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:





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.


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.














































The Secret Canadian Life of Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac On The Radio

American Beat writer Jack Kerouac (1922 – 1969) leans closer to a radio to hear himself on a broadcast, 1959. (John Cohen/Getty Images)

In 1957, the publication of On The Road created a sensation. It was hailed as a great prose poem of the United States; it was also reviled as an undisciplined mess. It immediately became an enormous bestseller. Since its release, it has been treated as one of the foundational texts of American letters. It has never been out of print.

Its author, Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac—Jack Kerouac—became an overnight celebrity. The handsome, shy, charming devout Catholic was lionized as the voice of a new generation, the Beats. For his part, he thought of the Beats as “a generation of beatitude and tenderness.” But much to his distress, he and the Beats became symbols of reckless freedom, sexual licence and self-indulgence.

In 2006, the Kerouac archive was opened at the New York Public Library. Its contents were a revelation. Diaries, letters, essays and whole novels were found written in French. Kerouac, the avatar of the new America, was, in fact, Canadian. He was born in 1922 to parents who had fled Quebec in the great exode, seeking work in the U.S. Kerouac spoke only French until he was six and did not lose his accent fully until he was 20.

Read the rest here.


Revisiting Book of Sketches

book ofsketchesOn moving to the Carolinas, re-reading Book of Sketches and reading Kerouac’s one-off impressions of this region as well as other places like Mexico City and New York, it is driven home to me how uncanny was his eye, and how sharp was his brain.

There is a passage when Kerouac writes of his brother-in-law, Paul Blake Sr., whom he perceives as a man of the south, and in whom he also perceives is a model figure of  the intrinsic sorrow of mankind.

It is pure, empathetic and insightful:


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Blake didn’t necessarily approve of his brother-in-law’s lifestyle. He perceived Jack as lazy and a layabout. But Jack, to his credit, stuck to his guns and used the friction in the Blake household as a means of observation and attenuated through his sensitive awareness of things, and in the pages of his little notebooks, a capturing of the mortal strivings of his fellow man.

When I first saw these notebooks, the actual living testament in his scrawled handwriting, and before they were published in 2006, I saw the actual day-by-day work-in-progress of Jack’s world. I didn’t have time to read all of the Book of Sketches notebooks, and longed with deep urgency the publication of this masterwork. This was in 2001. To hold in my hands these notebooks was perhaps akin to touching an original Gutenberg Bible. A strange thrill rushed through my hands and it became, for me, one of the more important touchstones of my life.

Book of Sketches remains for me one of the most important books by Jack Kerouac.

I highly recommend that you not just read it online, or on your Kindle, but buy the small but thick book and keep it with you always. Read it when your waiting for a bus, or for a doctor’s appointment, or during your lunch break or at the DMV. Put your phone away and immerse yourself into the peculiar but infinitely rewarding world of Jack Kerouac.

“It’s Saturday in Mex City & the streets / lead to all kinds of fascinating / lighted vistas, movies, stores, pepsi / colas, whorehouses, nightclubs,/children playing in brownstreet / lamps & the sleep of the / Fellaheen dog in some old / grand doorway.”




“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 @

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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What Remains To Be Published?

What Remains? Bear in mind some of this will make its way into another Library of America volume of uncollected (and unpulbished prose). But I thought I’d share anyway.

With the glut of books that thankfully made our way in the past 20 years or so, we now have (probably) just as many posthumous titles as those Kerouac published in his lifetime. These have added exponentially to our understanding toward what Kerouac achieved in his own right as an American writer. However, there is still much more that can be published. Or, think of them as my Holy Grails.

Here are some:

• The complete manuscript of The Town and the City with all of its stand-alone prose Kerouac typed for possible use in the novel

• A collection of Kerouac’s various film-related prose, drawings and movie treatments like “Being a Tathagata” & “Tathagata: A Movie Novel”

• A collection of Kerouac’s various proto-versions of On the Road (Gone on the Road, Cody Deaver, and many short but compelling fragments of writing)

• The Collected Letters of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady

• Unexpurgated and chronological notebooks/journals in a multi-volume set

• An complete collection of Kerouac’s early prose arranged in chronological order so as to see and appreciate his development as a writer

• Kerouac’s “Self-Ultimacy” period documented with such works as Supreme Reality; God’s Daughter; Dialogs in Introspection; The Repertoire of Modern Ideas; The Dark Corridor and a novella called I Bid You Love Me (replete with self-inflicted blood droplets). Kerouac burned some of this work, but it is important to have because it documents a shift in Kerouac’s artistic consciousness.

• A collection of Kerouac’s spiritual texts (Book of Prayers; The Blessedness Surely To Be Believed; Bodhi (Kerouac had typed and edited this book to completion); The Long Night of Life; The Diamond Vow of God’s Wisdom)

• Any and all of the 50+ diaries Kerouac maintained chiefly from 1956 until shortly before his death in 1969.

• Various collections of correspondence between his Lowell friends; John Clellon Holmes (over 100 just from Holmes); Carolyn Cassady; Henri Cru and much more miscellanea, such as letters from Esperanza Villanueva, Bea Franco (Terry the “Mexican Girl” in On the Road) and Mary Carney (Maggie Cassidy). I think letters to and from his immediate family is also warranted since his parents are constantly castigated by biographers. There is also a body of letters between JK and his agent, Sterling Lord that could be of significant importance (much like the letters between Maxwell Perkins and Hemingway/Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe).

• Publishing facsimile notebooks for Visions of Cody and Mexico City Blues or Book of Sketches would be incredible.

• Prefacing a novel like Maggie Cassidy with its original incarnation as Springtime Mary and his January/February 1953 notebooks (4 total) would be a unique vantage toward understanding how Kerouac  eked out a novel from several notebooks into a typescript.

• An exhaustive annotated collection of all of his poetry.

Visions of Bill (over 70 holograph pages worth focused on William Burroughs!)

Benzedrine Vision written while in Mexico City in 1952 perhaps combined with Book of Daydreams written while living with Neal & Carolyn Cassady at San Luis Obispo, California in May 1953.

• The Memory Babe workbook written while living in Northport, Long Island in April 1958 (and its resulting typed scroll of 4 typed pages).

• The personal notebooks maintained during the 1960s would shed much light on Kerouac’s thoughts, preoccupations and writing during this little understood period of time. One of these notebooks for example is from 1961 and it’s titled “Some Holy Notes Taken Down on Sacred Mushrooms Especially for Timothy Leary” which is about 59 pages long.

Tics was typed up from a notebook written on June 28, 1953. It could be compiled with other experimental writings along the lines of the standalone Old Angel Midnight.