Intellectual Curiosities and Provocations

Beat Generation

John Cassady Interview: Odds and Ends

by Levi Asher on Wednesday, January 3, 1996 05:45 pm

Pat Gallagher went to Lowell recently, and took this photo of Jack Kerouac's grave. She'd placed Neal's two posthumous books, "The First Third" (his unfinished autobiography) and "Grace Beats Karma" (his letters from Prison) on the gravestone, and I found this reuniting of the two old friends, who'd died a year apart, pretty touching.

I enjoyed working on this interview very much. What I liked best was that none of the three of us, John or Pat or myself, knew what we wanted to get out of the project. Most of the time we even forgot that we were supposed to be conducting an interview, and just had a good time exchanging friendly insults (Pat was pretty good at this, though I am the champ) or chatting about our mundane and, sometimes, not-so-mundane lives.

What is here is only a sample of the conversations I saved -- many of them were interesting but not relevant enough to include in the "real" interview. Like this exchange, which took place after John and I discovered we were both into Marx Brothers movies:

John: Duck Soup is my favorite. A buddy and I opened an alternative cinema in a college town in '72 and showed all of them as well as W.C. Fields, Laurel and Hardy, etc. Two shows per night for a week; I saw them all 14 times each and know every line.

Me: That's great. My favorite was prob. Horsefeathers, like when Groucho is in the canoe with Thelma Todd and she says "will big strong man give icky baby the bad little football signals?" and he says "Was that you or the duck? Because if it was you I'm going to finish the ride with the duck?"

John: And then he sings "Everyone Says 'I Love You'" while accompanying himself on guitar, at which he was quite proficient, a leftover from their old vaudeville acts. He used surprisingly sophisticated diminished chords as passing phrases in that arrangement (not that I studied it or anything) and of course finishes by throwing the guitar into the lake, argh! But showing future Pete Townshends how it's done. Chico's version of the song had a great line: "The great big mosquito and-a he sting you" (had to have been there). Zeppo turned it into a torch ballad, and of course Harpo ripped it up on the harp. Horsefeathers was indeed a classic I had (almost) forgotten.

I don't know if anybody will fully believe this, but I knew all about those diminished chords.

Anyway, here are some Neal and Neal-related links from the rest of my web pages.

My Neal Cassady Page

"Cassidy's Tale" by John Perry Barlow

Ken Schumacher's Cassady Quest

John Cassady's Letter about Jerry Garcia

Yet another interview with John Cassady, this time with his two sisters, conducted by Bill Horbaly, who is also a member of the extended Cassady family.

"On The Road"

My Carolyn Cassady Page

My Jack Kerouac Page

My Ken Kesey Page

Another "Beat Child": Parrot Fever, a Story by Jan Kerouac

* * * * *
This is the fourth part of the four-part John Cassady Interview.

John Cassady Interview

by Levi Asher on Wednesday, January 3, 1996 05:37 pm


So what have you been up to lately? Where do you work, what do you do for fun, etc.?

Let's start at the beginning. First, the Earth cooled ...

No, we'll skip to my birth in San Francisco, 9/9/51. By about age three we had settled in Los Gatos, a small town in the foothills 50 miles south of SF, which I've gravitated back to ever since. While living in the coastal resort town of Santa Cruz for most of the '70's, what I lacked in career motivation I made up for in life experience and having fun. Along the way I harvested a son, Jamie Neal, born 8/18/75, who still lives with me while attending a local community college, and I also tried my hand at marriage on two occasions in different decades.

I moved back to Los Gatos and Silicon Valley in 1983 to pursue a career in (what else?) electronics and computers. The field wasn't my first choice, preferring to play guitar in rock bands, but, as they say, "when in Rome." My music career certainly couldn't be counted upon to pay the bills. So I've been fairly settled since then, having lived in the same house in south San Jose for the past seven years.

My '90s lifestyle is much more stable and less crazy than in years past. For the past 12 years I've been with Caere Corporation, producer of page-reading software and scanner systems, in (where else?) Los Gatos. It's a good gig and I'm reasonably comfortable.

And for fun? Sorry, no time. Actually, I like to hang out with my girlfriend Pat and read, watch flicks or whatnot. Occasionally I'll dust off the guitars to play with friends at open mike nights or recording sessions. Then there's always the unabashed self-promotion on the Net! (This is my first, honest). So that about sums it up in one, long paragraph. Pretty frigging boring, eh?


Tell me more about your music.

I listened to KEWB, Channel 91, out of San Francisco as a little kid. I dug stuff like Bobby Darin's "Splish Splash" and all the novelty songs like "The Flying Purple People Eater" and "Monster Mash." Everything by Ray Stevens and the Coasters. My parents were into cool jazz, of course, which was a great influence later. "Sketches of Spain" by Miles is permanently imprinted in my brain, after so many nights falling asleep to that album drifting in from the party in the living room.

At age 13, three pals and I bought Beatle wigs, put up posters around the neighborhood, and put on a "show." We set up a picnic table with Hi-fi speakers hidden underneath, and actually climbed up there and played tennis rackets (and a wash tub) while lip synching to the Beatles "Second Album". Dweeb city. The girls loved us. I had found my calling.

I met a blues-harp player in college, an ex-Marine just out of Vietnam named Matt Shaw. He learned blues harp by hiding in the ammo bunker under his fire base near Laos and playing Paul Butterfield's classic "East/West" album over and over. What a killer harmonica player Matt was by the time I met him. He lived in a little house out in the middle of this huge orchard where we made big noise without complaints.

We got pretty good and eventually quit college and moved to a little town called Felton in the San Lorenzo Valley of the Santa Cruz Mountains, surrounded by redwood trees and hippies. We named our new band The Feltones. Actually, "Those" Fabulous Feltones is what we decided on because it had a more notorious ring to it. And notorious we were. The drummer was a madman. Triple Scorpio coke dealer; need I say more? The girls loved him. He even stole my old lady for a while, but we were all friends. We played venues like the Catalyst in Santa Cruz, the Chateau Liberte and the Town & Country Lodge in Ben Lomond, all legendary bars back when SC was wild. I could write volumes. Someday I will; "The Adventures of The Fabulous Feltones."

What were some of your favorite Dead songs?

I saw them a lot in the Sixties, and then our paths didn't cross for many years, so I missed most of their later albums. In fact, I couldn't win any trivia contests after "American Beauty," although I listened to "Europe '72" quite a bit at the time. I loved their first album, and figured out every Dexedrine-propelled Jerry lick on it that I could as a wanna-be guitarist. "Viola Lee Blues," etc. I loved Pig Pen's version of "Love Light." We'd stand under him stoned at the Avalon Ballroom in SF and not even notice that he'd drag it out to 45 minutes sometimes. Every track on "Workingman's Dead." Of course "Casey Jones." "Dire Wolf" especially reminds me of Jerry now (since August 9th). Dead standards like "Ripple," "Birdsong" and many I can't recall right now are great. I leaned toward the Garcia/Hunter compositions.


Do you have kids?

I'm a single parent with my twenty-year-old son living with me. I've been married and divorced twice. Pat and I have been an item for exactly one year now, the proverbial office romance. My son's name is Jamie, named for one of my sisters, and he is working and attending a local community college. He turned out pretty good, although I don't see much of him. He and his girlfriend come up for air every few days and I catch sight of him then. I was going to name him Cody, after the character Pomerey in Jack's Visions of. His middle name is Neal.


Do you get a lot of recognition in your everyday life for being Neal's son?

Naw. There's always been the occasional letter or call.

Has the interest increased recently, or not? And does it bug you?

I love it. Who else gets to garner attention and strokes for something they had nothing whatsoever to do with? The only thing that's a little scary is having to carry the torch someday. My mother's got so many stories and knowledge that hasn't been shared. I don't think I can adequately represent the legend with authority, so most of the good stuff will be lost with her passing.

I've bragged to all my friends about getting e-mail from you already

... cool!

-- but I'm keeping your email address to myself, or else god knows what kind of weirdos you'd start hearing from (and that's just my friends ...)

But it must be a funny thing being Neal Cassady's son, because while he is so well-known and beloved in some circles, I would guess that most people in America have never heard of him. Just how much has being 'Neal's son' colored your identity in life?

Being the son of an infamous "legend" is a constant source of surprise, amazement and pride. Surprise and amazement because, to this day, I can't believe how many people HAVE heard of him. Pride because, although I had nothing to do with the legend's conception, I agree with those that regard the man as something special on this planet. Of course, my perspective is somewhat biased, having loved him as a father as well as a hip icon. I feel fortunate that I was in the unique position to do both.

I've been blessed with the opportunity to meet so many fascinating individuals who operate on levels of art and wisdom that I admire and to which I long to aspire. Doors of opportunity have been opened, most of which I haven't taken advantage of, I guess for fear of exploiting something intangible that I don't think is mine to abuse. But the outpouring of friends and fans has always been a pleasant surprise over the years and is something I still think is great.

Beat aficionados like me have heard 'Visions of Neal' from many people -- Jack Kerouac (of course), Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey, Charles Bukowski, John Perry Barlow, your mother, etc. How about your visions -- can you give us a memory or two we haven't heard before?

By far the number one question asked re: Neal is: "Did you ever know/see/remember your father?" And a good question it is, too, because he was everywhere else at once. The more I learn about his life from other sources, the more I'm amazed that I ever did see him, much less how much. It's simply astounding. He really was everywhere at the same time. How he pulled it off, we'll never know.

To me he was Dad, although admittedly he was absent more than I would have liked. But my memories are almost as plentiful as if I had been brought up by "normal" parents.


What was it like being a kid in the back seat with "the fastest man alive" behind the wheel?

Those are images I'll never forget. On Friday nights he would take me, and sometimes one or two of my best buddies, to the quarter-mile oval race track called San Jose Speedway out in the dusty fields about 10 miles from our home in Los Gatos. Driving there and back was most of the adventure, especially on the return trip, after he'd watch his heroes slide the midget racers sideways around the track all night. I can still smell the tire dust and fuel fumes that would drive Dad into a frenzy. He'd get so excited that he'd elbow me in the ribs and point till I was bruised, but I loved every minute of it. Of course, at the age of 10 or so, I was usually more interested in crawling around under the bleachers or going for an ice cream sandwich. I was always getting lost, especially when my friends came along.

While driving, he was fond of jerking the steering wheel to the beat of the rock and roll on the car radio. Chuck Berry was one of his favorites, and songs like "Maybelline" and "Nadine" fit him to a T. Two pals and I would be in the back seat and knock heads every time he jerked the car onto two wheels side to side going down the freeway, and we'd giggle uncontrollably and hold our sides. My friends thought he was about the coolest dad on the planet. Their parents probably didn't agree.

There was a guy named Roy who owned Los Gatos Tire Service who gave Dad a job when no one else would after he was released from San Quentin. Neal had the drug rap on his record which was, in 1960, tantamount to being an ax murderer. No one asked if he'd been sent up for two sticks of tea. Old Roy could have cared less.

Roy was known to have a drink or two, and died sometime in the '70s, but not before repeating some of his favorite Neal stories to a young man who worked there starting in about '72. I ran into this guy by coincidence when I had some tire work done at the present location of the shop, and after seeing my last name on the work order, he was glad to share some of Roy's stories with me. Roy's favorite was how Neal would drive his car down from our house, which was two miles up a hill from the tire shop, without the benefit of brakes, an almost obsessive pastime of Dad's. I believe this would have been the '49 Pontiac. Anyway, he would time it perfectly every morning so the car would bump up into the driveway (after having slowed it by rubbing curbs when necessary), he would then hop out in front of the garage doors, and the car would continue along the flat driveway, the door flapping shut, and on out to the back dirt parking lot, where it would nudge over a small mound so the front wheels would rock back and forth to settle into the dirt trough beyond. It never failed to amaze and delight Roy.

Another amazing story, which I can't verify but is great, has it that one night Roy passed Neal going the other way through town and waved. Neal threw the car into reverse and caught up with Roy, the transmission screaming, and chatted with him door to door while driving backwards, glancing back occasionally for oncoming traffic. Dad had a penchant for driving in reverse, probably because the steering is so squirrely, like driving a fork lift. He was proud of his downhill-in-reverse speed record on Lombard Street, the twisty tourist trap in SF.


You were Jack Kerouac's godson, and there are several references to you and your sisters in the Kerouac/Cassady letters. What do you remember of him?

My memories of Jack are few and sketchy; mostly just images of him rather than conversations. My sisters would remember more. The images are hazy from when he was around a lot at the new Los Gatos house because I was under five.

I better recall being around age ten and going to Big Sur when he was living in Ferlinghetti's cabin in Bixby Canyon, driving down in Dad's new (to us) Willys jeep wagon, what a ride! Jack took time to instruct me on the nuances of packing a proper rucksack and keeping my socks dry. I confused him with Jack London when he was in his plaid-wool-shirt-in-the-woods phase. We would wander down the creek trail to the beach and stand in front of the immense surf which seemed to tower over us like a wall of water as in "The Ten Commandments." He would yell into the din with arms outstretched; I'd explore an old wrecked car resting on its top at the foot of the cliff, looking for skeletons. I had no idea he was loaded on wine and/or pot the whole time, and wouldn't have cared less.

He was funny and kind and gentle and took a goofy interest in our kid stuff that parents might find tedious. At least that's my impression after all these years.

Ginsberg, of course, was around a lot more in years to come, and I still see him whenever possible.

What was the first Kerouac book that you read? What did you think of it, and what do you think of him as a writer now?

I first read "On the Road" at about age 15. I dug it but forgot most of it until just this year when I read it again and really enjoyed it. I also read "Dharma Bums" as a teenager and thought it pretty good, but I was never much of a reader, being too busy goofing off, which I now regret. I made a stab at the rest of Jack's stuff and couldn't make sense of it. I frankly think it reads like drunken ramblings that one must struggle to comprehend. Such blasphemy from his Godson!

Was it obvious to you as a child that Jack had romantic feelings for your mother?

I had no clue about an intimate relationship between Jack and my mom until I was grown. By that time I thought it was far out, to use the vernacular of the times. I was a baby when all this was going on, but I think Jack always carried the torch. Toward the end, he would call at like 3:00 AM drunk and ramble and rave, my mom trying to politely get him off the phone. I answered one night and only vaguely remember him crying "Johnny!" and "I have to speak to Carolyn!" I handed her the phone with a "whoa!" as she looked worried. We were more sad than surprised upon his demise.


(I asked John about the new Coppola movie of "On The Road," and this led to a discussion of a previous, less-than-satisfying attempt at translating the Kerouac/Cassady legend onto film. 'Heart Beat' was based on the book of the same title by John's mother, Carolyn Cassady. I mentioned that I'd never seen a copy of this book, though I'd read and enjoyed her later book, "Off The Road.")

"Heart Beat" has been out of print for twenty years, so don't bother. It's actually only an excerpt of "Off the Road," anyway. A publisher in Berkeley chopped the juicy chapters out of her original manuscript, the menage a trois parts, and sold that, a travesty taken out of context. Then, as you know, Orion picked up the movie rights and made an even worse film of it. Nolte, I thought, wasn't as bad as the script and director. We were disgusted, especially since they promised some creative control.

