- Women of the Beat Generation by Brenda Knight (Conari Press): an excellent, thorough anthology of stories, poems, autobiographical fragments and biographical pieces representing the often-forgotten women who participated in the Beat movement. Included are Anne Waldman, Carolyn Cassady, Jan Kerouac, Joan Vollmer Adams, Diane DiPrima (I need a page on her!), Jay DiFeo and many lesser known but interesting writers, artists and creative people.
- Mountains and Rivers Without End by Gary Snyder (Counterpoint): This work seems to have some kind of epic importance to Snyder, and he's apparently been working on it for many years. I also heard from a few friends in California that he actually did a reading in public to celebrate the publication. Gary, will you ever come to New York and read here? I know there are no redwood trees or berry bushes or waterfalls. But we have great falafel and good record stores.
- Ballad of the Skeletons by Allen Ginsberg: Saw the video of this song on MTV last night. The music is pretty strong, not surprisingly as it features Paul McCartney, Philip Glass and the great Lenny Kaye on various guitars and keyboards. Lyrically I don't think this is Ginsberg's most sublime moment; it's more like a rant than like a poem, and goes in for a lot of simple jokey rhymes. It's okay, though. The video, directed by Gus Van Sant, is quite interesting. It features Ginsberg's skull-like face reciting in close-up as black-and-white images reflect the meanings. Other new Ginsberg stuff out there: a book of unusual color illustrations accompanying selected poems, by artist Eric Drooker ("Illuminated Poems," published by Four Walls Eight Windows) and a new entry in Allen's journal series, "Indian Journals."
- Beat Generation: Glory Days In Greenwich Village by Fred McDarrah and Gloria McDarrah (Schirmer Books): this is a fascinating book of photographs accompanied by text. Lots of shots I'd never seen before. Another photography book is Angels Anarchists and Gods by Christopher Felver (Louisiana State University) including portraits of almost all the surviving Beats, taken in the 80's and 90's, as well as many of their cultural allies in art, publishing and street politics.
3. I was recently invited to a showcase reading at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe of a screenplay based on William S. Burroughs' autobiographical novel "Queer." The screenplay was written by David Ohle, and it skillfully showed a human side of the prickly William S. Burroughs that we don't often get to see -- Burroughs as a lonely, confused man, using his twisted sense of humor to attract people only, perhaps, because he had no better lure. I think this would make an excellent movie, probably a far more down-to-earth one than David Cronenberg's expressionistic "Naked Lunch", and if you're a filmmaker who wants to make it, please write to the author.
5. I'll be part of a web-fiction reading on Saturday, November 16th, 3:30-4:30 PM, at the Hudson Park Branch of the New York Public Library (in the West Village). This is being arranged by David Alexander, and among the other readers will be my wife Meg, who is about to announce a great new webzine all her own -- here's a sneak preview. And I hope some of you can make it to the reading!
2. There are a LOT of beat festivals and happenings going on. Let's see ... the University of Kansas is hosting "A Festival: William S. Burroughs and the Arts" from late October through Jan 1 1997. There will be some interesting guests; here's the press release. The University of Texas at Austin is running a show called "Beat: The Hip Highways and Bebop Byways of Modern American Letters." A San Francisco/SOMA month-long festival called Re/BEAT looks like a lot of fun -- here's their calendar. The Whitney Museum exhibit "Beat Culture and the New America" is also coming to San Francisco on October 5th. It will be at the M. H. DeYoung Memorial Museum through December 29. Allen Ginsberg is doing October readings around the country, including San Francisco and New York. Finally, don't forget the annual Kerouac festival in Lowell, Massachusetts. Featured guests include Ed Sanders and musician Rob Buck, formerly of 10000 Maniacs.
3. Going out on a limb here: 90's writer Douglas Coupland is not a beat writer by any means. And I know about the gag impulse naturally caused by writers who try too hard to "capture a generation" (yuck). Still, I read Coupland's "Microserfs" and I liked it. I don't care whether it captures deep generational truths or not -- it's an enjoyable and poignant story, and the author does have some clue what the life of a software developer is like (believe me, I know). Anyway, the reason I mention all this is that Coupland now has his own website. It's worth a look.
Another somewhat Coupland-esque new site is Carl Steadman's enigmatic Placing, which looks affectionately at the packaged products that define our personal lives more than we often think. I hope Carl doesn't get mad at me for calling him Coupland-esque.
