Saint Jack

Impossible to overestimate the influence Jack Kerouac had on my generation.  Here’s how I put it in the story, “The Baby Dharma Bums.”
"Although The Dharma Bums purported to be a novel, I could tell it was written by a guy who had actually done all these things and was just writing down what happened. I decided in an instant that I was going to do those things too. I had found my calling. I was 16. I had joined the Beat Generation."

Jack Kerouac fire escape 1

Here is the iconic photo of visionary Jack as we imagined him then, taken by Allen Ginsberg on a Manhattan fire escape in 1953. But he built his own fire and he couldn’t escape it.

The First Few Friends I Had: love stories from the gone world


A Letter From Leslie OnThe Road – 1962

Leslie H. was a sister in our little San Francisco band of dirty Peaceniks. I lost touch with her years ago so I can’t ask her for permission to print this letter to me. But it’s a document well worth sharing – it seems to me a brilliant picture of The Life, as we baby beatniks conceived it in that long ago year of 1962.

I don’t have much left from that era, but God is gracious, and left me this letter. How can I not share it with you? That it still exists is a minor miracle.

Leslie is eighteen and on the road with Peter, her lover (they married later, a true-love match.) She’s living the life we loved. The long hitch-hiking journeys, the drugs, a bit of the world-weary feeling I associate with those unpsychedelicized times, the uncapitalized sentences, the eternal ongoing planning of adventures to come. And of course – the literate self-awareness and ability to express herself well on paper.

Together they make up the essence of my times, kiddos – welcome to the winter of 1962. The day I received it the snows were beginning to fall over Long Island and the first winter rains were pouring into the sewers of Lily Alley, San Francisco.

I’ve added a few links to references that may be obscure today.

christopher christopher christopherhow happy i am to get your lawn letter–i’m childishly delighted and even overjoyed. here for the last couple of days i had been, not homesick, but kind of surprised and sad at being 3000 miles away from anyone who really knew how i function. (this is the result of being bored silly and therefore starting to take it out on peter, but trying not to, because he really doesn’t react well to threats of leaving or not sleeping with him at all.)

all this culminated last night with peter pouring chocolate milk shake on my head and i throwing my newly acquired enovid out the car window. i cried myself to sleep thinking of the past with the help of three seconal. but all is slightly better this morning–peter and i woke up early and talked and made love. so i have made him his breakfast, listened to e power biggs playing bach’s royal instrument (the organ), finished sanding, oiling, stringing, and tuning our new guitar–we took off all the mexican finish and wanted to leave it like that and oil it, but we ended up some how putting mahogany varnish on it–, and teaching myself bach’s minuet in g major on the piano and guitar.

a new thing for me–a snow storm the other night. if i had been younger or marguerita i would have run outside in it naked. now the snow has been here for two days and it is melting and looking a bit soiled.

we have been here for three weeks and i haven’t yet seen new york city, which is why i think we hitched out here. i can’t really remember why we came anymore except it has something to do with rolexin and the president and me and peter and new york/and cuba and kruschev and bombs

once i had a job for two weeks where i had to type all day.

i could tell you what happened to us hitch hiking and the people we met and what they said but it is not really very interesting or xxxxxx

(typing fades and gets scratchy-looking)

What is wrong with the fucking typewriter?

(she switches to pencil)

i will use a drafting pencil for want of a pen.

(she switches to blue ink)

i found a pen – i don’t like it

(this time she switches to black ink with bold point)

here is a fountainpen. i’ll use this.

anyway my point was that before i started i thought that hitch hiking to new york would be a great adventure and it wasn’t at all just mostly cold and boring. i have lost all my faith in jack kerouac.

we did meet some wonderful people in madison, wisconsin. They were students and mostly hippies but some cool – not cool really, but sweet. peter and i set out to close the university of wisconsin by turning everyone on to rolaxin (romilar there) i was introduced to everyone as the high priestess of romilar. we were staying with two great friends of peter’s – sam and john. one night we were all high and someone knocked on the door. john answered it and a man asked – do you have any cockroaches. sam told him – yes, but they’re on our side.

the night before we left i got into a drinking contest with peter. i lost miserably. it’s the first time i’ve ever been drunk. i vaguely remember crying for two hours about my abortion – peter was very sweet and says i really wasn’t too bad. i also somehow cut off a large section of big toe. i am now firmly convinced that pot is so much better for teen-agers than booze.

