman. She is sharing Conrad with Roberta, another refugee from marriage-with Conrad’s movements between the two of them disguised by his suspiciously frequent out-of-town engagements. Roberta either knows nothing or prefers to look the other way, but Molly’s maddening capacity for double vision takes over her mind. What saves her from herself is her well-developed sense of irony, which never fails her-or the reader.

— image and synopsis via Amazon

minorcharacters

Minor Characters (1987):

Jack Kerouac. Allen Ginsberg. William S. Burroughs. LeRoi Jones. Theirs are the names primarily associated with the Beat Generation. But what about Joyce Johnson (nee Glassman), Edie Parker, Elise Cowen, Diane Di Prima, and dozens of others? These female friends and lovers of the famous iconoclasts are now beginning to be recognized for their own roles in forging the Beat movement and for their daring attempts to live as freely as did the men in their circle a decade before Women’s Liberation.Twenty-one-year-old Joyce Johnson, an aspiring novelist and a secretary at a New York literary agency, fell in love with Jack Kerouac on a blind date arranged by Allen Ginsberg nine months before the publication of On the Road made Kerouac an instant celebrity. While Kerouac traveled to Tangiers, San Francisco, and Mexico City, Johnson roamed the streets of the East Village, where she found herself in the midst of the cultural revolution the Beats had created. Minor Characters portrays the turbulent years of her relationship with Kerouac with extraordinary wit and love and a cool, critical eye, introducing the reader to a lesser known but purely original American voice: her own.

— image and synopsis via Amazon

inthenightcafe

In the Night Cafe (1989):

From the award-winning author of Minor Characters comes a haunting story about the persistence of love and the sustaining and destabilizing power of memories. In the vibrant downtown Manhattan art world of the 1960s, where men and women collide in “lucky and unlucky convergences,” a series of love affairs has left Joanna Gold, a young photographer, feeling numbed. Then, at yet another party, a painter named Tom Murphy walks up to her. “Why do you hang back?” he asks. Rather than another brief collision, their relationship is the profound and ecstatic love each had longed to find. But it’s undermined by Tom’s harrowing past – his fatherless childhood, his wartime experiences, and most of all, the loss of the two children he left behind in Florida, along with the powerful red, white, and black paintings he will never set eyes on again. Tom, both tender and volatile, draws Joanna into the unwinnable struggle against the forces that drive him toward death.

Once again, Joyce Johnson brings to life a mythic bohemian world where art is everything and life is as full of intensity and risk as the bold sweep of a painter’s brush across a canvas.

— image and synopsis via Amazon

whatlisaknew

What Lisa Knew: The Truths and Lies of the Steinberg Case (1991):

“She was found in darkness – the bruised, comatose first-grader who would never wake up to tell anyone which of the two adults in the small, filthy Greenwich Village apartment had beaten her.” On January 30 1989, Joel Steinberg was found guilty of first-degree manslaughter after a twelve-week, nationally televised trial in which his former lover, Hedda Nussbaum, was the star prosecution witness. In this book, Joyce Johnson examines the mysteries still surrounding Lisa Steinberg’s death and also addresses the painful question of how she lived, in an account of what is known about her last days and hours, when no one acted to save her.

— image and synopsis via Amazon

doorswideopen

Doors Wide Open: A Beat Love Affair in Letters, 1957-1958 (2001):

On a blind date in Greenwich Village set up by Allen Ginsberg, Joyce Johnson (then Joyce Glassman) met Jack Kerouac in January 1957, nine months before he became famous overnight with the publication of On the Road. She was an adventurous, independent-minded twenty-one-year-old; Kerouac was already running on empty at thirty-five. This unique book, containing the many letters the two of them wrote to each other, reveals a surprisingly tender side of Kerouac. It also shares the vivid and unusual perspective of what it meant to be young, Beat, and a woman in the Cold War fifties. Reflecting on those tumultuous years, Johnson seamlessly interweaves letters and commentary, bringing to life her love affair with one of American letters’ most fascinating and enigmatic figures.

— image and synopsis via Amazon

missingmen

Missing Men: A Memoir (2005): 

Joyce Johnson’s classic memoir of growing up female in the 1950s, Minor Characters, was one of the initiators of an important new genre: the personal story of a minor player on history’s stage. In Missing Men, a memoir that tells her mother’s story as well as her own, Johnson constructs an equally unique self-portrait as she examines, from a woman’s perspective, the far-reaching reverberations of fatherlessness. Telling a story that has “shaped itself around absences,” Missing Men presents us with the arc and flavor of a unique New York life—from the author’s adventures as a Broadway stage child to her fateful encounters with the two fatherless artists she marries. Joyce Johnson’s voice has never been more compelling.

