THE LAUNCH

The Memoir

(This is chapter five of my ongoing memoir of the Internet industry.)

Most early websites were hosted by universities or research organizations, and .edu addresses (like http://akebono.stanford.edu, a comprehensive web directory called Yahoo) were far more common than .coms. There was very little commercial activity on the early Internet, and many users assumed the network would remain non-commercial forever. They were in for a rude awakening. A big controversy erupted on April 12, 1994 when a pair of married immigration lawyers Laurence Canter and Martha Siegel mass-mailed a sales message to 6000 Usenet groups. Thus was invented "spam", and a hell of an uproar that still rages today.

I wanted to create a website of my own, and I had a vague idea that I would call this website Literary Kicks and write about Jack Kerouac. But I had no idea how to get started without a university account. I accessed the Internet via my employer, Sybase.com, but I certainly wasn't going to put my own writing up on a company server. A clue finally came when my rec.music.dylan friend John Howells announced a Bob Dylan website, the Bringing It All Back Home Page, in June 1994. Howells was a corporate techie like me, an employee of Silicon Graphics, and he pointed me to Netcom.com, a private company that sold Internet accounts with public web server space for 20 bucks a month.

I signed up, but stalled when it came time to create a user name for my new account. Was I "marcstein" or "leviasher"? Tough question, but I was impatient to get started and didn't want to waste time thinking about it. I was listening to the Beastie Boys "Paul's Boutique" on headphones at this moment, and the long track that closes the album inspired me to become "brooklyn", even though I actually lived in Forest Hills, Queens (I would be stuck with this username and known online as "brooklyn" for far too long as a result of this hasty decision).

I created a few files called JackKerouac.html, AllenGinsberg.html, WilliamSBurroughs.html, GarySnyder.html, OnTheRoad.html and Lowell.html (about Jack Kerouac's hometown, which he wrote about often). Coding the HTML files from my handwritten first drafts, carefully following Tim Berners-Lee's simple specifications, was a breeze and a pleasure. I loved this Tim Berners-Lee's mind, whoever he was -- HTML was a perfect, brilliant spec. On Saturday night, July 23 1994 I announced my new Netcom URL on three Usenet newsgroups: rec.arts.books, rec.music.dylan and rec.music.gdead (there is a strong connection between Deadheads and Kerouac readers based on the mutually revered figure of Neal Cassady, the subject of both On The Road and the Dead song "The Other One").

Then I went to sleep, and in the morning I telnet'd into Netcom.com and checked my server logs. I found that over 100 pages had been accessed. The next day it was about 120, and I got several complimentary emails, though they were mostly from friends at rec.music.dylan who wanted to know why I was now calling myself Levi Asher (I had settled on this name, which I'd created for InterText, which meant I had to change my identity all over Usenet).

Several friends also emailed to say "I didn't know you were so into the Beat writers". They were right -- I wasn't. I had always liked Allen Ginsberg's poetry, but it was my big sister Sharon who had been into Jack Kerouac for years. I thought of him as a dated, macho relic from the 1950s and didn't want to read him, but Sharon (who had actually traveled cross-country, lived in Berkeley, etc.) kept hectoring me, throwing books at me, mailing me magic-marker artworks with quotes like "... a kind of beatness, I mean being right down to it, to ourselves, because we all really know where we are -- and a weariness with all the forms, all the conventions of the world ..." decorated with peace signs and flowers and hearts.

I finally read On The Road in 1992, when I was 31 years old, and then I tore through Dharma Bums, Big Sur, The Town and the City, Visions of Cody, Desolation Angels, Subterraneans and the Ann Charters biography in quick succession. Maybe the reason my musings on the Beats seemed fresh and engaging to others is that the topic was so fresh to me at the time. I wasn't unloading years of dusty thoughts about the Beats -- I was reading Gregory Corso and Michael McClure poems in the morning and writing about them that night. The idea that I was an expert on Beat literature was laughable -- I wasn't even the biggest expert on Beat literature in my own family -- but I quickly learned that the web format bestows credibility, and my knowledge of the subject would eventually grow to match my reputation.