i don’t want to write on and on and bore you. so i will shortly close.

how are you and linda and expected baby? and working, being responsible, etc.

everyone there except peter’s mother thinks we’re married. address any future mail accordingly. i even have a woolworth’s golden wedding band ($1.00, without tax) i am also maybe pregnant, which is fine with both of us. peter is a very fine person to have babies from.

we have plans. we will be back in san francisco by april (by way of virginia, etc.) and then peter and i will get jobs (if i am not pregnant, i will) save money until june. take a bus to mexico city – some odd $60 dollars (both) and go to mexico city college. my parents will support me – i will support peter. will have baby in mid-August and let a maid take care of him ($15 a month). i want so much to learn things! i mean, at college – therefore a maid for the baby. i am going to see all the art galleries and museums in new york (while peter works – he may be able to get a job as an artist’s model for 7.50 an hour). i am going to learn to really cook – no instant anything. and find a place to practice piano, and look at new york and maybe sew pregnant clothes. – why do i always plan things?

anyway write to me – maybe often. i need it. are you kidding about the naval? tell me about it.

have you seen or heard of riley, teresa, and george. do you have addresses of the first two?

very much love to you – and i will think about you.

[this letter started out fine but it bogs at the end and is incoherent – i’m sorry]


Sixty-Six And All That

So what’s so bad about turning sixty-six? All the cool and famous people do it. For instance, how about…Peter Tork?  He turned sixty-six this week, just like me. And don’t you dare say, “Who’s Peter Tork?”(Deafening Silence)

Brother! OK, children, if you really don’t know, Peter Tork was a beautiful, Grammy award winning singer from Iceland. Oh wait, that’s Bjork.

Sorry. Now I’ve got it. Peter Tork was an funny guy from another planet who lived in Mindy’s attic…hmm, that doesn’t seem right either.

Let me think, He must be famous for something. Now I remember! He is from another planet but he has long pointy ears and used to have a job on the Starship Enterprise.

Oh, I don’t know! I can’t remember either. I’m only monkeeing around. I guess it just shows – fame is fleeting. Take for instance, Brian Jones. (Don’t you DARE ask ‘Who?’) He’d be sixty-six this month
if he hadn’t drowned in his swimming pool in 1969 after being eighty-sixed from the Rolling Stones. Poor bastard. But you probably already know his sad story. If you don’t, apply to Marianne Faithfull
(and don’t give me that ‘who?’ stuff again.) I only tell stories about the interesting unknowns and barely knowns of my San Francisco youth.

Anyway, what’s the point of all this scrambling for fame so our names will live forever?

Like Brian Jones, for all his fame now laying in a country churchyard off the A435 forgotten by flowers and children.

Like Yvette Mimiuex (age sixty-six), beautiful freak from the future famous for her wonderful name, now immersed in money somewhere in the LA basin. Does she collect her lobby cards? And dream she’ll still be
famous again when the time machine lands?

Like…like…CAROL CLEVELAND! She’s sixty-six, and look at her! (Oh look her up. If you know who Monty Python was, you should know who Carol Cleveland is. She was famous.)

Like Pete Best, ousted by Ringo so long ago, still organizing his next nostalgia band tour. If that promoter in Winnipeg ever calls, I’ll be down pub.

Like Tom Fogerty, he waited a long time for that steamboat round the bend, but it never came. Now he’s in the ground. About him, people like to say, “Wasn’t he John Fogarty’s brother?” Other people say, “What was
Credence Clearwater Revival?”

Or like Ellen Naomi Cohen, really Cass Elliot, but really Ellen Naomi Cohen, big voiced, big bodied, still alone in a little grave in the LA hills. Just a few months older than the Pondering Pig. If she were here.

Like Fingerless Joe Novakovich, missing on San Francisco streets these long years, and following a trail of tokay glistened glass somewhere towards home…

Like Saint Jack Kerouac who vomited his guts into the toilet, cried out, “La j me rapele! La j me rapele!” (Now I remember! Now I remember!), breathed deep one farewell breath for remembrance of this rainwet earth before the black shroud finally smiled upon him.

Like the Lovely Linda, one half of rock’s greatest love affair, the kind that comes with children who grow up without artillery holes in their hearts and grandchildren and a marriage that didn’t let massive
fame snatch love forever and homemade loaves. No early death from cancer can take that laurel from her brow. God bless that girl, also sixty-six.

