Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Memory Babe archive, Part 1

On Monday, a friend and I are meeting in Lowell, MA with the express purpose of visiting the Memory Babe archive at the Patrick J. Mogan Cultural Center, part of the Lowell National Historic Park.

Click here for a link to the contents as posted by the Cosmic Baseball Association 14 years ago. My understanding from talking to librarian Martha Mayo in Lowell last October is that the archive is accessible, whereas there was a time when access was being litigated and, according to some, access was being denied. I don't want to open up that whole can of worms because it always ends up in the same place: accusations and vitriol. And Jack rolls over in his grave every time it happens. Don't even try to go there with comments about this post: they won't get published.

Gerald Nicosia's Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac is an early, oft-cited, and comprehensive Kerouac biography. As such, this archive is of note, Does the book contain mistakes? Of course. All biographies do. Is there controversy surrounding the author and his longstanding battle with the Sampas family over various estate-related issues? Yes. So what?

Gerry may be a controversial figure in the minds of some, but that doesn't discount the merits of his work. The archive includes over 150 people on tape, including Kerouac friends, family, and intimates who are no longer alive! How can one not be excited about that treasure trove of information?

With regard to the author himself, I count him as a friend. He has never been anything but gracious towards me, and his knowledge of Kerouac and the Beats never fails to astound me. But that is irrelevant to the case at hand and I only bring it up for the sake of transparency. The merits of the archive itself are why we're visiting it.

Suffice to say that, assuming we get access, there are a myriad of materials of interest. The Center is only open 1:30 - 5:00, so we will have to prioritize what we look at and listen to.

If there is something in the archive that  you think we should give particular attention, let us know with a comment. No promises.

I'll post Part 2, a follow-up to our visit, next week.

No trip to Lowell is complete, of course, without a visit to Jack's grave. I'll post pictures.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Happy Birthday, Gregory Corso

Gregory Corso was born this date in 1930. He became associated with the Beat writers after meeting Alan Ginsberg in 1951 (see Character Key to Kerouac's Duluoz Legend).

In honor of his birthday, I suggest you read some of his poetry.

Click here for a place to start.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

"Visions" in Kerouac's On the Road

Have you ever had a "vision" (the mystical kind)? Kerouac certainly seems to have been familiar with the experience. I was wondering just how many specific references to "visions" Kerouac made in On the Road, so I found as many as I could and listed them below (in order as they appear in the novel). I tried to make this an exhaustive list, but I may have missed something. Note that I didn't include a passage unless the word "vision" was in it (so, for example, I did not include the passage about the Shrouded Traveler in Part 2 Chapter 4). I'm not standing behind the accuracy of these quotes since I cut-and-pasted from here and only fixed up obvious errors. I avoided page numbers since we all use different editions. Have fun!

Part 1 Chapter 1
And a kind of holy lightning I saw flashing from his excitement and his visions, which he described so torrentially that people in buses looked around to see the "overexcited nut."

Somewhere along the line I knew there'd be girls, visions, everything; somewhere along the line the pearl would be handed to me.

Part 1 Chapter 3
Now I could see Denver looming ahead of me like the Promised Land, way out there beneath the stars, across the prairie of Iowa and the plains of Nebraska, and I could see the greater vision of San Francisco beyond, like jewels in the night.

Part 1 Chapter 12
And here my mind went haywire, I don't know why. I began getting the foolish paranoiac visions that Teresa, or Terry-her name-was a common little hustler who worked the buses for a guy's bucks by making appointments like ours in LA where she brought the sucker first to a breakfast place, where her pimp waited, and then to a certain hotel to which he had access with his gun or his whatever.

Part 2 Chapter 3
I have visions all the time," said Ed Dunkel, nodding his head.

Part 2 Chapter 7
You had a vision, boy, a vision. Only damn fools pay no attention to visions. How do you know your father, who was an old horseplayer, just didn't momentarily communicate to you that Big Pop was going to win the race? The name brought the feeling up in you, he took advantage of the name to communicate. That's what I was thinking about when you mentioned it. My cousin in Missouri once bet on a horse that had a name that reminded him of his mother, and it won and paid a big price. The same thing happened this afternoon." He shook his head. "Ah, let's go. This is the last time I'll ever play the horses with you around; all these visions drive me to distraction."

As we ran I had a mad vision of Dean running through all of life just like that -his bony face outthrust to life, his arms pumping, his brow sweating, his legs twinkling like Groucho Marx, yelling, "Yes! Yes, man, you sure can go!"

Part 2 Chapter 10
It made me think of the Big Pop vision in Graetna with Old Bull.

Part 3 Chapter 2
"The first day," he said, "I lay rigid as a board in bed and couldn't move or say a word; I just looked straight up with my eyes open wide. I could hear buzzing in my head and saw all kinds of wonderful technicolor visions and felt wonderful. The second day everything came to me, EVERYTHING I'd even done or known or read or heard of or conjectured came to me and rearranged itself in my mind in a brand-new logical way and because I could think of nothing else in the interior concerns of holding and catering to the amazement and gratitude I felt, I kept saying, 'Yes, yes, yes, yes.' Not loud. 'Yes,' real quiet, and these green tea visions lasted until the third day. I had understood everything by then, my life was decided, I knew I loved Marylou, I knew I had to fir my father wherever he is and save him, I knew you were buddy et cetera, I knew how great Carlo is. I knew a thousand things about everybody everywhere. Then the third day began having a terrible series of waking nightmares, and they were so absolutely horrible and grisly and green that I lay there doubled up with my hands around my knees, saying, 'Oh, oh, oh, ah, oh . . .' The neighbors heard me and sent for a doctor. Camille was away with the baby, visiting her folks. The whole neighborhood was concerned. They came in and found me lying on the bed with my arms stretched out forever. Sal, I ran to Marylou with some of that tea. And do you know that the same thing happened to that dumb little box?-the same visions, the same logic, the same final decision about everything, the view of all truths in one painful lump leading to nightmares and pain-ack!

