Tag Archives: Visions of Gerard

Schedule for Lowell Celebrates Kerouac 2016

15 Sep

The annual Lowell Celebrates Kerouac is just around the corner. This year the event will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the publication of Jack Kerouac’s Satori in Paris.

Here is the full schedule:

Thursday, October 6

6:00 pm: Traditional Kerouac Pubs Tour. From the Old Worthen, 141 Worthen St. to Ricardo’s to Ward Eight to Cappy’s Copper Kettle. Led by Bill Walsh.

8:00 pm: Traditional LCK Kick-off: Music and Readings. Cappy’s Copper Kettle, 245 Central St. Performances by Alan Crane, George Koumantzelis, Colleen Nichols, and local readers. Joined by special guest David Amram. Always a kick! Hosted by John McDermott.

Friday, October 7

9:30 am: The Annual Jack Kerouac Poetry and Prose Competition. Held at Jack Kerouac’s alma mater. Lowell High School. Students will read their poetry and prose entries. David Amram will share his memories of collaborating with Jack Kerouac. Lowell High School Theater. LHS is located at 50 Father Morissette Boulevard. [Note: This is a Lowell High School event, and not open to the public at large.]

2:30 pm: Talking Jack. Readings and conversation. Using the Satori in Paris Anniversary motif, we’ll start off with the topic of “Jack and His Ancestral Roots” and see where it leads. Bring your favorite passage that speaks to Jack’s ongoing quest to answer the “Who am I?” question—it’s one we all have to confront at some point in our lives.
Hyper-Text Cafe. 107 Merrimack St.

4:00 pm: Festival Wine Opening Reception: “Be in Love with Your Life—every minute of it.” An exhibit by artist Barbara Gagel that explores the deep emotional impact of words from Jack Kerouac’s literary language.

Ayer Lofts. 172 Middle Street.

8:00 pm: Jack Kerouac Tribute Concert to Benefit the Proposed New Jack Kerouac Cultural Center. As of this posting plans are still in the works for a special concert to promote a proposed Jack Kerouac Cultural Center in Lowell, which the concert proceeds will go to support.
This event is being sponsored by Lowell’s Coalition for a Better Acre. The CBA will rebrand the building, currently known as the Smith Baker Center, as a performance hall and community center honoring Jack Kerouac with concerts, film festivals, speakers, plays, public debates and theater productions.
Check the LCK website for further details as they become available for ticket purchases.

Saturday, October 8

9:30 am: Commemorative at the Commemorative. “Honoring Jack’s Search for his Roots.” In keeping with the Satori in Paris anniversary observance, we’ll offer some readings from his writings that point to the importance for Jack of finding his identity and ancestral roots. Led by Steve Edington and Roger Brunelle.
French and Bridge Streets.

10:15 a.m. Bus Tour: The Jack Kerouac Tour of Lowell. This tour takes participants to as many Kerouac places that can be covered in a long itinerary, and within a limited time. Included are visits, with interpretative readings, to the author’s birthplace, the schools he attended, the churches and shrines at which he prayed, and his grave. Led by Roger Brunelle.
Leaves from the Commemorative. $10.00 donation requested. Reservations at 978-970-5000.

10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Marathon Reading of “Satori in Paris.” This is being coordinated by Sean Thibodeau, Coordinator of Community Planning for the Pollard Library. Sign up to read a passage by contacting Sean at sthibodeau@LowellLibrary.org, or just show up ready to read.

2:00 pm: Annual Parker/LCK Lecture. “Jack Kerouac: Speed Demon.” Presenter this year is Jay Atkinson. By any standard Kerouac was a remarkable athlete. He was a champion sprinter, a speedy baseball outfielder, and a gridiron phenom. In this talk, Jay sheds some light on Kerouac’s athletic prowess and its influence on his work.
A former two sport college athlete, Atkinson is the author of two novels, a story collection, and five narrative non-fiction books. He teaches writing at Boston University.
Lowell National Historical Park Visitors Center. 246 Market St.

3:30 pm: Kerouac’s Library Haunts and Hooky Tour. The tour includes a visit to the Library’s recently dedicated “Kerouac Corner,” so named to honor the time Jack spent here during high school days—sometimes playing hooky in order to expand his own literary horizons. Led by Bill Walsh.
Pollard Library. 401 Merrimack Street.

4:00 pm: Open Mike at the Old Worthen. Lead off with Brian Hassett, author of “The Hitchhikers Guide to Jack Kerouac.” Bring your favorite Kerouac passage to share, or a Kerouac inspired passage of you own. Emceed by Cliff Whalen. 141 Worthen Street.

