COLUMN TWENTY-TWO, JUNE 1, 1997
(Copyright © 1997 Al Aronowitz)
PART 2: THE BEAT PAPERS OF AL ARONOWITZ
(Photo by Jerry Bauer)
KEROUAC'S ONLY PRINT INTERVIEW
CHAPTER TWO: ST. JACK (ANNOTATED BY JACK KEROUAC)
He was dressed in one of those heavy, flannel work shirts, tails hanging loose, that he always seems to wear on the jackets of his books and that makes it seem as if only his books have jackets. He was dressed in baggy pants and old shoes and his hair, uncombed and black, was blowing in the silent February sunlight. He looked as if he had just stepped out of one of his novels, or was about to step back into one, picking cotton, perhaps, in a California field next to his girl friend, of Mexican amber, and her little son, who picked cotton faster than he could as he cut his fingertips trying to earn a day's food for the three of them and a night's love for the two, a love that had brought him to a life only a poor Mexican could know and that was both as fierce and tender as all his other loves and as restless and as short.1 Or maybe rushing in clunker shoes,2 he calls them, to catch his train as a brakeman on the Southern Pacific, running like the football star he once had been,3 or maybe just to catch it as a hobo going nowhere, seemingly, but always, really, going someplace, riding in a box car or an open gondola in summer heat or bitter cold, catching the cold, sometimes, but never the bitterness. Or perhaps smoking marijuana, in the same clothes, at a Denver society party, confounding the society at the party with a drunkenness that is so much less sophisticated than the liquored drunkenness of themselves but so much more knowing, or perhaps smoking it in a brothel on the way to Mexico City, the smoke of it turning the brothel from a place of crawling flesh to a place of fleshy enchantment. Or maybe sitting as a forest ranger, alone for two months on a desolation mountain peak called Desolation, shouting Frank Sinatra songs at the stars above or the canyons below, and hearing the canyons and even the stars answer him.4 Or perhaps racing from one of these places to the other, from the East Side to the West Coast, sometimes in 90-mile-an-hour cars, sometimes in slower buses, and once on the back of an Okie's truck, standing with other hitch-hikers, laughing , urinating into the wind, and he says woe unto those who spit on the Beat Generation, the wind'll blow it back. He was on the road in front of his house, not so symbolic as other roads he had traveled, perhaps, but certainly as unpaved, and he walked through the mud carrying a shopping bag a head taller than himself.
"Beer," said Jack Kerouac. "Refreshments for the afternoon. Come on in."
He pointed the way with a quick toss of the chin that sent his hair flying into a new state of disorder, and he walked toward a rear kitchen door, staggering, somewhat prematurely, under his load. At the door was his mother, smiling and cheerful in an unexpected clich, with eyeglasses, an apron, long, woolen stockings and a housewife's bandana tied around her head.
"Dorothy Kilgallen wrote in her column that I live in a thirty-thousand dollar mansion on Long Island," he said, his voice, like his face, youthful and tenor and full of strange, friendly gusto. "Does this look like a thirty-thousand-dollar mansion? If I paid thirty thousand dollars for it, I sure got cheated, huh? I only paid fourteen," and for the word fourteen, he dropped his voice, like the price of the house, to a near-baritone, making the fourteen sound even lower and even mysterious.
The house was like many other older generation houses in Northport,5 members of the Weatherbeaten Generation, perhaps. It was large and wooden with porches, front and rear, and a sag but no swing. It was surrounded by trees, hedges and other surviving marks of rusticity and it was covered by a recent, but unsuccessful, coat of camouflage, battleship gray.
"This isn't even our furniture" said his mother, a short, not yet rotund woman of sixty-four, who spoke with that distinct but almost indefinable accent that the French-Canadians have. "This furniture came with the house. They're always printing things about Jack that aren't true -- you know, about the Beat Generation and all that juvenile delinquency. Everybody says, "Beat Generation!--He's a juvenile delinquent! But he's a good boy--a good son. He was never any juvenile delinquent. I know, I'm his mother."
"Yeah", he added. "We're Middle Class, we've always been Middle Class. We're Middle Class just like you," and he offered to conduct a sight-seeing tour through the house. The furniture clearly was Middle Class, with overtones of mahogany and over-stuffing of couches and if it hadn't been theirs to begin with, it certainly seemed to have come from the past he wrote about in Dr. Sax, his childhood and his adolescence in the big tenement flats of Lowell, Massachusetts, where, son of a printer who was also a pool hall and bowling alley operator, he played with marbles, traded comic books, imitated The Shadow, and didn't miss any of the most important films of the Thirties, not realizing until long afterwards that what he laughed at in Harpo Marx delight was really Kafkaesque commentary on contemporary civilization.
"We got the house through an agent, a real estate agent", he said. "We saw an ad in the New York Times, and we bought it," and he pronounced the ought in bought somewhere between ought and ott, a legacy, too, of Lowell, although other aspects of his speech, his animation, his accents, his undulating rhythms, were strangely Far Western. "We bought it from the Eddys--George Eddy and Mona Kent Eddy, you must have heard of her. She wrote the radio serial--Portia Faces Life She's very famous", and there was a factualness to his very famous that sounded as if it had come from two thousand quarter-hours of listening. "She paints, too. She gave me that picture for Christmas."
He walked toward a small framed canvas above the server in the dining room, with its early American chairs and tables and all looked down upon by a modern plastic bubble lamp that hung from the ceiling, and he surveyed the painting for a moment, commenting, "Look at that, ehh?" Then he turned back and continued walking through the house, saying: "Everybody thinks I've got a couple of my books published I'm a millionaire. I've only made, maybe twenty thousand dollars, and bought this house. And all those years, and didn't get anything published, and now all of a sudden I'm supposed to be a millionaire. But nobody says anything about those eight years I didn't make any money at all, except what I made when I was working on the railroad."
In the kitchen, his mother, with an affability that apparently had endured for years, was unpacking the contents of the shopping bag, transferring the cans of beer into one of the many cabinets beneath the long counter tops that had never been imagined when the house was built. Quickly, he salvaged what he could from the bag, filling both hands. "I owe everything to her. Come on upstairs. We'll have some beer and talk."
"You go ahead," his mother said. "If I watch television, will that interrupt you?" and she sat down in the parlor to the still unexorcised thrills of an afternoon quiz show.
"I watch television," he said, leading the way up the front step. "San Francisco Beat--- you know that television show with the two big cops. Two big plainclothes cops running around grabbing these bearded beatniks. On television, yeah. And the bearded beatniks always have guns and they're beatin' the cops." He chuckled and, still chuckling, added: "I never knew beatniks had guns. And I saw Truman Capote. He said "-- and he mimicked in a high-pitched voice, easy for him -- "he said, 'Oh, they don't write, they typewrite."
He entered an upstairs bedroom that, with a desk, a typewriter, a tape recorder, books, papers, all in neat piles on the upstairs bedroom furniture, had been turned into a study. It overlooked the road.
"I don't sleep here," he said, motioning toward the bed. "I sleep in another room with the windows wide open, winter and summer. We have plenty of rooms, so we use them all. I like to sleep late sometimes. . .Don't get up till noon, one o'clock. . .I never thought I'd make money writing, either. . . Initially, art is a duty.6 It's an old theory of mine in teenage notebooks and was culled from Dostoyevsky's holy diary. In other words, when I wrote these books, I did it as a 'holy duty' and thought my manuscripts would be discovered after I was dead, never dreamed they'd make money. . ."