I had an ulterior motive for wanting to write about Jack Kerouac. He was a deeply committed (though conflicted) Buddhist, and I felt a strong connection to the Buddhist religion myself. As I added new pages to my new "Literary Kicks" website -- NealCassady.html, LawrenceFerlinghetti.html, Columbia.html, GreenwichVillage.html, SanFrancisco.html, Paterson.html (about Allen Ginsberg's hometown and William Carlos Williams' poem), LeviFavorites.html (my fifteen favorite novels) I was gearing up to write the page that would be the most personal of all so far, Buddhism.html. I worked harder on this page than any other. I wrote about the historical Buddha, Prince Siddhartha Gautama, listed his Four Noble Truths, described how I'd become a Buddhist myself in my Social Studies teacher Mr. Arnold's class in 9th grade. Ironically, given the fact that I considered this page the culmination and conclusion of Literary Kicks, it garnered very little interest among my growing coterie of readers, and to this date very few people have ever mentioned this page to me.

At this point, I felt that I was done with Literary Kicks. I was very happy with the reception it had gotten, but I now wanted to create new sites about Herman Melville and Henry James and James Joyce and Franz Kafka and Joseph Conrad, and had already exhausted my own interest in the Beat Generation. I was ready to move on, but fate had other ideas for me.

There were no images on the first version of Literary Kicks -- I didn't own a scanner and didn't have time to figure out how computer imaging worked. I didn't have a page about myself, because I didn't think anyone would care who I was. I was very happy when the Yahoo directory listed Literary Kicks on their literature page, along with Project Gutenberg, Jason Snell's Intertext and another notable literary site that had just launched around the same time, Alt-X, created by a writer named Mark Amerika who was slightly well known for a good transgressive novel called The Kafka Chronicles. He and I exchanged emails, and I was impressed that Mark Amerika was impressed by me.

I didn't really like Alt-X, though. It was an earnest and argumentative site about experimental/postmodern literature, but it lacked two elements that I considered essential to good web writing: humor and fun. I wanted Literary Kicks to be a light, easy read. I had no interest in creating a site for experts in any field -- anything I would ever write would be designed to appeal to beginners. Looking back, I think this implicit approach paid off well. A junior high school student could read a Literary Kicks page and understand everything on it. I always tried to be edgy and original, but never snobby, and never "niche". Today, fourteen and a half years later, I still write with a wide audience in mind, and I always will.

Back in the summer of 1994, almost nobody used custom .com domain names for private websites. John Howells' Bob Dylan website was at http://www.netcom.com/pub/howells, and my site was at http://www.netcom.com/pub/brooklyn. There were also no credit card transactions on the Internet, so I had to pay for my account by mailing Netcom a check for $20 every month. Looking back today, I find this a very amusing fact.

There was a whole lot of future ahead for me and LitKicks, though the Beat milieu would grasp and hold me much longer than I ever wanted it to. I never would get to create my Herman Melville homepage, or my Henry James homepage. They would have been great, but I wasn't done yet with Jack Kerouac, though I thought I was.

This article is part of the series The Memoir. The next post in the series is ENTER MOZILLA. The previous post in the series is LOST IN THE SUPERMARKET.
25 Responses to "THE LAUNCH"

You're wrong! Wrong I say!

Okay, I don't have a bone to pick with anything you said here. You know, I used to tool around on the usenet and gopher and archie and stuff back in the day. In 1995, when a guy at the high school newspaper said he was making a website, I thought it was a joke. "Are you gonna make an archie site too?" I asked. I had missed the boat. It wasn't until the summer of 1997 that I made my first web page (the No Unusual Havoc site which had exploding atom bomb gifs, rotating skulls and ing titles -- yes, I was that guy. In 1998 JF Quackenbush and I made our first web zine, YankTheChain. All I'm saying is this all brings back memories...

by Bill Ectric on

That's a kick-ass shirt!

I read your page on Buddhism and learned a lot from it! I may have never mentioned it specifically, but I know I've spouted parts of it back to you from time to time.

by Duncan Brown on

The T shirt that launched a thousand undergrounds.
What a fashion statement, it's almost a novel.
As soon as I have decoded the samsara. I'll let you know.
It's not Orpheus, that much is certain.