Or like Country Joe McDonald (age sixty-six), who don’t care (I think) that he’s not headlining Woodstock any more but getting on with his life honoring Woody and Vietnam vets and still singing “It’s one two three what are we fightin’ for don’t ask me i don’t give a damn next stop is Vietnam” in the shower or in the daffodils come spring.

Like our own Saint Joan, who will matter forever, already far past her sixty-sixth, yet still on the road night after night through phantom music halls of Yugoslavia and South Carolina.

Like, I don’t know, like me.

Like you, dear reader. Well, maybe not YOU. You’ve got too much sense.

Whaddayasay we forget the whole thing, walk over to Golden Gate Park and join The Syndicate of Eternal Friendship in a little game of Frisbee? As Jinx the Cat says, “Where are the snows of yesteryear?
They’re playing Frisbee in the park.”

Once I heard him add, “See that dog over there? Watch out for that dog”

Photo Credits: Cryptomundo, Linda McCartney, FSM Gallery 1964-65

On The Road – Fifty Years Ago Today…

It was fifty years today
Saintly Jackie taught us how to play…

I think that’s how the Beatles song goes. Yes, on this exact day in 1957, the sky turned red over my high school campus and a voice spoke from the clouds: “Hie thee to the Hillsdale Bookstore right after school, oh feeble mortal, and learn how life is to be lived.”

It was kind of a screwy time (see my A Fifties Teenager pieces) , and for me, On The Road was a one way ticket out of a suburban wasteland into a thrilling new world that made some sense. I bought it all, and I still buy it. In fact I read On The Road three or four more times at different stages of my life and each time it spoke to me in a fresh way. As I got older I saw the sadness lurking behind the kicks. I saw the hurt of best friends breaking up because they didn’t understand each other any more. Later on in the sixties, I met the real Dean Moriarity a few times. He wasn’t a bit like in the story, although still cool and crazy. And I saw that, although Jack based his book on real people, he had recreated them and made them more than they were.

I still cringe for Jack when I remember the vituperation the literary establishment poured on his head for writing such a subversive, immoral and, worst of all, sloppily written novel. Celebrity writer Truman Capote said famously about it, “That’s not writing, that’s typing!”

Today On the Road is praised across the world as perhaps the dominant novel of the mid- twentieth century – (check Google News if you doubt me). They’re even teaching Jack Kerouac in high school! – not that this is a good thing. For the book to work right, you can’t be lectured about it. But Truman must be sulking in some infernal corner. I don’t think too many people look forward to reading In Cold Blood again.

If you’ve never read On The Road, give it a shot. Forget all the hoopla. Just read the book, okay? See if it speaks – or still speaks – to you. And watch for the Saint of the Susquehanna.


Transcendental Old Donovan

Donovan fans have been begging for more stories about him now that he’s turned 61. Is the old boy driving a garbage truck? Or singing at the Coconuts Lounge in Ely, Nevada?

I just located this interview with him in the Palm Springs newspaper, and I thought I’d better share it while it’s hot.

Turns out (1) Donovan has stuck with the Maharishi all these years, (2) he believes that bringing spiritual lyrics to pop music was an intentional plan thought up by Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg in the Times Square Automat one evening in 1947 and that (3) Donovan and David Lynch are planning a future world government that will change everything in some interesting and perhaps groovy way. At least that’s what I could get out of the interview.

My Mom and Dad used to practice transcendental meditation. Mom had her own mantra and practiced TM faithfully each day. Dad liked it too, but I think he saw it more as a chance for a little afternoon nap.

Here’s the story. Your sort it out. I’m not sure I really dig Donovan that much any more. | He’s not ‘mellow’

Powered by ScribeFire.

In 1969 Jack Kerouac died…

Here’s a little poem left over from my mid-life crisis. Now that I’m up to my Medicare crisis I don’t need it any more. ..

In 1969,

Jack Kerouac died.

It was an ignominious death,

he puked his guts into a toilet,

moaned to Ste. Therese,

and left his mother to carry on.

After all those miles.

In 1969,

Some outlaws of art were still young –

rock desperadoes,

poets of armed robbery,

exiles on main street

But Neal Cassady was dead already

and John Lennon was fixin to die.

They met their rightful destiny.

