Prelude to Big Sur

kerouac_10It is sunny, no humidity in the late spring of 1960. A brisk breeze blows in Northport, Long Island where Jack Kerouac has made his home with his mother for two years now.

He sits in his yard reading his copy of  Suranguma Sutra:

What suffers rebirth is not the individual, but the pain of individuality…

He is sober, for now, having taken upon himself a concerted effort to abstain once again, to hold together his unraveling sanity and to maintain the endurance necessary to write. The mail has stopped coming since he hasn’t published a new book since the previous summer. For now there is Book of Dreams to which he was recently busy pencilling edits  (changing names) in his “blackboard onionskin private Dreambook” he has to return to Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights in San Francisco. He also deletes dreams selected for publication by Ferlinghetti dealing with “ex-wives” so as to avoid libel lawsuits.

The momentum of On the Road slowed to a crawl, and the past three years had gone by in a blur, exacerbated by alcohol abuse and a hesitant dalliance with fame. Most of his important books written between 1952 and 1954 had already been published by publishers eager to snatch up a slice of the Kerouac pie, all released to little fan fare. There still is little regard for the merits of his unique writing and for the most part each book is panned by critics and shunned by readers.  They bring royalty checks to cover the bills, but little else. Little by little, in America, they drop out of print, and since they had become forgotten, so was he.

He craves attention as much as he despises it.

So for now he sits in a lounge chair in his suburban backyard, bitterly remarking in his diary on the Soviet’s nuclear fallout from test bombing nuclear weaponry, that such men  could ever “contaminate the freedom of eternity.”  The previous night he had observed the rising moon. It reminded him of watching numerous rising moons in the northwest when he served as a fire lookout in the Washington Cascades. It makes him yearn for such an escape once more.

This night it rises again, bright and yellow as Kerouac watches from his yard with its stockade fencing, four trees and fresh-mown grass. He liked to think of himself as hiding incognito from the sufferings of fame and the nightmarish hellhounds of drinking. Or those who throw rocks at his door to get his attention. Here is serenity among his mother’s roses and daisies. To carry out his wish fulfillment of being like Henry Thoreau, he planted bean and corn plants. But somehow none of that is enough.

His mind is his means of making a living, yet he is barely driven to write. When he can’t write, he retrieves older work. This time he is under pressure to write another column for Escapade and another for True magazine. He considers using an abstract from an early draft of On the Road, his “Ray Smith ROAD” which he titles “The Loneliness of Doren Coit.” Finishing it means he could earn $1500.00  to buy a piano and take him to Mexico. But he doesn’t want to write it. To write his new column, Kerouac recited some of it into his reel-to-reel tape recorder. He knew what he wanted to say in it, but still felt like he didn’t want to. In the late 40s and early 50s, he was motivated by the truth of what he wanted to say, to describe, to confess, but all of that has faded into a memory as intangible as the dreams in Ferlinghetti’s fair copy of manuscript he has sent him.

By June 9, he is more hopeful. When he wakes, the sky reminds him of Canada and he learns that he has finally sold Doctor Sax overseas to French publisher, Gallimard. Doctor Sax, he regards as his masterpiece and its failure of America to accept that means he has another chance in the homeland of his ancestors.

By night he wonders, watching a full moon rising “cold & strange” over the sterile suburban Long Island landscape.

The next day Kerouac “knocked out” his jazz column for Escapade (which won’t be published until its December 1960 issue): “Ten years ago my good friend Seymour Wyse of London ran his finger across his throat and said: “Jass killed itself.”

It isn’t the piece abstracted from his “Ray Smith” working draft, but another utilized from his tape recording recital. But he still has the article to write for True. Another idea occurs to him where he imagines explaining “beat” to his old Lowell buddy, Mike Fournier. On several occasions, taking this creative tact helped him jumpstart his writing when he was starved for a method to move him through time. In April 1951, it was his second wife to which he explained the story of the road and Neal Cassady. In a few years it will be his third wife to which he will write of his long-gone football youth, when everything was fresh and exciting and the road was still ahead of him (in Vanity of Duluoz). But who to speak to now? He reaches into his past, to a person he hadn’t spoken to in almost two decades and is confounded because it baffles him into futility.

He is proud of the fact that he hadn’t had a drop of alcohol in days now. But that spell of sobriety is broken by evening when he has acquaintances over, Tom Payne, his “millionaire girlfriend” Mickey  and Kerouac’s girlfriend Lois Sorrels. He gets drunk on gin. The ghost horrors of his heart resumes tenancy.

By the following morning, Kerouac is sick, not only because he is hungover, but with pangs of remorse. There is, he realizes, a pattern to his illness, and though he can identify this pattern, he does little to stop it. He continues drinking into the next day with Lois, his woman for the moment. Though she fulfills his sexual needs (under Gabe’s roof no less, crudely telling Ginsberg that she “comes to fuck and suck”), she is helpless to aid him in other ways.

By June 13, a Monday, he sinks to a gloomy funk. By Tuesday, he feels that his brain has gone “soft” and the labor of writing is the furthest thing from his mind. He has fallen into the same old trappings and no amount of reading the Surangama Sutra was going to save him. He only had to turn to his own Dharma notebooks for guidance:

The reason not to drink any alcohol at all is to attain permanently to the shivering bliss of pure blood. To keep the mind from confusion.” [see also Some of the Dharma, 94].

