Here's some good stuff: 72-year-old poet and political activist Jack Hirschman has been named the new Poet Laureate of San Francisco, and Ken Kesey's son Zane has put up a wonderful photo essay on the current condition of Further, the most famous bus in literary history (sorry, William Inge). Read about all of it here.
2. Barry Gifford and Lawrence Lee's Jack's Book is about to be republished by Thunder's Mouth Press. This superb oral biography of Jack Kerouac was one of the first books ever published about the author. It consists entirely of recollections by those who knew Jack, and introduced several of the tales that have since been entrenched as Beat myth. Barry Gifford is a notable novelist in his own right; he wrote the book that became the David Lynch film Wild At Heart.
3. Poet Gregory Corso died five years ago this month.
Another highlight was the marathon reading itself. 'Big Sur' has enough chapters that most people were able to read their first choices, and I selected Chapter Nine. It was a wonderful honor to intone these great words into a mic as the David Amram Trio jammed behind -- a special perk for the New York corner of this four-city event.
I also learned something I didn't realize about LitKicks this weekend, when several people I hadn't seen in months said to me "Why the hell aren't you updating your Beat News page?" And "Why didn't you announce this reading in Beat News?"
The truth is, having introduced message boards on LitKicks in January, I felt it might be time to retire the Beat News section of the site. I introduced message boards so that anybody could post to the site at any time. Beat News is not "postable", and so it seemed old hat to me. I want the message boards at the center of the LitKicks experience, and I figured I could express anything I personally needed to express there instead of here.
But I was surprised to hear that several people don't accept this reasoning, and in fact think I'm just being lazy in neglecting this page. Which is probably true. So, I'm going to try to stop ignoring this page. Hey, at least I wrote something today.
But even as I hid out, I never forgot my ultimate goal, which was to create a forum for many diverse voices. It's taken me a long time to get my community publishing system off the ground -- partly because as a technical architect and a Java programmer I needed to put a lot of thought into how to do this right. I've got a long way to go, but I'm ready to launch a few simple message boards. These are pretty basic -- the innovative stuff is what I hope will come next.
In order to add this functionality I've had to move Literary Kicks from the server host that has been running it for years to a new host that specializes in Java servlet integration. If you are linking this site to the old URL, "http://www.charm.net/~brooklyn", please change it to the permanent URL, http://www.litkicks.com, instead. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the folks at Charm.net for giving me such great service for six and a half years. I picked them in 1994 because I liked their name. Since then the internet has grown into the biggest cultural force of its time. It also produced a lot of hysterical investment activity that has now resulted in a minor stock crash. The Pets.com sock puppet was born, and the Pets.com sock puppet has died. But good companies like Charm.net stick around and gradually, intelligently evolve and grow. Litkicks is trying to do the same. So please check these new boards out, and please don't hesitate to create a member name and be among the first to say hi!
Oh yeah -- happy Martin Luther King Day, and happy 2001.
The first e-book to catch my attention was 'The Plant' at Stephen King's website. I downloaded the first couple of chapters, which were free at the time, and I had fun reading them. When it came time for me to start paying for installments I fell off, not because I didn't want to spend two bucks but rather because I always have too much to read anyway and I didn't feel motivated to fill out yet another annoying credit card form. Still, I *almost* paid for it. And this was the most time I'd invested in reading Stephen King since 'The Stand' when I was a kid. So overall I'd say my first experience with e-books was pleasant and painless.
A couple of weeks ago I tried my second e-book, a review copy of Jack Kerouac's 'Orpheus Emerged.' This is a previously unpublished story from Kerouac's formative years, produced in a lively multimedia format by an electronic publisher called Live Reads. While Stephen King's novel was presented in austere, dignified black-and-white, this book is a colorful, highly designed hypertext experience. I'm not tremendously excited by this particular story, which is in the same collegiate hyperintellectual vein as Kerouac's first novel, 'The Town and the City'. But I like the idea of Kerouac in e-book form, and I like what the publisher did to liven up this work. I also enjoyed toying around with the Adobe E-Book Reader as I read. After I was done I found a nice pile of free classic novels, poetry books and non-fiction works, among other things, at the Adobe E-Book Library. A free library of classics is a nice touch, and I think it's smart for publishers to keep giving away e-books to help readers get comfortable with the concept. I'm looking forward to what comes next.