But what happens to the outlaws who go free?

Whose sun-bleached hair grows grey?

Who have to walk the seacoast in a mothbitten overcoat

or raise a family?

What happens to bad mothers who don’t get shot?

when their time runs out and they’re still here?

There’s all those days to fill when the Muse won’t show – –

watering the geraniums

or teaching English to high-school gunmen

with slower draws than they had.

With sleeping in their cars,

answering the phone at the Institute for Parapsychology,

seeing their kids grow up,

looking into soft dead eyes forever in their dream.

Photo by Patrushka

Freshman English Papers

Looking back on my freshman college year, you know what’s better about today? I don’t have to turn these posts in for a grade! No grim faced professor is allowed to scratch pencil marks around the edges of each little essay. Just think – I can write a whole blog full of fragmentary sentences and there’s not one thing they can do about it!

And I do write them. Hither and thither. Sometimes you just have to go with the way the words sound. That’s how I felt then and that’s how I feel now.

On my desktop I keep a list of Jack Kerouac’s thirty axioms for modern prose. They’re pretty good and I recommend you immediately go over here and study them. You’ll notice Number 13 suggests “Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition.” He doesn’t say we don’t need to understand grammar or syntax – but don’t let them get in your way. Try to get the picture clear in your mind and go straight for it. I keep Jack’s list at hand for inspiration and to remind myself that anytime I put words to paper (so to speak), I’m part of a long line of guys who struggled their whole lives to learn how to write out of the box, how to keep their idea line as free of crap as if Keith Jarrett (a piano player I like) was writing it.

The only difference is I’m a pig. It’s hard for me to tell where my inspiration leaves off and the crap begins. Jack’s axiom #1 is the whole key, for me anyway: “Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy.” And if I make myself laugh as I type, then I figure I’m heading in the right direction.

Those professors at San Jose State in 1959 wanted me to write clean, clear prose. Like this: A plus B = C. Start with your introductory paragraph (which itself has to start with a grabber sentence), add body, then concluding paragraph. All nice and neat and when you’re done your reader thinks, “Aha – I see. Cats eat rats! Very interesting.”

Sorry, Dr. Smith. I already heard all this already in high school. Next you’ll want me to turn in my outline.

The more they tried to whip me into shape (of a square) the more I wriggled and jiggled and wandered off in four directions. It became a game. I was sublimely confident in my ability. I was convinced my English Comp professor wouldn’t know good writing if Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti broke into the classroom with their guns leveled straight at him.

I knew exactly what I was doing. I just wasn’t very good at it. Needed more practice. Still do.

I always felt when they wrote ‘spelling’ in the margin they really meant “Why can’t you be more like a girl? They check their spelling! They’re nice! They smell good! No – you’re sloppy and improvisational and you should shave off that scruffy beard if you think you’re going to get a decent grade in here.

“And what’s this? Horrors! Slang! You’ve used slang in a college-level essay! And just look at this illogical and non-parallel series of clauses and phrases. How can anyone possibly understand this beatnik prose? Why don’t you write like Ernest Hemingway? Mr. Pig, you are MUCH TOO SELF-INDULGENT! You must write to communicate, not for your own private pleasure…Tsk tsk tsk..”

And on and on. Next I was accused of ‘rambling’. What’s wrong with ‘rambling’ anyway? I’ve spent my life rambling round this country, and I’ve met a lot of funny men. Some robbed me with a six gun, others with a fountain pen. Woody Guthrie said that. There! I used an eminent authority to emphasize my point. Are you happy now?

Whatever I was doing in college, I was not here to learn how to write a simple, clear, direct essay. That was for sissies. Sissies, drones, English professors, and other bores. Funny, in later life I have come to admire that approach. I usually write to capture a feeling or a moment of time, or possibly make you laugh if I can, but if someone is writing to communicate an idea, and I can actually understand what they are trying to say – I love it! That’s the whole idea.

Don’t know quite why I rambled down this path this morning. I really meant to tell you about my beatnik-lefty-socialist seventeen year old pal Bob Gill. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t write out your outline ahead of time. By now, you’d be up to the demonstration and kids getting washed down the stairs with fire hoses and it would be really exciting. Instead I’m still sitting up in my attic room in the boarding house writing a paper I have to turn in in the morning. Wonder what he’ll say this time! I know. “You use too many exclamation marks! This reads like a comic book!”