“Drink,” he writes in his “Dharma” notebook on January 30, 1955, “is the curse of the Holy Life.” 5.5 years later he is battling the very same demons, this time in his house with the “reverend mother,” Gabrielle (as he referred to her in a Lowell interview a couple of years later). But that can’t shield him from his personal demons. There is little to do to wile away the long hours of a springtime slowly growing hotter into summer. Most times he makes  “tape records” from jazz playing off the radio. In his heart he craves to write another novel by candlelight, like he did with Visions of Gerard when he penciled it in the candlelit darkness high on benezedrine in the wintry nights of January 1956 on his sister’s table top in Rocky Mount, North Carolina (addressing it to Lucien Carr).

He craves the impressionistic rush of holy words that came to him effortlessly, unhampered by brain fog and boredom, bowing to the great Buddhawork of his holy mission, salved by St. Paul’s Corinthians: “Neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.”

He is in need of a “secret trip” he tells Allen Ginsberg in a letter written to him in Peru on June 20. Mexico is his first choice: “if only I could have a month alone, and smile and talk to myself quietly in French in a flowery sad Mexican midnight study, with a big garden wall of lizards maybe …” He feels that he nothing more than a “hairy loss old man with not-thought and no-talk almost.” [letter to Ginsberg, June 20, 1960]

By mid-June not much has changed. Writing is the furthest thing from his mind. He feels sick and brain soft. He obsesses on the idea of going away by himself for a month. North port, its humdrum normalcy is driving him mad. When he wakes in the morning, he is “horrified” at that prospect of facing his mother … or anybody. Sitting in his midnight yard he self-analyzes what his problem is and what he should do about it. He is disturbed by the darkest depths of his depression to the degree that it tears him away from those life choices that brought him solace and joy. He doesn’t want to write or read. He doesn’t want to pray or meditate. He doesn’t want to “believe in anything any more.” He craves a “holiday to rediscover my heart.”

By mid-month agent Sterling Lord writes that Italian publishers have purchased the rights to Doctor Sax and Maggie Cassidy. More earnings he can count on when the years grow lean.

He yearns respect. It was Dan Talbot’s  June 1958 New York Times review of Tristessa that last lauded Kerouac as a writer worthy of seriousness:

“The true importance of Kerouac is that he rekindled the Super-Romantic tradition at a time when it needed rekindling. He is a born writer, as against an Academy-trained smithy. He loves language, and he obviously has a profound feeling for the human race. Never having been trained, since he didn’t care, to use prose as a sociological weapon or a Czerny exercise, he became a vaudeville bard. At times he sounds embarrassing, even sloppy. In the end he is more truthful, entertaining and honest than most writers on the American scene.”

But that seems like an eternity ago.  He needs to reverse his thinking, to grasp an elusive mindset  to write for himself and not for magazines and novels. He needs to find his own “private groove” like he did sketching in doorways and beat diner counter-tops in ’52, when he could describe the artificial affects of a Manhattan society girl with the same winsome ease as he writes of a junkie Mexican prostitute.

He gets drunk again on his latest favorite pairing: Schweppes and Gin. He pours the delicious clear tonic over his mother’s ice cubes popped from her ice tray and hits it with a splash of gin and soon he is blissfully high, turning the radio knob higher the drunker he gets.

On TV he watches the 1934 film starring Will Rogers, David Harum. In the mail he receives letters at last from Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Gregory Corso and Henri Cru then traveling in Genoa, Italy and scheduled to come to Northport in a few weeks. Desperate to finish his article for True, he starts to write again and stops. Beneath the stars he watches the universe reel a silent dance and for once, feels good. He remembers James Weschler’s essay that states that Kerouac was irresponsibly apolitical. Kerouac concedes because he is  more attached to the freedom of eternity. Doesn’t one’s personality belie sufferance with life and death without ever being truly involved with either?

People, he realizes, only tended to get bored with “final things”; they sought a means to an end, striving to get there without being present in the moment. He rejoined the Prajna understanding of life and death and emptiness. Inspired he composed several sonnets:

“The world’s more / complicated than / an essay.”

There it all was, and he could have died that day knowing that he’d at least brought into manifestation his life’s sole mission, his life’s work. The Legend of Duluoz. Wrestling with mind and body for most of his life was yet to defeat by his sense of artistic responsibility. When he returned to New York City on June 22 (with Lois) he fell into a drinking binge. On the train back to Northport (Tom Payne was supposed to pick them up but didn’t) he experienced strange “benevolent” visions of the passengers.

At home, he sobered. He poured boiling water on poison ivy in the yard and read Norman Mailer’s advent of New Journalism, Advertisements for Myself, picking up on the writer’s humility and sense of humanity. Yet, Kerouac also picked up on the fact that Mailer misidentified “hipster” as a word from 1952. The term reached further back, Kerouac wrote in his diary, as far back as 1932. The word “beat” went possibly further to 1910 (“I’m sure”) to the black South and up to the more-recent exchange between Jack Teagarden and Louis Armstrong (“I sure is beat”). Mailer, Kerouac realized, had only chosen to take one side “righteously.” Mailer called Kerouac “dishonest.”This so disturbed him that his hand began to shake with dismay: “I just can’t take all this sea of sinister human hate engulfing my head.” Having received his “original manuscript” of On the Road that day, Kerouac realizes that he could have published something far greater than Mailer essays like “The White Negro.” It didn’t happen because On the Road was “horribly” marked-up and “castrated” by Malcolm Cowley. In Kerouac’s opinion, it would have been a far greater book had it been left intact in its original April 1951 incarnation; a long single confessional paragraph of breathless American wonderment (stowing it away in his carefully-maintained archive, Kerouac made plans to republish it in its original form in 1970).

