By Jim Stedman
In my efforts to pull on the shirtsleeves of them that were left of the Beat Generation, i came across some works edited by one John McVey Montgomery, who (according to Ann Charters) appeared as the cameo character Henry Morley in Jack Kerouac's book "The Dharma Bums". Morley was the clownish character who rambled through the Sierra bramble, accompanying Jack and Gary Snyder until realizing that he'd forgotten to drain the water from his auto's radiator. Morley turned back, heading down the trail and waving over his shoulder that he'd join his companions at a later tick of the clock, only to disappear
John M. Montgomery edited a number of books about Kerouac, and I ordered these from the publisher, Fels and Firn, attaching a note to John on the order. As I suspected, Fels and Firn was John, and he was pleased to hear from me, pleased to receive a check, and pleased to engage in a correspondance that lasted for five years.
When I'd least expect it, I'd receive a postcard or letter from John, each one typed out in an odd font. He would respond to questions, ask questions of his own, or talk-up the idea of having the library in Marquette, MI, order his books and sponsor his coming to town to talk about Jack and, well, everything.
At one point, I asked John what he thought about Jack Kerouac's attitude regarding the working class. His response was:
While Jack and I never talked about the working class, I don't think he
thought of it as a political class. He wanted to go back to Cape Cod to
live at the end and has got Memere to agree (sic) He never liked Florida and
went there only as a trade with Memere when she agreed to try and regain
her strength after her stroke, and was sore that she did not take
physiotherapy or exercise. He also told Stella he planned to divorce her. I
don't know why he moved to Hyannis or Northport but he went to bars where
clammers went in Northport. Bob Boles is a source for what went on in
Hyannis, but I don't know where Boles is. I don't think Kerouac liked working at
"jobs" thus I don't think there was any guilt regarding that. He thought of his
writing as work but he was inconsistent also waiting for bursts of
inspiration so that he would write
long hours for several days trying to write a whole book. It was a negative
thing about the workers. He distrusts people with money partly because of
what he saw at Horace Mann. I think it was inherited from his parents. He
distrusted professors and was apprehensive when he had to make an
appearance at Lowell House at Harvard. So that is he felt more comfortable
with working, that is, uneducated people. Most of his reading with an idea of
imitating as a writer was done in high school. He read and studied all his life
but not particularly for literature. He read McCluhan in about 1965, for example.
The Buddhist period meant heavy reading but then he ended it and went on. My
ideas come from reading Kerouac's books. I think the 4 chaplains and the
sinking of his ship, the Dorchester, might have given him some feeling of
guilt but the main reason for the guilt was being brought up by nuns
until he entered a different school for the fourth grade. Kerouac did not
feel guilt as to sex like many Catholics but he did not want marriage.
He was of course shocked to learn of Edie's abortion. Jack was friendly and
loyal to his nephew Paul Jr., whom I met. Marriage would have meant that
Kerouac would have had to reduce his nights in bars and at the homes of his men
friends and he did not want to give that up. I think Kerouac was satisfied
with his books though he did say that he could do no better than "Visions of Cody."
He stood by his books and I do not think he recanted. He did tell me that "On The
Road" and "The Dharma Bums" were potboilers and that he would not write any more
potboilers. He said it was truer to call himself Jack than John as he did in
"Town and the City." Well, I don't claim to have all the ansers but most of the
writers about Kerouac are a bit twisted in my view. That's why my books on Jack are as
far as possible writ by people who knew him and I did not edit them.
(sales pitch deleted)
Best, John Montgomery
In the Fall of 1992, I received the following letter:
To the Friends of John Montgomery:
My father, John Montgomery, died of a heart attack on Friday, June 5, 1992, at Kaiser Hospital in San Rafael. He had been hiking at Kent Lake in Marin when he had his first heart attack, and we had a week of visits together before he passed away from a second one. I found your name in his address book and thought you would like to know. I am asking those who knew him if they would write about how they were connected to him and a memory or two (an anecdote or whatever you wish to share with me) for a festschrift. If you would like a copy of this, please let me know and I would be happy to send you one.
Memorial services were held privately by the family.
Laura Montgomery Petersen
I wrote back to John's daughter, explaining our connection, and included a cryptic sort-of poem for the collection.
I had found John to be a very loyal correspondant. Extremely witty and verbose and obviously cosmos-knowledgeable, John Montgomery was every bit the madman that Jack described him to be.
Contributed by Jim Stedman