There's an awful lot of of Bob Dylan and Gautama Buddha in the origins of these things. There is a philosophical novel to be written about Bob Dylan's influence on fashionable thought.

Now there is one Buddhist ear, the sound of clapping is the sound of a single leaf falling from a tree.

by Steve Plonk on

Levi, you appear to be similar in age to my youngest bro who turned fifty in December '08.
What an interesting tale so far about the blog's origins! Some trivia from my vault: I used to have a buttoned shirt with many shades of blue which had Kerouac's face in it along with other stars of the literary world, including stars, ringed Saturn, and galaxies.

Yep, those were the days... Guys could dress in green striped slacks and matching green shirts for St. Patricks Day and dye their hair green and still get by at certain occupations. You didn't have to be on a film crew either. Yep, now finally things have come full circle and the sixties and early seventies styles are back. Another thing, the nineties was a great time period in my life... The only thing I don't like about the "oughts" is the buzz cut hairstyles. But we had a war going on back in the past, too, so we had to wear it that way for a time. I swore to myself that I'd never wear my hair in another "buzz cut" after the service. But, I digress...

Back when websites started popping up all over, the newspapers actually wrote columns that rounded up a bunch of websites, gave the address, and a little information and perhaps some criticism. I discovered LitKicks by reading one of these columns - I think it was a list of sites dedicated to the Beats and I think LitKicks was mentioned as the best one.

So I went to LitKicks and there were all these articles about Beat writers. I read all of them. I not only liked them, but I liked the style. It was conversational, like someone telling a friend about Kerouac, for example.

But the article that really impressed me - maybe this is coming up - was the article where you talked about "workshopping" a story. The story started out good, but by the time it was workshopped it please the workshop attendees, but not you. That is what kept me coming back to LitKicks.

by dlt on

Henry James was no Dostoyevsky. I can understand why surface dweller Gore Vidal was a fan of his.

I read all of Kerouac back to back, barring the Subterraneans, in the early eighties, when I was in my early twenties. Big Sur cut to the core.

Wish I had a Velvets t-shirt.

by dlt on

Oh yeah, anybody ever see Love Her Madly, Ray Manzarek's rather (most?) recent film? Of course Michael McClure reads. The Special Features: Manzarek wanders (I'm on a roll, sorry), Venice Beach, comments.

by dlt on

Amazing that Kerouac wrote Vanity of Dulouz when he did/Just a few feet away from that fatal can of tuna fish. An endorsement from Gary Snyder: Kerouac knew quite a bit about Buddhism.

Having read the Mr. Arnold's post, and failing to find it with your search engine here, I wish I could comment on the depth of your conversion. I do remember that he got sacked for his proselytizing. Hopefully it was worth the karmic merit.

by Levi Asher on

Warren, here's my original post from way back when:

http://www.litkicks.com/Buddhism

Your memory is pretty good, but I only wrote that Mr. Arnold got in trouble, not (fortunately) that he got fired. Last I heard, he's still teaching there ...

by Duncan Brown on

A few salient non-literary points about Kerouac and his religious strivings-and strivings they were.
It is impossible to harmonise Buddhism with Christianity.
The whole point of Christ's existence was to correct the heretical and luminous error of Gautama Buddha's teaching.
'Bondage by birth, liberation by cessation from birth' is the Buddhist theory of the chain of karma- ie. life's a hustle of living and dying, get out of it while youve got the chance,and reside permanently in a bubble of Nirvanic bliss. Thus avoiding the cycle of birth and rebirth. And to quote that other very Karmic American soul "Meanwhile life outside goes on all around
you,.It's alright ma...."
The Eight Fold Path of Enlightenment is such a ferocious dharma it is doubtful if anyone,inclding The Lord Buddha himself ever succeeded in completing the journey intact.
Forgiveness, and Loving Charity are the essence of Christ's existence, which originates in the high and sacred waters of the Upanishads. The journey from the Upanishads to Jerusalem is Judaism,a very sorrow filled journey it is too.
Wonderful person that Kerouac is, he not an Avatar, but he does have some of the features-samskara- of the early Christain saints. But that's another story,probably even another pilgrimage.
All pilgramages involve a journey to enlightenment, but not all pilgrims become enlightened, it goes with the territory.
Persooally, I think Kerouac is the most Catholic
of American writers -even more so than Steinbeck-
and his Buddhism is like Buddhism itself, a touch too prodigal for his Catholic, possibly even Hindu soul.
Even so, none of that serves to mitigate or dull the brightness of the wonderful luminousity that is that T shirt.
By the garments that we wear,we reveal and conceal ourselves to others, very mystical things clothes.
Iv'e just been given another woollen hat, cool huh?