Back to traditional formats -- here are a few new things worth checking out:2. Halfmoon is a film setting of three stories by Paul Bowles, and Paul Bowles: The Complete Outsider is a documentary about the writer, created by Catherine Warnow and Regina Weinreich.
3. The Bop Apocalypse is a study of the religious significance of the Beat Generation. A long overdue topic!
4. So George W. Bush is going to be president. Well, I don't dislike him nearly as much as I disliked his father. Not yet, anyway. And so far he's saying some decent things about bipartisanship and reaching beyond divisive party boundaries -- and maybe he'll actually deliver on this. But just in case he doesn't -- a refresher course in political dissent couldn't hurt, and there is no better place to start than the recently republished Autobiography of Abbie Hoffman.
5. Beat poetry and punk rock may not seem to have a lot in common. But in downtown New York City, the two scenes have always travelled together. This literary/musical intersection is the subject of an enjoyable new book of essays and interviews, Beat Punks by Victor Bockris, a familiar biographer and chronicler of the New York downtown scene. The East Village is the locale, St. Mark's Place is the epicenter, and Patti Smith, Richard Hell, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Debbie Harry and Andy Warhol are the characters who show up in these highly interesting pages.
More affectionate and less academic is a new, freewheeling book-length ode to a classic Beat: 'The Poetry and Life of Allen Ginsberg: A Narrative Poem' by Ed Sanders. There is something sweet and wonderful in the fact that Sanders felt inspired to honor his friend and compatriot in such a heroic manner. As for the poem itself, it is very much in the Ed Sanders vein -- modest, exploratory, quirky and highly human.
Novelist, poet and multimedia artist Charles Plymell is represented by a comprehensive new anthology covering his entire career. 'Hand on the Doorknob' is full of personal notes on the true-life characters Plymell has worked with during his decades in the artistic underground, from Robert Crumb to Neal Cassady. It also serves to showcase his own strong, musical voice as a writer and poet.
Jack Kerouac remains an eternally interesting subject, and two books contribute a few new perspectives: Selected Letters, 1957-1969, is the second, concluding volume in the carefully researched series by Ann Charters. One-time Kerouac girlfriend Joyce Johnson, who had previously published her memoir of the relationship, has now published a volume of their letters to each other, 'Door Wide Open: A Beat Love Affair in Letters'.
'Word Virus', the extensive and authoritative William S. Burroughs collection, is now out in paperback.
The two most interesting new books both describe groups of Beat writers working together in particular places. 'The Beat Hotel' by Barry Miles captures a spontaneous burst of strange creativity that occured while Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Gregory Corso were all slumming (and escaping the madness of their growing American fame) in a Paris hotel during the late fifties and early sixties. This was a fruitful and fascinating minor moment in Beat history, well deserving of the detailed attention this book provides.
In terms of locale, the Beats were wonderfully bipolar, constantly shooting back and forth between urban squalor and mountainous desolation. The "nature consciousness" side of the Beat legacy is well treated in Rod Phillips new study, 'Forest Beatniks and Urban Thoreaus.' The book focuses specifically on Gary Snyder, Jack Kerouac, Lew Welch, and Michael McClure. (My only complaint is the $45.95 price -- what the hell is up with that? Great way to ensure that the book completely misses it's potential audience.)
Now, will somebody complete the trilogy and write a book about the Beats in suburbia? I'm imagining chapters on Neal Cassady in San Jose, Kerouac in Northport, Long Island, and Ginsberg out there with Carl Solomon in Rockland ...
1. I just saw the new movie version of "Hamlet," starring Ethan Hawke and directed by Michael Almereyda. Folks ... this movie is a masterpiece.