Kerouac had endured being maligned by the American press both over- and under-handedly. The day he struggled with Mailer’s denouncement of his character, Newsday published a cartoon of a bearded, coffee cup/bongo holding beatnik smiling at a headline:”IKE VISIT CANCELLED.” Also pictures was a “Jack Kerouac” book. A drunken Gabrielle wrote Newsday declaring that the Kerouacs were Republicans: “We like Ike.” She called the staff liars and bums. Jack, for his part, did nothing. He never expected to be hated for writing honest-to-life books. He just wanted to be loved for his work. He allowed criticism to wound him because, like a child, he craved encouragement. Children, Kerouac noted, cannot thrive on hatred, nor could any human. Did this sinister encroachment arrive from Eastern Europe? Was it from the nuclear fallout? What of the recent riots storming Tokyo over U.S. occupation, to such a violent extent that Eisenhower was forced to cancel his trip? Do people really want peace at all?

He recalled his Desolation Peak satori: “I don’t know, I don’t care, and it doesn’t make any difference.” It didn’t even make a difference to go to Heaven, or the work it took to get there. There is no connection to what we are doing now and what we’ll be doing in Heaven. On earth, there is no “honest justice” so one is forced to hang in the balance in the great Void existing between Heaven and Earth.

Death haunted, Kerouac pictured his gravestone and its epitaph:

I DON’T KNOW

I DON’T CARE

AND IT DOESN’T MAKE

ANY DIFFERENCE

Kerouac daydreamed of his death, of dying alone in the whirling Void, of the futility of a vainglorious funeral. He feels wiser because he sees the humor of it all. It wasn’t the death of Self that brings you closer to Heaven, but the “not-Self.”

From June 23 to the 29th, there comes another long drinking binge. This time he graduates from gin to whiskey, leering, laughing, shouting with a house full of people. He calls his mother “ugly” in front of an encyclopedia salesman tries to get him to buy a $300.oo book set. Kerouac signs on the dotted line, “Go Fuck Yourself.” He drunk-dials newly jail-sprung Neal Cassady because he is afraid to do it sober (though Carolyn Cassady has written Kerouac  in 1959: “You must banish any thought of any guilt as must Neal. There is none anywhere. Certainly your book would have had nothing whatever to do with his present circumstances!”

He continues drinking until he has difficulty breathing.

He wants to get a cabin and read more; to become a Thoreau of the Mind and  a Buddha of the spirit. In the mirror he sees himself growing flabby and fat. The muggy weather makes him feel even more miserable. There is no more solace in Jesus or jazz.

“I’m dying.”

What lies truly around him? Long Island is a jungle waiting to devour him alive. He begins to despise even the  springtime leaves and is scared of the birds on his mother’s feeder. He is suffering, he feels, from being hexed by “everybody.”

He is going mad.

Kerouac reads Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf to which one presumes Kerouac might find some solace in authorial kinship. Hesse writes, “He belongs to those whose fate it is to live the whole riddle of human destiny heightened to the pitch of a personal torture, a personal hell.” Instead, Kerouac finds Hesse’s pronouncement “absurd” and that the German writer is no more than a “shameless old relic of the 19th century.” Furthermore, he feels that Hesse is an imitator of Dostoevsky. Bitterly, Kerouac is especially vexed because of Hesse’s winning of the 1946 Nobel Prize.

And where was he? What had he earned for all of his troubles? Toward what aim did he sacrifice? He had forsaken two wives and one daughter, and of late, had even reacted badly toward his mother who in turn enabled him with her own drinking. He leans into his pencil, aghast at his naked diary confessions yearning for the Mexican night, of the lean tanned legs of “Tristessa” Esperanza and the swarming shadows of the Market Thieves. Not for him is the soft breeze of Parisian evenings, but that of the hot muggy Catholic guilt he witnessed all over Mexico City as potently as Lowell, Massachusetts. It was all sickening. In his books, critics and readers failed to see the scope and purity of his intent.

He is a martyr. He is Christ ascending Cavalry. He is Buddha beneath a tangerine tree.

He wants a hideout of his own, maybe somewhere in New England, to leave his mother to grow old in Northport. He wondered, in his state, why nobody bothers to help him, to take him away and allow him be left alone. For now he has an attic where the air conditioner pumps in dry air and keeps him away from the stifling summer heat that drops upon the Long Island shore by the end of June.

John Clellon Holmes comes to visit. They sit in the attic and have a long talk. Kerouac shares details of his horrible state of mind. At 2 AM he tries to write but the dense silence of the suburbs affects him to such a degree that he has to turn on his fans to cover the sounds of his scribbling.

“I HATE IT SO MUCH IT’S UNBELIEVABLE THIS HOUSE.”

Kerouac always feels eyes upon him, peering through half-closed drapes, from the street, through the doorway and into his mind. Time shows its emptiness throughout the “shit American Suburban horror” he sought to avoid.

On the morning of July 1, Kerouac wakes with stomach cramps so bad that he writhes on the floor. He shits black blood.

He feels better once it passes until more people come to his door, this time Charlie Byers and his cousin. Kerouac tells him that he’s sick, that his nerves are shot. Byers tries to talk him into a boat ride with his family. He says he’ll even hide the booze so Kerouac isn’t tempted. Kerouac is ashamed that such an offer even has to be made.

Then his sister and nephew comes to visit. Lois wants to come over, and Henri Cru. Ginsberg is expected in a few weeks too.

The film The Subterraneans is about to have its premiere. MGM had taken liberties with his book subtitling it “Love Among the Bohemians.”  It’ll start all over again, his peace and quiet, what little he has of it, to be shattered and his will to live disrupted.