He offered a can of beer, punched one open for himself, took a long swallow, sat back in a chair at the desk and suddenly became engrossed in a rush of thoughts, phrases, ideas, the poetry of his brain, mouthing some of it silently to himself, his lips moving, mumbling, as he looked out the window, alone, to himself, in the room, and in his pocket a notebook and a pencil, always there, ready to catch these droppings of his mind, but he didn't take them out of his pocket, he returned to the conversation. It was about one of those nights in 1957, a year before, when he had been reading his poetry in a cellar night club, the Village Vanguard, and the newspapers, with the verbal sneers that are journalese for satire, had laughed at him. He walked over to a dresser near the bed and pulled open a drawer. The dresser turned out, like the whole bedroom, to be nothing but a front for his literary activities. Inside there were none of the bed-clothes or underclothes or other garments that might be expected in a dresser drawer but rather several piles of manuscripts, all of them quite naked, and an old, thick scrapbook, which although not quite naked, too, was losing its covers. He pulled out he scrapbook and began leafing through its pages, stopping several times but only momentarily. On one page there was a clipping from the New York Times of November eighteenth, 1939. . .
Point-starved by Tome for two straight years, Horace Mann's football squad yesterday shook off the jinx personified by the Maryland team, as Jack Kerouac a shifty, flat-footed back from Lowell, Mass., and the spearhead of the Maroon and White attack made a touchdown dash. . .
On another page, there was a clipping from another New York newspaper, unidentified. . .
. . .Lou Little is basking away up at Cape Cod and dreaming about those long runs from reverse that Jack Kerouac, sophomore wingback, is going to gear off for the grid Lions next fall. . .
He continued leafing and now there was something of an incongruity between the clippings at the front and the clippings at the back, the incongruity of sports reviews and book reviews. He opened the scrapbook, finally, to a page which contained an article about him reading at the Village Vanguard.
"Oh, it was all right, " he said. "But I guess I was feeling morbid..drunk. . ." and his voice suddenly took on that mood. "I just can't take this kind of stuff anymore"---and now, without a pause, his voice brightened with a bright idea---"I'm going to move to Florida. I'm going to get a house in the country. . .In the country near my sister's. . .Oh, about ten miles out. I'm too close to New York here. I get telegrams. . .I'm supposed to call Life today. I'm sick of dealing with brainwashed journalists who think that facetiousness is funny or that bad news better be better than good news or they'll lose their jobs. They build their own Hells.7
"That time at the Vanguard? I was drunk on pernod. That was a Sunday afternoon. They made me read something over again that I didn't want to repeat. I also read a thing where I had to sing from On the Road. . .What was horrible about that afternoon, what really upset me, you know, I had an old prep school buddy from Horace Mann, Dick Sheresky who owns restaurants around New York---you know Sheresky? Hadn't seen him for millions of years and he comes up to me and instead of saying 'Dick---there you are!' I was so decadent by this time with all these cops coming in back and saying I had to join the police union or something---police card---and big gangsters coming in or something to make me join the union, and kids pulling at my sleeves, I say"---and his voice assumed a whining wise guy's voice in an imitation of himself---"I say, 'ah Dick the Schmick,' I said to Dick. He said 'That's a good one.' He was the wit at school, he was the funniest guy. He bought me a pernod. But I wasn't polite to him or his friend. His friend turned to me and said, 'Do you think that On the Road" is a joke? I said "---and the disgust in his voice now seemed as much as disgust with himself as with the question---"I said,'Ahhh, everything's a joke!' and I walked away. . .
"Was I a Buddhist then? Well, I couldn't be, a Buddhist has got to be alone." He laughed at the thought. "A night club Buddhist!". Then he reflected for a moment. "Ahhh, I was a Buddhist, yeah. . ."
He had also read that afternoon at the Village Vanguard a selection from The Evergreen Review, one of his stories called October in the Railroad Earth.
"I can write like that," he said with a quick and sure enthusiasm. "In fact, I have a nice method for that. That's spontaneous writing. Spontaneous and before breakfast in the morning. That's when you're real fresh. You got to have a good typewriter. I could hardly sleep when I wrote that. I could hardly talk. One Friday. Fifty-three. That part in the Evergreen Review, that's only half of it. I have the other half of it untyped --- I have to retype it double spaced for the publishers." He laughed to himself again. "Ol' Truman Capote. He said "---and once more he mimicked---"'It isn't writing, it's typewriting. But it's hard to do it fast, spontaneous. . .You don't do it sentence by sentence. Sentences are stumbling blocks to language! Who in the hell started this sentence business? Like, John Holmes, I've watched him write. He writes on a typewriter so fast, but he gets stumped---he can't think of the proper word. I don't do that. If i can't think of the proper word, i just do bdlbdlbdlbdlbdlbdlbdl. Or else, bdlbdlbluuuuuuh. Right now, I'm typing up another one of my novels. . ." and he pointed into the drawer again toward the largest mass of manuscript. . ." Visions of Neal --- Neal Cassady. . .he's a friend of mine in California. On the Road was all about him. He's a brakeman on the Southern Pacific. . .Visions of Neal, that's a huge one---that's this one here. We're going to publish thirty-eight pieces of it. Seven dollars and a half. Limited edition. You see, in my serious writing, I'm Jack through it all. But everybody else, their names are changed. I always had the same names, but the editors changed them, the publishers changed them. Ray Smith is Jack, Sal Paradise is Jack, Leo Percepied is Jack. . ."
His mother smiled through the doorway.
"Am I disturbing you?" she asked.
"No!" he answered. "No! Come on in and say something."
"What should I say?" she asked, "What should I tell you? I have two children. A daughter. She's married and she lives in Florida. And Jack. He's not married. I had another son, older than him, but he died. Gerard."
"I was four," Jack said. "He was nine. That's another book I wrote. Visions of Gerard. In On the Road I wrote I had a brother, but that was really my brother-in-law. When you're writing true stories about the world you simply have to throw everybody off for the sake of the law. The rest is fiction, idle daydreams."
"There's a lot of things he wrote in On the Road," his mother said, "that really don't belong in there."
"No," he insisted. "It's all true. Neal knows it's true. Only the names are changed."
"Well," his mother said, "I'll tell you right now, he's always lived with me, outside of when he travels. He wanted to write a book, to write something different, so he asked me and he took off one day and he did. So, anyhow, after they read the book, they write an awful lot of things about him that's not so---I know, I'm his mother. He lives with me all his life. Once in a while, he takes off, he goes on a trip, he sails away to Spain, he visits all his friends, you know, for a few months, but he comes back, he always has his home with me---unless he gets married and goes away someplace. But as long as he wants to live with me, it's all right. But when he did travel, I was working, you know, while he was away. I was making good money, he never wanted for anything. He would say where to send it, and there was always money there, I used to send it any time he needed it, for food, shoes, clothes---I was working. . ."
"She was working in a shoe factory," he said.
". . .Oh, I was making good money," she continued. "We're Middle Class---we've always been that way. . ."
"We're bourgeois," he said.
". . .We never had luxuries or many elaborate things," she added, "but we always had a good home, plenty to eat---"
"Sunday roasts!" Jack interrupted.
"---New clothes to wear," she continued. "He don't wear it, but it's true. We're just like any other ordinary people, working people, go to shows once in a while, travel a little bit. As far as I know of him, he's never been a delinquent or anything. You know, because he travels around a lot, that doesn't mean anything, he's really a nice boy. And kind. He's kind to everybody. . ."
"I used to be, anyway," he interrupted again.