But did you think Nolte captured your father at all? Obviously you would know best ... as I said in my review of the movie in Literary Kicks, though, Nolte's schtick seems to be the surly, snarling kinda-deep-and-sad tough guy, which is not at all my image of your father.

An astute observation. Nolte's whole persona is the antithesis of Neal's. Every film Nick is in, that's Nick. He talks and acts the same off the set. He certainly tried hard on "Heart Beat", though. He told me he had studied Neal a lot and based his previous movie's character on him. It was a war flick called "Who'll Stop the Rain?" Looked like Nick to me. The only time he came at all close in HB was the last scene when he calls Carolyn from the phone booth burned out. He sounded sad enough for that stage of life.

I flew down to watch them film, and fell in love with Sissy Spacek, what a doll she was. (Her husband agrees.) I was also very fond of Nick and his party materials, especially at the all-night wrap party at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where we hid at a corner table and blabbed for hours. We're both clean nowadays (this was 1977), but that was way fun. He wanted me to come up to his ranch in Malibu and ride dirt bikes and play some more, and like an idiot I declined and flew home, fool. I think I hurt his feelings. Never heard from him again. Well, we all have regrets. I just have more than others! I could write volumes.

Sissy also did her best to save the rotten script, and read the entire 1100-page manuscript of my mother's book to get into the role. Those two really hit it off, and during filming Sissy used the same approach with Loretta Lynn, studying for her next film, "Coal Miner's Daughter." She's a pro. The thing about "Heart Beat" was they just bought the names and made up their own story, with just some highlights based in fact. John Byrum (writer/director) didn't do his homework and it showed. They could have made it authentic, almost a documentary, and still had all the stuff that sells: sex, drugs, violence, and it would have been the real thing. Stupid waste. My mother was so disappointed in the script that she wrote her own screenplay. Of course they didn't use it because they had already paid off Byrum. Oh well.

Who would be the ideal movie "Neal"?

The only actor I've seen that came close was Paul Newman in 1957's "Somebody Up There Likes Me," the Rocky Marciano bio. When he wore a tight t-shirt and smiled, he was a dead ringer. Too bad he's too old for the part now. There's a couple unknowns that my mother likes.


(John told me about a business trip to Denver, the city where Neal grew up.)

I flew to Denver on the 7th on business and wound up on Larimer Street among the gloomy brick ruins of my father's past, hoping for a glimpse of the ghosts of little Neal and Neal Sr. down an alley off the dark street. We took some clients to a downtown restaurant for dinner, one of whom was a Kerouac fan, and my colleague and I took a wrong turn trying to find the freeway out of town and to the airport. Suddenly we were in the worst part of town, amid old abandoned buildings and railway depots, but with rickety wood houses, shops and bars wedged in-between, still occupied. Then there it was, Larimer Street, as well as several other street names familiar from "On the Road" and "The First Third." Unlike the modern Larimer Square and other tourist traps up the road, this section didn't invite exploration that late at night, but I finally got to see it and get its feel, even from behind a rental car window. It was an unexpected treat.


(During the period that John and I were conducting this interview I received an e-mail asking if I knew anything about the myth about "Cassidy's" habit of flipping a hammer and catching it, which Tom Wolfe wrote about in "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test." The person wrote: "Somewhere, sometime, somebody said that Cassidy used the hammer as a practice to sharpen his perseption. Something about that it took about 1/30 th of a second to percieve something happpening in the world and that he used the hammer as an exercise to shorten the recognition time." I thought this seemed a bit silly, but forwarded the mail to John to see what he'd say, asking if he wanted me to keep sending him stuff like this.)

Sure, I like to be bothered by silly stuff. Keeps me current.

As far as this guy's search, why anyone would look for meaning in this hammer thing is beyond me, but that theory sounds vaguely familiar. First we must correct his spelling on "Cassady" and "perception." I guess you receive mail from scholars and otherwise.

My take on the hammer is that by that stage of the game Neal was, sadly, so loaded up on crank that he simply needed something to fiddle with. He retained massive arm strength, and the hammer suited his ancient wheel karma railroad/car/tool trip. Tim Allen on steroids.

Also, he always had a penchant for juggling and sight gags a la W.C. Fields. Inept at real juggling, he would flip objects (pencils, etc.) and catch them on the same "handle" end. The game was to count how many flips he could go before missing and starting over at "1." He would frequently get into double digits, to the delight of us kids (we were easily entertained). He would also do this trick, a lot when we were young, where he'd balance on one leg, grab his ankle and leap over his other leg, nearly knocking his chin with his knee, and land upright again on one foot. He couldn't do it as well after his various railroad accidents stiffened his legs, so he'd go careening across the room on landing, YAAAA, and we'd giggle all the more.

But I guess this stuff isn't nearly as mystically legendary or mysterious as his trying to shorten his recognition time to 1/30th of a second or whatever. People can believe whatever they like if it helps get them through the night, right?

(Pat, who was on the cc: list for much of these conversations, chimes in here)

PAT: Hey, at the least the guy has something to keep him busy. Kesey rambled on and on in Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test about 1/30 of a second being the least amount of time in which a human could perceive something. He said most humans took much longer with the exception of Neal Cassady, the fastest man alive. It's something along those lines. He also said that Cassady never dropped the hammer unless he wanted to make a point that something was happening and that people should pay attention to it. 'Course, Kesey was tripping his ass off quite a lot then and that's conducive to theories. I had friends who believed Jerry Garcia communicated with them at concerts by reflecting the light off his glasses into their eyes.

JOHN: Would that we all could make mistakes and have people go "oooh, aaaah, it's cosmic!"


(The above led me to ask about Ken Kesey and Ken Babbs, the leaders (if there was any such thing) as The Merry Pranksters.)

I consider Kesey and Babbs friends. I saw neither of them for about 15 years, although I kept track of them. Kesey was at my first wedding in 1975, then I didn't run into him again until around 1990. I've seen them both at various functions quite a bit since then. They're being more visible as of late. I took 8mm movies of Kesey and Neal, along with Ginsberg and others, when they'd visit our house in Los Gatos. They were an already infamous bunch that I wanted to record for posterity. Alas, those films have been lost. I next went to visit Ken on his farm in Eugene in '72 with another 8mm camera. Those films I still have and plan to transfer them to video someday.


Penguin sent me the new Kerouac CD-Rom last night (free stuff, about the only perk I get for doing LitKicks) and in the Gallery section I was pleased to see a photo of a bearded Neal surrounded by three nice-looking kids including a cute and pudgy tousle-haired tyke ... John, that was you!

I haven't seen this CD-Rom yet, although it's all I heard about for months from my mother while they were working on it. They solicited a lot of material from her, and she was enthusiastic about helping them because they seemed genuine and they paid well for pictures and stuff. But in the end they used only a fraction of the stuff she'd sent, a typical disappointment.

"Pops" grew the beard after one of his railroad accidents when he was home for months recuperating. If it's the picture I'm thinking of, I was only months old. That picture has been in several books. I was so "pudgy" (read: fat) that it looks like they have rubber bands around the joints on my arms and legs, and I'm puffing my cheeks out. There's a later one with beard in our back yard in San Jose where I'm about two and have a buzz cut on my massive head. So flattering.

Neal looks great in a beard -- how the hell did he stay so fit? Did he ever eat? Did he work out? Somehow I can't picture him in a Soloflex, so it must have been his work and all that legendary hammer-flipping -- but then I know a lot of people who do physical work, and they don't look so great.

He worked out on free weights a lot as a teenager, probably at reform school and in Denver skid row gyms. He was born with a great physique and developed it early. Later it was work that kept it tight, sprinting in parking lots, walking miles in the rail yards, tossing truck tires in and out of the retreader. He didn't start the hammer schtick until shortly before his death.


(One day John wrote me about an event in England.)

I called mum Tuesday, October 17, to ask how the big poetry festival at the Albert Hall went the night before at which Ginsberg was supposed to perform. She said he called her that day and was really chummy but had declined comp tickets because it was a benefit (jeez), but luckily a couple of her fans insisted on escorting her and bought seats at seventh row center. Allen comes out and after some "one-liners," one about Neal, he introduces his accompanist for the evening, a job I used to do on guitar when he'd be in the Bay Area. Out walks Paul McCartney, as you may have heard by now, and of course everyone is shocked that there was no media leaks beforehand and the place was half empty (only holds 4500). Did she go backstage afterwards to snarf an autograph for her Beatle-fan son? Noooooooooo! Oh well. "I told Allen I'd go to a book signing of his later in the week, so I left early, knowing I'd see him then." Christ. Anyway, she said they rocked the house and that I was in good company as one of Allen's accompanists. I wish I shared Paul's bank balance as well!

So you jammed with Allen Ginsberg? Believe it or not, I actually find his music very pleasant. He has a voice like an operatic frog, but there's some strange lilting-ness to it that I find very contradictory and interesting. When did you play with him, and what did you play?

Allen was kind enough to invite me along on gigs he did during the seventies while visiting the Bay Area. I was living in Santa Cruz at the time. We only performed together a few times, but a couple shows stand out in my memory.

The first was when my rock band at the time was playing as house band at a nightclub called the Sail Inn near the Portola Avenue beach. Ginsberg somehow found us and showed up unannounced with Peter Orlovsky and others in tow. I convinced the band to take a break so I could get Allen up there to do his thing, and I joined him on electric guitar. He played his harmonium and Peter played banjo. I was used to Allen simply reading his poetry and wailing on finger cymbals, so this configuration was new to me. He told me he had learned the blues and jammed with Dylan on three-chord progressions, mostly in the key of "C." He had recently done local shows accompanied on guitar by Barry Melton of the Fish, and he now needed a new sideman as Barry was busy somewhere else. I said I'd be honored.

That first night we played about a half hour on slow, dirge-like blues chords over which he sang poems. I peered into the audience to see the club's owner and the few patrons that were left in attendance staring with their mouths agape. They hadn't a clue and we nearly lost our cush gig there, but Allen liked it and soon called me for others. The best was a benefit for Chet Helms and the Family Dog called the Tribal Stomp held at the Greek Theater in Berkeley in 1978. It was a big thrill for me because I got to meet all my hero bands from the sixties backstage. Allen even paid me; what a deal.

I'm a pretty big Beatles fan too. My favorite is Lennon's solo albums. I like Yoko's albums quite a bit as well. McCartney is sometimes good ... he had good taste in partners.

I've never listened to Yoko's stuff, but if it's anything like "Two Virgins," I'll pass. I was caught by the Beatles at the perfect age to experience the mania, and I confess that I never got over it. Paul, although more traditional in style, was a great songwriter when with John, but lost it without him. I don't think Lennon did as well on his own, either. I think as I did in the sixties: Lennon = God.


What are your siblings up to?

My two older sisters still live in California and we get together whenever possible.

Cathy, 47, and her husband George live near Sacramento. Their three kids are now grown and off on their own. Cathy's a health care professional and teacher who moved out of the house as a teenager and got married so I didn't hang out with her as much as I would have liked as an adult. We're very close but only see each other on rare visits a couple times a year because of the distance between our homes. She's got a lot of Neal stories of her own of which I only catch glimpses when we're able to meet. She's happy to stay more out of the mainstream Beat lore network.

Jami, 45, and her husband Randy live near Santa Cruz. They have a daughter, Becky, 14. They lived in Los Gatos up until a year ago, so I've kept in fairly close contact with Jami over the years. "How's my sweet little Jami?" Jack would write to Carolyn in the early '50s. Cathy and I weren't exactly treated like chopped liver, mind you, but Jami was such a doll and everyone's favorite. They're both in Jack's books a lot (I was the runt of the litter and too young). Jami works in a dental office, and often wonders why she and Cathy rarely get mentioned in these Neal articles (thanks for asking, Levi). Jami has shared some amazing memories of Dad with me on occasion, like the time her boyfriend's band was playing The Barn in Scotts Valley (infamous psychedelic dance hall/Prankster hangout) and Neal was so high she had to look after him all night in the black-lit, postered catacombs of the place. Someday I'll record her tales.

Curt Hansen is my half brother by Dad's short-lived marriage to Diana in New York. Although I've only met him twice in person, he's a great guy and we keep in touch. He and his wife Debbie came out for a weekend visit in '94 and we had good talks. I couldn't recall our first meeting at Carolyn's in 1969, but then again I can't recall most of that year anyway. Curt is the program manager at radio station WEBE in Connecticut.


Jack and Allen Ginsberg seemed to have felt alienated when your parents become devotees of Edgar Cayce's mystical philosophy. At the same time, Cayce's influence seems to have been a good one for Neal, and for your parent's marriage. What do you think of all this? Did they teach much of it to you? Is your mother still influenced by it, and are you? It almost seems, from what I've read, to have been your family "religion."

Edgar Cayce represented a great alternative to the dogmatic Catholicism in which Neal was raised, and my parents shared his philosophy with us kids at a young age. My mother insists it was not the man, but his "channeled information" that is important. Apparently he was just a farmer from Alabama or somewhere.

They didn't raise us to be ignorant of the basics, though, and sent us to Sunday school first. That's us on the way to church on Easter Sunday, 1957, on the cover of "Grace Beats Karma." I wasn't fond of going to church, except for getting ice cream cones at Foster's Freeze next door after the ordeal. After about a year of that they announced they would keep us home Sunday mornings, but we had to listen to them for an hour as if it were school. This news was like being let out of jail when you're seven years old, and we heartily approved. They would read from different alternative books including Cayce and other metaphysical stuff, and in that context it didn't seem way out at all. Also, they weren't fanatics by then on Cayce or anything else, as described earlier by Kerouac when it was fresh.

We grew up with an understanding of Karma and reincarnation that I took for granted until I went to public schools and realized this knowledge wasn't normal among my peers. In that regard it was somewhat of a cruel shock to learn that everyone didn't believe this stuff, and I had to adjust to other points of view. Still, I don't regret adopting their perspective. They thought much in organized religion was distorted, except for the basic concepts that started them, like the Golden Rule. My experience since then has resulted in similar thinking.

My mother hasn't changed her outlook much over the years, but doesn't "preach" it much anymore. She seems secure in her knowledge of how the universe works. Her basic beliefs remain unchanged, which is comforting, and they still ring true for me.

I think after Jack had embraced Buddhism so desperately he was unwilling to shift gears again when confronted with Neal's Cayce rap and tuned it out. Just a theory; I was awfully young.


(On November 5, the New York Times Magazine printed an article called "Children of the Beats." Written by Daniel Pinchbeck (son of Jack Kerouac's one-time girlfriend Joyce Johnson), it featured profiles of John, Neal's other son (by a different woman, Diana Hansen) Curt Hansen, Jan Kerouac, Parker Kaufman, Lisa Jones and others. This article caused a bit of a stir with its tragic overtones -- the thesis seemed to be that all the Beat writers had been despicable parents. I wrote to John that I didn't think the article captured what I saw as the positive side of his life.)