by sharon (your be... on

I still have a sketchbook of favorite kerouac lines. Why is it that when a Kerouac greeting card came out recently, I felt ambivalent? (Although I bought and gave them out -- you got one of course). Anyone know the feeling of having a secret passion and then one day it becomes a public passion -- and while there's validation, it's not yours anymore? I get a similar thrilled-mournful feeling when a book I love is getting made into a movie. Anyway, Levi ... I remember chatting with you about Jack Kerouac around our long red kitchen table in the middle of the night, probably while eating cinammon poptarts. I couldn't have lived without you. And I certainly wouldn't be me without you.

by sharon (levi's sis) on

Steve P ... that sounds like a great t-shirt ... do you still have it or do you have a photo of it?

by Levi Asher on

YAY! My sister has finally posted a comment on LitKicks. It's a miracle.

It was probably brown sugar/cinnamon poptarts, to be precise.

by Duncan Brown on

PS.
Levi.
Do you still have the T shirt?
To say it is a novel T shirt is an understatement, it is becoming a novel in itself.

by sharon (your be... on

Hey, I'm not that bad am I? Watch out, I might post some more.

Also, I thought cinnamon poptarts automatically meant brown sugar/cinnamon poptarts. And no frosting!

by Bill Ectric on

What is the book in the lower left of the picture, with the circle on the cover?

by Levi Asher on

Correct, no frosting!

Bill, I wish I had a more exciting answer, but that book is a paperback dictionary. Possibly Merriam-Webster. There were no online spell-checkers back in the days, so I did it the old way.

by Steve Plonk on

Sharon, yeah somewhere I have a photo of me in my planets & stars literary shirt. It is in black & white and in a footlocker in the basement. I have a grimace on my face because it was to be a passport photo... However, the shirt was reduced close to tatters after wearing it several days during the 1971 Festival of Life and Winter Soldier demonstration. I also wore it to the 2nd Earth Day demonstration several days before the latter.

( Note: We had to clear out in a hurry because the national guard and police were arresting people (around 7,000 of them) and imprisoning them in DC stadium.)This was during the fore and aftermath of the MayDay demonstration. Our camping permit had expired. The history books tell us that the '71 mass arrest was the biggest roundup since the Wobblies and striking miners were arrested and put in boxcars and tracked out to the desert east of Bisbee, Arizona in the early 1900s during the Palmer Raids...Once again, I digress. My blue shirt lasted about another year before I had to put it in the rag bag.

by sharon on

Steve, I think it would be a perfect time to go into your basement, get that photo and post it...

by Bill Ectric on

Steve, we want to see the shirt!
Come on, it's not fair to tell us about it and then not show it!

by Steve Plonk on

I'll have to dig around to find the "shirt picture". Also, I don't have the tech skills to post pictures. Sooo, I'll have to get either my busy wife or daughter to help me. Finally, I'm a bit shy so I hesitate to post a picture of myself. I can't promise anything at this point.
I really do appreciate the interest in the old shirt.

Your use of "brooklyn" as an Internet moniker inspired me to use "morocco" in a similar way. That is my handle on LitKicks (if I could just remember my password).

by mike on

Great Stuff, cool read, it's not my cup o tea to read online but this one has me hooked. Did I miss chapter 4, I can't seem to locate it ?

by Christian Scott on

The meaning is beautiful and it says something to me that makes me feel as if I am no longer alone in the world now I know that I am not the only one who thinks that.

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