". . .And that's all I can say," she concluded. "He never had a beard in his life, although I think he'd be better off myself if he had one."
"Yeah," he said. "Clifton Fadiman had on TV---a guy with a beard on a motorcycle with a portable typewriter typing as he rode along."
"Two years ago, he took me to California," she said, "and he took me all around---"
"I took her to Berkeley," he said. "I used to live in Berkeley."
"And I met some of those fellows there," she said. "They didn't look bad to me---none of them acted really bad, and one of them, Philip Whalen, he was very nice.8 Well, they were polite. You know, when he wrote this book, Town and the City, he used to dress up like a bank robber. . ."
"I didn't make any money on The Town and the City," he said. "Just two, three thousand dollars."
"Oh, more than that," she said, "Four, anyhow. When you went to Denver."
"You know, I spent three years writing Town and the City", he said. "I spent twenty-one days writing On the Road. Town and the City, that was my first book, that was a novel-type novel. It had characters and development and all that. It was mostly fiction. Fiction is nothing but idle day dreams. Look what I did with Town and the City---I gave my father a nice big house, I gave my mother three daughters to help her wash the dishes, I gave myself four brothers to keep me company, protect me. Baaaaah! Idle day dreams! The way to write is with real things and real people. How else are you going to have the truth!"
"When he was writing Town and the City," his mother said, "my husband was very sick at the time and I had to work to support the house. So he stayed home and took care of his father. He could handle his father---I couldn't. You know, he had to carry him around and take him to the bathroom and clean him and all that and the things I couldn't do. And I was making enough money to support everybody because I had a good job."
"I was writing a chapter when he died," Jack said, "and I thought he was snoring in the next room, you know, a loud snore---"
"It was not a snore," she interrupted, "it was a. . ."
"Death rattle," he said. "But I was typing away, and so I missed out on it. And you know, that. . .that was terrible. I went around to go see him because he had stopped snoring, and I thought he was sleeping. . ."
"He was fifty-five." she said.
"Fifty-seven." he corrected.
"Honest?" she said. "I thought he was fifty-five."
"Cancer of the spleen." he said.
There was the quiet of sadness unwillingly remembered, of thoughts buried in the mind ten years before, but the mind is a shallow grave.
"Well, anyhow," his mother said, "I want to show you something. It's very simple. It'll only take a minute."
She walked six steps out the door and through the upstairs hall into her son's open window bedroom. "If he was so bad," she said, pointing toward a silver crucifix over the headboard, "would he have that? And that?" --- and she pointed to a string of rosary beads
'I use them
to write down
on his night table --- "He wore that around his neck, but they broke. They were blessed by Trappist monks."
Jack stood watching, holding his beer can, his second or his third, something like a sponsor, perhaps, listening to a commercial and then he pointed, beneath the crucifix, showing off with the same pleasure that it gave him, a night-light with a pull chain attached to the headboard and a sheaf of notepaper in a clipboard hanging from the adjacent wall.
"I just fixed this up," he said, pulling the string to light the bulb and taking the clipboard from its hook, from which also dangled a pencil, "I use them to write down dream thoughts. I hear them in a dream and wake up and turn the light on and write them down. You know, like Old Angel Midnight."
He read what was written on the top sheet, the previous night's message "Go, tell the ash with the fish, all he needs is illuminating. . .Man's will, which is already recorded in heaven --- strange will . . . Death makes a stand in its own darkness. I can get more grace from a snot nose wart brain. . ."
"These are what I call bedside sheets," he said, "you know, sheets hanging by the bedside."
"Who ever heard of anything---is that what you have hanging in the window there?" his mother asked. "Is that where you got the idea?"
"Huh?" he said.
"Those are bed sheets Mrs. Eddy put up---" she said.
"No," he corrected, "bedside sheets, pieces of paper hanging by the bedside!"
"Oh," she said, "explain yourself."
"I did," he chuckled. "You don't listen. You're airing sheets."
He walked back into his study and, looking at the clipboard, read again, this time slowly, so it could be copied: "Man's will, comma, which is already recorded in heaven. . .dash. . ." and then he added, almost as if it were an after thought, "strange will!" saying strange will as if it were a whistle of amazement, whew-whew! "period. . ." and liking the sound of it, he repeated "strange will!" again in tune to whew-whew! but this time more softly, "Death makes a stand in its own darkness"---and he chuckled again, and, still chuckling, continued---"I can get more grace from a snot nose wart brain"---
"Oh, God!" his mother said.
"I can get more grace from a snot nose wart brain," he repeated, chuckling all the way through, "---I can tell I was doubtful with that!"
"Who understands these things?" his mother said. "I don't."
"Well," he said, "it means I'm mad, I'm not getting enough grace, I can get more grace from a snot nose wart brain than I can from heaven. . ."
"Well, what's that mean?" she said.
"It's just a religious thought," he said, and he chanted to himself: "'Snot. . .nose. . .wart. . .brain. . .' Those are dream thoughts. I hear them in a dream and I wake up."
"You're worse than I am," she said. "When I dream about something, it's always cute."
He swallowed some beer, and, voiceless, began forming phrases with his mouth again, more thoughts, dream thoughts perhaps in the middle of the day. He looked out the window, his eyes on the road, his face as abstract as what was behind it. It was a visitation, if not of Old Angel Midnight or of Old Angel Daylight, then certainly of the Muse. But then, he seemed to have many angels and, judging by the number of drawers in the dresser and by what they contained, he seemed to have many visitations. He mumbled, with a sound intelligible only to himself, several phrases of this private imagery, which, once written, would be intelligible to so many others---others who, in the coffee shops of New York's Greenwich Village, in the bars of San Francisco's North Beach, even now had beatified him, calling him, with the same spontaneity of his typewriter, St. Jack.
"Oh, sure," he said, returning to the conversation, "they're going to write lots of books about me. . .After I'm dead? Like Hemingway. . .Criticisms. . . they have some about Hemingway already. . .Biographies. I mean before he dies". . .I'm kind of sensitive."---and there was a conveyed embarrassment in his sensitive---"I used to be a naive, overbelieving type."
"I haven't read all his books," his mother said. "He told me one time that if I read the book, On the Road, I'd get mad at him, so I read up to Page Thirty-Four---I quit. I didn't get mad at him that far back, but I will read it some day when I quiet down."
"She can read The Dharma Bums," he said, "That's nice. But I told her not to read The Subterraneans at all. . .My sister read it. She likes everything I do, my sister."
"She's a cute girl," his mother said, "wonderful girl. She's not at all like he is. Day and Night!"
"She's a bookkeeper," he said, and he took another drink of beer. "The Dharma Bums," I wrote that after On the Road came out. I said to Viking, 'I'll get you another book.' And Malcom Cowley, my editor, said 'Please write another book like On the Road" with adventures about people. Stop talking about yourself.' It's got good sentences, Dharma Bums. I spent five hundred dollars having it restored to my original way I wrote it. They. . .they took Dharma Bums and changed it---made three thousand commas and stuff, type changes, rearrangements, sentence rearrangements. I rearranged everything back to the way I wrote it. . .and got a bill for five hundred dollars. The bill said 'alterations'. But what it is is restorations! The way they fixed it was awful. They said 'That's our house style here at Viking'" and he said it sweetly,"'That's our house style here at Viking.' Did you ever hear of a house style?---Well, that's all right for newspapers, or whore houses, but not publishers. On the Road sold twenty thousand hard cover copies. And now, five hundred thousand soft covers are being sold. . ."
"Paper backs, they're called." his mother said.