I agree with you about the article's overall negative tone. Even I came off sounding like I thought the whole era was trivial. My biggest beefs were that he only mentioned the book "Heart Beat," not "Off the Road," as my mother's principal work. Christ, it's been out of print for twenty years, and sales of "Off The Road" could have been helped by a mention in a piece with this kind of circulation. Also, no mention of my sisters, who, last I checked, were Neal's kids as well. And what's up with this "John Allen?" I don't recall calling myself that when we talked. I suspect he was trying to allude to the Kerouac/Ginsberg namesakes, but he never mentioned them! And shouldn't one say "His mother IS Carolyn Cassady," not "WAS?" At least his spelling was correct.

I think he was out for sensationalism in the Neal stories he recorded, similar to the Beats-suck-as-parents theme in the other interviews. The only story he bothered to print was about Neal's decline, although I gave him two hours worth of upbeat, funny ones. Pat noticed he wasn't writing in his notebook during these. Possibly because when he would earlier ask things like "what did you learn from all this?" or "how were you affected?", I'd blow him off and continue with stories (similar to our interview?) and he might have felt slighted. At least you were compassionate and let me ramble.

All things considered, I'd say it's about a C+. I've had worse showings, but certainly better. The piece in the Metro (San Jose) from about '88 comes to mind as more accurate (and pages longer). Too bad it was not as widely read.

One other thought I had -- since some of the other "children of the Beats" don't seem like the type to have kids, it would have been nice to mention that you have a son. Speaking of which, what does he think of all this Neal publicity? Did he like the article?

Yeah, that would have been nice if the article had mentioned Neal's grandson. His name's Jamie, after my sister, cruel parents that we were. I came home last night and said his picture is in the NY Times so he's famous. That's a chalk portrait of him above my head [in the photo of John that accompanies the article] which my mom drew in London in '92. Jamie hasn't read much Beat stuff and probably doesn't understand what the big deal is, but he thinks it's bitchin' to have a famous grandfather and to see our name in stuff all the time.


I think Pat early on sent you a description of when I spoke at Jan's benefit show in SF earlier this year. I got loaded and lost my wallet, which Kesey found and gave to Nicosia to return to me, Jeez. I was given a pretty cool photograph taken of Jan and I sitting together while giving interviews earlier that day which I can try to send to you somehow. An historic meeting. It's too bad her life's been rough lately. Makes me not feel so bad about my own life, though. We all have demons to exorcise.

I proposed to her at our first meeting in North Beach in the early '70s. She was lookin' good back then, and I thought, "what a perfect match-up!", historically speaking, at least. What would Jack and Neal have thought? I forget what her response was, but we never married, as I recall.


Bill showed up at my mother's house in Los Gatos around 1973. At that time her place was party central, and I recall some crazy times during that era. I had just returned from a year's travel across the US, and my sister Jami and her husband Randy were living with Carolyn. I had been home about a week, sleeping on the couch because J&R had claimed my old room in my absence, when they threw a giant party in the half-acre dirt back yard. It was a Memorial day party, to celebrate all our gone "gone" friends.

We built a big stage at the back of the lot on a hill. There were three rock bands and Allen Ginsberg did a long set, singing, chanting, and reading poetry. He had a broken leg from slipping on the ice at his place in Cherry Valley, NY, and sat cross-legged on a rug with his cast sticking out in front and incense burning. The police were mellow about the crowds and a good time was had by all. Wait a minute, what does this have to do with Burroughs? He wasn't even there yet. I know, background color about my mom's house in those days. I soon moved to Santa Cruz, but the next spring I found they had built a huge vegetable garden in the back yard complete with grass trails through it with benches and bird baths and stuff.

There under a tree toward the back was this short, stocky guy with long hair and a scruffy beard with a gallon of red wine in his lap talking to Jami. They were half lit and laughing a lot, so naturally I joined them. Bill Jr. was only working on his first liver in those days and was quite lucid and witty. Everyone seemed to migrate to Carolyn's at one time or another. We would have wild all-night discussions in the living room. My mother recently sent me an audio tape she found of one of those nights, but I was so high that poor Bill couldn't get a word in edgewise, I was talking so much. It's an embarrassment, except for one stretch where we're all talking at once, Mom included, while completely ignoring the others. That part's funny.

Anyway, I didn't see Bill for a year or two. When he arrived at my house in Santa Cruz he looked thin and wasted. The first thing he did was lift up his shirt to show me the scar, more like a hole, left from his recent liver transplant, a new procedure at the time which he had just received in Denver. I nearly hurled, but helped myself to the jars full of Valium which he spread on the kitchen table. He was understandably tired and our subsequent discussions weren't nearly as lively as in the past. The great local writer William J. Craddock sought him out and had us over for dinner. Craddock was a big fan of Neal's and seemed to enjoy having the second generation converge at his house.

The sad day came when Bill was feeling so poorly that I insisted on driving him to the ER at Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz. They immediately whisked him back to Denver and within days he was dead. Although his father's money gave him a second chance with a transplant, I think it was too little, too late. He was one of the casualties of the tragic side of these lost artist types. Daniel Pinchbeck was just twenty years too late to interview Bill Jr.


(Ed and Galatea Dunkel were two of the more colorful characters in "On The Road." Like most of Kerouac's characters they had their real life equivalents, and Al and Helen Hinkle were still close friends of Carolyn Cassady's when Helen died last year.)

I ran into Al Hinkle in the supermarket last night. On the way home I flashed on the fact that the suburban ladies pushing shopping carts around us had no clue that Big Ed Dunkel from "On the Road" was chatting with Dean Moriarty Jr. in the frozen food isle (nor would they have cared). He's in his late 60's and looks great; just got back from a month in Denver visiting an older sister in Neal's old neighborhood. He lost his wife Helen to cancer last year which was heavy for all of us.

That blows my mind about Big Ed Dunkel ... I didn't know "Galatea" had died, either. I always enjoyed that part in the book where she chews your father out and he goes and sits on the stoop for a few minutes considering it, then, without a word, gets up and continues with his life. Sometimes you gotta just do that ...

Helen Hinkle was an extremely wise woman. I liked that scene, too. It's almost excruciating to read because she's so right and Dean is so foolish. Helen called it like it is. I was so grateful that I looked her up in recent years and had long talks with her about them all in the days, not knowing her time would be short. I almost missed her altogether. They've lived in the same house for over forty years, and just a few miles from my current address, but I just never got around to seeing them much until about three years ago. The Metro also did an excellent piece on the Hinkles a couple years ago. They were a big part of it all and no one knows. Helen was so funny. She liked to remind me that she used to change my diapers when I was a baby, jeez. She'd sit there and smoke cigarettes, drink coffee and curse during her stories; what a character. Al is more of a mellow talker and a bit long-winded, but has some great stuff from the Denver days.


(I told John I was going to illustrate this interview with a photo his girlfriend Pat had sent me, showing John in a "far-out" Greg-Brady-style shirt at a party. )

Jeez, I look like a dork-o-rama, but go ahead.

* * * * *
This is the second part of the four-part John Cassady Interview.

John Cassady Interview: How This Interview Happened

by Levi Asher on Wednesday, January 3, 1996 05:34 pm

I think it had something to do with Jerry Garcia dying. It was in the days following that, anyway, that I received an e-mail from a stranger named Pat Gallagher. I get lots of e-mail about my Literary Kicks web site, sometimes too much, and often I have to remind myself not to skim, because I might miss something important. This was a case in point:

Hello Levi:

Well, I finally got Netscape software and started searching the Web immediately for Beat news. Looks like you've cornered the market on it. I'm sure you've heard this already, but in your On the Road list of stars to play people you named Carolyn Cassady as the character Diana Hansen. Hansen was Cassady's third wife and second annulment; her son Curt still lives in Bridgeport CT. Her name in Road was Inez. Carolyn's was Camille. I guess Kerouac went for those exotic names.

Last we heard, the movie was on hold because Coppola said it had no plot. Well, really. They started in one place, went to a bunch of other places, and ended up somewhere else. That's more plot than, say, Dazed and Confused had. I've been reading your postings with my friend John Cassady (Neal's son); we like Brad Pitt but are not so sure about Sean Penn. I heard Johnny Depp was a contender--we're now big fans of his especially after the movie Ed Wood.

OK, it's the weekend. Just wanted to let you know I liked your site and will log in regularly.

Pat Gallagher

I could have easily missed the second-to-last sentence in the second paragraph. John who? In fact, I think Pat had hidden the name as a test, to see if I'd be paying attention. Luckily, I was.

I knew that Neal Cassady had had several children, but I had no idea where any of them were, or how they were doing. I also had no idea what it would be like to be the adult child of a figure as enigmatic and legendary as Neal Cassady, and I didn't expect I'd ever find out.

Neal Cassady was novelist Jack Kerouac's best friend in the 40's and 50's. He took Jack, then a frustrated and complex former Columbia student who wanted to be a writer, on a series of cross-country trips that Kerouac later wrote about in his most famous book, "On The Road." Neal was the star of the book: Dean Moriarty, the wild one with all the girls , the one who loved jazz and couldn't stop driving.

Neal Cassady had another side, though. Unlike most of the other figureheads of the Beat Generation, he enjoyed raising a family and holding down a job. He settled with his wife Carolyn and his three kids, Cathy, Jami and John, in the quiet suburb of Los Gatos, near San Jose. During much of the 1950's, he veered dangerously back and forth between the crazed activities of his newly-famous Beat friends and the thoroughly normal suburban family life that seemed to energize him in a different but equally important way.

The balance was thrown off when he was sent to prison for two years on a marijuana charge. Returning to the San Jose area at the dawn of the 1960's, he fell in with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, and became a legend a second time for driving the psychedelic bus, "Furthur," on yet another cross-country trip, this one with Kesey at the helm. He participated in Ken Kesey's Acid Tests and hung out with the band that provided the music for the events, who would soon crystallize themselves into the Grateful Dead. This scene was immortalized in Tom Wolfe's "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test", and to this day more people probably know of Neal Cassady as "the guy who drove the bus" (and as the inspiration for Dead songs like "The Other One" and "Cassidy") than as Dean Moriarty in Kerouac's book.

In any case, the wild life took its toll on Neal, and he died in Mexico in 1968.

Fast forward now to August 1995. I wrote back to Pat Gallagher, and found out some more details about Neal's son:

John and I both work at Caere Corp. in Los Gatos CA. OCR and bar coding software/hardware. He's senior tech support for the bar code division and I'm a technical writer for the office products line. Not bad work at all. Los Gatos is a nice little town at the beginning of the whole festering, uglydog, overcrowded, vastly polluted Silicon Valley.

I found it interesting that John still lived in Los Gatos, which had been a suburban outpost in Neal's time but was now a part of the thriving "Silicon Valley." Pat seemed to know John very well; the two apparently palled around together. I enjoyed some of the tales Pat told me about meeting people like Ken Kesey:

John and I went to the Jan Kerouac benefit in SF a couple months ago ... I tagged around after John and met Kesey and Babbs. Kesey kept calling me "Giloohly." That's my only claim to fame at this moment; I was just hanger-on flotsam otherwise.

And as I often do after I began corresponding regularly with someone, I began to form a mental picture of Pat as a ruddy-haired Irish guy, a rugby player-type with a beer belly and a tan sweater. A few more mails went by, including one in which Pat attached a photo taken at a party, and I discovered that my mental image of Pat was way, way off -- it was Patricia, and after some further digging I discovered that Pat and John were a couple, a long-term "office romance" in fact.

Being the type of person who always blows chances to get to know people I want to know, I didn't write to John, even though Pat sent me his address. Finally, though, a note from him showed up in my mailbox:


A pleasure to make your acquaintance. I understand my friend Pat Gallagher has been writing often since discovering your website about the Beats. I've enjoyed your postings as well, and thought I'd finally write to you myself.

I'm also somewhat of a musician. Is that a Fender "P" bass you're playing in the photo with your daughter? I guess it could be a Strat, the shadow made it look like large tuning pegs at first. Anyway, let's jam sometime.

I agree with your book choice of "Thank You, Jeeves" by P.G. Years ago my pals and I were Wodehouse fanatics, and would go around quoting him as if at Blandings or at the Drones or on the golf course: "Wot ho, old face, it's a bit thick, wot?!", etc. A mystery to listeners.

Too bad about Jerry last week. A couple local rags solicited me for Jerry stories to print. I only wish I had more; who knew?

Good piece on the "OTR" audition. I think Pat may have mentioned, I'm sending a wad of your print-outs to Mum in London next week. She should keep up with what's on the Net, don't you think?

Gotta go. Write if so inclined.

John Cassady

A P.G. Wodehouse fan! Incredible. And "Mum" could only be Neal's wife Carolyn Cassady, now author of the popular recent Beat memoir "Off The Road" and, incidentally, a woman Jack Kerouac loved, despite (or because of) the fact that she was his best friend's wife.

John and I exchanged several messages, and I found him to be a wonderful e-mail writer and a warm, funny person. He sent me a letter he'd sent to the San Jose Mercury News about Jerry Garcia -- seeing that letter in print, he told me, made him feel inspired to share some more stories and thoughts he'd been keeping to himself. I suggested we do an in-depth e-mail interview for Literary Kicks, and he thought this was a good idea.

I've never interviewed anyone before, and may never do so again. I could probably use lessons from Barbara Walters ("Tell me ... just who is the real Tori Spelling? What do you dream of at night?"). My style is more like this: "Uh, John, do you think you could maybe tell me something interesting so I could use it in this interview?" But anyway, I had fun, and I think John did too. We cc'd some of our e-mail to Pat, who occasionally stuck in her own $.02. Pat also committed the story of how she and John met to electrons, and that forms the third part of this interview.

In the fourth section, I link to some other material about Neal Cassady and related topics.

Enjoy! John does not want to make his e-mail address public, but I will forward any messages to him that I deem interesting, worthwhile or amusingly rude.

The photo at the top of this page was taken by John at the Jerry Garcia Memorial in Golden Gate Park on August 20, 1995.

* * * * *

This is the first part of the four-part John Cassady Interview.

A Note from Los Gatos: the John Cassady Interview

by Levi Asher on Wednesday, January 3, 1996 05:29 pm

In August 1995 I began corresponding via e-mail with John Cassady, the son of late Beat hero Neal Cassady. John still lives and works in the vicinity of Los Gatos, the legendary homestead of the Cassady family. He has not spoken much in public about the legacy of his father or his own unusual upbringing, and after exchanging several e-mails we agreed to conduct an in-depth interview. This is a record of the entire correspondence.

• Part One: How This Interview Happened

• Part Two: The John Cassady Interview

• Part Three: Pat's Story

• Part Four: Odds and Ends

Beat News: January 3 1996

by Levi Asher on Wednesday, January 3, 1996 12:44 pm

1. I'm happy to kick off the new year with 'A Note From Los Gatos' an interview with John Cassady, a resident of Northern California who happens to be the son of Neal Cassady.

2. J. D. Salinger and Jack Kerouac had a lot in common -- both went to prep school in New York and spent the 1950's writing poignant novels and discovering Buddhism -- but I understand that they never liked each other. I think Holden Caulfield and Sal Paradise would have been great friends, though. Anyway, I recently came across The Holden Server, a cool little site that delivers a new quote from The Catcher in the Rye every time you visit it.

Beat News: December 14 1995

by Levi Asher on Friday, December 15, 1995 12:29 am

1. HotWired is running a series of pastel artworks by Francesco Clemente annotated by Allen Ginsberg. The series is called 'Pastel Sentences.'