He needs to be alone. Craves it with all of his heart’s desire.

In the first week of July, Ferlinghetti, all too aware of Kerouac’s problems, offers him the use of his cabin at Big Sur California. Kerouac writes back on July 8:

“What I need now is a rest, is sleeping in my bag under the stars again, is quiet meditative cookings of supper, reading by oil lamp, singing, sitting by beach with note book and occasional wine.”

Fearing a railroad strike, he leaves earlier than planned.

He’s ready to start anew, brooding new promises to himself.

To find Buddha in sea waves and Christly temples in the Redwoods.

The Church is blowing

a sad windblown

“Kathleen” on the

bells in the skid

row slums.

But there is nowhere to go, he is caught between Heaven and Earth, whirling in the Void waiting to be set free at last.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“The Town is Galloway . . .”

that’s the opening line from Jack Kerouac’s first published novel, The Town and the City, published in March 1950. Kerouac turned twenty-eight years old that month, and he must have had extreme satisfaction in knowing that at last, after countless false starts and obsessive ruminating over what he wanted to say, that at last it sat there, albeit neglected, between two covers.

“Galloway,” Kerouac tells us, is a “milltown in the middle of fields and forests.” My own upbringing in Lowell tells me that for the most part, this is correct. Lowell in the 1970s was crime-ridden, gone to seed, and the river itself, the Merrimac, was utterly polluted. The fields were reduced to weedy lots, very Kerouacian in itself, and the fields were parks dotted with baseball diamonds. Hippies smoked weed under the bleachers.

The river had a smell to it, something raw, earthy and muddy, as if it had become antiquated in its southward rush from the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The shores, away from the detritus of junkyards and mill refuse, were dotted with indian arrowheads that only took a little digging to find them. If you looked out from the shore, when rain began to fleck the surface, one could see the tails of carp splashing the water. Carp by then had utterly infested the river, and boys like me launched fishing lines weighted by oatmeal balls that were fisted in our determined hands.

Is it fair to say that after reading this fine novel, and then later reading what most were telling me his masterwork, that I was very disappointed in On the Road?

Kerouac’s investment in The Town and the City was profound, for he had infused a saintly consideration into the pages of his novel. The veiled portraits of his mother and father conjures the very embodiment of tough determined living. They were people just like my grandmother, Gertrude Maher, who was also of French-Canadian extraction and living in Centralville, Lowell. They each endured the Great Depression of the 1930s only to be socked by the hammerfall of World War II.Grandmother Gertrude was a little older than Jack and so she wasn’t that aware of him, other than he was the kid brother of Caroline “Nin” Kerouac, whom she did know.She was friendly until Nin turned eighteen or so, and married Charlie Morrisette.

But I digress . . .

Kerouac’s portrait of his parents brought them to life in all of their simple complexity. Simple, because they are simple people ingrained with a typical work ethic representative of a people that have been kicked to the curb for a long time. Leo Kerouac’s stand-in, George Martin, is a “man of a hundred absorptions.” Gabrielle Levesque Kerouac is “Marguerite Martin, and she is aptly reduced to her celebrated role as “superb housekeeper.” Both are steely strategists. One eyes the Galloway streets he proudly struts like a cigar-puffing cock-of-the-walk. He is a businessman eyeing his competition as carefully as he eyes the playing cards he ham-fistedly holds in backstage poker games. Marguerite is a surveyor of kitchen scraps and Sunday roasts, for she is a Depression-era survivalist equipped with a thriftiness to expertly not only feed her eight children, but to make them full each day.

Be-spectacled Marguerite is suspicious of others and “foreseeing of good fortune, forebodings of doom” and able to detect “omens of all sorts and sizes.” She is the same Canuck soothsayer of Doctor Sax who is telling of death in the river below as the man with the watermelon drops dead, pissing his pants. She can “read signs everywhere,” perhaps gifted more with an innate sense of xenophobic suspiciousness than a sixth sense. Her absorbing mind is a regulator of life and death, for the birth of one is the death of another across town. It is she that has endured the death of Francis Martin’s dead twin, Julian of the “pale brow” and “little sad eyes.” Julian is a stand-in for the long dead Gerard who passed on in the spring of 1926. Marguerite is a dreamer. She gets “nervous when something wrong is going to happen,” which must leave her bereft at the series of misadventures her Karamazovian sons get into throughout the book. There’s seventeen year-old Joe who runs his car off a road and into a tree after a night of “stamping furors of roadside polkas” and fakes a serious injury to avoid the wrath of his father. Then the mopey fifteen year-old Francis who stands around a lot and stares sullenly at the silent shuffling feet in Galloway High School. He is beyond the comprehension of his family. “You can’t expect too much from Francis,” his mother tells the rest, “he’s not well ad probably never will be. He’s a strange boy, you’ve just got to understand him.” Then Peter, thirteen years old, is just coming into life’s folds, impressed by the glitter of a dance, and the womanly attitude of his elder sister, Ruthie, who has managed to score a dance with the heroic Lou White, he of high school football fame and glory. The last two boys, Charley who is nine, and Mickey, six, embody the childlike wonderment that Kerouac cannot seem to escape for himself. They are just as profoundly moved by the rhythms and pulses of life that erupts and exudes in pockets of humanity seen around Galloway. If twelve year-old Elizabeth is “seen strolling mournfully beneath the dripping wet trees” carefully considering the “horrid legend of life,” her brother Charley is equally imbued with a Kerouacian depth of character that somehow eludes other characters like Dean Moriarty and Carlo Marx. Charley is described as having “dark wings appear above him as if to shade a strange light in his thoughtful eyes.” Charley is also described as having been born in June 1926, the same month and year that Kerouac’s older brother Gerard died.