I am a bit of an authority on "Hamlet" -- I've read the original play about forty times, studied the medieval historical legends behind the play, and sat through numerous film and stage versions starring folks like Kevin Kline (bland but acceptable), Nicol Williamson (spirited but flawed) and Mel Gibson (don't even ask). This new version is as good as any I've ever seen, easily the equal of the great 1948 Laurence Olivier film, and actually more stunning and riveting than that one. This is an unusual "Hamlet," set in modern-day Manhattan, where Denmark is not a nation but a corporation. The actors wear casual clothing and most of the action takes place in office buildings or contemporary New York City apartments. Yet while the play's setting is radically updated, Shakespeare's language is left almost completely intact. Claudius is the head of the Denmark corporation (replacing Hamlet's murdered father), but he is spoken of not as CEO or President, but as King, and Hamlet as the Prince. The movie does not apologize for or even acknowledge this utter incongruity -- it is the audience's problem to deal with it. I love the nerviness of this approach, and I especially love how it allows the language to flow unaltered from the original text, even as the imagery often contradicts it.
What impresses me most about the movie, though, is the acting. Leading men often portray Hamlet as a soporific depressive, and I think this is wrong. Yes, the Prince is sad and torn by repressed inner conflicts, but he must also be angry, manic, rude and youthfully rebellious. Ethan Hawke -- an actor I've barely been aware of before this movie -- captures this perfectly, and I hope he wins an Oscar for his performance. Kyle MacLachlan is excellent as the slimy Claudius, Bill Murray is perfect as the aging yuppie Polonius, Julia Stiles is poignant and powerful as the lovestruck Ophelia (she plays her grand mad scene in the Guggenheim Museum) and Diane Venora is convincing as the guilty and corrupted Gertrude. I love the ultra-modern touches: Hamlet creates his "mousetrap" play as an indie video, and Rosencranz and Guildenstern are comical "Bill and Ted" lunkheads who can't help speaking in unison by accident. Perfect, perfect all around.
2. Now, the complaint. I keep seeing ads for the Ask Jeeves web search service and I'm getting sick of it. The search engine's mascot is the friendly butler "Jeeves," and it seems that Jeeves the Butler is becoming a common-use cultural icon, like Sherlock Holmes the Detective or Mickey the Mouse. This annoys me because it presents such a trivialized, brainless reflection of the brilliant comic writing of P. G. Wodehouse, one of the great originals of the 20th Century.
P. G. Wodehouse emerged from the same trans-continental jazz age milieu that produced George Gershwin, the Marx Brothers, Evelyn Waugh and Noel Coward, and is best known for his hilarious stories about an upper-class British layabout named Bertie Wooster. Wooster was a lover of easy living and heavy drinking, and he often needed to rely on Jeeves, his remarkable and discreet valet, to pry him out of complicated situations. These stories are light and fun to read, but they also hold up well to sophisticated literary analysis, and there is a particularly fascinating subtext behind the character of Bertie Wooster. Wooster narrates the stories himself, and makes a point of reminding us constantly that he is not very bright, a judgement most of his friends and relatives seem to agree with. This is part of the joke of these stories, and adds to the fun, but a close reading actually shows a deeper truth. Wooster as narrator has a stunning talent for language, an awesome ability to capture the essence of the people he sees in pithy and sparkling sentences (just off the top of my head, I'm remembering his description of a fat kid on the beach "meditatively smacking a jellyfish with a spade"). The narrator's felicitousness with both spoken and written language proves him to be quite intelligent; and the reader's conclusion is that the character is not actually dumb at all, but rather pretends to be dumb so as to avoid having to get a job or take on any responsibility in life.
Adding a Joycean textual twist is the fact that all but one of the Wooster/Jeeves stories are narrated by Wooster; a single story, "Bertie Changes His Mind," is narrated instead by Jeeves. This allows us a rare glimpse into the motivations of this inscrutably perfect butler. It turns out that Jeeves is fully aware of his subject's moral limitations, and is not so much a perfect butler as, to use contemporary language, some sort of morally dubious co-dependent or "enabler". Do what you will with all this literary psychoanalysis, but my main point is that it is offensive for the Ask Jeeves website to appropriate the Jeeves character and portray him as some namby-pamby kind of eager do-gooder with a smug smile and a deep urge to help me find the best price for car insurance. I don't care if they officially licensed the character from the Wodehouse estate or whatever -- they never licensed it from the public domain of my heart. So I am now officially boycotting the Ask Jeeves search engine -- even though I think the natural language processing it offers is pretty good.
So that's the LitKicks recommendation for the summer. Run, don't walk, to see this new movie version of Hamlet. If you want something to read pick up a copy of 'Carry On, Jeeves' or any other collection of the Wodehouse stories. And if you need to search the web, I recommend you visit Google.