2. "Poetry in Motion" and "Poetry in Motion II", two new CD-Roms from Voyager, are pretty good. They feature spoken word and musical performances by poets and writers like Allen Ginsberg, Diane DiPrima, Jim Carroll, Anne Waldman, Gary Snyder, William S. Burroughs and Ed Sanders. The interface is clean and unpretentious, and the poetry readings are presented in short, pleasurable bursts, none longer than a few minutes. Diane DiPrima's "Light," accompanied by a hypnotic tingly piano and flashes of colored lights, is one of my favorite pieces. Overall rating: excellent Xmas present!

3. Check this out: a few months ago I received an e-mail from a Norweigan translator named Dag Heyerdahl Larsen who was working on the first Norwegian edition of Tom Wolfe's "Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test." He needed help with some Americanisms (like"Shazam" and "Baskin-Robbins") and I had fun trying to answer his questions (though many of Tom Wolfe's references make no sense no matter how well you know the language). The book is now out in Norway, and it's called "Syreproven," which means "Acid Test" -- Dag explained to me that the best direct translation of the full title would have meant "The Acid Test Based On Electric Kool-Aid." I agreed with him that this just didn't have that 'ring.' He also told me that nobody in Norway knows what Kool-Aid is.

Dag mailed me a copy, and it was fun to see my name in the appendix, surrounded by all kinds of strange Norwegian text. I wonder what he said about me?

4. I've been wanting to write an update on the much-talked-about Francis Ford Coppola film of "On The Road," but unfortunately I have no hard information to present. I've heard many things -- it's on, it's off, it's on again but Coppola's son will direct ... I heard from one very good source that Woody Harrelson was actually signed to play Dean Moriarty, which is what I recommended in the very first Beat News entry. But now that I've thought about this, I don't even know if I agree with myself that this would be good, and anyway I heard from others that it's not even true.

Other Beat-related film projects are also in discussion stages, including some involving Jack Kerouac and/or Neal Cassady (the two real-life principals in "On The Road.") Nothing, I understand, is definite. At this point, I'd be just as happy to hear that none of these films will be made. There's too much Beat hype lately anyway, and we're all getting sick of it.

5. Speaking of Beat hype: when I started Literary Kicks in the summer of '94 almost nobody was talking about the Beats. What happened? Back then, I didn't even start a Beat News page for the first few months, because there was no Beat News. Now ... forget it. I knew it was getting out of hand when Literary Kicks got mentioned in a fairly brain-dead article about the Beat phenomenon in Vogue magazine. According to Vogue, the Beat Generation was all about clothing! Well well, I learn something new every day ...

Anyway, I used to try to capture every Beat-related URL on the Web somewhere in these pages, but this has recently become impossible. There's just too much stuff out there. I will continue to put stuff I consider particularly interesting in this page, but if anyone else wants to create and maintain a more comprehensive page of Beat listings and links, I will happily make it a part of Literary Kicks. I wish I had time myself, but I honestly don't. Any volunteers?

Coming soon: my e-mail interview with John Cassady, Neal's son.

Connections: Beats in Rock Music

by Levi Asher on Thursday, November 16, 1995 01:52 pm

I discovered the Beats the same way a lot of people did, not through books but via the musical connections. My interest in the Grateful Dead led me to read "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" as a teenager, and that was how I first heard of Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac . The first time I saw Allen Ginsberg's name was on the liner notes to Bob Dylan's great mid-seventies album "Desire." I first knew of William S. Burroughs as the author of several strange articles in Crawdaddy, my favorite rock music/alternative-culture magazine as a kid (it went out of business in the age of disco) and later as some old guy Patti Smith talked about a lot in interviews.

All of this got me curious, and I followed the threads. When I started reading the original Beat classics I knew I had found something important and real, and since I was already very interested in fiction I soon became personally involved with the whole Beat 'thing.' The purpose of this page is to document the musical connections that originally caught my interest. There's much more to be said about all this; maybe eventually I'll be the one to say it.

Grateful Dead

The Dead were Beat-related even before they were the Dead. When Ken Kesey (Oregon-born LSD pioneer and author of 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest') began holding public gatherings known as "Acid Tests" in San Francisco, Neal Cassady was his ever-present co-conspirator and the Warlocks were the house band. The Warlocks would change their name to the Grateful Dead after they discovered the name 'Warlocks' was taken by another band. I think they ended up with the better name anyway.

A poster for one of the later Acid Tests, after the Dead changed their name, is at left. This all took place around 1965/66, before the Summer of Love, before the Hippie explosion (in fact this greatly inspired the Hippie explosion, at least in Haight-Ashbury). Dead songs about Neal include 'The Other One' and 'Cassidy'. I used to think 'He's Gone' was about Neal too, and a lot of people have thought so as well; it turns out it's not but it could have been.

Bob Dylan

Allen Ginsberg was Dylan's favorite poet. Ginsberg became part of Dylan's circle of friends and worked with him on various projects including the film 'Don't Look Back,' several early 70's songs, the legendary Rolling Thunder Revue tour, and the film associated with the Rolling Thunder Revue, 'Renaldo And Clara.' A scene of Ginsberg reading his emotional and shocking poem 'Kaddish' to a roomful of unsuspecting elderly mah-jongg players is included in 'Renaldo And Clara,' as well as a visit to Jack Kerouac's grave.

Despite Dylan's close connection to Ginsberg, Dylan's creative point of view seems to me even more akin to Kerouac's than to Ginsberg's. In fact I suspect (with no evidence at all on this) that the reason Dylan doesn't stress how much he has gotten from Kerouac is that he doesn't want to admit it. An example of a very Kerouac-like Dylan work: the excellent spoken-word performance of 'Last Thoughts On Woody Guthrie' on The Bootleg Series.

Kerouac didn't think much of Dylan, according to reports I've heard. That's what one would figure, too, given Kerouac's general hostility to the hippie/liberal scene of the Sixties. Anyway, that's Dylan typing in the picture at the top of this page. There's a new official Bob Dylan website now too, and it's really good (I helped build it).

Pink Floyd

This connection is not as well-known as the Grateful Dead connection, but Pink Floyd arose from the mid-sixties London psychedelic scene in much the same way that the Dead arose from Haight-Ashbury. And just as the Haight-Ashbury scene was partly inspired by Ken Kesey with help from Neal Cassady, the London psychedelic scene was kicked off by the 1965 International Poetry Festival at the Royal Albert Hall, featuring Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Corso and others. This gathering was such a success it led to the initiation of Beat/psychedelic events at clubs like the Marquee, and it was from this environment that Pink Floyd, then led by Syd Barrett, emerged. The Soft Machine were there too, the second-most popular band after the Floyd, kind of like what Jefferson Airplane was to the Dead.

Like I said, this connection is not very well-known, maybe because Pink Floyd's later popularity with suburban teenage audiences has caused 'serious' types to look down upon them. But I was a suburban teenage Pink Floyd freak once, and I know how good they were (I say 'were' rather than 'are' because I'm not too crazy about the recent post-Roger-Waters material). From the days of the playful and misunderstood genius Syd Barrett to the stoned hypnotic experiments of 'Ummugumma' and 'Soundtrack From 'More'' to the clock-like perfection of 'Dark Side' and the naked anguish of 'The Wall' and 'The Final Cut,' this band went places no other quartet or quintet of electronic-instrument-wielders could possibly have gone.

The most prominent symbol of the connection between Pink Floyd and the Beats is Miles, owner of the Indica bookshop and a key member of the London art/poetry/rock scene. He went on to write the first major book on Pink Floyd ('Pink Floyd: A Visual Documentary by Miles') and also wrote the first major biography of Allen Ginsberg (as the more conventionally-named Barry Miles). He later wrote a biography of William S. Burroughs as well. I don't know much about Miles, and I'd sure like to find out more. I understand it was in his bookstore that John and Yoko met.

Velvet Underground

You know the International Poetry Festival in London that I mentioned above? Well, Andy Warhol and Gerald Malagna were there too. Just as Kesey and Babbs and Cassady and the Dead were building the Haight-Ashbury scene in San Francisco and Miles and Pink Floyd and the Soft Machine were creating psychedelic Swinging London, Warhol and his crowd were turning Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side into their personal playground for art, film, drugs and insanity. And music: Warhol's house band was the Velvet Underground, starring Lou Reed and John Cale.

The connections to the Beats were numerous, but tended to be incidental. Ginsberg's crowd and Warhol's crowd shared the same stomping ground, the Village and the Lower East Side, but their basic philosophies were quite different; Warhol liked to dwell in the negative, nasty, seamy side of life, and Ginsberg was a bearded finger-cymbal-clanging flower child. This kept the two groups from forming any major creative alliances. But you can't delve very far into the mid-Sixties activities of either group without running into the other.

As a lyricist Lou Reed has often been compared to Burroughs, as both are fascinated with heroin, down-and-out characters and the seamy side of the city. Ted Morgan actually insults Lou Reed in his otherwise intelligent biography of Burroughs, calling him a cheap Burroughs imitation ... as I said, this is a good book aside from this uninformed remark. In fact I find Burroughs' and Reed's approaches entirely different: Burroughs plays with ideas, breaks rules and strives to make his work incomprehensible as straight narrative, whereas Reed is a minimalist, writing about emotions and events with simple, naked clarity. In his extreme emotional self-revelations, Reed is actually more similar to Kerouac and Ginsberg than to the enigmatic Burroughs. (I also think he's a brilliant guitarist and songwriter, perhaps my favorite musician of all time.)

Lou Reed was one of the speakers scheduled to present at the Summer 1995 Kerouac Conference at New York University. I was surprised when I heard this, because Lou always maintains a severe ironical distance in his public persona, and NEVER does things like this. My reaction was obviously correct, because Lou's name was dropped from the list soon after, and Graham Parker's name was added (see below).

Richard Hell

Like Lou Reed, Richard Hell was scheduled to appear at a Kerouac tribute in New York, and then did not show up. In Hell's case, it was a reading of Kerouac's letters at St. Mark's Church in the Bowery, with Ginsberg, Ann Charters, etc. Graham Parker read in Hell's place (see below).

Richard Hell and the Voidoids were one of the great original New York scene punk bands, and Hell coined the term "Blank Generation" (which never took off anyway, unlike "Generation X," which was the name of Billy Idol's band around the same time). In fact, I recently heard the Rhino "Beat Generation" boxed set and discovered that "Blank Generation" was virtually a parody of the super-corny Rod McKuen song "I belong to the Beat Generation," which was so hokey even McKuen recorded it under a pen name. You can hear the original Rod McKuen song on the Rhino/WordBeat 3-CD set "The Beat Generation."

Richard Hell also discovered the great guitarist Robert Quine, who was responsible for the Voidoids' distinctive sound. I used to see the band a lot back when I was in high school, and they were great.

In case you're interested, here's The Blank Generation Web, from somewhere in Japan.

Graham Parker

This late-70's new-wave musician is obviously the one Ginsberg calls up when less responsible musicians like Lou Reed and Richard Hell cancel at the last minute (see above).


From the song "Holiday", lyrics sent to me by Rosalind Young (

Somebody had to come up with the "bivouac" rhyme sooner or later.

We'll write a postcard to our friends and family
In free verse
On the road with Kerouac
Sheltered in his Bivouac
On this road we'll never die...
Let's go away!

Sonic Youth

I've always wanted to know more about this band -- you know how there are sometimes bands that you know must be good and you hear about them all over the place, but then somehow you just never get a chance to really listen to them? That's what happened to me with Sonic Youth.

I'm planning to get one of their CD's soon but I'm just so damn busy and I keep forgetting. Till then, I get my Sonic Youth Beat Connection info from Mike McCullough (here's a bunch of Sonic Youth stuff on his music page). Most recently he told me that Lee Ranaldo has a solo album out called "Scripture of the Golden Eternity," which is also the name of a great piece of Kerouac freeform Buddhist writing that you can read here. According to Mike the album is "the usual lee ranaldo feedback distortion delay loops, with some spoken spiel interjected over the noise, too weird to have a lot of mass market appeal, but it is out there. it is on father yod records distributed by drunken fish."

Machines of Loving Grace

The excellent name of this band comes from a Richard Brautigan poem that speaks (ironically or not? Both, I guess) of the beauty and warmth of technology and automation. I don't have a page on Brautigan yet but I will have one someday ...

The Boo-Radleys

The name itself is literary, of course, since Boo Radley was the misunderstood town-outcast/mysterious weirdo in "To Kill A Mockingbird." That was not a Beat book though; they are listed here because of their song "Charles Bukowski is Dead" (which is true, he is). Thanks to Marisha Chinsky ( for mentioning this to me.

Henry Rollins

This guy's got the Beat spirit for sure. He even publishes books by himself and others, such as Exene Cervanka and Nick Cave. I think that's admirable. Check out his publishing company, 2.13.61, named after his birthday.

Blake Babies

According to Jay at the people who would form this band (Juliana Hatfield's old group) were in Boston talking to Allen Ginsberg (or something like that) and when they asked him what they should call their band he suggested the Blake Babies, after William Blake. And that's how they got their name.

Smashing Pumpkins

A song called "Tristessa" may or may not be a reference to Jack Kerouac's novel of the same name, about a heroin-addicted prostitute in Mexico.

Rage Against The Machine

Allen Ginsberg's poems and words show up often in Rage's songs. For instance, the song "Bulls On Parade" includes Ginsberg's "Hadda Been Playing on the Jukebox."


Josh Dean ( sent me the lyrics to this song, "Boxcar," and others have also written to tell me that this band is into Kerouac. Conchita ( mentions also the song "Condition Oakland" in which Kerouac's voice can be heard.

You're not punk and I'm telling everyone.
Save your breath, I never was one.
You don't know what I'm all about.
Like killing cops and reading Kerouac.
My enemies are all too familiar.
They're the ones who used to call me friend.
I'm coloring outside your guidelines.
I was passing out when you were passing out your rules.
One, two, three four. Who's punk? Whats the score?
Got a friend. Her name is boxcar.
Cigarettes and beer in El Sob.
Her hair was blue now it's green.
I like her mind. She hates the scene.
You're on your own. You're all alone.


The song "Big Dipper" presents this interesting psychodrama:

Cigarettes and carrot juice
and get yourself a new tattoo
for those sleeveless days of June

I'm sitting on the Cafe Zinho's steps
with a book I haven't started yet
watching all the girls walk by

Could I take you out
I'll be yours without a doubt
on that big dipper

And if the sound of this it frightens you
we could play it real cool
and act somewhat indifferent

and hey Jim why did you have to come
why did you have to come around so soon
I wasn't ready for all this nature
The terrible green green grass
and violet blooms of flowered dresses
and afternoons that make me sleepy

But we could wait awhile
before we push that dull turnstile
into the passage

The thousands they had tread
and others sometimes fled
before the turn came

And we could wait our lives
before a chance arrives
before the passage

From the top you can see Monterey
or think about San Jose
though I know it`s not that pleasant

And hey Jim Kerouac brother of the famous Jack
or so he likes to say
lucky bastard

He's sitting on the cafe Zinho's steps
with a girl I'm not over yet
watching all the world go by

Boy you are looking bad
did I make you feel that sad
I'm honestly flattered

But if she asks me out
I'll be hers without a doubt
on that big dipper

Cigarettes and carrot juice
and get yourself a new tattoo
for those sleeveless days of June

I'm sitting on the cafe Zinho's steps
I haven't got the courage yet
I haven't got the courage yet
I haven't got the courage yet

(Incidentally Kerouac had no brother Jim, though he had a sister named Nin and an older brother named Gerard who died as a child.)