4. I heard there'll be a Kerouac tribute album coming out soon, with a lot of excellent participants including Patti Smith, Lou Reed, Sonic Youth. This is all on the level of rumour right now -- can anyone tell me more?
Lots of good new Beat stuff out there. Let's see ...
1. I recently stumbled across the new William S. Burroughs book, "Ghost of Chance" -- I don't know if it's any good, but it has a beautiful cover design. A very WIRED look, in fact. It goes well with Burroughs style.
2. Red Hot Organization, which did the Beat Generation CD-ROM I wrote about last month, also just released a tribute album, OffBeat, containing contributions from musicians like David Byrne and DJ Spooky. Red Hot Organization is a good cause (against AIDS) so if you're thinking of buying this CD: ahh, just go do it.
3. Still no news on the proposed "On The Road" movie. I recently found and read a bootleg copy of the screenplay, though. It could have been worse -- they stuck pretty close to the story, except they put the Mexican Girl scene at the end of the second trip instead of the first. WHAT ARE THEY -- INSANE???? You can't mess with this stuff. It's sacred. But the screenplay was fairly true to the book. Dean is by far the most prominent character in this treatment, and some aspects of the book seem to take a back-seat (so to speak) to the Dean Moriarty story. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Anyway, there's still no word that the movie will ever be made at all.
4. I'm sick of reading articles about the dumb fights between Jan Kerouac and the Sampas family over the Kerouac estate. Apparently Jan wanted to have his grave moved to New Hampshire from Lowell. A lot of people have written asking why I don't cover these issues in Literary Kicks -- I don't because I think legal battles are depressing and boring. I still think Jan Kerouac is a good writer.
5. New stuff here, mostly from contributors: a couple of personal memoirs (on John Montgomery and Allen Ginsberg), a Jack Micheline page, and some additions to my already ridiculously lengthy Beats in Rock Music) page. Coming soon: stuff on Ed Sanders, the Fugs, Harry Smith.
I'll try not to stay away so long next time.
On Valentine's Day, Meg Wise-Lawrence and I hosted a fiction/poetry reading of Web writers at Biblio's cafe/bookstore in downtown Manhattan.
The agenda was pretty loose -- we'd selected an eclectic group of thirteen readers from various places on the internet, and we'd given no instructions except to keep it to under ten minutes. It turned out to be a great night! First ...
Meg Wise-Lawrence (aka The oMEGa Female,
whose work has also appeared in
Enterzone and Literary Kicks)
kicked off the evening with a
short spoken-word performance. I then pulled
out my guitar and joined her for an homage to
Patti Smith which had been inspired by a passage
Meg had read one night in a physics textbook.
Ted Fristrom read a short story, Space,
which first appeared in
Jamie's Amateur Fiction Hour
Peter Crumlish read a story, The Last to
Know, that recently appeared in Enterzone.
Clay Shirky, author of the book Voices of the
Web and frequent contributor to webzines like
Urban Desires and Word
performed an interesting hypertext piece,
Notes on Sinking, by mixing up a bunch
of index cards and reading them at random.
Maureen McClarnon, whose work has appeared in
the io section of Alt-X,
read a few short poems.
who runs the io section of Alt-X,
read a couple of pieces, assisted by
his friend Mary.
Galinsky, producer of
host of its "GO POETRY" venue,
is a real panic. He does energetic, warmly
humorous spoken-word bits about everyday life in New
York City, growing up, being a teacher in Brooklyn ...
if you ever get a chance to see him perform, don't
David Alexander read a short story, Shock of
a Feather, about a siamese twin. David's
stories have appeared in Enterzone.
Nicole Blackman, a Dorothy Parker for the 90's,
told us horrifying truths about Alanis Morissette
(published in Sonic Net) and read a piece about
traveling with an all-male rock band.
Jamie Fristrom (who runs Jamie's Amateur Fiction Hour,
and who I hope will someday earn enough
money with his excellent writing that he won't have to
code video games in San Diego anymore) read a story
about a guy who codes video games in San Diego.
I closed the evening with my story, Snappers,
from my Queensboro Ballads web project.
(Thanks to Tony Leotta for taking the videos I used to get these pictures.)