Kerouac describes Mickey last, because it is he that is the germ of all of the others, possessed of that Kerouacian wonderment at the mysteries and sanctity of life: “And finally, if on some snow dusk, with the sun’s sloping light on the flank of a hill, with the sun flaming back from factory windows, you see a little child of six, called Mickey Martin, standing motionless in the middle of the road with his sled behind him, stunned by the sudden discovery that he does not know who he is, where he came from, what he is doing here, remember that all children first shocked out of the womb of a mother’s world before they can know that loneliness in their heritage and their only means of rediscovering men and women.” Kerouac writes of a similar scenario not too much later on in On the Road, when Sal Paradise loses his sense of self somewhere on some dark American by-way across the country. Even earlier, Kerouac’s character of Wesley Martin feels the same way in a room he boards in for the night in a draft for The Sea Is My Brother called Two Worlds for a New One.

In The Town and the City, wrongly maligned as a simple Thomas Wolfe knock-off, Kerouac invests the narrative with a sensitivity that often eludes his later beat counterparts. The descriptions of Galloway are of a teeming canvas of humanity prone to all of the foibles and flaws of day-to-day hand-to-mouth paycheck-to-paycheck living. It is a “town” illustrative of Joseph Campbell’s point that one can detect what that particular pocket of humanity holds most sacred. In Galloway, the “factory stacks” rise higher than the church steeples. Later, in the city of New York, it is the banks in their polished skyscrapers that rise higher than anything else, a simple symbolic aspect of the soullessness of modern living that somehow strips out all of the carefully-constructed soul-digging Kerouac does to describe his Martin family.

The solution, it seems, to escape the shores of this country completely. Peter Martin walks the gangplank of the Westminster in July 1942. It is out there, pitching to and fro in the heart of the merciless Atlantic that he comes to understand the limits of his mortality, along with the rest of the death-haunted crew. After a sister ship, the Latham is sunk, Peter cries out “What am I doing here?” Scanning the dark sea after the ship had disappeared completely, Martin and the rest of the crew are quiet: “Some of them were silent thinking of the men on the Latham, of their familiar faces gazed at and understood for months, months of loneliness, deprivation, meaningless fond conversations, those selfsame faces gone down now to drown in black waters of unbelievable night.” Kerouac here has managed to capsulize the very civic sensibility of World War II, of that sudden snatch from the living of faces we knew, voices we heard, memories we stored as sacred keepsakes to preserve the sanctity of lives gone before their time.

The Town and the City is a novel of death. Where the town of Galloway is emblematic of lives lived with fearful determination, the war and its kaleidoscopic description of Times Square is stamped with the imminent spectre of death. The death of the Martin patriarch in his Brooklyn apartment is book-ended by the wartime death of his son, Charley Martin whose crumpled body is revealed after a bulldozer attacks a pile of rubble at the edge of an airfield. In his pocket is a crumpled letter from his father, now joined together in death. It is the same reach beyond the grave that Peter Martin experiences when he opens a letter from his dead Galloway comrade, Alexander Panos: “Now Alexander’s face was lost, Alex’s face, in the strange unthinking world, all awful  and raw and grieved.”

Earlier, Peter takes a visit into the morgue to identify the body of Waldo Meister. Meister is now a “mangled thing,” stripped of his dignity on a marble slab, a victim of  senseless murder. He is of the “children of the sad American paradise” hopelessly tossed into the whirlwind of modern chaos. “In the end,” Kerouac writes, “everyone looks like a Zombie, you realize that everyone is dead, locked up in the sad psychoses of themselves.” Later, “Everyone feels like a Zombie, and somewhere at the ends of the night, the great magician, the great Dracula-figure of modern disintegration and madness,  the wise genius behind it all, the Devil if you will, is running the whole thing with his string of oaths and his hexes.” This, Kerouac’s grand statement of imminent disillusion and disenchantment that makes him, in the guise of Peter, shoulder his  canvas bag and hit the road: “He was on the road again, traveling the continent westward, going off to further and further years, alone by the waters of life, alone, looking towards the lights of the river’s cape, toward tapers burning warmly in the towns, looking down along the shore in remembrance of the dearness of his father and of all life.”

It is the perfect transition, looking ahead, toward what was to come.

Brand New copies of Kerouac: His Life and Work available for $5.00 + shipping!

2nd Edition - Americantrade paper

2nd Edition – North American trade paper

I have a supply of brand new copies of Kerouac: His Life and Work that I am buying out from my publisher so that the rights will revert to me and I am able to sell my two-volume expanded edition (over 1000 pages combined!) of the book.

I can sell each copy to anybody for $5.00 + shipping via PayPal.

If you have any interest in buying a copy (signed if you wish) from me, it will be shipped within late March thru May, please drop me a line @ paulmaherjr@hotmail.com.

That email address also happens to be my Paypal address if you  wishto pay in advance or to simply donate money so that I can raise the $600 needed to buy the stockfrom the publisher and have the rights reverted back and then thereby allow the publication of the 2 volume expanded edition of Kerouac: His Life and Work.

Donors of $10.00 or more will  receive from me a hardcover copy of the 2 volume expanded biography of Jack Kerouac that I have put 10 years of my life into.