— image and synopsis via Amazon

voiceisall

The Voice Is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac (2013):

Joyce Johnson brilliantly peels away layers of the Kerouac legend in this compelling new book. Tracking Kerouac’s development from his boyhood in Lowell, Massachusetts, through his fateful encounters with Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Neal Cassady, and John Clellon Holmes to his periods of solitude and the phenomenal breakthroughs of 1951 that resulted in his composition of On the Road followed by Visions of Cody, Johnson shows how his French Canadian background drove him to forge a voice that could contain his dualities and informed his unique outsider’s vision of America. This revelatory portrait deepens our understanding of a man whose life and work hold an enduring place in both popular culture and literary history.

— image and synopsis via Amazon

 

 

Exclusive Interview with Author Paul Maher Jr.

7 Sep

I am so excited to share my interview with Paul Maher, Jr.  He has such incredible insight on Kerouac and the writing process in general.  I think you’ll see why I enjoy working with him so much on Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.

How did you first become interested in Jack Kerouac?

I remember one of the first books I ever picked up of Kerouac’s, it was Dr. Sax. I didn’t buy it at the time, I just looked at the back cover and read its blurb: “In this haunting novel of intensely felt adolescence, Jack Kerouac tells the story of Jack Duluoz, a French-Canadian boy growing up, as Kerouac himself did, in the dingy factory town of Lowell, Massachusetts.” That was the exact same sentiment of myself at the time, I must have been about 18 or 19, and my adolescence too was “intensely felt” as well as growing up in Lowell. I also grew up in Centralville in a French  Canadian enclave for about the same time period as Jackie Duluoz. Soon afterwards, when I did buy Dr. Sax, I related to Kerouac’s capturing of the whole scene, the sense of hauntingness; the dialects, the sensibilities, and the mystery of Catholicism. I attended Saint Louis de France school like Jack did, and attended masses there. My last time in the basement of that church, it was for my father’s funeral. I remember sitting in those little wooden pews, smelling the burning candles, and the hushed yet amplified sounds of murmurings, sneezes and the priest standing before us all. It brought me right back to my boyhood when I used to walk there every day. Except, of course, the cycle was complete for my father who had also attended that church as a boy, as well as his parents.

So, dipping into Kerouac was easy for me. That was my introduction, not, like many, On the Road. After reading Dr. Sax and Visions of Cody, my first Kerouac books, On the Road seemed a bit tame. A disappointment really, and it still ranks lower than those aforementioned visionary masterpieces. It is no wonder Dr. Sax was a novel that he was really proud of.

You grew up in Kerouac’s hometown of Lowell, MA.  What was that like and how does it inform your understanding of Kerouac and his work?

I can’t objectively say what it was like, it just was. There was also a lot not to like about Lowell, like any other town or city. Growing up in Lowell was as natural as anything else. My home address was less than a quarter-mile from three of his Centralville addresses. His house in Dr. Sax was next to the Hildreth Street cemetery, and walking by that cemetery, as a child, the stone wall was high and there were iron gates surrounding it. It was padlocked with a chain. We never got in, so we wondered what was in there, and so that naturally retained a mystery for us. Adjacent to that house was a funeral home, and my father and grandfather were waked there (among others). There was a mystery to all of it, and I easily made those associtations captured so perfectly in his Lowell writings. However, I didn’t feel it so much with Maggie Cassidy or Vanity of Duluoz, because I didn’t grow up in Pawtucketville or attend Lowell High School. Those two books do more to capture an era than a certain mystical reverence for childhood.

I have a high regard for Visions of Gerard as well, because it captures more of the Franco-American sensibility of Centralville, and that sort of insular vibe common to the city. Like Kerouac, I was friends with kids named Plourde and Beaulieu, for all I know they were grandsons of his friends.

Which is your favorite of Kerouac’s books?

In no particular order, any of those books written between 1952 and 1954, especially those that have more of a mystical nature. I love The Subterraneans and Tristessa. The Lowell novels, Visions of Gerard and Dr. Sax; Book of Sketches and Some of the Dharma. I always carry Visions of Cody with me, though I am no admirer of Neal Cassady, I am fond of how Kerouac transmuted that person into his artistic sensibility to create a portrait of bygone America.

One of your greatest skills as a biographer is the thoroughness of your research.  Do you have any tips for aspiring biographers on how to track down hard-to-find material and incorporate the information into a work without it sounding like a Wikipedia entry?

I’m not a trained researcher. I took courses for my degrees on how to conduct research and much of it was rote, based on archaic practices and for the most part, teaching us to dispense with the piecemeal detective work of newspapers and archives, and instead operate backwards by working through secondary sources. For my Kerouac biography, I made it a point not to use the existing biographies as a resource. On the other hand, I had already retained much of what was written and having that knowledge, I could work on another level.

I also operate out of a sixth sense, almost intuiting where material might be, or something that may exist and is worth pursuing by surmising that it might be there. It may be as simple as spelling a name wrong, and then doing searches for it. The Internet has made it awfully easy to do much of it, especially in regards to newspapers and magazines. However, there is also room to abuse it, so that it does sound like a Wikipedia entry.

Per incorporating it, that can be tricky. You always want to use it where it adds to the narrative and doesn’t seem like filler material. I could have easily added anecdotal information on every town Kerouac passed through when he traveled across America. However, the emphasis is on Kerouac, not the town. However, if it was a documentary on the Travel channel, then it works.