"Paper backs, yeah," he said. "Five hundred thousand. A penny a copy for me. But we sold Dharma Bums to soft cover people for ten thousand. I get five. On the Road and Dharma Bums are almost even, I think now. The Subterraneans made more money than the others because MGM took it --- fifteen grand!. . .. I should have settled for ten times that much. . ."
"You know," his mother said, "when you look in the papers and read about these fellows that the movie people take their books, one hundred thousand. . ."
"A hundred and sixty-five!" he said, his voice in imitation of a headline. "I don't know anything about business. . .But it was a beginning. The Subterraneans is all over the world---Japan, Argentina, everybody's taking it'---and there was a surprise in his voice, which he quelled with another beer. "I had sold the movie rights to On the Road, too, but
then they reneged. Two thousand option money. Yeah, that was Mort Sahl and Joyce Jamison and a bunch of guys. They should have taken it. . .it's a good production. Now, nobody has it. Jerry Wald keeps writing a letter every six months, saying 'I'm thinking about it---it's a tough plot.' Everybody thinks it's sold, so they don't ask for it. In fact, I thought of making an ad in Billboard---'ON THE ROAD---NOT SOLD!' Then if I got a big chunk of money, you know what I'd do with it? Five percent in something, five percent, you know, check every month. That'd be nice. Then I could, you know, bring fellows to India and all that stuff, go out and do things, and all that money's free, see? And you'd have your check," he said, turning toward his mother.
"Well, I'm going downstairs now," she said, "and I'll make you some little sandwiches, they're not meat but I think you'll like them. . ."
"Well, finish your story," he said.
"Which story?" she said. "I haven't got much of a story to tell, outside that I was your benefactor all my life," and she laughed. "I'm sixty-three now, I'm going to be sixty-four next week. . ."
"And we're going to go to Radio City," he said.
". . ..Time flies!" she said. "God! The years go by so fast after sixty. But I don't care. If I keep healthy, that's the main thing. I got fat now, you know, I wasn't always this fat. But I stopped wearing girdles, you know, and I'm spreading. . ."
"You know, her favorite is Genevieve there on television," he said, then repeating, with a half-French pronunciation: "Genevieve. How do you spell her name?"
"Genevieve," she said. "It's G-E-N-E-V-I-E-V-E."
"Well, that's pronounced Gen-e-vieve, isn't it?" he said.
"In French, let me tell you," she said, "in French, JAN-VIEVE! JAN! JAN-VIEVE!"
"Say something in French," he said.
"Qu'est-ce-que tu veux savoir"" she said.
"She tutoied you," he said, and then he added, turning toward her and correcting her: "Tu tutoye. Qu'est-ce-que VOUS voulez savoir""
There was a pride in her French as well as a difference. It was the pride of a French which the French-Canadians believe is a preservation of the language of France before Louis XIV, when German and Moorish influences began to shape it to it's present sounds. It was the language which the emigres had brought to Canada with them, just as they had brought the name Kerouac.9 Now, of course, the name was returning to France on book covers. And when G. Claude Gallimard, the French publisher, had visited America some months before, he had said: "I must meet him. I must meet your Jacques Kerouac." And so Barney Rosset, the head of Grove Press, had arranged a dinner at his home.
"That afternoon there," he said, reminding his mother, "when the Filipino butler. . ."
"Oh, yeah," his mother said, "oh, my goodness! They gave me a couple of drinks and they made them so strong. I don't know what happened."
"We talked French," he said. "We had a big, screaming dinner, all talking French. Don Allen and Barney Rosset---you know, from Grove Press---they were quiet. They didn't know what to say. Michel Mohrt announced I was speaking pure Eighteenth Century Norman French."
"It was delicious, though," she said. "We had a wonderful dinner. I was all over the place. I had to leave the men by themselves, you know. And I played the piano, though I don't play very good, and then I went downstairs and I kidded with the butler, the little butler. . ."
"Then we started," he said, "then my mother and I started roaming up the street, hitting all the bars, Fifth Avenue, Schmifth Avenue. . . And then I was supposed to go to Holiday Magazine to meet an interviewer and we got there late. . ."
"I'll never do that again," his mother said. "Well, I had just come back from Florida, and we had settled down here, and I hadn't been to New York in quite a while, and we were having a ball out there, and. . .I overstepped my line," and she laughed. "Oh, I had too much, might as well come out with it, I had too much to drink, although I should at my age, you know, be careful. But I was having a big time. I was with him. . .Yeah, he drinks a little, I think a little too much for his own health, his own good health.
"Yeah," he said, "If I was away from home, I'd drink too much. I don't drink much here."
"In Florida, when we lived there," she said, "he didn't drink at all, only sometimes on a weekends he would go and get a little bottle if we had company ---my son-in-law would come, you know. We had beer and wine. But over here, there's always somebody coming in and out and he's been to parties around here, and, oh, my! One drink after another!"
"I wanted to come here and hide out, you know," he said, "and the guy that owns this house insists on having me meet everybody---George Eddy, you know, like Nelson Eddy. Mona Kent Eddy's husband. . ."
"I like them," his mother said, "but all their friends they want me to meet! Jack's friends, there's one I can't stand. That's right. Allen Ginsberg. Because there's something about that man I just can't stand. And I'm afraid of him. And then one time, I read a letter he sent to Jack, and he was insulting a priest, a Catholic priest that had befriended him. . ."
"He was telling Franciscan monks," Jack said, "to take their clothes off. In Italy, on a lawn outside the monastery in Assisi."
"That burned me up," she said. "And then my husband couldn't stand him, either. And when my husband died" ---
"He's one of my closest friends," Jack said. "She doesn't like my girl friend, either."
"And before my husband died," she continued, "he made me promise, never to let. . . to try to keep Allen Ginsberg out of the house. It's the only one he didn't like. . ."
"She likes Neal Cassady." Jack said.
"Neal's all right," his mother said. "He is all right. No fooling. He's a little eccentric and he loves to play the horses---that's what makes him so nervous, I guess. He used to come to our house in Richmond Hill, and that fellow couldn't stay put on the chair more than a second. He would jump from one place to another. He was always active. I never met his wife and children, though I'm told they're very nice."
Jack's mother rose off her seat on the edge of the bed and suddenly hurried from the room.
"I got a letter from Henry Miller, two or three days ago," Jack announced. "See what it says here? He says," and he turned about, picked up a sheet of paper from this desk top and began reading in a rapid, chirping style: "'Dear Jack, Right-o for all your ills, laughter. So said the master, Rabelais. Northport sounds even more remote than Big Sur'" ---and he interpolated, "That's not true." Then he continued reading: "'But no matter where you are now, you'll be pestered. I don't worry about you. You're tough, resilient, gay and suicidal in a healthy way. Carry on! Allez-y! Au bout du monde, Baudelaire. et cetera.' He says, 'One day, I'll just quit, probably with pen in hand. All the best now. Du courage, quoi! Henry.' See, he's going to write the preface for the soft cover edition of The Subterraneans."10
In a moment, his mother had returned, carrying a book that was leather-bound.
"This is The Town and the City," she said. "This is the first book that he ever came out with. Read what it says there. That tells the whole story," and she opened the book to its inside cover and a message, written in ink:
To my dear mother, Gabe---
"That's for Gabrielle," she said. "That's my name."
---From your loving son, your humble son. No mother could have given stronger support over the harsh years to her son, without which no book would have been written at all. And no mother in this world was ever so wise, so good, so dear, and so sweet as you are. Here's hoping this book will help repay you at last for a life of toil, humility and true piety and gladden your heart, and Pa's, which will gladden mine. All my love, Jean.