6:00 pm: Opening Reception: “Satori in Paris/Le Jazz Hot.” Artists creations based on Kerouac’s novel Satori in Paris and Le Jazz Hot, Jack’s favorite music. Coordinated by Judith Bessette. Music provided by David Amam.
The UnchARTed Gallery. 103 Market Street.

8:00 pm: Buddha and the Blues with Rev. Freakchild and Willie Loco Alexander. An exploration of transcendence through music, musical styles, musical traditions, and musical improvisation with emphasis on the crossroads between the American Blues tradition and the Bodhisvatta Path in one of Lowell’s Acre neighborhood’s Greek establishments.
Olympia’s Zorba Music Hall. 439 Market Street. A $10.00 donation at the door requested.

Sunday, October 9

10:00 am: Mystic Jack: Visions of Jack and Gerard. Walking tour begins at the Saint-Louis-de-France Church and moves along Beaulieu St. to the convent and the school, featuring a look inside Jack’s parish school and ends inside his childhood church. Tours is based on “Visions of Gerard,” the mystical story of Jack’s brother who died at nine years. He is portrayed by Jack as the universal symbol of brotherhood and kindness, with emphasis on Gerard’s tenderness and dreams in his Catechism class and Friday afternoon Confession. Led by Roger Brunelle. $10.00 donation requested.
St. Louis de France Church. 241 West 6th Street.

1:30—4:00 pm: Annual Amram Jam! Our annual event featuring David Amram performing with a cast of many readers, poets, and musicians. You can feel the spirit of Kerouac moving here. Special guest readers Jason Eisenberg and Don Ouelette. Hosted by Peter Eliopoulos.
Upstairs at the Old Worthen. 141 Worthen Street.

6:00 pm: “Ghosts of the Pawtucketville Night” Tour. An evening walk through the streets of the Pawtucketville neighborhood where Jack spent his adolescent years, as he describes them in Doctor Sax and Maggie Cassidy. Readings from his talk-writings at the cottages and tenements where Jack lived when he attended the Bartlett Junior High School and Lowell High. Tour ends at the Sainte-Jeanne-d’Arc Church where Jack saw a vision of the BEATific Generation.
Begin at Cumnock Hall. University of Massachusetts at Lowell, North Campus. 1 University Avenue. Led by Roger Brunelle. $10.00 donation requested.

Monday, October 10

10:00 a.m. Kerouac’s Nashua Connection Tour—By Passenger Van. A tour of the Kerouac sites of Nashua, New Hampshire. Leave from the LNHP Visitors Center at 246 Market Street. Led by Steve Edington. (Will connect with the Loop Walk in progress—see item below—for those who wish to join it upon returning to Lowell.) A $10.00 donation requested. Reservations at 978-970-5000.

10:00 a.m. LCK Loop Walk from the Kerouac Commemorative. Walk goes from Bridge Street to the St. Louis Church in Centralville, past Kerouac homes and landmarks in Centralville and Pawtucketville, finishing at the Old Worthen Tavern. Led by Bill Walsh.

For more information, visit Lowell Celebrates Kerouac.

 

 

Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love’s Daughter Reads the Beats

18 Aug

Frances Bean Cobain turns 22 today!

The only daughter of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love has been in the spotlight since the time she was was born. When I was in high school one of my best friends was a huge Nirvana fan, and I pretty much had Hole’s Live Through This on constant repeat.

I was pretty excited to stumble across some photos that indicated Frances Bean’s literary tastes include the Beats! Here are a couple of photographs of her reading Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums: pic 1, pic 2, pic 3. (Side note::: I tried to dye my hair pink with Kool-Aid when I was in high school, but apart from a pink neck, it did not work for me. I still wish I had pink hair….)

And here is a photo reportedly of Francs Bean Cobain’s bookshelf, which includes:

windblownJack Kerouac’s Windblown World

gerardJack Kerouac’s Visions of Gerard

desolationJack Kerouac’s Desolation Angels

exterWilliam S. Burroughs’ Exterminator!

burroughs1William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch

quWilliam S. Burroughs’ Queer

collectedpAllen Ginsberg’s Collected Poems: 1947-1997

These photos of Frances Bean Cobain reading the Beats are on my Beats board on Pinterest.

 

Jack Kerouac’s Birthday Celebrations Happening Across the Country

7 Mar

Jack Kerouac’s birthday is coming up on the 12th, and there are a couple of celebratory events happening.