Somewhat hippy-dippy folksinger from the 60's who for a while was going to be the British Bob Dylan, and then veered towards pop psychedelia and produced cool songs like "Mellow Yellow." According to Will Stanley (, he sang the line "Ginsberg's taken a trip out east" (certainly a true sentiment) in his song "Sunny South Kensington" on his album "The Trip."

They Might Be Giants

Thanks to Daniel Pereira ( for transcribing the lyrics to the song "I Should Be Allowed To Think" from the album "John Henry." TMBG is an extremely unique Brooklyn-based duo that stretches boundaries between nerd-rock and avant-garde. This song is obviously inspired by Ginsberg's poem "Howl." I think these lyrics are great, especially the line "I saw the worst bands of my generation."

I saw the best minds of my generation
Destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical
I should be allowed to glue my poster
I should be allowed to think
I should be allowed to glue my poster
I should be allowed to think

I should be allowed to think
I should be allowed to think
And I should be allowed to blurt the merest idea
If by random whim, one occurs to me
If necessary, leave paper stains on the grey utility pole

I saw the worst bands of my generation
Applied by magic marker to dry wall
I should be allowed to shoot my mouth off
I should have a call in show

I am not allowed
To ever come up with a single original thought
I am not allowed
To meet the criminal government agent who oppresses me

I was the worst hope of my generation
Destroyed my madness, starving, hysterical
I should be allowed to share my feelings
I should be allowed to feel
I should be allowed to glue my poster
I should be allowed to think
I should be allowed to think
I should be allowed to think
And I should be allowed to blurt the merest idea
If by random whim one occurs to me
But sadly, this can never be
I am not allowed to think

The Fugs

A Lower East Side down-and-dirty rock outfit led by Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferburg. Ed Sanders is considered one of the great "latter-day" Beat writers, and with the page above I finally have some info on him here in Literary Kicks. A Fugs discography is included there too.


Lennon hung out with Ginsberg and Dylan a lot in the mid-Sixties, and now in the 90's McCartney has begun working with Ginsberg for the first time. Also, Burroughs is one of the faces on the cover of 'Sgt. Pepper.' The name 'Beatles' itself might include a generational reference along with it's many meanings (it also connotes "beat" as in rhythm, and is an homage to Buddy Holly and the Crickets, but it's likely the fab four were aware of the literary connotation as well). Finally, as I said above in the Pink Floyd section, I believe John and Yoko met in the Indica bookshop, run by Miles.

The Doors

Some common influences here: Jim Morrison was very interested in the 'deranged' poetry of Rimbaud. And the name of the band came from the Aldous Huxley's book "The Doors of Perception," which has some proto-Beat pedigree. More directly, Ray Manzarek did a poetry project with Michael McClure a couple of years ago. A video of one of these performances, called "Love Lion," is available from Mystic Fire Video

King Crimson

Created a Kerouac-themed album, 'Beat,' with songs about Kerouac and Neal Cassady. I've never heard or seen the album, but David Florkow ( told me that he doesn't particularly like it, and that his cats (who have good taste in music and prefer Pere Ubu and Captain Beefheart) don't either. Despite this, he sent me the lyrics to the first song on the first side, 'Neal and Jack and Me':
I'm wheels, I am moving wheels
I am a 1952 studebaker coupe
I'm wheels, I am moving wheels moving wheels
I am a 1952 starlite coupe ...
en route .... les souterrains
Des visions du Cody ... Sartori a Paris ...
Strange spaghetti in this solemn city ...
There's a postcard we've all seen before...
Past wild-haired teens in dark clothing
With hands-full of autographed napkins we
eat apples in vans with sandwiches...rush
into the lobby life of hurry up and wait
Hurry up and wait for the odd-shaped keys
Which lead to new soap and envelopes...
Hotel room homesickness on a fresh blue bed
And the longest-ever phone call
Sleep no sleep no sleep no sleep and no mad
Video machine to eat time... a cityscene
I can't explain the Seine alone at 4 a.m.
The Seine alone at 4 a.m....Neal and Jack and me
Absent lovers, absent lovers...

Soft Machine

Part of the London Marquee/UFO Club scene, along with Pink Floyd. Took their name from the William S. Burroughs novel, 'The Soft Machine.'

Steely Dan

Steely Dan was a dildo in 'Naked Lunch' by Burroughs. Here's the passage (easily offended people, please link elsewhere now):
Mary is strapping on a rubber penis. "Steely Dan III from Yokohama," she says, caressing the shaft. Milk spurts across the room.

"Be sure that milk is pasteurized. Don't go giving me some kinda awful cow disease like anthrax or glanders or aftosa...."

"When I was a transvestite Liz in Chi used to work as an exterminator. Make advances to pretty boys for the thrill of being beaten as a man. Later I catch this one kid, overpower him with supersonic judo I learned from an old Lesbian Zen monk. I tie him up, strip off his clothes with a razor and fuck him with Steely Dan I. He is so relieved I don't castrate him literal he come all over my bedbug spray."

"What happen to Steely Dan I?"

"He was torn in two by a bull dike. Most terrific vaginal grip I ever experienced. She could cave in a lead pipe. It was one of her parlor tricks."

"And Steely Dan II?"

"Chewed to bits by a famished candiru in the Upper Baboonasshole. And don't say 'Wheeeeee!' this time."

Jeez. And I used to think those guys were soft.

Patti Smith

Another one who was heavily into Rimbaud (remember from the great 'Horses' album: "go rimbaud and go johnny go!") She is also known to be a major William S. Burroughs fan. In October 1995 she performed with Herbert Huncke at the annual Kerouac celebration in Lowell. Her 1997 album "Peace And Noise" is dedicated to William S. Burroughs and includes bits from Allen Ginsberg's "Footnote to Howl."

Jim Carroll

As a young heroin-addict New York poet in the seventies, Jim Carroll was often seen as a throwback to the Beats. Two years ago I saw him at the Bottom Line in Greenwich Village doing a reading with Allen Ginsberg. Wonderful night.

The Clash

Ginsberg went to a concert of theirs and got called up on stage to perform. The song, 'Capitol Air,' is featured on Ginsberg's new boxed set, 'Holy Soul Jelly Roll.' The Clash also included a Ginsberg collaboration on their 'Combat Rock' album.

The Beastie Boys

From '3-Minute-Rule' on the amazing album 'Paul's Boutique,' Ad-Rock (Adam Horovitz) is freestyling:
"You slip, you slack, you clock me and you lack While I'm reading "On The Road" by my man Jack Kerouac"

Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprasy

Burroughs was on their CD, and they were on one of his as well.

Laurie Anderson

Collaborated with William S. Burroughs on several projects, including songs such as 'Sharkey's Night' and 'Mister Heartbreak.' He also appeared in her film 'Home of the Brave.'

10000 Maniacs

Natalie Merchant wrote this song. I'm typing it as it appears on the album cover, in paragraph form.
Hey Jack Kerouac

Hey Jack Kerouac, I think of your mother and the tears she cried, she cried for none other than her little boy lost in our little world that hated and that dared to bring him down. Her little boy courageous who chose his words from mouths of babes got lost in the wood. Hip flask slinging madmen, steaming cafe flirts, they all spoke through you.

Hey Jack, now for the tricky part, when you were the brightest star who were the shadows? Of the San Francisco beat boys you were the favorite. Now they sit and rattle their bones and think of their blood stoned days. You chose your words from mouths of babes got lost in the wood. The hip flask swinging madmen, steaming cafe flirts, nights in Chinatown howling at night.

Allen baby, why so jaded? Have the boys all grown up and their beauty faded? Billy, what a saint they made you, just like Mary down in Mexico on All Souls' Day.

You chose your words from mouths of babes got lost in the wood. Cool junk booting madmen, street minded girls in Harlem howling at night. What a tear stained shock of the world, you've gone away without saying goodbye.


Kurt Cobain released a CD of himself playing noise guitar over a Burroughs recitation of his short story, 'The Priest They Called Him.' Also, according to the biography "Come As You Are" (a good book, though the ending is obviously really sad), Cobain was into Kerouac and once wrote a song called "Beans" inspired by his novel 'The Dharma Bums.' The song's never been released, but I hope it someday will be.


Allen Ginsberg can be heard reciting a poem amid the crowd noise of a Punjabi marketplace on their CD "When I Was Born For The 7th Time."

Mott The Hoople

On an early album called "Brain Capers", this Bowie-esque glam-rock outfit included a song called "The Wheel of Quivering Meat Conception", after one of Kerouac's most well-known (and depressing) poems. Thanks to Joel Lewis ( for finding this.

Blue Oyster Cult

This is a good find -- thanks to Dan Clore. Blue Oyster Cult's classic 'Burning For You' begins:

Home in the valley
Home in the city
Home isn't pretty
Ain't no home for me

Home in the darkness
Home on the highway
Home isn't my way
Home I'll never be

Which is likely to have been inspired by a poem that appears in 'On The Road':

Home in Missoula
Home in Truckee
Home in Opelousas
Ain't no home for me

Home in old Medora
Home in Wounded Knee
Home in Ogallala
Home I'll never be

It's also worth nothing that the band's very talented singer and lead guitarist goes by the name of Buck Dharma.

Red Hot Chili Peppers

Thanks to Sarah Davis ( for sending me this, from the song "Mellowship Slinky in B Major," on "Blood Sugar Sex Magic" album:
Being that I'm the duke of my domain
My hat goes off to Mark Twain
Singing a song about what true men don't do
Killing another creature that's kind of blue
Writing about the world of the wild coyote
Good man Truman Capote
Talking about my thoughts 'cause they must grow
Cock my brain to shoot my load
I'm on my porch 'cause I lost my house key
Pick up my book I read Bukowski ...

Chuck Berry

No explicit Beat connections, but there's a definite Kerouac/Cassady sort of sensibility to his lyrics. Listen to his 1964 song 'Promised Land,' for instance -- something tells me Chuck had a copy of 'On The Road' in his back pocket while he was writing this one. Luckily the Dead play the song, so you can read the lyrics here.

Tom Waits

Several people have written to say that Tom Waits had a sort of Beat point of view throughout his work. David Florkow ( sent me the lyrics to this song, "Jack and Neal":
jack was sittin poker faced with bullets backed with bitches
neal hunched at the wheel puttin everyone in stitches
braggin bout this nurse he screwed while drivin through nebraska
and when she came she honked the horn and neal just barely missed a
truck and then he asked her if she'd like to come like that to californy
see a red head in a uniform will always get you horny
with her hairnet and those white shoes and a name tag and a hat
she drove like andy granatelli and knew how to fix a flat
and jack was almost at the bottom of his md 2020 neal was yellin
out the window tryin to buy some bennies from a lincoln
full of mexicans whose left rear tire blowed and the sonsobitches
prit near almost ran us off the road

well the nurse had spilled the manaschevitz all up and down her dress
then she lit the map on fire neal just had to guess
should we try and find a bootleg route or a fillin station open
the nurse was dumpin out her purse lookin for an envelope and
jack was out of cigarettes we crossed the yellow line
the gas pumps looked like tombstones from here
felt lonelier than a parking lot when the last car pulls away
and the moonlight dressed the double breasted foothills
in the mirror weaving outa negligee and a black brassiere
the mercury was runnin hot and almost out of gas
just then florence nightingale dropped her drawers and stuck
her fat ass half way out the window with a wilson pickett tune
and shouted get a load of this and gave the finger to the moon

countin one-eyed jacks and whistling dixie in the car
neal was doin least a hundred when we saw a fallin star
florence wished that neal would hold her stead of chewin
his cigar jack was noddin out and dreamin he was in a bar
with charlie parker on the bandstand not a worry in the world
and a glass of beer in one hand and his arm around a girl
and neal was singin to the nurse
underneath a harlem moon
and somehow you could just tell we'd be in california soon

Waits also sings of Kerouac in a song called "Bad Liver and a Broken Heart (in Lowell)."

Loudon Wainwright III

The song "Cobwebs" by this well-loved modern-day folkie contains this couplet:

Yeah it might have started back with Jack Kerouac
Probably more than likely it was Maynard G.Krebs

Van Morrison

Michael Bridge ( sent me this info about Van Morrison and the Beats:

There are a number of literary references in Van Morrison's music- there are many to William Blake, as well as Alan Watts, Rimbaud, Joyce, etc.- but there are a couple of brief mentions of Kerouac as well. (Although I must say, usually he just invokes their names rather than actually alluding to their work.)

One is in "Cleaning Windows" from the album BEAUTIFUL VISION (1982) where he talks about a working man's pride in his job and his enjoyment of simple daily activities:

I heard Leadbelly and Blind Lemon
On the street where I was born
Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee,
Muddy Waters sing "I'm A Rolling Stone"
I went home and read my Christmas Humphreys' book on Zen
Curiosity killed the cat
Kerouac's "Dharma Bums" and "On the Road".
Also, "On Hyndford Street" from HYMNS TO THE SILENCE (1993) is one of his zillion songs reminiscing about growing up listening to the crackling mystery of Radio Luxembourg. One verse is:
Going up the Casltlereagh hills
And the cregagh glens in summer and coming back
To Hyndford Street
Feeling wondrous and lit up inside
With a sense of everlasting life
And reading Mr. Jellyroll and Big Bill Broonzy
And `Really the Blues' by Mez Mezro
And `Dharma Bums' by Jack Kerouac
Over and Over again.
I guess Jack Kerouac and Van Morrison have always coexisted in the same place in my brain. Both of them were brought up Christians (I think Morrison was a Jehovah's Witness) who later embraced Buddhism, and each follows a similar path- the pursuit of the infinite/god/buddha/whatever in the face of human reality.... At times, they both can reach it AND can communicate it in such a way that make you know exactly what it is, even if only for a moment, but at other times you can feel them pulling and straining to make sense of even the simplest things....

Frank Zappa

I'm sure there are many beat references in the hundreds of extant Frank Zappa/Mothers of Invention albums. I can only think of one: the voice Zappa uses in the spoken-word introduction to 'Muffin Man' (from the great Beefheart/Zappa live album 'Bongo Fury') is an affectionate (I think) parody of Ginsberg's odd poetic-reading voice. This comes out most explicitly in the pronunciation of phrases like 'dried muffin remnants' and 'he puts forth a quarter-inch green rosette on the summit of a dense but radiant muffin of his own design' -- Zappa cracks up laughing during this last one.

Janis Joplin

Janis's version of 'Oh Lord Won't You Buy Me A Mercedes Benz' is pretty well-known, but did you know the song was written by Michael McClure? McClure used to hang around Haight-Ashbury playing songs like this one on an autoharp given to him by Bob Dylan, often with the help of Hell's Angels like Freewheelin' Frank.