Thanks! Paul

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Kerouac and the Spring & Summer of ’56

In March ’56, Kerouac hitchhiked to California, and for a short while, shared a rustic cabin with poet Gary Snyder in Marin County, California. By mid-June he was leaving to work as a fire lookout in the Washington State Cascades.

On June 18, he began walking from Mill Valley to Marblemount, California. He had been given instructions by friends for the most expedient route to the Cascades. They suggested that he  stick to the coastline before turning northeast toward the mountains. For the start of this trip he bought  supply of rye crackers, dates, peanuts, and four pints of beer for initial sustenance. He had $14.57 left in his wallet.

Russian River Bridge

Russian River Bridge

By noon he arrived at the Russian River Bridge in Geyserville and hitched a short ride with a farmer and his family. Another driver offered a truck ride to Eureka, California, driving 280 miles through the rain. The driver, whose name was Ray, spoke, Kerouac noted, in syncopation with the beat of the windshield blades. Ray reminded Jack of his father, Leo Kerouac, was dead ten years now. It made him want to weep. When they reached Humboldt Redwood Forest, Ray bought Jack a shrimp dinner, strawberry pie with ice cream, and four cups of rich black coffee. Since they couldn’t find a motel, they slept by the beach in the truck cab.

The following morning, Kerouac ate a big breakfast, saluted his driver off, and began walking, seemingly without purpose, until replenishing his strength with a noonday nap. A justifiable fear of poison oak made this sleep a restless one. He woke, ate his lunch, smoked his pipe, and wondered where to head next. He turned northeast toward the old gold-mining town of Kerby, Oregon. There he got another ride—lasting a single mile—and then another by a lumberjack who reminded him of Neal Cassady. The lumberjack’s truck swept across the valley toward the distant mountains until passing through Eugene, fifty miles east of the Pacific coastline. By this time dusk had tea-steeped the sky into a blood-red remnant of the day. Kerouac admired what he construed as the driver’s independence and fearlessness, and that he, too, harbored a fanaticism for sports matching his own.

Pictured here are some of the towns and cities Kerouac traversed en-route to Washington cascades.

Pictured here are some of the towns and cities Kerouac traversed en-route to Washington cascades.

Under a pine tree, Kerouac ate and napped for twelve hours. He lathered up in insect repellent to ward off the angry hordes of mosquitoes that rose in clouds from the primeval landscape. When he woke the following morning, he counted his money, $14.03, and set his sights on Portland, Oregon. Portland was another 110 miles if he chose to follow straight up Route 99. Two brothers delivered him just outside Junction City, where, after having coffee with them, he walked two miles to a restaurant, ate eggs and hash browns, and wondered, perhaps bleakly, about his future. Yet, he realized, the “road is life.”

What would he do if On the Road tanked like The Town and the City? It was also possible he could experience a reversal of fortune, thereby granting him the respectability and money he craved. Unfazed, he composed a poem about walking along the highway as cars indifferently zipped by; of lunchroom flowers and ghostly mountains lingering mirage-like over the horizon; of a Chinese woman and her pet Chow; of murmuring lunchtime conversations; and a glass of water with a protruding phallic spoon, its smooth sheen beaded with perspiration. No detail was too trite for Jack Kerouac’s poetry.

The following morning he reached Seattle, Washington and he read the Diamond Sutra in a skid-row room with fifteen-foot ceilings:

“Cease to cherish any arbitrary conceptions as to your own self, the selfhood of others, of living beings, of an Universal Self.”

He hitched a ride with a lonely Okie and was grateful for his company. The driver continued picking up other hitchers: another Okie and a sailor from Montana who was bursting with intelligent talk. They kept Kerouac’s ear occupied for eighty miles until they reached Olympia, Washington. At the dock of a ferry, Kerouac paid his fare and, just as he did on the S.S. Dorchester, climbed the stairs to the top deck and stood in the drizzly rain. Beneath a soggy issue of Time magazine he found an abandoned half-pint of vodka and drank from it as the bracing wind slapped his face and ruffled his hair.

The North Cascades in the horizon of Puget Sound.

The North Cascades in the horizon of Puget Sound.

At Puget Sound, he saw his final destination in the horizon: the North Cascades, where he secretly hoped to “come face to face with God or Tathagata and find out once and for all what is the meaning of all this existence and suffering and going to and fro in vain.”

Another skid-row room, for money was running low, cost him $1.75. He had a regimen now: a meditative read from the Sutra, a steamy bath, and sleep at last. By morning he shaved to make himself more acceptable to drivers and then cruised 1st Avenue for a Goodwill store. He bought a new belt, jock strap, shirt, handkerchief, and a bandana. At the Public Market he fueled his body on breakfast and coffee and calculated that he had another 150 miles with only $8.60 to his name. By 4:00 PM, he reached Burlington, Washington. He had thirty miles left to go. A driver fresh from the San Jose car races took him the rest of the way.

From July through September 1956, Kerouac was alone on Desolation Peak in the Cascade Mountains, where he worked for $230 a month watching  a lookout station. He cooked, chopped wood, meditated, and wrote.

When he came down from the mountain, he stayed with Allen Ginsberg and his lover Peter Orlovsky in their Bay Area pad. On September 17, 1956, Kerouac wrote to his agent, Sterling Lord, about the events going on in San Francisco. He had given Creeley and Duncan two pieces to publish for free in Black Mountain Review. Mademoiselle was doing a spread on the cool poets of the San Francisco scene and had taken his photograph along with Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, another poet transplanted there from New York City. He reported that Life magazine also wanted to photograph him in the coming weeks. He asked for an update on whether or not On the Road was to be published.