Lowell Celebrates Kerouac has several days of fantastic events centered around what might be my favorite (it’s hard to choose just one!) Kerouac book, Visions of Gerard. They will also be honoring David Amram, who has been a great mentor in my life and work:

Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! will be spotlighting Jack Kerouac’s deeply spiritual and Lowell-based book, Visions of Gerard, throughout this 50th anniversary year of its publication, starting with the birthday events of March 2013. March will feature music by celebrated world musician David Amram, musical collaborator and friend of Kerouac, an art exhibition, educational programs, walking tours, poetry, readings, and other cultural events that celebrate the life and writings of Jack Kerouac.

Friday 8 March 2013

Kerouac: People, Places, and Things
Time: 6:00 to 10:00pm
Location: Lowell Telecommunications Center Gallery, 246 Market St.
Kerouac-influenced art exhibition opening reception

The Magnificent Pigtail Shadow
Time: 6:30 to 7:45pm
Location: Lowell Telecommunications Center Gallery, 246 Market St.
A film by Steven Cerio with the director to present, plus a reading from Big Sur played against the director’s newest short

Music for Jack
Time: 8:00 to 9:30pm
Location: Lowell Telecommunications Center Gallery, 246 Market St.
David Amram and friends. A $10 donation is requested.

Saturday 9 March 2013

Amram and Marion
Time: 10:30am to 12:00pm
Location: Welles Emporium, 175 Merrimack St.
Help Lowell Celebrates Kerouac celebrate its new merchandise home at the Welles Emporium. Musician-author David Amram and poet Paul Marion help Lowell Celebrates Kerouac celebrate its new merchandise home at the Welles Emporium. David and Paul will do readings from their books and poetry as well as Kerouac passages with musical interludes by David. They will sign books and CDs.

Jack and Woody: Two American Originals
Time: 1:00pm
Location: Pollard Memorial Library, 401 Merrimack St.
Woody Guthrie and Jack Kerouac life parallels, talk by author Steve Edington.

Mystic Jack Tour
Time: 3:30 to 5:00pm
Location: Meet at St. Louis Church, 221 West Sixth St.
Led by master Kerouac interpreter Roger Brunelle, specially presented this year in honor of 50th anniversary of publication of Visions of Gerard. A $10 donation is requested.

Lowell Celebrates Kerouac Celebrates Amram!
Time: 8:00pm to ?
Location: White Eagle Cafe, 585 Market St.
Musical event with David Amram, the Part-Time Buddhas, and guest musicians. A $10 donation is requested.

Sunday 10 March 2013

Walking Jack Loop Walk
Time: 12:00 to 5:00pm
Location: Meet at Jack Kerouac Commemorative at Jack Kerouac Park, intersection of French and Bridge Streets
End at Old Worthen Tavern at 5:00 for toasting the birth of Jack Kerouac in March of 1922

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Kerouac Birthday Walk
Time: 6:00pm
Location: Starts at Centralville Social Club, 364 W. 6th St.
On Jack Kerouac’s 91st birthday, walk with LCK group to Lupine Road birth house for readings. The walk will start and end at Centralville Social Club (364 W. 6th St.) parking lot by the prominent Ace Hardware sign on Lakeview Ave., Centralville neighborhood.

Tuesday 19 March 2013

Reading of Visions of Gerard
Time: 7:00pm
Location: Pollard Memorial Library, 401 Merrimack St.
Tour of “Jack’s Library” followed by selected readings and discussion of Visions of Gerard on the 50th anniversary of its publication. This is Kerouac’s possibly most spiritual book as he remembers his childhood years and the deep impacts of his brother Gerard’s death. Sponsored by UMassLowell and Pollard Memorial Library. Funded in part by the Massachusetts Council on the Humanities.

Thanks to Welles Emporium, the Pollard Memorial Library, the White Eagle Pub, the Old Worthen Tavern, Lowell Telecommunications, and the St. Louis de France School for hosting our events.

I also learned via LCK that the Northport Historical Society is hosting a birthday celebration for Kerouac:

Writer/Playwright, Pat Fenton will be reading from his play “Jack’s Last Call, Say Goodbye to Kerouac”, as part of the March is Kerouac Month at the Northport Historical Society. Mr. Fenton will also discuss Kerouac’s Northport years as well as his importance to American literature.

It’s the end of summer in 1964. A major cultural shift is starting to happen in the U.S., and on his last night in Northport, Long Island the America Jack Kerouac saw through a rear view mirror riding along side his “On the Road” partner Neal Cassady is slowly playing again in his mind.