I feel like you and I have worked really well together on Burning Furiously Beautiful, but collaboration is not desirable to many people or can be intimidating for those interested in it, particularly artists who want to leave their personal imprint on a work.  However, there is a grand tradition of collaboration; Kerouac himself collaborated with Burroughs on And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks.  What would you say to someone who is contemplating collaboration?

You just have to operate on blind trust and intuition. I like collaborating, but I can certainly understand the desire to want to have your own book, with just your name beneath the title. I am past that; it doesn’t matter to me if my name is on there at all. Films are created in collaboration with others, books are no exception.

In addition to various biographies on Kerouac, you’ve written Tom Waits on Tom Waits, Miles on Miles, and One Big Soul: An Oral History of Terrence Malick.  You’ve recently started writing your first novel and are documenting the process through your blog Scrivener Notes.  Why are you documenting the writing process?  What do you think are the positive and negative effects of lifting the curtain to expose the work that goes into writing, especially this early on when the work is still at its nascent stage?

I have always been very open about my work, sometimes to my detriment. To write inside a vacuum, to sit on your idea and let it gestate in isolation doesn’t seem like fun at all. I feel with this little adventure, that the book can just as well bloom when it is fostered by a like-minded community. I think there is something perilous and reckless yet strangely beautiful in throwing your ego out the window and letting the world watch you try to invent something out of nothing.

I have finally arrived to the point in my life that I don’t care about how any book of mine is received, because they are written out of a pure volition of wanting to do it, not having to, and in wanting to do it, once it is done, the act of creating has already been accomplished. The rest is just grist for the mill.

Documenting it just seemed right to do. I always wanted to see someone else do it, and I haven’t found it done to my satisfaction. I could write an entry how thrilled and elated I am to finish a chapter, and the next day write how much I suck. There is a reality television vibe to it. I do understand that it will only appeal to maybe 1% of the people out there, if anyone at all, but since I am doing it for myself, it doesn’t matter to me who reads it in the end. At the very least I will eventually get a novel out of it for better or for worse.

In happenstance, I could say the negative thing is that someone can lift your ideas and run with it. This has already happened with a reputable person in Kerouac studies. However, I think once the writing on the blog is exposed enough, it is more or less on public record so if someone does lift from it, then they are pretty much hurling themselves and their work into disrepute.

You write a little on your blog about why you wanted to make the leap from biography to novel.  What I want to know is how, if at all, do you think your biography work will influence your fiction?

I’m not sure that it will. The work ethic is already ingrained in me. I wanted to free myself from the world of facts and I have started resenting having to prove myself to publishers any longer. I have come to recognize that it isn’t an art form, it is a business, and I do not have a business mindset.

Also, a recent incident when my research and ideas were stolen from me has totally killed the spirit of writing biography, though I do admire others that are more honest in their profession. Operating out of my own intelligence and imagination keeps my ideas and impulses sacred and pure. I guess that’s it.

You also are a photographer and a filmmaker.  While these are notable in their own right, as a writer I am curious if you see any correlation between those art forms and the literary arts?  You and I have spoken before about how the narrative of film has influenced your scene-setting in your books.  Can you talk a little more about this?

The only correlation for it is personal, in that I am creating out of my own impulses to satisfy me. Taking a photo is immediate gratification, writing keeps me constantly busy, and it keeps my depression at bay. It keeps me in books and it serves to keep my mind occupied and focused since it is always burning at both ends.

Through chance and not design, I have a natural tendency to see things cinematically. That takes in imagery, dialogue, and creating a setting. This is how our collective minds are trained, and to bombard a reader with minutiae just for the sake of being all-encompassing with the facts is just an exercise of indulgence. We live in new times, where the facts are available if we want them, within a few keystrokes. I think pointing to the heart of the matter, isolating a biographical scenario like it was a storyboarded scene adds to the appeal of the book tremendously. I think Kerouac also had that in mind with his “bookmovies.”

How do you find time to do everything?  How do you balance all these various projects?

If I had to itemize my time, I couldn’t do it. I live this stuff. I breathe it. If we were taught at the beginning of our lives that we had to make sure we breathe at least eighteen times per minute, and it wasn’t automatic, that we had to go about our daily lives having to count, then we would crumble, sooner or later, under the pressure of it all. It would be too stressful. Instead, it comes to us automatically; we don’t have to make room for it. I just do it because it is all I think about. If I don’t do it, then I feel like shit. My mind turns to mud. I get lethargic. Unbalanced. So, like I said, it has become a survival mechanism for me, whether it is a book, a blog entry, an email or a photograph, all of it is tied into the daily phenomena of my being.

I never have considered how it is all balanced other than I keep my own schedule. When I need a break from one project to let it breathe, I move to another. Eventually I return to all of them.

Actually, managing writing projects is a lot easier than trying to manage a practical everyday life for me. To that end I am a colossal failure.

 

***

9/7/12, 10:28am: Several minor edits were made to this interview.