Part 3 Chapter 5
As a child lying back in my father's car in the back seat I also had a vision of myself on a white horse riding alongside over every possible obstacle that presented itself: this included dodging posts, hurling around houses, sometimes jumping over when I looked too late, running over hills, across sudden squares with traffic that I had to dodge through incredibly-" "Yes! Yes! Yes!" breathed Dean ecstatically.

Part 4 Chapter 2
Suddenly I had a vision of Dean, a burning shuddering frightful Angel, palpitating toward me across the road, approaching like a cloud, with enormous speed, pursuing me like the Shrouded Traveler on the plain, bearing down on me.

Part 4 Chapter 3
We saw a vision of the entire Western Hemisphere rockribbing clear down to Tierra del Fuego and us flying down the curve of the world into other tropics and other worlds.

Part 4 Chapter 5
I looked out the window at the hot, sunny streets and saw a woman in a doorway and I thought she was listening to every word we said and nodding to herself--routine paranoiac visions due to tea.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Never never on a Monday

I haven't been posting a lot of late, and if I bothered to analyze the data I suspect Mondays would rank low on days most likely to post. In that spirit, here is a Monday post with apologies to Petula Clark (with whom there is a Kerouac connection but I will leave it to your Googling skills to determine what it is).

The above is from Lisa Brown's blog, 3 Panel Book Reviews. Click here for more of her work. I got a kick out of it and thought you might, too.

Yass, yass, and yair!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Your Sunday Kerouac

If it weren't for work, one could get some stuff done. Like blogging. Or practicing the guitar. Or writing poetry.

I know, I know: I've got all the time there is and it's a matter of how I use it. I could practice the guitar instead of watching Black Sails or any of the other TV series I'm hooked on. I could write poetry instead of catching up on Facebook.

I could blog instead of eating breakfast on Sunday morning (when I usually make myself some eggs instead of pouring my breakfast out of a cereal box and a milk jug).

No, I'm not skipping breakfast -- but I am delaying it long enough to post something. Anything.

The blank screen taunts me. Wait. Wait. I feel an inspiration coming around the corner of my mind.

Got it. I'll give a shameless plug for my book, The Beat Handbook: 100 Days of Kerouactions. Why? Because I just retrieved the Sunday paper from the front porch and just about put my back out lifting it from all the advertisements. Sunday is advertisement heavy, at least for the newspaper, so we'll follow suit. Besides, I haven't plugged my book in a while.

Part companion reader (to On the Road and The Dharma Bums), part memoir, part journal (lots of white space to write in), The Beat Handbook takes the reader on a  journey through two of Kerouac's novels, riffing on passages that answer the question, "What would Kerouac do?" My premise is that to discern the answer to that question, one need only know what the characters in his novels do (since they are quasi-autobiographical, that is, roman à clef). There are 100 entries (hence the title) that wander through the The Dharma Bums and On the Road in order, analyzing various passages in a sometimes humorous and sometime serious attempt to apply a Beat character's behavior ("Kerouaction") to today's world. Each entry includes a suggested "Kerouactivity" and a place to write about your attempt.

For the Kerouac or Beat aficionado in your life, The Beat Handbook makes a great gift and it's easily obtainable on Amazon. If you want an autographed copy, we can work that out via e-mail

There, I feel better. I blogged and I hawked my book.

Insert bon mots here!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Kerouac's Mexico City Blues cut-ups: bitchy wine

Cut-up from the 42nd and 43rd Choruses of Jack Kerouac's Mexico City Blues
("bitchy wine" caught our attention)

Today the students in my First Year Seminar (focused on Jack Kerouac) read aloud choruses from Mexico City Blues and then applied a Burroughsian cut-up method to their selections. Click here to see the result.

The pages aren't all oriented the same way so you'll have to use your PDF Rotate tool, but I think it's worth the effort. Most students cut-up two choruses into 8 segments with one horizontal and one vertical (navigating between whole words) cut per chorus and randomly pieced them back into two poems. They've identified the source by chorus number in case  you want to see the originals. (We used the 1990 Grove Press edition.)

The checkmarks started out as a "vote for your favorite" activity but I don't think it came to fruition so don't put much stock in them.

If you take the time to read all of these, you may see some mad phrases worthy of "borrowing" for  your own poetic inspiration, giving Jack credit, of course.

P.S. Kudos to my students for being good sports and going along with activities like this even when they are not directly tied to a "grade." 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A unique and special Happy Birthday to Jack Kerouac

Half of our Kerouac class (posted with permission)
The other half of our Kerouac class (posted with permission)

As some of you know, I am currently teaching a college course focused on Kerouac. Our class meets Tuesdays and Thursdays. Since Jack's birthday was going to fall on a class day (today, March 12), last week I asked the class what we should do to celebrate.

One student suggested we eat apple pie and ice cream since that is what Sal ate all across the United States in On the Road, I could say nothing except "That's a great idea!" I must admit that while uttering that phrase, in my head I was running through the logistics of feeding 18 college students.

Today, on his birthday, we honored Jack Kerouac in our class in three ways. We ate apple pie and ice cream. Jack would have appreciated that. While eating we listened to Wardell Grey and Dexter Gordon ("The Hunt") and other jazz musicians. Jack would have dug that. At the same time, students were using Google docs to give each other feedback on their research paper outlines. Jack would have dug that as well.

Apple pie and ice cream. Jazz. Writing.

Happy Birthday, Jack. We saved you a slice and a scoop.