"That's my real name." Jack said.
"Isn't that cute?" his mother asked, and she hurried out of the room again, returning seconds later with another book. "Here's a funny one. This is The Dharma Bums---look at that," and again she turned to an inscription inside the cover.
To Ma, Timmy and Tyke---
"Aaaah," Jack said. "Timmy's gone. Got run over."
"The cat." his mother said.
"Two cats." he said.
---A third adventure to pay for the house, the cat food, the brandy and the peaceful sleep. From Dharma Bum Jack, Ti Jean. Mom, you're on Pages One-thirty-two, one-thirty-three, one-forty-eight.
"Isn't that sweet," she said, laughing, and he laughed, too. Then she went for another book, also leather-bound.
"Here's another one," she said, "this is On the Road. That's a cute one."
"It's a special bound copy," Jack said. "They only make one."
"He gave it to me," she said, and she opened it, too, to the inscription.
To ma---This book, which will buy you the little cottage you always wanted where you'll find---
"It bought this house," Jack said, with another chuckle. "Just about paid cash for it. Gave them seven thousand and then six months later gave them another seven. That doesn't include the furniture. . ."
"Oh, no," his mother added. "They're going to come and get that stuff out of here."
"That's their chair," Jack said, motioning toward one.
"They took some furniture out and left some in," shis mother said. "There's some more they have to take, like this mirror and the stuff downstairs. . ."
---complete peace and happiness for the first time in your long and helpful life. From Ti Jean, your son, the author. Jack Kerouac. January fourteenth, 1958.
"See, I get them all," his mother said. "Now I got to read them."
"She hasn't got The Subterraneans," Jack said, and then, after she had gone downstairs to prepare the sandwiches, he added: "You know, The Subterraneans, it's about a love affair with a Negro girl."
He leaned back with his beer can again, his fourth or fifth. "I can take it," he said. "You know, as I say, Li Po and all those other guys drank. Li Po, the Chinese poet" --, and chuckling: "I don't mean Edgar Allen! I remember James Wechsler---he said I didn't believe in peace. Awww, he's a politician. As Allen Ginsberg says, I'd hate to be a poet in a country where Wechsler is the Commissar of Poetry.11 I'm not interested in politics. I'm interested in Li Po. He was a Dharma Bum type. You know, a poor poet, roaming China. You know, I have some eighteen-year-old writings that are pure Buddhism. I'm thirty-seven now. My birthday's March twelfth. So I've always been a Buddhist. When I was a little kid, I used to lock myself in the toilet whenever company would come. Once they couldn't open the door---I was locked in. But all this angry hipster stuff, it's all just an overjoyed bit of life. . .you know what this is like? It's like Citizen Kane. Remember the guy in Citizen Kane going around, getting all this, seeing old Joseph Cotten at the hospital. That's me. Then he goes to see the old Jewish publisher, remember that? Everett Sloane. There was a guy going around---who was it? You know when I saw it? I saw it Pearl Harbor day. I came out of the theater and saw the headlines about Pearl Harbor. It was a Sunday night. . ."
There were lines on his face now that darkened it, no more the picture of handsome beauty that once had adorned a page of Mademoiselle magazine but the reflection of his own verbal images, with his voice constantly playing the different roles, imitating the tones of others and himself, sometimes light, sometimes broody---broody now, but even in its broodiness, still mellow.
"I was in the Navy in World War II," he said. "A few months---six months. I was discharged. Schizoid personality," and he chuckled. "They gave me a rifle and they had me marching out on the drill field, right turn, left turn, and I said, 'Awww, I don't want to do this,' and I dropped my rifle and I went into the library and I started to read. I told them, 'I don't want discipline and I'm not going to have discipline.' So they put me in the hospital. Then I went into the Merchant Marine. It was during the war, but I didn't get shot at. I mean, no torpedoes were fired at us. It was in 1940 I went to Columbia to play
'Packed my suitcase
and walked right out
in front of Lou Little'
football. I played wingback. That's in the single wing, before the T---the guy who comes around, gets the reverse and comes waaay around the other end. I only played in my freshman year. I quit twice---quit the football team twice.
"See, I played football at Lowell High. Horace Mann High, for me it was a prep school to make up credits. To make up math and French. At Columbia, broke my leg in the game, third game of the year. I was out all the rest of the season with crutches, sitting in front of the fire in the Lion's Den, eating big steaks and hot fudge sundaes. It was great! And that's when I started reading Thomas Wolfe. I had the leisure, see, to read. I went back in the fall of 'Forty-One for the season. Now I was a sophomore and I was going to be on the varsity. And, I don't know , I was getting very poetic by that time, and I'd get black and broody and everything. Packed my suitcase and walked right out in front of Lou Little. He said, 'Where you going"' I said 'Oh, this suitcase is empty. I'm going to my grandmother's house to get some clothes.' I walked out with a full suitcase.
"Then I was a big poet and wanted to go down to Virginia and see the moon shining in Virginia. I went down to Virginia." and he laughed at himself. "Then I came back to work in filling stations and everything and went to sea, went to the North Pole, in the Merchant Marine. Got back in October, 1942. And Lou Little---there was a telegram there saying, 'You can come back on the team if you want to take the bull by the horns.' I went back. Worked out a week, and the Army game came up---my great enemy, Henry Mazur, was making long runs for Army, captain of Army. Told Lou Little, 'Let me in there, man! I'm going to get him!' He's the guy in The Town and the City who pushed me out of the shower when I was a little kid. He played for Lowell High, too --- he was a senior and I was a freshman. He was mean---I was going to get him in that game. And Lou didn't put me in that game, the Army game, so I said pooh"--- and he pooh-spit---"and I quit.12 But the reason why I quit is deeper than that. I was just sitting in my room, and it was snowing, you know, the dorms, snow was falling, time to go to scrimmage, time to go out in the snow and the mud and bang yourself around. And on the radio, it started, you know ---'Dum dum dum dummmmmmmmm' --- Beethoven!---'Dum dum dum dummmmmmmm'" --- and he hummed the opening bars of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. "I said," and now he whispered, "I said 'I'm going to be an artist! I'm not going to be a football player!' That's the night I didn't go to scrimmage. And I never went back to football, see?
"And shortly after, a month or so, I left the whole college. Because it was hard to keep going to an Ivy League school if you quit your football. They make it hard for you. The Ivy League is hypocritical, you know. Oh, I flunked in chemistry. I hate chemistry. Gee, I kept cutting it, I never went to class anyway. But I had an A in Shakespeare. With Mark Van Doren. And flunked chemistry. Well, after all that, yeah, I quit college and then back to sea. Got an apartment on the campus, the Columbia campus with my first wife before we were married. And all the students used to come in with books and bottles, hang around. My apartment was a hangout for the young intellectuals of the campus. My wife, her grandmother lived right there. Her grandmother lived right there. Her grandmother was an old friend of Nicholas Murray Butler's, and they lived in an old house next to Butler's. She was supposed to be living with her grandmother, but was living in sin with me in an apartment. And in walks Ginsberg, and in walks everybody else. Ginsberg, sixteen years old with his ears sticking out at that time. The first thing he said to me was, 'Discretion is the better part of valor'--- and he imitated Ginsberg with mock freshman earnestness, and then he laughed. "He was a freshman. But after a few years of that, Ginsberg really began to develop and became a hipster---whooooh! the influence of Huncke. Herbert Huncke.