Jethro Tull

Jethro Tull, a 70's band that explored the interplay between British/Celtic folk traditions and high-powered progressive rock, does not on the surface appear related to the Beats or any other American literary tradition. However, the album "Too Old To Rock and Roll," a cycle of songs that appears to be about lead singer Ian Anderson's own life, contains the following track, a drowsy pub conversation set to music and called "From A Dead Beat To An Old Greaser." This is another reminder of how deeply the Beat movement had once permeated British culture, despite (or perhaps because of) its overwhelming 'American-ness'. On the other hand, as Ian (the Old Greaser) sings: "I wasn't there, friend, I didn't care, friend." In any case, it's a nice song on a mostly-forgotten album.

From a dead beat to an old greaser, here's thinking of you.
You won't remember the long nights;
coffee bars; black tights and white thighs
in shop windows where blonde assistants fully-fashioned a world made
of dummies (with no mummies or daddies to reject them).
When bombs were banned every Sunday and the Shadows played F.B.I.
And tired young sax-players sold their instruments of torture ---
sat in the station sharing wet dreams of Charlie Parker,
Jack Kerouac, Rene Magritte, to name a few of the heroes
who were too wise for their own good --- left the young brood to
go on living without them.

Old queers with young faces --- who remember your name,
though you're a dead beat with tired feet;
two ends that don't meet.
To a dead beat from an old greaser.

Think you must have me all wrong.
I didn't care, friend. I wasn't there, friend,
If it's the price of a pint that you need, ask me again.

David Bowie

David Bowie, with his mask-like face and dry deadpan speaking voice, has often reminded people of William S. Burroughs. This is not a coincidence; Bowie is quite familiar with the works of Burroughs and has even acknowledged the stylistic influence in interviews. For Bowie, whose lyrics often explore the concept of fame and pop culture as an insidious control system, Burroughs is a natural comrade, along with other 60's media-culture prophets like Andy Warhol and Marshall McLuhan.

The most Burroughs-related Bowie work is "Diamond Dogs." This fascinating concept album mixes snatches of George Orwell's novel "1984" with ominous, creepy Interzone-inspired imagery and sounds. The album begins with a spoken-word bit called "Future Legend" that could have come right from a Burroughs cut-up. On the "David Live" album (from a concert tour built around the "Diamond Dogs" concept) the first thing you hear is the faraway sound of Arab music, as if to set the show in Tangier.

"Diamond Dogs" (which features the songs "Rebel Rebel" and "1984") is a great album, probably my favorite Bowie work. The best bit is probably the long, swirling montage called "Sweet Thing," featuring Mike Garson's amazing "Cabaret"-style piano and some of the nastiest guitar noises I've ever heard.

And here's a Bowie beat connection I bet you didn't know -- Bowie recently revealed that he thought up the name of the song "Jean Genie" while in the City Lights bookstore when he spotted a book by the French transgressive novelist Jean Genet.

Iggy Pop

In the song "Little Miss Emperor," cowritten by Pop and Bowie, he paraphrases from 'Howl':

I saw the best minds
Of my generation
Learn how to crawl
Across our nation
Conformity falls
Thanks to John Regehr (


A few people have told me about the album 'Hallucination Engine,' which has a song called 'Words of Advice' written and performed by Burroughs.


According to Hayden Burton (, this band is very into Burroughs' heroin-lore. There are samples of Bill's voice on the album "Psalm 69," and his image appeared in the video for the song "Just One Fix."

Skinny Puppy

Hayden Burton (see above) also tells me of this band's admiration for Burroughs' heroin-lore, and says the lyrics are often inspired by Bill's cut-up experiments.

Philip Glass

Philip Glass is not exactly a rock musician -- he's more of an experimental classical type. He has worked with musicians like Bowie and Brian Eno, though, so I guess he qualifies. He's beat-related because he occasionally collaborates on projects with Allen Ginsberg, and has performed live with him as well.

Paul Winter

Also not a real rock musician but rather a new-age type. He's done some work with Gary Snyder, mostly providing musical backup while Snyder recites. I've heard some of these recordings and they're actually pretty interesting, not merely relaxing like all that Wyndham Hill new-age stuff.

Al Stewart

Thanks to Lindsay Loyd ( for sending me these lyrics. I don't know much about Al Stewart, except that he sang 70's-era pop torch songs with quirky lyrics. The Kerouac reference is hardly enough to make this a true "Beat Connection", but what the hell. Here's "Modern Times," written by Dave Mudge and Al Stewart and recorded in 1975:

Hello old friend, what a strange coincidence to find you
It's been fifteen years since we last met, but I still recognised you
So call the barman over here, and let us fill our glasses
And drink a toast to olden times where all our memories lie,
Where all our memories lie.

Do you remember the time when we were young?
Lowly, lowly, low
Outside the window the frosty moonlight hung
On the midnight snow
So we pulled our scarves around our faces in the night
Huddled on the doorsteps where the fairylights shone bright
Singing Christmas carols while our breath hung in the light
It all comes back like yesterday
It almost seems like yesterday

Do you remember the changes as we grew?
Slowly, slowly, slow
Sneaking in the back way into movies after school
For the evening show
Chasing skinny blue jean girls across the building-site
Checking out the dance floor while the band played 'Hold Me Tight'
See the blonde one over there--I bet she'd be alright
It all comes back like yesterday
It almost seems like yesterday

While I talked he sat and he never made a sound
Staring at the glass beside me
Hey old friend, tell me what's on your mind?
Silence grows on you like ivy

Do you remember the church across the sands?
Holy, holy, ho
You stood outside and planned to travel to the lands
Where the pilgrims go
So you packed your world up inside a canvas sack
Set off down the highway with your rings and Kerouac
Someone said they saw you in Nepal a long time back--
Tell me why you look away
Don't you have a word to say?

He said "I don't remember...Don't want to remember
In fact I've heard too much already
I don't want to think, just leave me here to drink
Wrapped up in the warmth of New York City
Oh, oh, it seems you just don't know
And you just don't understand me
I've got no use for the tricks of modern times
They tangle all my thoughts like ivy."

So I left him, and I went out to the street
Lowly, lowly, low
Where the red light girls were coming after me--
Forty dollar show
All across the city's heart the lights were coming on
The hotel lift softly hummed a Cole Porter song
If I went to look for him I knew he would be gone
A picture-card of yesterday
A photograph of yesterday

And far off in a deserted part of town
The shadows like a silent army
Flooded out the rooms in pools of blues and brown
And stuck to all the walls like ivy

Dexy's Midnight Runners

This is sort of like the Jethro Tull mention above -- the singer doesn't seem to like Kerouac and Burroughs much himself, and views the character he's speaking to as somewhat pretentious for constantly tossing their names about. This provides an interesting insight into how the Beats may have been perceived by some in England and Ireland.

Even if he didn't like Kerouac, though, I liked Dexy's classic 80's song "Come On Eileen" a real lot.

Thanks to Paul Williams ( for sending me these lyrics. The song is called "There, There My Dear":

Dear Robin

I hope you don't mind me writing it's just that there's more than one thing I need to ask you. If you're so anti-fashion why not wear flares instead of dressing down all the same? It's just that looking like that I can express my dissatisfaction. Dear Robin, let me explain though you'll never see in a million years. Keep quoting Cabaret, Berlin, Burroughs, JG Ballard, Duchamp, Beauvoir, Kerouac, Kierkegaard, Michael Rennie. I don't believe you really like Frank Sinatra.

Dear Robin, you're always so happy, how the hell do you get your inspiration? You're like a dumb patriot. If you're supposed to be so angry, why don't you fight and let me benefit from your right? Don't you know the only way to change things is to shoot men who arrange things? Dear Robin, I would explain, but you'd never see in a million years.

Well you've made your rules but we don't know that game, perhaps I'd listen to your records, but your logic's far too lame and I'd only waste three valuable minutes of my life with your insincerity.

You see Robin I'm just searching for the young soul rebels and I can't find them anywhere. Where have you hidden them? Maybe you should welcome the new soul vision.

Willie Alexander

Boston-based rocker, recently jammed with Patti Smith and Herbert Huncke at the October '95 Kerouac fest in Lowell. Also recorded a song called "Kerouac."

The Washington Squares

This latter-day folk band, cleverly named after Greenwich Village's own little version of Central Park, sang a very affecting song called "(Did You Hear) Neal Cassady Died?"


This very literate band has more references to Kerouac and Beat poetry than I can even begin to list.


William S. Burroughs appeared as a cryptic mysterious person holding a spotlight in their video "Last Night On Earth." It was one of Burroughs' last gestures to the world before he died in 1997.

Bad Religion

From the 'Stranger Than Fiction' album: 'Caringosity killed the Kerouac cat.' (This seems to be a reference to the novel 'Big Sur.')

The Go-Betweens

On this Australian band's 1987 album 'Tallulah' is a song called 'The House that Jack Kerouac Built.' I've never heard it, but Michelle Hills ( typed the lyrics in for me:

You and I together, with nothing showing at all,
In a darkened cinema, I'll give you pleasure in the stalls.
Want to give you tenderness, and my affection too,
If it's through clenched teeth, that's what you've driven me to.
I want us to be lovers
I want us to be friends
Want it like it's the living end
Keep me away from her.

With your kittens, on the patchwork quilt,
Oh no, what am I doing here, in the house Jack Kerouac built.
There's white magic, and bad rock 'n' roll
Your friend there says, he's the gatekeeper to my soul.
The velvet curtains
The Chinese bell
With friends like these, your damned as well.
Keep me away from her.

Shake off your despondency, and your country girl act.
You are reading me poetry that's Irish and so black.
I know you're warm, the warmest person alive,
But are you warm deep down inside
I want us to be lovers
I want us to be friends
Want it like the world crumbles and then it ends.
Keep me away from her.

You're on the road.

The Incredible String Band

This is a classic late-psychedelic-age band that did not survive the 70's, and I had no idea what had become of the members until I got this message from John Earley (

I've been reading some of your web pages, and was interested to see your connections between music and the beat authors. I was "turned on" to Kerouac via my passion for the Incredible String Band, or more specifically Mike Heron. Unlike the other original String Band man Robin Williamson (who has played, recorded and toured constantly since the ISB split in '74) Mike Heron stopped performing and turned songwriter throughout the '80s, but has been performing again with the Incredible Acoustic Band for the last three years or so. I could ramble on for hours about the ISB and the rise of the current wave of interest in the UK through Andy Roberts' BE GLAD fanzine, but perhaps I should get to the point!

Heron wrote and recorded a song called Mexican Girl which appeared on The Glen Row Tapes in 1989; it seems he's a big Kerouac fan - the song is specifically about Kerouac's Mexican girl in On The Road (her name has slipped my mind! - typical!) The song led me to the book, which then led me on to several other Kerouac gems, of which my favourite is Dharma Bums. (Reading Kerouac also led me indirectly to John Steinbeck, Hemingway and American literature in general, having previously been a scifi / fantasy buff all my life)

More recently, Heron has written (and currently performs) a song called Jack Of Hearts, which is based around the memoirs of Jack's first wife, whom I've just read about on one of your pages, Edie someone (I'm terrible with names!) Heron explained the song at a gig recently, although I didn't catch all the details. I think it's sung in the person of Edie's later boyfriend / husband lamenting the fact that he cannot measure up to her original love -- Jack Of Hearts.

Clearly Heron is a Kerouac buff. I suppose it ties in with the ISB's interest in buddhism which I understand can be interpreted from some of their early material circa 1968, before LRH and Scientology took a hold.

(Incidentally, the Mexican girl's name was Terry, and Kerouac's first wife was Edie Parker.)


I've never even heard of this band. Henrik Goransson ( sent me the lyrics to their "Torch Song," and I think they're pretty interesting. The bit about the roman candles obviously refers to the famous description of Dean Moriarty in the first few pages of 'On The Road.' Henrik also mentions that Kerouac is one of seven "angels" portrayed on the cover of the album the song is on, and that the cover can be viewed here.

Read some Kerouac and it put me on the tracks
to burn a little brighter now.
It was something about roman candles fizzin out
shine a little light on me now,
I found a strange fascination with a liquid fixation
alcohol can thrill me now
It's getting late in the game to show any pride or shame
I just burn a little brighter now

Burn a little brighter now

Doctor says my liver looks like leaving with my lover,
I need another time out now,
Like any sort of hero turnin down to zero
still standing out in any crowd
Pulling seventeen with experience and dreams,
sweating out a happy hour,
Where you're hiding 29 you know it ain't a crime
to burn a little brighter now, burn a little brighter now

Dr. Finlay: And my advice is if you maintain this lifestyle
you won't reach 30
Torch: it's a romantic way to go really, part of the heritage
it's your round in'it

We burn a little brighter now

Read some Kerouac and it put me on the tracks
to burn a little brighter now
It was something about roman candles fizzin out,
shine a little light on me now,
I found a strange fascination with a liquid fization,
alcohol thrill me now
It's getting late in the game to show any pride or shame
We burn a little brighter now, burn a little brighter now

Aztec Two-Step

I remember this band from my college days in the 80's. But I didn't realize until told me that they got their name from a line in a Ferlinghetti poem, "See it was like this when ..." which goes: "a couple of Papish cats is doing an Aztec two-step."

Thanks also to Joe Kulikauskas ( for reminding me of the song below and transcribing the lyrics. I like the line about "it is you and not he who is really the freak." The song is called The Persecution and Restoration of Dean Moriarty and it was written by Rex Fowler.

Well I can't understand what is wrong with the man
Don't he know how he's acting was long ago banned?
Don't you think it's a shame, someone tell me his name
If we let him continue he may get out of hand.

Well, look at him laughing and carrying on
Like a hydrogen manic or an organic bomb
He's alive like a child so terribly wild
He has way too much freedon, of course, he is wrong, is wrong, yeah.

[chorus 1]
And he was born on the road in the month of July
And he'll live on the road till he sees fit to die
'Cause he's learned from the road how humanity cries
How society lies, he sees with more than his eyes.

Well won't you look at him running, don't he know how to walk?
He's just too damned cunning, you can tell by his talk
You can tell he is rude like a typical dude
If you want my opinion he belongs under lock.

One look in his eyes and you know he's unsound
There's no way to faze him 'cause he's nobody's clown
He's as deep as the sea and he's equally free
That's why I fear him and hate him and wish he was down, was down, yeah.

[chorus 2]
Whether riding the rails out of Denver,
Or bumming a friends' cigarettes,
He's asking them all to remember,
Making sure that they'll never forget.

So you're curious, friend, 'bout this man who I speak
For he tears you and scares you out of your sleep
I'm sure you will find, if you open your mind
It is you and not he who is really the freak.

So relax for a moment as you would for your hobby
His beauty abounds in his mind and his body
He's like the setting sun's hues or the dust on his shoes
He's living he's naughty he's Dean Moriarty, yeah.

[chorus 2]
He may ride down the road at one hundred and ten
Exclaiming his thoughts about prisons and men
He may tell you his dreams, maybe something obscene
And you'll swear you've been through it but you don't know just when.

He's like the dancing gold prairies that will never be mowed
Or the wind in the sail that's about to explode
He's like fire and rain bringing pleasure and pain
And he learned all he knows from the ways of the road.