The year 1956 embodied Kerouac’s relentless energy. It was the last year unfettered of responsibility before fame came to shatter his peace.

Jack Kerouac on Mozart’s Symphony No. 40

Shortly after Jack Kerouac made some thorough notes on his novel-in-progress Galloway, he then started to describe some music playing from the radio. He started with the novel’s opening in the “morning gray” of Galloway, and the character’s “Goethean urge in the midst of darkness.” His character Alan Mackenzie is cloistered in his room, an “oasis of culture in the gray wasteland” and he is experiencing a fit of despair.

Galloway’s geographical backdrop is of course Kerouac’s hometown of Lowell, the “New England Milltown at dusk.” From there the exposition evolves as a panoramic display of workaday Galloway spanning from one character’s rudimentary learning at the library, through teenaged love (early inklings of Maggie Cassidy! the novel’s hero makes love to “Margaret”). It is “universal life” and “Life the strange” and “Beautiful fantasy” and “dream of artistry.” By the novel’s nineteenth and last section, the whole of Kerouac’s ambitious work ends on the theme of departure and growth.

He then switched from his notes for the novel, to those upon hearing Mozart’s 40th Symphony in G minor. Kerouac admired the vigor and sensitivity of the strings. He wondered of their “peculiarly sharp and painful beauty.” It was in music like this that Kerouac sensed Eternity.

The symphony’s first movement was a “nervous shiver of yearning.”It boasted assertive rhythms, there was ambivalence in its introspective scope. It was a composition of delicacy.

By its second movement, Kerouac pictured the music’s message of futility of questioning fate. Wolfie has dropped his “unself-conscious mood” that consumed Kerouac since the fall of 1944. His spirit lapsed despite hearing the hammer pound the anvil. The cosmological scope of the music retained for Kerouac a “grotesque sort of unity.” In its midst, the sweet cry of Eternity begins to emerge and with it, the “ever so sweet, the ever so delicious note” of love.

By its third movement, Kerouac wondered what the materials were of Mozart’s artistry? He shunned mere eclectism in order to project his emotions through his music. He scribbled his little black notes in “eccentric patterns” and cautions the interpreter with his notes: “Adagio.” Kerouac pictured Mozart sitting alone whistling an improvised melody before striking his rich musical vein and running to his work book to transcribe his discovery. He was a “happy artist” whom relished the “joy of his artistic labors.” Or at least, that’s what Kerouac believed he was saying by the close of the symphony.

Jack Kerouac: “I Am the Revolutionary.” (New York City – November 1944)

Jack Kerouac - 1944

(Excerpted from the forthcoming book, I, Duluoz!: A Journey Through Jack Kerouac)

Allen Ginsberg told 22-year old Kerouac that a person “needs no bidding to lose oneself – But try to shake the shadow!” Kerouac replied, as transcribed in a journal written in Ginsberg’s dorm room at Warren Hall, that he was correct, with the exception that one only needs that “bidding” in order to lose society. This was the only way one could find that “self.” If during the course of trying to find their self, and avoided any spiritually-focused decisions, then that was a weakness consituting intellectual dishonesty. It betrayed one’s cosmology since it was wrought in pain.

Ginsberg concluded, “Nothing is true, everything is permited!” (borrowed from Burroughs who copped it from Vladimir Bartol’s novel Alamut and later jacked as the credo for the Assassin’s Creed X-Box video game)

Kerouac dared Ginsberg to lose society, just as he dared himself as an ultimatum to abide by in the course of his art. He regarded this “revolutionary hedonism.”

Kerouac, in the fall of 1944, in the months following the Carr/Kammerer affair and a marriage that had irretrievably beached itself against rocky shores, he was hell bent on proving himself by writing a novel. There was little time to compromise, not with society, nor with himself. “I am the revolutionary,” he reminded himself. In the revolution, it was every man for himself. One must employ his/her own labors, to tend the fire pit of their respective hedonistic flames. He had yet any occasion to rise above his “relative intellectual immaturity.” It was the season of the New Vision to which he believed that “Self Ultimacy” was the guiding light toward self-actualization. In his diary he wrote (November 16, 1944):

“I cravenly turned it to a use in a novel designed to gain me, the man of the world, respect, idolatry, sexual success, and every other thing that goes with it.”

What aspect of society was he referring to?

Kerouac identified “society” as that body politic bogged down by the strictures of customs and traditions. It was a body of people adhering to social mores throttling them from the past. They were non-creative bourgeois “neo-Puritans” that didn’t tolerate innovations in intellectualism, ethics, spirituality or sexuality. They were repressed.

Kerouac had been passing his writings around to his friends, trying to get a feel for his audience. Commentary, though favorable, did little to give him any assurance. His Columbia teachers called his work “sincere but immature, with flashes of brilliance.” To date, he had little to fall back on that marked any improvements in what he was crafting.

Self Ultimacy: Kerouac wondered what it would take to drive someone to this, to tip the balance of “profound frustration”? In the interest of his early writings for his current writing, Kerouac based these ideas only within the “sphere” of his own experience.

What if he were homosexual and was discovered by his family, or by his beloved who became “repulsed,” or he was scorned and avoided by friends? Would this extreme alienation drive him at last to “self-ultimacy”?

How about if he fell in love and “desecrated” a 13-year old girl? He of course would face “social expulsion” and approximated (in what was and wasn’t socially acceptable in early-to-mid-20th century America) that as the same as being “queer.” If this then was the case, was the basis of self-ultimacy social?