"Well, Ginsberg and I, there we are. And then there's this great figure we hear about, this great evil figure from St. Louis, Bill Burroughs. We go over, and he's just great! We sat at his feet and, well, Burroughs went around and found Huncke and found everybody else. We had a gang of friends from St. Louis. It was a St. Louis clique of rich guys from St. Louis, decadent intellectual types, fin de siecle, enfants terribles types, ugh! Allen and me? Well, we were poets together. I like the way he told long stories about New Jersey and everything. I've always had a friend like Allen. In Lowell, I had a friend, Sebastian Sampas, who was just like him---you know, always a weird, poetic, Latin type. I always had a Latin friend somewhere who was a poet, somehow. Latin? Well, I mean dark, dark, mysterious, you know. . .Sebastian died on Anzio beachhead. . .
"But, you know, Allen and I got our start forming a circle around Burroughs and the guys from St. Louis --- the whole thing really begins in St. Louis. And Harvard. Yeah, Burroughs went to Harvard. And Huncke's very important, you know, might be just as important as Neal, almost. He's the greatest story teller I ever met. I don't like his ideas about---a mugger and all that stuff. Of course, he doesn't do the mugging himself---he gets mugs to do it for him. He has a mug with him to do the mugging---he doesn't do it himself, he's just a little guy, you know. Bitter. . .or used to be, he's fine now. . .Allen and I started out among petty criminals, but we weren't criminals.13 We were students in school---I was a seaman and he was a student. We were studying their personalities for poetic reasons, like Villon. We never did anything, except that Allen didn't know how to throw them out of the apartment. Yeah, he didn't know how to throw them out---they foisted themselves on him. And there was this big, tall, six-foot redhead there, Vicky. And she's the later Liz Martin in The Town and the City. The Liz Martin starts out as my little sister and grows up into a big evil Vicky. That wasn't a well-done book, but it was a great idea. The fascination was, as Norman Mailer would say, Hip. We had been to college, we had heard all that bull, and this was a new philosophy. And it found its most beautiful flower in Neal, who wasn't a petty criminal, you know, he wasn't a criminal. Yeah, a large natured man, much too much of a nature to be a criminal. Besides, Neal's a Jesuit. You know, he used to be a choir boy. Priests cried on his shoulder. . .."
Jack's mother bustled in with a trayfull of Friday sandwiches, tiny, tasty, prepared with housewife expertness and arranged in a display meant to be too pretty to eat but too appetizing not to. He asked her to get him another can of beer.
"I had two wives," he said. "Twenty-two years old I got married, and I got married again at twenty-eight. Each time the marriage lasted six months. The first wife was a rich girl from Michigan, and we didn't have any money or anything. We kept eating mayonnaise sandwiches. Well, 'Go back home to your family and eat good!' Yeah, I was writing then. I was writing essays on Yeats. Early novels, juvenile novels I have all over the place. She was nice, and I actually sent her home because it would be better for her. But the second---I didn't like her! She didn't like any of my friends, none of my friends liked her. She was beautiful. I married her because she was beautiful. . . Did they tell you about Bill Cannastra? The guy that jumped out of the subway? He climbed out a subway window, said, 'We'll get one more beer at the Remo.' Well, he had a loft. After he died, she moved into his loft. I met her in the loft. I would wake up in the morning and look at her and how beautiful she was. And then we would have to get out of bed and go to work. She's remarried and has twins. She's alright, but she's always sending cops after me. Sending cops after me for non-support. That's why I ran away to California. . .
"My girl's name is Dody. She's a widow, she's the one that my mother doesn't like. Because she has long, long hair, she doesn't tie it up. Because she likes to go barefoot. Because she's an Indian. She's ninety-five percent Indian. My mother calls her la sauvage---the savage. You know, she's a very Bohemian painter, a very good painter. I just met her. All of us, you know, the gang, just met her. They love her, too. Allen likes her. Everybody loves her."
His mother brought him another can of beer and he punched a hole in it.
"Beat?" he said. "Yeah, I remember the scene. John Holmes and I were playing jazz records and drinking beer allllll day on a gloomy"---and he pronounced gloomy as if he were saying ugh!--- "afternoon, and we were talking about the Lost Generation and 'What's this sad generation?' And we thought of various names, and I say "--- and he half whispered it --- "I say, 'Ah, this is really a Beat Generation!' And he leaped up and said, 'That's it! You've got it!' see?" and Jack chuckled. "John says no? I remember, he forgot that. He went 'Ahhhhh', you know. He's a very nice kid, he's always enthusiastic. But anyway, then I put it in the On the Road manuscript--- the expression. But he publicized 'Beat Generation' first before On the Road was published. On the Road wasn't published for seven years. He publicized the expression in the New York Times. And I got angry. Well, because the article he wrote for the New York Times was a precis of the plot of The Town and the City. And nobody seemed to want to believe that I made up the term, 'Beat Generation'.
"I was going to use The Beat Generation for the title of On the Road, but my editor, Malcolm Cowley, didn't want to. He said, 'Oh, On the Road is a better title.' That was my original title. Then I changed it to Beat Generation and then back to On the Road. But I could write another novel and call it that--- my next novel. I'm going to call it The Beat Generation before I lose any, you know, lose out on that. I'd like to write a novel about getting published. You know, start off with me tramping along with a rucksack, all the way up to making a speech at Hunter College with James Wechsler, who accused me of not believing in peace.14 Could end it there. And, you know, include all the cocktail parties, publishers' parties, wild weekends, TV appearances, nightclubs. That'd be a funny book, huh? Call it The Beat Generation cause that's what they're all talking about. Now they're making a movie, now MGM's making a movie with that title, something about beatniks beating up housewives. But that's my title---they don't own that title! They didn't get it. We're going to sue 'em. My lawyer's going to sue 'em. My agent's lawyer. Sue 'em for the title. . .
"Allen. . .Allen said that Huncke said it first. . .'Beat'. . .But Huncke didn't say 'Beat Generation'. He just said 'beat'. We learned the word from him. To me at first it meant being poor and sleeping in subways, like Huncke used to do, and yet being illuminated and having illuminated ideas about apocalypse and all that. It was quite different then. Then I went to Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1954. Got a room in Skid Row near the depot. Walked twenty miles around Lowell every day. Went to my old church where I got my first confirmation. Knelt, all alone, all alone in the church, in the great silence of the church. . . And I suddenly realized, beat means beatitude! Beatific! I was beatific in the church. . . See? It doesn't apply to anybody else, I don't think, the remembrance of your first vow."15
"What does it mean today? Beat Generation. . .Well, there was an article in the paper yesterday. A young kid with a beard. Said that Johnny Jones of East Islip, Long Island, over here, went to San Francisco to be a beatnik. Stayed there, lived in a cold water pad, he wrote poems and he hung around with Negroes and jazz musicians. Finally he gave up in despair and called his mother long distance and cried and now he's coming home and shaving off his beard. You see, this is silly, it has nothing to do with the serious artists who started the whole thing just by, you know, writing the poem, writing the book. It's just a fad, just like the Lost Generation. I really think it's just a generation fad. On the Road was about what happened ten years ago. Today it's become famous and popular. . ."
He rose up from his chair with an invitation to follow him and walked into another bedroom, this one almost bare of furniture but with several large, recent canvases leaning against the wall and with a smaller one on an easel.
"I'm just starting to learn." he said, picking up a brush and dabbing at an indistinct brown figure against the vast green background of the canvas on the easel. "My girl friend is showing me how. She's a very good painter. Her husband was a famous young German Expressionist. She has a loft full of his paintings, must be worth thousands of dollars."