- Me (Literary Kicks, Levity, Enterzone)
- Meg W. Stein (The oMEGa Female, Enterzone, Literary Kicks)
- Jamie Fristrom (Jamie's Amateur Fiction Hour, Enterzone)
- Benjamin Cohen (Alt-X/io)
- Maureen McClarnon (Alt-X / io)
- Phil Zampino ("The Squid")
- Nicole Blackman (Sonic Net)
- Dave Kushner (Sonic Net, Alt-X)
- Galinsky (Pseudo Online Radio)
- David Alexander (Enterzone)
- Clay Shirky (Urban Desires, Word)
- Edward Fristrom (Jamie's Amateur Fiction Hour)
- Peter Crumlish (Enterzone)
2. Here are two brief excursions into the meaning of Allen Ginsberg in the universe. One is a fairly angry parody of 'Howl' written by Karney Hatch that expresses how many people (myself included, sometimes) feel when Beat poets try too hard to succeed in the world of mainstream literary academia and commercial publishing. The other link is a small positive note, a few wise words by Ginsberg that are a part of Deadhead-chronicler-extraordinaire (and HotWired editor) Steve Silberman's Digaland web page.
3. Voyager is releasing a new CD-Rom, "The Beat Experience." Unlike the informative, no-nonsense recent Kerouac CD-Rom (which I wrote about below), this is a totally experimental freeform production. It's laid out in the form of a "Beat Pad" where everything is clickable. The best news is that one of the contributing artists is Gary Panter, who was responsible for the excellent visuals on the horribly unappreciated "Pee Wee Herman Show" several years back. Yes, a direct connection now exists between Pee Wee Herman and the Beats -- I'd always felt there had to be one.
The project will benefit the Red Hot Organization, which has previously made several good compilation CD's (like NO ALTERNATIVE) to fund their AIDS relief work. However, I doubt they'll earn as much from this CD-ROM, since it sticks to the archaic practice of charging an unrealistic price -- $39.99 -- for a product that should cost no more than a music CD. Why do companies like Voyager make their products so expensive? I don't wanna hear any bullshit about "recouping huge multimedia costs" -- hey, playing with a Mac is fun, and it's not that hard. Until literary/artsy CD-Rom's are available at humane prices, they will remain what they are now -- not works for the people, but trinkets for the wealthy.
Enough editorializing. See you at Biblio's?
2. Please watch this space for info on a Valentine's Day reading of web-related authors I'm helping to put together somewhere in New York. We're not exactly sure yet what shape this thing is going to take, but if anybody out there is interested in performing or attending please drop me a note. More on this soon ...
The Writings of Jack Kerouac conference at New York University began on June 4 as scheduled -- and that was about the last thing that went the way it was supposed to. The first sign that events were spinning out of control came when the Unbearables, an inspired and largely disorganized group of angry writers planning to protest the complacency and dullness of the NYU event, got more publicity in publications like the Village Voice (and in web sites like Literary Kicks) than the official conference got. They announced a series of alternative events, like a Jack Kerouac Impersonators Spontaneous Prose contest, to take place at the same time as the official events.
I exchanged e-mail with a few of the Unbearables, and promptly decided to cast my lot with them. I wasn't sure how much they would have to say, but whatever it was at least it was going to be new, and they weren't planning to lighten my wallet by $140 for "registration" either. Also, panel discussions bore me and I hate wearing "HELLO! My Name Is ..." tags. Easy decision.
The Unbearables' protest, though, ended up being upstaged by a much more shocking one. The fate of Jack Kerouac's estate and legacy has been a topic of controversy for some time now; the Sampas family (Kerouac's last wife was Stella Sampas) owns everything, basically, and Jack's daughter Jan has been vying for a share. Jan Kerouac was barely recognized as a daughter by Jack during his lifetime, and her attempts at being included in the "family" now have mostly been rebuffed. Jan (author of a couple of books, including Baby Driver, which I heard was pretty good) has also been very sick with kidney failure lately, and this may have contributed to the intensity of feeling she has been expressing about the ownership of her fathers' estate.
That's enough background -- now I'll get to the fireworks. Gerald Nicosia, author of the most acclaimed major Kerouac biography, Memory Babe, was apparently not invited to participate in any part of the NYU conference. Ann Charters, author of the first major Kerouac biography, Kerouac (published in 1973), was invited. Because Ann Charters has been considered 'friendly' by the Sampas family while Nicosia has expressed support for Jan Kerouac, Nicosia believes that his exclusion from the conference was a conspiracy against himself and Jan.
This may very well be the case. But get this: Nicosia showed up at the conference anyway, wearing a black t-shirt that said
"Gerald Nicosia ...