Kerouac’s own philosophical basis for self-ultimacy rested within Part 1, Chapter 22 of Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophical text, Thus Spake Zarathustra, and he quoted the most relevant part of it in his journal: “Now I bid you lose me and find yourselves; and only when ye have all denied me, will I return onto you.” The basis of this would germinate his Galloway novel, to which its proto-version, writ as a 63-page novella was titled “I Bid You Lose Me” (complete with its blood spatters from Kerouac’s ode to Nietzsche) [further note, the New York Public Library’s Berg collection incorrectly archived this work as “I Bid You Love Me”] written between November 4 to November 15, 1944. Galloway’s later incarnation, The Town and the City, is only five years away.

Kerouac had taken the German philosopher’s words (“Of all that is written, I love only what a man has written with his own blood”) quite literally when he cut his finger and wrote in blood on his “I Bid You Love Me” handwritten manuscript. Now he sought to take further action following the Nietzchian dictum. He recognized that he no longer identified the society he was unavoidably part and parcel. Informally, he participated by consuming material goods purchased with “informal resources.” He regarded himself as a tax-paying citizen, even though his income was considered too low to pay any taxes at all that year. He had indeed shed society, and in fact, that month, after leaving his wife and hiding from his mother, all that was required of him was to sleep, eat, earn enough money to survive … and to write.

In the rooming house he lived in, he noted a large desk sitting in the hallway. He watched a “Negro” who had just finished applying a second coat of paint and was in the process of putting away his paint brushes. Kerouac asked him if he needed an assistant. The painter pointed to the desk, suggesting that it needed to be moved, but it was too heavy to do himself. Kerouac helped him carry it back into a room. The painter thanked Kerouac for his help, and he detected an air of incredulity in the painter’s tone. It made him wonder, as a “respectable citizen,” who would ever imagine doing what he had just done? To help a black man, to ease the burden of his petty labors? The “Negro is cursed with menial tasks” and, by virtue of that, any ordinary citizen couldn’t be bothered to help him. Kerouac, having lost society, is no longer burdened by these considerations. He is freed and therefore unburdened from the matrix and therefore was in a position to attain self-ultimacy.

“I know of the hatred and envy of your hearts. You are not great enough not to know hatred and envy. Then be great enough not to be ashamed of them!”

Kerouac glowed in his self-perception; that he was going against the grain of society’s norms. He, the assistant of a Negro laborer! His joy overflowed toward the painter, a joy of not only the loss of society as he saw it, but of attaining truest freedom. He had successfully broken the chains of society’s bondage to its social norms. It was something he perceived in himself that he wanted to fully develop. It was the “virtue of virtues” to develop what he ascertained as “unselfconsciousness” in society, yet it was a “consciousnessness” in himself. He could return to this, and, in a sense, it became the opening sentences of The Subterraneans: “this is the story of an unselfconfident man […]” The anecdote of the black painter would flower out to Mardou Fox, his black love interest in The Subterraneans, the seeds of that novel born almost ten years previous!

Kerouac had even set himself apart from his friends when they senselessly argued over art, religion and politics. He referred to Nietzsche’s maxim once again: “The man of knowledge must be able not only to love his enemies but also to hate his friends.”

It was an excellent “transvaluation” and he remembered once weeping over a conversational brawl between some companions. They were, in his estimate, “idiots” and he even moreso for taking the time to study them abstractedly. He hated his friends for hating his enemies. This, he realized, was why he related so closely to Nietzsche, remembering the first time he read him, and felt that he, more than others, was “timely” in wartime America.

He wanted to later write when he was middle-aged an epic retelling of the story of Adam and Eve. Building from Eve’s and the “serpent’s” mired guilt, Kerouac wanted to catalog a full spectrum of life’s contradictory nature. Without the temptation of the serpent, life could not have continued beyond Adam and Eve. The “punishment” of Eve was “Mammalian birth-giving.” Adam’s curse was his “conscience.” Without temptation, the existence of the pair was one that lacked “true feeling.” The human mind is unable to endure the lethargy of “ceaseless calm.” It was the serpent’s sin that saves mankind. Kerouac, for the moment, was not interested in the edict of God.

“Art is the highest task and the proper metaphysical activity of this life.”

Kerouac envisioned that this aphorism, writ on a piece of paper and hanging on a Greenwich Village room wall belonging to his current-character Michael Breton (“the genius of imagination and art” in Orpheus Emerged). Breton was Kerouac transmuted through his artistic sensibilities and he, like Breton, was still budding and outfolding before his eventual infolding (like Melville) in the fall of 1951 when he was in the white-heat sketching mode of Visions of Cody. Kerouac, before all that would happen, was  torn between life and art, but before long he would begin ripping it apart to abide by his own artistic principles and impulses, doign so against all adversity.

Nietzsche helped forge the way for Jack Kerouac’s  eventual artistic breakthrough. Kerouac would do the rest of the heavy lifting by finding the lynch pin to a grand vision he saw existing in Wolfean America. It would be seen on the tar and dirt roadways standign as a metaphor for the Goethean urge to propel through his creative consciousness. “Suffering,” Kerouac wrote, is the “creative substance.” He would know this all too well, imposing self-inflicted misery as a man of poverty (“Everything belongs to me because I am poor.”) before alcohol became the main wrecking ball hastening hinm to an early grave. That “the road is life” would be realized by the  spirit of momentum personified by Neal Cassady. In November 1944, Kerouac was at a precipice, undistracted by the law, his mother, his wife Edie, society, the sea, the war and college. Inspired, Kerouac would eventually look to the West as the answer to his calling. Going there would be partially-realized by Neal Cassady.

Meeting him is only one month away.