It is true, though, that I've been avoiding my responsibilities as owner of this site. I've been going through a sort of dark night of the soul recently, and dealing with some heavy things in my life that I don't want to talk too much about, except to put it in brief: my marriage broke up last year, around the beginning of September. Meg and I are both doing fine, and the kids are too. But it's a heavy thing to go through and to be honest I just haven't cared about Jack Kerouac or Allen Ginsberg or hypertext poetry or web-based fiction much lately.
I'm sure I'll get my enthusiasm back, and in the meantime I've been trying to think of ways to make Literary Kicks feel newer and more exciting, since it really hasn't been redesigned or rethought since it's birth more than five years ago (wow, it has been a long time).
I haven't crystallized my ideas much yet, but I know I want to start putting up some streaming video (yeah, I bought an iMac, tangerine, what a great machine). I also want to move beyond the Beat Generation and start covering a greater diversity of styles and genres. Most importantly, I want to open up the site to contributions from others, and turn it from a solo act into more of an ensemble performance.
Anyway, that's all coming at some time in the future ... unless it isn't, in which case it's not. As for what's happening out in the big world out there these days ... well, here are a few things that recently caught my eye.
1. Best new beat-related book so far this millennium: "Poems for the Nation", edited by Allen Ginsberg with Andy Clausen and Eliot Katz. This is a book of current political poems Ginsberg was putting together at the time he died. It features poems by Tuli Kupferkerg, Eileen Myles, Janine Pommy Vega, Anne Waldman, Amiri Baraka and many more. One reason I like the book is the personal enthusiasm of one of it's editors, the poet Eliot Katz, who is a true modern-day left-wing activist who told me excitedly about the book one Sunday on the Lower East Side as he ran from a poetry reading to a secret meeting of provacateurs who were planning to crash a World Bank/International Money Fund meeting in Washington D.C. Another reason I like this book is that it's small and quick to read and costs only six bucks (I'm sick of Beat books that cost $40.00). You can buy a copy here.
2. A sad recent death: Terence McKenna, a popular and much admired social critic of the neo-psychedelic school, in the tradition of Carlos Castaneda, Timothy Leary, etc. I wasn't personally familiar with his work (I've never been into psychedelics myself -- I took magic mushrooms once but nothing too special happened) but I've heard from many that McKenna was a truly original thinker and a very nice person. It's very sad that he died in the middle of a healthy happy life in Hawaiian seclusion, a victim of cancer at the age of 52.
3. On to the living: the great iconoclast Paul Krassner, who has been editor of the hippie propaganda rag "The Realist" for longer than I've been alive, now has a web presence. Krassner has done some interesting things with "The Realist" over the years -- for instance, he got in big trouble after the Kennedy assassination by accusing Lyndon B. Johnson of fucking Kennedy's bullethole on Air Force One. And I hear that was one of the tamer articles. Well, we all need a little realism, so catch a rare New York City appearance by Krassner, if you can, at an Earth Night party at the Bitter End on April 22 -- it's an all-night poetry jam also featuring David Amram, Bob Holman, Frank Messina and many others.
April is the cruelest month. Still, I believe things are looking up. You know, I don't believe in Jesus any more than I believe in magic mushrooms, but Easter is coming soon, and Patti Smith has a new CD out, and it's time to think for me about resurrection. So check back with me soon and hopefully I'll have an all-new, all-different Literary Kicks here to show you. Or maybe not.
I was also sorry to hear of the ailing health of Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz, who announced that he will no longer be creating new strips. "Peanuts" was a part of America's post-war countercultural consciousness as much as "Catch-22", "Cuckoo's Nest" or even "Howl". I always thought the little kids would have grown up to be beatniks ... Schroeder would have moved on from Beethoven to Lennon and Dylan, and the way Linus always quoted scripture, I'm sure he would have gotten into I Ching and Zen. Charles Schulz never used the strip to air his political or societal beliefs -- but hey, we knew what he meant when he named the bird "Woodstock".
The new millennium is coming ... and if Charlie Brown will really be gone, I think the 1950's are now truly over. I wonder what will come next?
Happy New Year everybody! Literary Kicks will be changing a lot soon. See you on the other side ...