[chorus 1]

Eric Anderson

Eric Anderson is a folksinger whose career began in the sixties and continues to the present day. I saw him at a folk festival about eight years ago, and thought he was pretty good. Thanks to James Holbrook ( for telling me about this song, "Ghosts Upon The Road," and sending me the lyrics.

I was stranded up in Cambridge Mass it
was the winter of 64 before that in a torn-
down building up on Beacon Hill I made
my money mowing lawns that fall and
jukin in a band the air was full of energy
only a few could understand

Now I was lucky in my building because the
city had forgot to board up all the doors and
windows and shut the electric off an abandoned
dog had earlier destroyed the first and second floors
I found some country records there but I had no stereo
but sometimes I'd hear noises in the night

On the 3rd floor there I was livin by candlelight
crashed out in the corner of a room afraid to draw
attention I was eating cold out of cans later they
said I was living like a rat

Now the crowd I hung out with well they were outcasts too
Suzie alone and pregnant with my best friend's kid
Johhny Boy just got thrown out of the local loony bin
and Brain was renting out apartments that didn't exist
then one night alone I wrote a song about something
that I knew about the black faced miners it was a tune
from a man named Blue

Ghosts upon the road they were ghosts upon the road
just ghosts upon the road

Soon I moved across the river and got a roommate right
off of Cambridge Ave Alfredo was from no man's land he
danced his car over the moon his eyes were full of Latin
smoke and his wall was full of knife holes he had a job as
a maitre'd and I didn't have enough to keep in cigarettes
his pockets were always lined and his bed was always full
my soul felt like an empty lot and people were hiding their
stash and stuff underneath their floorboards back then
everybody was paranoid of the cops and then there was Diana
she took me under her hat she's happily married with three
kids now so I won't go into that

Ghosts upon the road they were ghosts upon the road
just ghosts upon the road

Now the jungle war and politics was on everybody's mind
they rejected me on mental grounds so it was not my lot to serve
that August day on Whitehall street I ran into some post beat hippies
I'd known I must have looked so weird to them they only waved at me
I'd been lucky to have been advised by some higher sources that I'd
known and managed to keep the circles under my eyes I knew that fear
can make a man crazy even more than make him scared you didn't need
a bloodhound to know the smell of blood was in the air soon I was asked
to leave the place the rest were asked to stay both my head and I were
dressed like Holden Caulfield on that day

But ridin the rails of subways was far safer than the time I tried
like takin matters into my own hands down on the Lower East Side
that summer's night on Avenue B he almost jumped off a six story roof
next time I got a piano but I fell in love too soon but sometimes
I'd hear noises in the night

Ghosts upon the road they were ghosts upon the road
just ghosts upon the road

It was then I knew that death was death that life was life
maybe there was an in between not just some French and Russian
novels or the love of a poet's life or the need to give everything
three had tried to kill me and three had saved my life life and death
were indistinguishable til death put an end to that I dreamed my life
would roll on forever like some great plain in the west my lovers I'd
count like billboards on ribbon route infinity cryin out Dean Moriarty
Sweet Marilyn here I come in our fast cars our rockin boots meet the
sons of the dharma bums til one went into the bathroom he took his belt
off and never came out and Melissa put one up inside the soft roof of
her mouth

Ghosts upon the road they were ghosts upon the road
just ghosts upon the road

Now and then I think about Rachel who I followed up some
steps and I think it was Georges Clemenceau who once said
that the highlight of making love first time was to watch a woman
from behind climbin up the stairway to her room but that was 1914
and now this was 14th Street in the Spanish neighborhood by the river
but it was long ago she said she took a lot of acid then but she ended
up besides many I knew ended up much worse and Ramblin Jack was wild
but Lowell Jack was first and I still shiver from the words but it's
these times I wonder when I'm all alone and I don't see you did I lose
my way or did you lose yours

Ghosts upon the road they were ghosts upon the road
just ghosts upon the road

Belle and Sebastian

A few people have told me about the Kerouac inspirations behind this new Scottish experimental folk-rock outfit. Among other references, the song "Le Pastie De La Bourgeoisie" asks:
Wouldn't you like to get away?
Kerouac's beckoning with open arms
And open fields of eucalyptus
Westward bound

Soul Coughing

Everybody tells me I gotta get into this band. Okay, I'll buy the CD.

Other Connections?

That's all I have for now; there's a lot I'm leaving out, I'm sure. Please send me info about anything you think I should include. I will be adding to this section occasionally, although I think there've been more and more connections lately, including the Kerouac tribute CD "Kicks Joy Darkness," and if this craze continues I'm eventually going to have to either quit my job and dedicate my life to keeping this page up to date, or just give up, which is probably the better option.

In any case, I think the connection between the Beats and 1960's rock is an especially fascinating subject, especially with regard to three cities that had 'underground scenes' around 1965-66, London, New York and San Francisco, and the three major bands that arose from these scenes, Pink Floyd, the Velvet Underground and the Dead. Like I said up on the top of this page, I think there is a lot more to be said about this connection, and if nobody else finds the time to delve into this I think I eventually will.

NOTE: despite the many connections between the Beats and rock 'n' roll, the primary music associated with the Beat movement was jazz. There's also reason to suspect that some of those guys occasionally tossed a classical album on the turntable. Note this picture of 1010 Montgomery Street in San Francisco, where Allen Ginsberg wrote 'Howl.' It's a little hard to see, but the album on the shelf says "Mass In B Minor." Probably Bach or Vivaldi or some shit like that. Hey, you know those Ivy League types.

Beat News: November 14 1995

by Levi Asher on Wednesday, November 15, 1995 12:10 am

1. I'm proud to present in these pages an original work of fiction by Jan Kerouac. This is an excerpt from Jan's newest and not-yet-published novel Parrot Fever, and the reason I'm proud to present it is not that she's Jack's daughter, but rather that I like the story very much. I hadn't read any of Jan's fiction before, and was surprised and pleased by this clever and gently hopeful piece. Here it is.

2. The Beat exhibit at the Whitney Museum in New York is now open. This is a very thorough and well planned survey of the universe of Beat-related art and culture, focusing heavily on the works of several not-especially-well-known artists of the 50's and 60's, such as Wallace Berman, Jay Defeo, and Bruce Conner, as well as some better known names like Larry Rivers and Robert Rauschenberg. The exhibit is organized into rooms representing Beat locales, like Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. There are many artifacts and literary collectibles on exhibit as well, including the original scroll manuscripts (behind glass) of 'On The Road' and 'Dharma Bums,' as well as the original typewritten 'Howl.'

My impression? I liked it more than I thought I would. I hadn't expected such a comprehensive, sweeping presentation. Most of the actual artworks were dark, sardonic and depressing, as befits the era of cultural repression and nuclear fear. However the work I liked best was probably a small and lovingly wrought collage of cut-out church steeples put together by poet Gregory Corso, who is not generally thought of as a visual artist.

The Whitney gift shop also has lots of new Beat-related goodies, and I was unable to leave there without getting mugged for $150. The good news: I now finally own, along with lots of pretty-colored stuff I don't need, the video of "Pull My Daisy," which I'll write up here as soon as I find the time.

3. Daniel Pinchbeck, the son of Beat chronicler (and Jack Kerouac's former lover) Joyce Johnson, wrote an article on "Children of the Beats" for last Sunday's New York Times Magazine (Nov. 5). He interviewed Jan Kerouac, Parker Kaufman (son of poet Bob Kaufman), Village Voice writer Lisa Jones (daughter of Amiri Baraka and Hettie Jones), John Cassady, Neal's other son Curt Hansen and others. Several of the interviews focused on the horrible parenting skills of the Beats, and the Kerouac and Kaufman sections in particular seemed to show hopeless lives in the process of self-destruction.

Without a doubt Kerouac and Kaufman were not father-of-the-year material, but the article struck me and others I spoke to as overly dark. Even the excerpt from Jan Kerouac's novel that I mentioned above shows a bright side that this article does not portray. And as someone in the BEAT-L mailing list asked, why weren't the successful grown children of Michael McClure and Gary Snyder included? In any event, the Jones and Cassady/Hansen interviews avoided tragic overtones, and the article was definitely interesting and provocative.

The New York Times also gave the Whitney exhibit (see above) a shitty review the day after the opening.

4. This is late notice, but Jim Carroll is appearing in an online chat at Sonic Net tomorrow (Nov. 15) at 7 pm. You might also want to check out Sonic Net's "Shows" section to catch Allen Ginsberg (of all people) interviewing Beck and members of Hole at this summer's Lollapolooza.

Parrot Fever

by Jan Kerouac on Tuesday, November 14, 1995 12:22 am

I'm proud to present an excerpt from Jan Kerouac's novel-in-progress, "Parrot Fever". -- Levi Asher

(Illustration by Malcolm Humes)



Jacob Luna stretched and yawned luxuriously in the King-sized bed. He had momentarily forgotten where he was, but then remembered--Ah yes ... thank God for old girlfriends who go on trips to Paris and need parrot-sitting. He listened for a moment to see if the bird was making any noises--but no, not with the Madras bedspread covering her cage. Lavender light bathed the bedroom, and Jacob reveled in it. This was his favorite time to sleep. He let himself fall back into a dreamscape.

Suddenly, he was in front of the building with a gang of guys all dressed in black leather, and all climbing onto Harley Davidsons. Jacob was one of them, evidently, and as he climbed onto the black leather seat of his Harley--there was a baby in swaddling clothes lying there ... a very tiny baby. Then he noticed that the baby was blue--an unearthly shade of blue, like Tibetan deities he had seen on Buddhist tapestries. But this infant was by no means helpless, in fact it was very wise, and began giving Jacob advice. Now the dream took on an extremely important tone, ... as the dreamer clung intently to the telepathic admonishments of the blue baby.

But a ringing sound invaded his reverie--the phone--that's what it was! He struggled with the sheets to pick up the receiver--still in a dream daze..."Is dis Sister Mary Elyse?" asked a stupid-sounding female voice. "No, Goddamn it!" Jacob bellowed and slammed down the phone ... What an idiotic interruption of his fantastic dream! He desperately wanted to crawl back and find out what the wise blue baby was trying to tell him.

Veronica's king-sized bed was so deliciously comfortable, that Jacob began to drift again--only to be jarred awake by:

"EXTOIMENAYTAAA-AH!" at the door. Alright, that's it ... grumbled Jacob, resignedly getting up, and throwing on a woman's pink flowered robe.

He flung open the door and the exterminator looked him up and down with a noticeable smirk, which Jacob chose not to notice. The exterminator followed him through the railroad apartment to the kitchen where he wasted no time in beginning to squirt his evil-looking nozzle all around the floor.

Now the parrot, still in her cage and still covered with the blue Madras bedspread, sensed something was amiss and commenced shrieking an ear-splitting alarm--all the worse for bouncing off the walls of the tiny kitchen. To Jacob's delight, the intruder fled in terror. And now, finally, he could make coffee in peace-!

He flung the cover off the cage like a matador, and Voila! There was the BIRD ... a bright green tiny winged being. He unlatched the cage door and out she burst with a screech of triumph, landing on her perch. At first she continued the screeching, and Jacob was run out of the kitchen holding his ears. He was beginning to think that maybe this parrot-sitting wasn't such a good idea after all. He flicked on the radio, hoping to drown her out, or better yet, distract her. He found a note from Veronica stuck to the refrigerator door with a magnetized tiny tea kettle:


Hi Jake--(Jacob winced. He hated that nick-name) ... This bird is from Africa, and she was born in the wild and captured. She is accustomed to flying through towering jungle canopies and foraging for tropical fruits, and ripping up tree bark with her beak. Perhaps that's why she loves to swoop freely through the apartment and chew the edges of books. Please, if you see her doing this, shoo her away! She likes to eat a variety of fruit ... apples, Kiwis, seeded grapes--(The prize is the pit inside) ... peaches, cherries. The only thing you must not give her is avocado--deadly poison for a parrot! Give Macki (short for Macadamia) a bath once a week by filling a bowl with water and leaving it on the kitchen table ... she'll wait til she's alone and hop in. Any bowl will do-anything but the crystal punchbowl, that is. Well, Good Luck--Love, Veronica.

So--Macki... that's your name huh, Birdy? I like Bird better. He approached the parrot and she screeched out a warning ... flapped her chartreuse wings. "Alright, alright--I'm not gonna eat you!" He suddenly remembered Veronica once having said that Macki was afraid of beards--he went into the bathroom and, sure enough, he was taking on a decidedly Mr. Hyde look. This combined with curly black chest hairs peeking through pink lace was too ridiculous. "Oh my God!" Jacob gasped ... no wonder the exterminator had given him that look! He would have to get his box of clothes sent down from Maine. He threw the robe in a heap and yanked on brown corduroy pants. "OK Birdy--keep your pants on!" Jacob projected, "I'm gonna feed ya." As he rummaged for fruit in the crisper, Veronica's voice kept repeating: Anything but the crystal punchbowl...

He stood up with an armload of kiwis, grapes and apples, and focused on the forbidden bowl; it was all dusty with disuse sitting forlornly atop the refrigerator. Jacob couldn't think of a more magnificent purpose for the bowl than to serve as the glittering sturdy receptacle for Madam Macadamia's ablutions. "Sorry, Veronica." He chuckled, getting down the heavy thing and blowing the dust out. He filled it half full of New York City tap water and set it on the table. Macki cocked her tiny green head to one side and made an appreciative tweet ... and she seemed to be aware that food was being prepared. Jacob approached her slowly and held out a piece of kiwi. She took it with her beak and proceeded to snap all the little black seeds, one by one. It was a pleasing sound.

Jacob poured coffee beans into the grinder ... he winced in anticipation, pressed down, causing a tremendous din, which caused the bird to fling her kiwi SPLAT! onto the linoleum and exit the kitchen with a drowned-out screech and great flapping of wings. Well, at least now he knew how to get her out of the kitchen! Maybe he could finally get some work done on his play. Jacob felt the rare tingle of inspiration. He shoved the crystal bird bath off to one side of the table to make room for his typewriter, and got himself situated with a cup of coffee.

Whole heaps of cumulus clouds mocked Jacob through the window. He had hoped to see the usual panorama of slate-grey smog to match his mood this morning, but no ... even the clouds were more creative than he. It seemed that some giant aproned mother in the sky had whipped them up like cream topping in a cosmic mixmaster. She had been up and busy for hours, whereas he had only just rolled out of bed. The fluffy stuff was not for him. Because he was a bad boy ... lazy, cranky, flippant and therefore, unworthy. No doubt it was all meant for some guy down the block--some disgustingly industrious Yuppie who at this very moment was completing a book or a screenplay, or a symphony ... pulling the last page out of the typewriter with a satisfied sigh. Someone who deserved a reward ... someone who heaven could approve of.

Ah well, at least there was coffee.... Thank God for coffee! When all was grim and hopeless, one could still count on the venerable Bean for consolation.