He stood there a short time, displaying the canvasses and talking about painting with a relish as green, perhaps, as the canvas on the easel, surprised that he could paint at all, surprised that anyone would compliment his paintings, surprised almost, that talent could be universal. But his business was with literature.
"See," he said, returning to the study, "Allen and Gregory--Gregory Corso--like they come up to me at midnight and say" -- and he imitated Allen with an excited half-whisper--"and say, 'Look, we've done all this, we've made great literature. Why don't we do something REAL great and take over the WORLD!' And Gregory says, 'I'll be your HENCHMAN!' You know, half joking. I say, 'Yeah,' and his voice cracked in innocent simplicity as he imitated himself saying Yeah---"but I just want to be Cervantes alone by candlelight.' And they both say 'What would you do if you conquered the world, what would you do with it? It'll cough and won't let you sleep all night,' you know, quoting from Howl. And I really do want to go away, you know, in the country and spend long, long times just being an old Japanese haiku poet. An Emily Dickinson type man. I can't stand the hectic, public eye, you know. I like to go out and get stoned Saturday night with a gang of guys and girls, but I don't like the official connotations. But Allen and Gregory, they just love that. They'd love to be big. . .to be riding in green Chrysler squads and all that stuff. They'd love that. Gregory, he's kidding all the time. . .when he says that. And Allen. . .Allen is the sweetest man in the world! And I've thought about him for years as being the devil, see"--- and he dropped his voice to mimic an inner one, speaking in a nervous, ominous undertone---"'see, 'he's' the devil, he's the devil'"-- and then he raised it again, saying: "Sometimes I thought,"--- and he dropped it once more---"'No, I'm the devil.' But now we've both got older and I realize he's not the devil at all. I used to tell him, 'You're the devil.' He'd say, 'Don't talk like that!' Now I realize he's the sweetest. . .
"He doesn't drink much. He's had a lot of dope, you know. That guy's had more dope, heavy dope, you know, in the arm, than anyone I know that didn't become a dope addict. Great will power! Great will power! Experiments. I've had a lot, too. But I didn't have to use will power because I have an allergy to it. I keep throwing up. Yeah, I've had a lot. Not now, though. Like, I'll go to Tangier and see Bill Burroughs and he'll say, "Well, boy, how about kicking the gong around tonight and get some opium!' Or else I go to Mexico City and see old Bill Garver. He'll say, 'Well, I'll give you a shot of morphine.'" --- and he imitated Bill Garver with a Mid-Western twang and then he imitated himself: "'Okay, Bill.'. . . Well, what happens when you take it is you throw up. But after you throw up, you lay in the bed for eight hours, great for your mind. Great to get rid of your liver bile, too. Burroughs, he was 'Old Bull Lee' in On the Road. Actually, there was none of that gang who was really bad, except one guy named Phil. He was "Mad Killer' in 1945. He used to kill storekeepers, but we didn't find out about that until later when he was arrested. He hanged himself in the Tombs."
He arose again from his chair and stepped to the dresser, where he pulled open another drawer. Inside were piles of notebooks, small, five-cent, pocket size, like the one protruding from his back pocket now, each pile with fifteen or twenty notebooks bound together with rubber bands, the piles in neat rows, one next to the other, filling the drawer.
"Novel," he said, tapping a pile, "novel," he said tapping another, "novel," he said, tapping a third, "novel," he said tapping a fourth, "novel, novel, novel," and he waved his had over the rest of the piles. "That's the way I write 'em---like that! See, Truman Capote said I always typewrite. I wrote half of them in pencil. Like Visions of Neal, my greatest book, right there. Visions of Neal. All in pencil. Here's The Dharma Bums"---and he pointed to a manuscript typewritten on a roll of teletype paper. "It's a hundred feet long. I wrote On the Road on another roll---on Cannastra's paper, a roll of Cannastra's drawing paper that you draw through.16 For Dharma Bums I could afford the teletype roll. Three dollars," and he laughed. "On the Road, I gave that roll to Viking. It was all no paragraphs, single-spaced---all one big paragraph. I had to retype it so they could publish it. Do people realize what an anguish it is to write an original story three hundred pages long?
"See, I changed my style from The Town and the City because of Neal--Neal Cassady. Because of a forty-thousand-word letter that Neal wrote me. He wrote me a forty-thousand-word letter! But Allen lost the letter, or Gerd Stern did, actually. Gerd Stern, he lived on a barge in Sausalito. He lost that great letter, which was a work of literary genius. Neal, he was just telling me what happened one time in Denver, and he had every detail. It was just like Dostoyevsky. And I realized that's the way to tell a story---just tell it! I really got it from Neal. So I started to tell the story just the way it happened, too. The Town and the City was fiction, you know, mostly. But in spontaneous prose, you just tell what happened. You don't stop, you just keep going. That's the way Neal wrote me the letter. You get excited in telling a story, like Homer probably did. Spontaneity is also in Shakespeare, you know. His publishers say that all his manuscripts were brought in---he brought them in clean, without a mark, without a change, without an addition, without an erasure. They said that he was such a perfect writer, that he just flowed right along. I believe it. Nobody can prove it, but that's what I think. I can tell by the swing and rhythm of his speeches. So, I get this from Neal, I wrote On the Road about Neal. He was the prototype for Dean Moriarty in On the Road.
"Neal. . .Neal was discovered by Denver Doll, by the guy who was the prototype for Denver Doll in On the Road. But Malcolm Cowley made me take him all out of the book," and he laughed. "Because he's a lawyer. He's the guy who developed Neal, see? He discovered Neal. Neal was an urchin. It's a real Charlie Chaplin story, and he's a real Charlie Chaplin. Yeah! Justin W. Brierly"---and he pronounced Justin W. Brierly as if he were sitting in a Mid-West Elk's Club with a large cigar in his mouth. "He's a lawyer. That's why they were afraid of him at Viking. He went to one of his clients who was a drunken Indian. Knocked on the door, and the door was opened by a fifteen-year-old boy with a big hard-on. Neal. Screwing the maid upstairs. Denver Doll said, 'Well, what is this"'"---and he imitated the voice with the cigar in his mouth---"He said, 'My dear fellow,' he said, 'your ears aren't washed.' Took him home and made him wash his ears. Made him go to school. Made him read literature. Made him read Schopenhauer. See? Wrote long letters to Neal's warden in reform school. We see now that he was a wise, perceptive man to believe in Neal.
"So this guy, who is a member of the Columbia Alumni Association, see, this Denver Doll, the old lawyer, he was going to get Neal into Columbia. And Denver Doll kept coming to New York on big trips to see Hall Chase, Ed White and all the Columbia boys, and there was Ginsberg and Kerouac hanging around Hall chase and Ed White, the Phi Beta Kappa scholar. So, rumors of Neal began floating around, and he finally came. Quite a story, at that! Completely complicated by Dostoyevsky."
Outside the sun was ice and twilight, and he began changing his clothes, putting on a pair of slacks, a sport shirt and a jacket. He walked downstairs and his mother made him put on a tie as well, a Continental bow tie, the latest style then, and she had bought it for him as a gift.
"See," she said, " I told you he has new clothes. He wears them sometimes," and she smiled again.
He kissed her goodbye, it was time to go, he had an appointment in New York, and he was getting a ride. The author of On the Road didn't own a car.