A tiresome wannabe"
-- Ann Charters
I found this very surprising. Nicosia is quite an established figure in the Kerouac 'field,' and I've heard people praise his book -- the longest and most thorough as well as the most recent of all the Kerouac biographies -- more than any other, including Charters'. He was certainly risking his reputation by airing his grievances in such a public fashion.
It is also admirable, I suppose, that he is doing this not for himself, but for Jan Kerouac. At the same time, as I watched him wander the lobby outside the auditorium where booksellers and Kerouac-interest-groups had set up tables and where people like me (who hadn't paid to get in) hung around taking in the scenery, I detected a certain psychotic intensity to the expression on his face, and it occurred to me that he was maybe taking this all a little too seriously.
This opinion was reinforced when I talked to some other people hanging out around the lobby. I heard that somebody -- either a Jan/Nicosia supporter, or Nicosia himself -- had disrupted one of the conferences in the morning. Later I was talking to someone else about the Beat figures who were hanging around the lobby (at that moment, Anne Waldman, Joyce Johnson and Ray Bremser as well as Nicosia) and this person was telling me about the conversations he'd had with them. He looked at Nicosia and advised me, "Don't talk to him unless you want to do a lot of listening."
That was Act One: Act Two took place at Biblio's bookstore in Tribeca, where the Unbearables were staging their Jack Kerouac Impersonators Contest. Ann Charters showed up with her husband Sam (a legendary Blues author, who wrote Country Blues and The Blues Makers, and who played a very important part in the late-fifties/early-sixties rediscovery of Robert Johnson, Son House and many other old bluesmen). They were sitting at a table with a very nice guy I'd recently talked to in the NYU lobby (Ralph, from Minneapolis) and since Ralph offered me a seat near him, I suddenly found myself sitting next to Ann and Sam Charters. Then in comes Gerald Nicosia, still wearing his black t-shirt with the nasty Ann Charters quotation on the front, and he heads straight for our table. Ann sees him coming and looks away. "Excuse me, Ann," Gerald Nicosia says. "I just had to ask you ... do you think it's right that I was forcibly removed from the conference this morning under threat of police intervention?"
Or something like that. Ann tries to play it cool. "I know nothing about it, Gerald. I had a cold today, and wasn't even at the conference."
"Well, do you think it was right? And do you think it's right that so-and-so Jan Kerouac-this and Sampas-family that and so-on and so-forth ..." all in a strident, nearly-threatening tone of voice. He did not seem far from physical violence, although this would not have been much of a problem, as Sam Charters was about a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier than Nicosia. Ann kept trying to put off his questions. "I'm very sorry that happened, Gerald" "I really don't know what it is you want me to do about that" and so on. Nicosia walked away, simmered for a few minutes, then came back even angrier and started in again.
All the time I'm sitting there thinking: Wow. I'm sitting here watching the two major Kerouac biographers duke it out, and I got a ringside seat.
I'm now going to do something I've never done before in Literary Kicks. I've never expressed my opinion on the Jan vs. Sampas Family hijinks, and that's mainly because I think the whole thing is kind of dumb. I also don't think it's very interesting to serious Kerouac readers -- although from my seat at Biblio's I have to admit it was starting to get pretty damn interesting.
Anywhere, here's how I call it, for what it's worth:
1. Every family has problems, and there is nothing surprising about the fact that Jan Kerouac (Jack's daughter from his second marriage, and a daughter that he refused to recognize and almost never met) is not friendly with the family of Jack's last wife. I'm not saying the Sampas family is right to snub her, or that she should not feel free to express how she feels about being snubbed. But like I said, every family has problems, and I don't see why this particular problem (which is all about money, really, and has nothing to do with incest or rape or death or drugs or anything like that) should be blown up into such a major public issue.
2. Jan Kerouac and Gerald Nicosia are saying that the Sampas family is getting rich by selling off the Kerouac papers little by little, and that they should instead donate or sell the entire Kerouac archive to a library. Well ... okay, whatever. My problem with this argument is: who really cares? Maybe it's better for a single library to own the whole thing, but is this really a critical issue?
You all know how much I care about Kerouac's life and work. But let's admit it ... the guy published enough stuff even during his lifetime to keep his readers busy for years, even decades. And that's not to mention his voluminous letters and journals and art notebooks, and the reminiscences of his many friends and lovers and compatriots. If you put me in a room with the entire Kerouac archive right now, I don't honestly know how interested I'd be. Shit, I haven't even gotten around to reading Vanity of Duluoz yet!