Long after a small going away party that he has thrown for himself is over; Jack keeps on drinking as he prepares to move to Florida with his mother. He reflects back on his fame, his youth as a football star in Lowell, Massachusetts, and the worry that his time has come and gone. As he sums up parts of his life to the audience in a bittersweet narrative, he receives a series of soul-searching phone calls from his daughter Jan.

An obligatory stop at Gunther’s Bar down the block on Main Street, where Jack Kerouac spent much of his Northport Years, will be made by the writer, and the conversation will continue over pints of tap beer.

The birthday celebration will take place on Sunday, March 10th at 3 P.M., at the Northport Historical Society, 215 Main Street, Northport, Long Island.

The Laughing Goat, a coffeehouse and performance space in Colorado, is hosting a poetry reading on March 11:

”So, You’re a Poet,” presents Jack Kerouac’s 91st Birthday Reading & On the Road film screening: The ”So, You’re a Poet” reading series by Boulder’s ”beat book shop” has several Kerouac events on its poetry calendar. Poets who have performed in this venerable, decades-old series include the late Allen Ginsberg, Bernadette Mayer (who will be in Boulder this summer for the Summer Writing Program), Diane di Prima, Janine Pommy Vega, Anselm Hollo, and many more. The series has always been hosted by poet and Kerouac School alumnus Tom Peters, owner of the Pearl Street landmark ”beat book shop.” The series was hosted for many years by the famous Penny Lane Cafe. In the introduction to Poems from Penny Lane Anne Waldman writes ”One thinks of the legendary Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich where the Dadaist movement was born, or the cafes and bars in San Francisco which spawned the Beat Literary Movement, also the cafe Metro and the Nuyorican Cafe, both in New York City’s East Village.” The series currently takes place in the new Laughing Goat Coffeehouse, which has strong ties to the original Penny Lane. Amiri Baraka, Miguel Algarin, Lewis MacAdams, and other poets read there during last year’s Summer Writing Program. The Laughing Goat is surely a Boulder literary institution in the making.

Are there any other Kerouac birthday celebrations we should know about?

How will you be celebrating? If you can’t make it to one of the events, maybe you could write a poem or read a passage from one of Kerouac’s books or stop by the Beat Museum in San Francisco.

 

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.

Ramblin’ Jack: Just Because You Don’t Like a Book, Doesn’t Mean It Isn’t Well Written

20 Aug

Over the years, many readers have criticized Jack Kerouac’s work for its rambling prose and sounding too colloquial.  Everyone is certainly welcome to his or her own opinions.  The world would be a pretty boring place if we all liked exactly the same thing.  The literary arts are, to a certain degree, subjective.  One doesn’t have to like or enjoy a work, though, to see its importance and value.  Even if it doesn’t change the likeability of a work, it’s important to consider its artistry before completely dismissing it.

Take Of Mice and Men.  This book did nothing for me when I read it in high school.  I didn’t like the story.  The writing style was just fine, but not particularly innovative.  Still, it was a classic!  John Steinbeck!  I should like it, right?  I didn’t.  I moved on to The Red Pony.  Hated it even more.  But I was determined to like John Steinbeck.  Finally, I read Travels with Charley, which became one of my favorite books.  Same thing with Kurt Vonnegut.  As a teenager, I didn’t feel cool because I thought Breakfast of Champions was simultaneously silly and trying too hard.  Afterward, I read Cat’s Cradle, and even though the nature of the subject matter wasn’t of interest to me, I loved the book.

Sometimes it just takes finding that right book by an author.  Just because it’s a classic doesn’t mean we’re going to all like the same book.  And that’s okay, but it doesn’t mean we should dismiss it—it’s a classic for a reason—or give up on the author.  If we do, we face missing out on some really great literature.

I don’t enjoy all of Jack Kerouac’s books.  And perhaps my favorite of his works is one that many people don’t read: Visions of Gerard.  For the people who don’t like Kerouac because of his subject matter, I’d encourage them to check out some of his other books.

However, even for the books we don’t like, we can still learn from them and sometimes even appreciate them.  When I was getting my Master of Fine Arts—I spell this out to emphasize the artistic nature of literature—in creative writing at The New School, instructors always stressed that we didn’t have to like everything we read but we had to keep an open mind and give each work a fair shot.  One of my first instructors always asked whether we liked the book, sometimes taking a poll.  Of course the interesting part came when we debated why or why not.

I’ll be honest: I read a lot of books I did not enjoy.  Many I ended up giving away to anyone who would take them.  But I kept some of the books I did not like—because even though I didn’t find reading them a pleasurable reading experience, either because they weren’t the style I enjoy or the subject matter bored me, I recognized their brilliance.  Sometimes the books I hated reading the most ended up being the very ones that had the most profound influence on my understanding of literature and the craft of my own writing.