"See," he said outside, "I'm going to move to Florida, close to my sister. I want my mother to be close to someone when I'm not home, when I'm traveling. When I'm traveling. When I'm on the road. Like tonight, I'll go away, I'll be away all weekend, and my mother will be home alone in that big house. She gets frightened. I don't like to think of her home alone there. . ."
He fingered his bow tie. Later, when he got to New York, he took it off in a barroom.
"But Neal," he said, "Neal knows me better than anybody else. Neal knows way down deep what I really am. See, Neal is more like Dostoyevsky, he's a sex fiend like Dostoyevsky, he writes like Dostoyevsky. I got my rhythm from Neal, that's the way he talks, Okie rhythms. Like"--and he imitated, perhaps Neal Cassady, perhaps himself---"Like, 'Now, look h'yar, boy, I'm gonna tell you what see? You hear me boy?'---That's the way he talks. I've written three novels about Neal and a play---On the Road, Visions of Neal, and Desolation Angels and Beat Generations, that's the play, we're making a little movie out of the third act. Called Pull My Daisy. Neal. . .Neal was a great Midwest Poolroom Saint. Neal Cassady and I love each other greatly."
1"I put "cut fingertips" instead of "mincing" to describe the effect of inexperiencedly picking cotton (also, "mincing" sounds funny, like I was a fairy)" Jack Kerouac to AGA, Jan 12, 1960.
2"My shoes were 'clunkers', not clunkety-clunk, in Railroad Earth." Jack Kerouac to AGA, Jan. 12, 1960
3"I put in proper 'was' for football star, as clippings (enclosed with this letter --ed.) prove, and please, Al, send the clippings back (one sports reporter on Newsday, Stan Isaaccs, doesn't believe I was a football star, and others too, like I suppose people wouldn't believe that Herman Melville was a whalingman)" Jack Kerouac to AGA, Jan 12, 1960.
4"Various inserts. . .singing to Frank Sinatra, 'up the stars', etc., are obvious, and you should put them in for accuracy and tome of article" Jack Kerouac to AGA, Jan 12, 1960.
5Kerouac cut the word 'Northport' and changed it to 'Long Island'. "Yes, Sterling (Lord, Kerouac's agent) and I do not want mention of Northport; you said that 'it should be left in the record that I once lived there." I STILL live there; I do not want carloads of zen beatnik hipsters scouting my yard and house? How'd you expect me to get work done here? Have you no idea of the number of people who would like to 'meet' me and visit me? Don't you know it runs in the thousands and thousands, mostly teenagers full of insane desire to be big Dean Moriarty's? And all kinds of people, even recently some of Carl Solomon's (friend of Kerouac and Ginsberg, to whom Howl was dedicated --ed) friends from the nut-house got on my milk route and what can you really expect from them? My mother is old and quiet and needs her quietness at home. Well, now you understand. Jack Kerouac to AGA, undated.
6The last two sentences of that paragraph are an insert by Kerouac. Jack Kerouac to AGA, Jan 12, 1960.
7"A long insert about what I think about Life Magazine, etc. 'Brainwashed journalists who build their own hells.' If you don't put these things in I'll know your article on the Beat Gen. was a hatchet-job ordered by Wechsler. . ..but this volume is not for the Post, it's for posterity" Jack Kerouac to AGA, January 12, 1960.
8"When my mother said she liked 'one of them' in Calif. she meant Whalen" Jack Kerouac to AGA, Jan 12, 1960.
9"In the French-talking part, where I say 'tu tutoye' you don't use an accent egue over the 'e' in 'tutoye' (present tense). . . And in French the name is Kerouac with the accent egue. And Michel Mohrt did say the french my mother and I spoke was pure 18th century Norman French, which was substantiated recently by visiting Quebecois scholar here at the house. In other words, 'French-Canadian' is a pure preservation of old pre-Louis XIV French before the influence of Moorish and Germanic on the French language which has now resulted in 'Parisia' guttural that you hear in French movies (however NOT in Jean Gavin and Maurice Chevalier, by the way, who are Normans). This is facts. Do you realize that everybody in Quebec is delighted with the French in Doctor Sax?" Jack Kerouac to AGA, January 12, 1960.
1 0"Don't say that I read Henry Miller all my life, it just isn't true, I did read Louis Ferdinand Celine, from whom Miller obtained his style. I never could find a copy of the Tropics anyway. I think Miller is a great man but Celine, his master, is a giant." Jack Kerouac to AGA, Jan 12, 1960. Miller did not, as it turned out, write the introduction to The Subterraneans. (ed.).
11Allen Ginsberg did say 'I'd hate to be a poet in a country where Wechsler is the Commissar of Poetry' so there's no harm in that insert, factually, and are you afraid of Wechsler? I'm not and never will be." Jack Kerouac to AGA, Jan 12, 1960
12"I didn't 'spit' talking about Columbia football, I wouldn't spit on my mother's floor. . .I went 'Pooh!'. . .I 'pooh-spit'" Jack Kerouac to AGA, Jan 12, 1960.
13"Huncke was once bitter but isn't anymore. . .has sweetened completely. . ." Jack Kerouac to AGA, Jan 12, 1960.
14 "I repeat that James Wechsler accused me of not believing in Peace, which is a terrible thing to say about anybody who is not a munitions maker" Jack Kerouac to AGA, Jan 12, 1960.
15 "For 'beatific' paragraph I clarify about 'first confirmation' as my 'first vow'-- this is extremely important and clear. . .that's why it doesn't apply to 'anyone else' in the beat gen." Jack Kerouac to AGA, Jan 12, 1960.
16 See note #1, Beat.
Final note, "In any case, apparently what Allen wants you to do is to abandon this project entirely but it's too late. So in putting in these inserts, corrections, additions and deletions I'm doing the best I can do to promote a hopelessly committed venture. I want you to know that in discussing Cassady, Ginsberg, Burroughs, myself, Orlovsky and Corso you're dealing with some great American writers, the greatest since the Transcendentalists (Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman, Dickinson) and your name will go down with us or up with us. You will go 'up'! You must realize that what we mean by 'shallow journalism' is simply the failure to give complete tragic detail to your facts for the sake of 'sensational' touches. These 'sensational touches' are only sensational today, not tomorrow, when a posterity will want to know every detail and fact of this our sad life today. You know for instance that I, as author of Doctor Sax am no clown-drunkard merely. That I am a man of stature which will be recognized when the dust settles. A lot of jealous critics hate us, you know that. Corso and Burroughs have produced tremendously great work. You've got to give them your loving attention when you talk about them. A Certain Party does seem to put poor Allen Ginsberg in a silly light. If he grabbed a Harper girl by the neck I'm sure there was a certain charm in the way he did it, which you don't mention at all. You make him look like a hood. Why? Did Wechsler ask you to do a hatchet job on the beat generation on account of I called him a shit at Hunter College? Is that why? Are you truly sad and repentant when you come into Allen's kitchen and apologize or is that just your technique to get the story? Are you just buttering these young struggling artists (including myself) in order to make fools of them? If so, your reward will not be huge. In fact I can expose you in my Escapade column any time. But I think you're sincere and what you say about journalistic stringencies is accurate. I don't know. The whole thing has been a sad mess, that young kids in this country instead of yearning to be jet pilots should have turned their attention to Rimbaud and Shakespeare and struggled to draw their breath in pain to tell a brother's story.
(Jack Kerouac to AGA, Jan 12, 1960) ## NEXT--PART 3: THE BEAT PAPERS OF AL ARONOWITZ/ CHAPTER THREE: DEAN MORIARTY (ANNOTATED BY JACK KEROUAC)
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