I always find it ridiculous when people make too big a deal over a writer's personal archive. No writer is that good. Kerouac was a man, not a holy savior. Just chill out, everybody, all right?
3. By the end of the night I had spoken to Ann Charters, and I liked her. I'm aware that many serious students of Beat literature consider her to be a little too chummy with some of the major living Beat figures (mainly, Ginsberg). She's been accused of prettying up the truth in some sections of her book, and she's even been dissed here in Literary Kicks by Tim Bowden in his Carolyn Cassady memoir (he accuses her of bringing a friend to Carolyn's house to engage Carolyn in a vapid discussion while she -- Ann, that is -- furiously scribbles notes from Carolyn's personal papers.) So I feel she's already been raked over the coals, and I would just like to say a word in her defense.
This woman wrote about Jack Kerouac in 1973, back when nobody took him seriously as a writer. I mean, NOBODY. Her book wasn't even published by an established firm: Straight Arrow Books was a division of Rolling Stone magazine. That was what the mainstream literary world thought of Jack Kerouac back in '73, four years after his death. It took courage, vision and selfless dedication to devote her career to a a writer whose literary reputation had never been good, and was now in a state of utter ruin.
Now everybody from Viking Penguin to New York University kisses Kerouac's ass, and it's an all-new world for Beat scholarship. But let's have a little respect for the person who put her reputation on the line back when it meant something. Yeah, Nicosia is sticking up for Jan Kerouac. But Charters once stuck up for Jack Kerouac, and that means something more.
Okay, I'm done talking about this. I'd like to conclude this report with a big "YEEE-HAHHH!" for the Unbearables, who put on a fun, truly spontaneous show at Biblio's. It started off with some jokes that were pretty dumb, focusing mainly on a burly guy in a mustache running around in a wig and housedress pretending to be Kerouac's mother. Kinda cute, kinda reminiscent of The Diggers, but also much too long. Some of the audience left during this part, but then the night started to get going, and a session of Kerouac-inspired spontaneous rants and readings began to really generate some steam. Some of it was even good writing, and almost all of it was good ranting. The Unbearables are a cool bunch; I've heard they've previously protested the bad poetry in the New Yorker, to which I can only say: what about the shitty fiction?
At one point during the Sip A Beer With Mrs. Kerouac Contest I leaned over to Ann Charters and said "You know, it just occurred to me that you're the only person in this room who actually did sip a beer with Mrs. Kerouac."
She replied, "It was actually champagne. She only drank champagne."
"Oh really?" I said. "Expensive stuff, or cheap?"
"Cheap stuff," Ann Charters said.
That's the end of my report. You'll notice I didn't say anything about the conferences themselves. They're still going on today, as I sit at home writing this up. I have a feeling I'm not missing much. As for what's going on in the lobby ... I think I've seen enough already.
June 4, 1995, 2:30 pm.
The University Theater, 35 W.4th Street
Rollo Whitehead walking tour.
June 5, 7pm
Biblio's Cafe, 317 Church St, 212/334-6990
Jack Kerouac Impersonators Contest.
June 6, 7:15 pm
Town Hall, on 43rd St btwn 6th & 7th Aves
A gathering to protest exclusive & expensive reading of Kerouac's poetry. Bring signs, banners and implements of conspicuous outrage. We'll also be reading poetry in front of Town Hall for *free*.
On the other hand, I've never seen Lawrence Ferlinghetti in person, and since he doesn't show up on the East Coast often I hate to miss this chance. But still on the OTHER hand, Lou Reed had originally been listed as one of the speakers, and now he's off the list. Hmmm ...
See you at Biblio's Cafe. Or maybe I'll just stay home and read.
6 POETS AT 6 GALLERY
Philip Lamantia reading mss. of late John
Hoffman-- Mike McClure, Allen Ginsberg,
Gary Snyder & Phil Whalen--all sharp new
straightforward writing-- remarkable coll-
ection of angels on one stage reading
their poetry. No charge, small collection
for wine, and postcards. Charming event.
Kenneth Rexroth, M.C.
8 PM Friday Night October 7,1955
6 Gallery 3119 Fillmore St.
The Six Gallery was a small art gallery in a former auto repair shop near the intersection of Union and Fillmore in San Francisco. Kenneth Rexroth came up with the idea to showcase a few of his young poet friends in a joint reading, and five promising unknowns were selected.