One of these books was Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Jealousy.  The antithesis of a beach read, this book requires the reader to concentrate and piece together and analyze.  It’s not so much that the language or concepts were difficult—in fact, quite the contrary.  It was the author’s style, the limited view he gave the reader, that made the book both frustrating and genius.  It challenged my view of what literature was, how literature was supposed to work, and why we read—in a good way!

Now, as far as Kerouac’s prose stylings, there are a few things worth considering:

  • Kerouac’s first language was not English.  He was born in Massachusetts to immigrant parents who spoke to him in the French-Canadian dialect joual.  When he went off to school, half the day was taught in French Canadian and the other half in English.  It wasn’t until he reached high school that he began to feel comfortable speaking in English.
  • While many people critique the American colloquialisms Kerouac uses, it’s worth noting that people praise Mark Twain for doing the same thing.  Kerouac was working to capture a unique American sound, the language of his times.  He used to tape record conversations with his friends and refer to letters they wrote him, just to capture authentic speech patterns and diction.
  • The so-called rambling prose wasn’t just echoing true-to-life conversations and speech patterns; it was also referring to the stream-of-consciousness narrative of modernist novels.  One of the books he read that influenced his writing style was James Joyce’s Ulysses, an experimental novel that employed stream of consciousness.  In fact, you know that famous quote from On the Road about the roman candles?  The one that goes:

… but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

Well, compare it to this line from Ulysses:

…O! then the Roman candle burst and it was like a sigh of O! and everyone cried O! O! in raptures and it gushed out of it a stream of rain gold hair threads and they shed and ah! they were all greeny dewy stars falling with golden, O so lovely, O, soft, sweet, soft!

  • Kerouac read voraciously.  He read the Greek Classics, comic books, the Russian masters, westerns, the bible, and history books.  In his journals, he refers to these works, evidence of his thoughtful contemplation of what he read.  These works influenced both the content and prose style of his own writing.
  • In addition to books, Kerouac’s writing was deeply influence by music.  If you read his work aloud or dissect his sentence structure, you can hear the bebop rhythm of his prose.  He and his musician friend David Amram used to improvise jazz-poetry readings together, creating it spontaneously, on the spot.  This is a lot harder than it sounds.  You have to really have a firm grasp on chord progression, rhythm, rhyme, and language—all while taking cues from someone else who is also improvising.

Sometimes works that seem effortless are the hardest ones of all to create.

 

Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road discusses in more detail Kerouac’s literary development.

Road Trip Writing: On the Road and The Canterbury Tales

18 Jun

Jack Kerouac once quipped back at a journalist, “I’m not a beatnik; I’m a Catholic.”  Despite the Beat Generation being associated with the countercultural movement—sex, drugs, and … jazz—Kerouac’s writing so often points toward the spiritual.

Visions of Gerard describes his saint-like brother who died at age nine and touches upon life in the Catholic church in Lowell, Massachusetts.  When he left home, Kerouac began exploring Buddhism.  Ultimately he grew disenchanted by it, though, an experience he describes in Desolation AngelsOn the Road is tinged with the idea of holiness.  Check out this quote:

As we crossed the Colorado-Utah border I saw God in the sky in the form of huge gold sunburning clouds above the desert that seemed to point a finger at me and say, “Pass here and go on, you’re on the road to heaven.”

Beautiful, isn’t it?  In some ways, Sal Paradise—what a name!—is on a pilgrimage.  The point of the trip itself isn’t religious, but along the way Sal sees God in nature and in the act of traveling.  Throughout On the Road, Kerouac writes about searching for the holy.  What he finds there on the open road is the beatific—the blessings that seem contradictory to what the world says are blessings.

If you think about it, one of the earliest road trip novels is about a pilgrimage: The Canterbury Tales.  Chaucer’s fourteenth-century tale has all the seedy characters one might find William S. Burroughs depicting.  The pilgrims are road tripping from Southwark to the Saint Thomas Becket shrine at Canterbury Cathedral.  Just like how Sal Paradise finds he has tell good stories to anyone who picks him up while hitchhiking, the cast of characters in The Canterbury Tales each tell a story along the journey.

To support the National Literacy Trust, a group of modern-day pilgrims recently reenacted The Canterbury Tales.  You can read about it, see photographs, and listen to portions at the Guardian.

 

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Don’t forget!

I’m reading tonight at 7:00 at The Penny Farthing (103 3rd Ave., downstairs in the speakeasy), here in New York City, as part of the Storytellers event, hosted by C3.