He sat there for over half an hour with the typewriter humming, his hands poised above the keys, imagining great elaborations of sentences ... but time and again, doubt would enter in, making him scratch his head and take another gulp of coffee. Then, all of a sudden, the tension in his fingers was just too much, and they tapped out:


Now Jacob found himself in a strange vacuum of silence ... the bird-that's what it was ... she was conspicuously absent--and suspiciously quiet. He tiptoed into the front room, looking high and low--could she have escaped? A flash of dread zipped through him at the thought of it. But no, there she was, up on a book shelf by the ceiling--doing just what Veronica had warned she might do: chewing on books. He shoed her away and assessed the damage; a pile of chewed book binding had cascaded to the floor from one particular book ... he climbed up to see what it was. THE PAINTED BIRD by JERZY KOSINSKI ... the D and B chewed clean off! Jacob stared at the book in awe for some moments...Why had she chosen this one?? Could the parrot read? Was she a psychic bird? Wow ... he'd have to write Veronica about this.

But now he was feeling a certain panic; he had to get out of the apartment ... the sun was streaming in the windows and he could hear voices and traffic outside--the world was going on without him! This was probably a hangover from nap time as a boy, when he had been tortured by the sounds of his buddies playing outside while he was forced to stay in bed with shades drawn ... kind of like being dead.

Jacob bounded out the door into hazy Brooklyn sunshine. He felt so energetic, he wanted to skip ... but he didn't dare do it in view of the Italian guys playing stick ball--they'd probably yell out; "Aye! Looka da fuckin' fairy homo!" And he couldn't have that. Zipping along Court Street toward the subway station he stopped for a moment, remembering that in his haste he had forgotten the check he wanted to deposit, and the very thing that was most important to his mission; the first act of his play! He smacked himself in the forehead ... some passing teenage girls stared at him and giggled. Damn! He had wanted to show it to his agent in Manhattan! But to go back and retrieve it now was unthinkable: it would ruin his momentum, which at this point was all-consuming. He scurried past the Pakistani in the newsstand--and time to buy gum today--and quick-stepped down into the Carrol Garden subway, token poised for the bright yellow turnstile. He could hear the horrific subterranean rumble of the train below--and yes! What luck, it was the "F" and not the "G". Even though the G train went through the same tunnel it always seemed bound for some hellish dimension, and gave Jacob the shivers. But he knew exactly where this one went. He swooped in with shades on, claimed an edge seat by the door, and buried his face in the Daily News. Of course he wasn't reading ... just using it as a shield. He pulled his jacket collar up unevenly, scratched his scruffy brown hair, and put his sunglasses askew, then concentrated on the dark aura: a deeply disturbed, desperate attitude which said, "Yeah, I'm your fellow New Yorker, and I'm pissed. I might be a junkie or some kind of a psycho, you never know--so stay away from me."

This worked splendidly, and had for many years now. He had never been mugged, and if someone approached him menacingly, he simply began muttering and picking his nose. Tough guys, he'd observed, were easily grossed out.

Between York Street and East Broadway, as the train was thundering from Brooklyn to Manhattan beneath the East River--the door between cars opened, and in staggered a grimy character with a crazed took in his eyes; just the sort who struck terror into everyone's hearts. Each passenger responded by cringing deeper into his respective shell. Jacob was getting ready to mumble-Then, to everyone's surprise, the door at the opposite end of the car opened, and there stood another bummish weirdo. Bracing themselves awkwardly against the madly lurching train, each began his panhandling spiel at the same moment--and then--they saw each other. It must have been a frightening mirror image, for they both backed up through the doors--seeming to melt into an uncertain crashing darkness beyond. All the passengers breathed an inaudible sigh of relief, and a few let out little explosions of suppressed laughter. What an unprecedented event! thought Jacob ... There were so many beggars in the city now, that they were already stepping on each others' toes! His spirits were lifted as he bounded up the urinaceous steps to 42nd Street.

Jacob was ready for a frenetic foot race up Fifth Avenue to the Park--with stops on the way. The first would be his ritual restroom pit stop in Trump Towers ... what better place to relieve oneself than in the belly of that gleaming gold palace?

But as luck would have it, there was a crew of uniformed maintenance men spewing mountains of white foam all over the golden floors from some kind of a reverse vacuum cleaner. And the restrooms were cordoned off.

Even the escalators were stopped so he couldn't take his favorite golden staircase ride. Oh well, he sighed and re-emerged on the street, merging quickly into the teaming rapids of humanity.

As Jacob lurched along with the frenetic crowd of secretaries, business men, delivery boys and assorted bums, he tried to think what to do next: should he duck into some old restaurant and order "Coffee and a Danish," with an exaggerated New York accent ... go for a browse in Barnes & Noble? Or did he dare to drop in on his agent, even though he had nothing to show him? And why not? A rebellious voice inside him argued--as if responding to an authority -figure ... after all, they were friends. He could buy his agent a drink and they could discuss the structure of the play. But maybe he should call first ... he approached a couple of pay phones on the corner of 55th, but two guys beat him to it--plus, he couldn't find a quarter. Ahhh. What the hell ... better to be spontaneous.

In the ritzy lobby, the doorman looked him up and down suspiciously. On the thirteenth floor he knocked on 13F. A chubby-faced be-robed fellow opened the door. "Hey Wally!" said Jacob hopefully. "Oh, hi buddy (Wally always called him 'buddy') you know--I'm right in the middle of a very important meeting--it's Damon Knight..." Wally whispered into the plush hallway. "He's got another bestseller." "That's OK, I was just in the neighborhood and-- " said Jacob. As an afterthought it seemed, before closing the door, Wally asked, "So how's the play coming?"

"Oh, fine, fine ... I was just working on it this morning-- " called Jacob as he walked toward the elevator.

Once alone, he felt truly sheepish ... What would Wally think of him if he could see the gibberish he had typed this morning? He shook his head. He was beginning to think he would always be a kid at heart ... while all his peers had no trouble embracing adulthood, there Jacob would be--skipping along, forgetting worthless manuscripts, stealing white-out, mismanaging his taxes, going on silly, spur-of-the-moment canoe rides with women he'd never met in flooded rivers...

He was entering the green leafy beginnings of Central Park--and his thoughts turned to Maxine. It was that certain raciness of deciduous trees peculiar to Eastern forests that summoned up the memory of the interlude in Maine. Although, come to think of it, there were mostly birch trees up there ... a narrow row of white-barked sentinels through which they had squeezed the canoe.

He sat down on a park bench, and began to absent-mindedly scratch the bare dirt with a stick. Odd, he thought, how that one very brief adventure stood out in his life as such a quintessential experience. In the canoe ... floating down the flooded Penobscott with his raven-haired companion, past the birches, Jacob had for once felt that he was doing the right thing ... Everything had been 'just right', like the proverbial bowl of porridge. The only other time he had felt anything like t was in the Bayou of Louisiana with his father at age twelve.

Superimposed on his reverie was the M A I N E drawn by his stick in the dirt at his feet. Then, he discovered, if he put in an X it became MAXINE. Perhaps the reason for this special feeling was that they were both part American native ... she had said she was part Algonquin, and he knew that he was part Cherokee. Could they have been running a DNA movie reel? Something harkening back to fur trappers on the Saint Lawrence a hundred years ago? He wondered what she was doing now...

Just then, a homeless guy, reeking of urine, tumbled over holding out a styrofoam cup--"Spare change?" he chanted. "No thanx," Said Jacob, getting up. It was time to go. He was tired now, after his whole day of doing nothing, and decided on the spur of the moment to hail a cab. It was getting towards twilight, and he had never outgrown the thrill of looking through the rear window of a cab at the eternally magnificent New York skyline while being driven across the Brooklyn Bridge. Especially when it was all dark and twinkling. But now, none of the cabs wanted to take him to Brooklyn, since all the action was in Manhattan. When he finally found a willing driver, the problem was that he didn't know how to go to Brooklyn--nor, for that matter, did he speak any English. The guy had on a huge, really weird hat with all sorts of tassels. Jacob squinted to make out his name which was truly unpronounceable; something like,


Next, to what looked like a Wanted by the FBI photo. All the way home Jacob had to point which way to go, so he didn't get to sit back and watch the skyline reeling by.

Jacob fumbled with the keys, cursing and sneezing and dropping the pile of letters in the hallway. Once inside the railroad apartment, he dumped everything on the floor in a trail; mail, paper bag with typewriter ribbon sponge and lime Jell-O, flowers, Daily News, keys ... he was heading straight for the bathroom, panting "Sanctuary!" like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Then he took a long, luxurious leek. He was still daydreaming about Maxine, as he stared vacantly into the toilet bowl. Sitting in the canoe -in their heavy wool coats, stabbing at small icebergs with the oars, he had felt a rare childlike simplicity shared with Maxine ... rare indeed nowadays to find someone who will gleefully go out with you in a borrowed canoe in floodwaters just for the sheer heck of it! Anyone else would have been riddled with all sorts of "Adult" concerns, such as, Is it a leaky canoe? and What if we capsize? or, shame on you Jacob-- you're older, you should know better! How terribly irresponsible! But that was just it--they were being irresponsible, and loving every minute of it.

Jacob picked up the trail of stuff he had dropped, and sorted through his mail ... he had let the bird out of her cage again and she flew back and forth through the apartment now, getting closer and closer to the top of his head each time. My God--she's divebombing me! he thought. As he crumpled up the junk mail and hurled it toward the garbage, he felt the wind whoosh from her green wing in his hair. Goddamn it! More Xeroxed crap from my mother's groupies! He hardly remembered his mother, since she had committed suicide when he was eight, but plenty of other people seemed to feel they knew her quite well. Carmen Luna had been a Vogue model in the 50's--her uniquely beautiful high-cheek-boned face plastered all over the fashion world for three years running when Jacob was but a toddler. The only thing he'd inherited from her was a carbon copy DNA stamp; her face, which had made him quite an interesting-looking guy. But he didn't even own a photo of himself with his mother. Yet this cult following of hers kept deluging him with pamphlets, flyers, crummy mimeographed newsletters, and all kinds of annoying paper reproductions of his mother's haunting countenance, as if they did him any good!

He let out an exasperated sigh, suddenly feeling worn out from all the events of the day--even though he'd done absolutely nothing. This realization made him feel guilty and hollow. He flipped on the TV and instantly was barraged by the theme music of "Live at Five", which sounded to him like an army of cockroaches dancing the Merengue on crack. "An out-of-work actor was decapitated today on 57th and Broadway when an iron beam fell from a construction site.$"

Wow! He thought ... that could have been me! I was only a few blocks from there! Ahh...what a great thing it was to live in New York--and come home every evening to watch the local news, and find out how close you came to being killed that day in Manhattan. Ha! Missed me again, you bastards ... it was like a giant pinball game, and Jacob was really racking up points.

But soon the frenetic voice of the announcer faded away, as did the whooshing bird and the shouts outside the airshaft window. Jacob had sunk into the couch, completely unaware of the blurry transition from waking to sleeping, and there he lay in a paralyzed stupor against the pile of crumpled black and white photos of his mother.

When he came to an hour and a half later, he found his subconscious mind was being invaded by a cheesy Western. The madam of a brothel had just poisoned one of her whores ... the small ornate glass had fallen out of her hand as she collapsed, making a tinkling crunch as it broke on the floor. It was an odd thing, how this crunch-tinkling noise affected 1-6m. He didn't feel cranky or itchy, like he usually felt when waking up in the evening from a nap ... in fact this time, he had an amazing sensation of smoothness and calm. And all because of that sound--...the sound of that glass breaking.

Jacob rose gingerly from the couch, afraid to jar himself out of this new-found serenity. He'd never felt anything like it before. It was almost as if his brain had manufactured some sort of drug while he was sleeping ... a tranquilizer or endorphin to take the edge off everything ... he carefully bent over to gather up the heap of junk mail, as though he were balancing a fishbowl on his head. He wanted this sensation to last as long as possible. As he was stuffing junk mail into the trash, a piece of valuable-looking correspondence caught his eye; a postcard which had been hidden inside a supermarket circular ... it was a card from the coast of Maine--from Maxine ... and to think--he almost hadn't seen it! He squatted in the kitchen, squinting at the spastic scrawl.

Hi Jacob--So what's up with you? Scarlet and I are painting the boat ... almost got attacked by warbs--wands [ WHAT?? He couldn't make out the word ... he ran and got his magnifying glass, but it only made the unintelligible scribble bigger. So he read on.] ... we had taken out the radio and disturbed their rest ... Oh, WASPS! That's what she was saying. He shook his head. He would have to remind her to improve her penmanship.
He now glanced up at the kitchen table, and was shocked to see in place of the bouquet of carnations he had placed in a vase, earlier ... a bare bundle of stems surrounded by a devastation of pink petals strewn everywhere ... even floating in the crystal punchbowl birdbath. He stood there smiling and shaking his head for some moments, still with the special feeling saturating his being. Some very fluid inspiration beckoned, and he went to the piano.

He began to play Maurice Ravel's Oiseaus Tristes. Effortlessly. As he sat there on the bench making magical bell-like tones, the bird came and lit upon his surprised head. The-little claws on her bird feet dug into his scalp ever-so-gently, and he was aware of the tiny five ounce body shifting its weight to keep balanced. She was actually preening his hair ... taking each strand with her beak and pulling it up separately. It was a marvelous exercise--trying to concentrate on playing while getting this micro massage. Just then he caught sight of the reflection in the mirror across the room--a man playing the piano with a bird standing on his head. Life here in Veronica's place was beginning to seem decidedly Edgar Allen Poeish--except that this raven was green.

Copyright Jan Kerouac 1995. All rights reserved.

Bob Kaufman

by Sean Daniel Singer on Monday, November 13, 1995 08:19 am

Bob Kaufman was born on April 18, 1925 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was, other than Langston Hughes, the greatest jazz poet who ever lived. He was one of 13 children born to a German Jewish father and a Black Catholic mother. He ran away from home and joined the Merchant Marines when he was 13, and circled the globe 9 times in the next 20 years. During that period Kaufman read literature and met a fellow Merchant Marine, Jack Kerouac, who had been discharged from the Armed Forces after refusing to obey certain orders. Kaufman later traveled to San Francisco where he joined Ginsberg, Corso, and others during their literary "renaissance." Kaufman was known in America as "the original bebop man" and was very popular in France, where he was known as "the Black American Rimbaud." His three volumes of poems are:

  • Solitudes Crowded with Loneliness (New Directions)
  • Golden Sardine (City Lights)
  • Ancient Rain: Poems 1956-1978 (New Directions)

Kaufman was so dedicated to the spontaneous, oral tradition of poetry that he sometimes would not write his work down, and only did so at the encouragement of his wife. He would carry his son, Parker, into coffeehouses in San Francisco and "hold court," reciting his poems aloud and from memory. It is claimed that he invented the word "beatnik," and his work is essentially improvised. His work varies from Symbolist to Surrealist, and often involves political and social protest. He was often persecuted by local authorities, and even given shock treatment against his will. After difficulties with heroin, and prison terms, he began to experience a sense of solitude. When Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, Kaufman took a Buddhist vow of silence to protest the Vietnam war which lasted for ten years. During that period, until 1973, he neither spoke nor wrote anything. On the day the war ended, he walked into a coffeeshop and recited a poem called "All Those Ships that Never Sailed."

In 1978, he withdrew again into solitude (but was not silent) for four years.

There is a special library at the Sorbonne in Paris which has the bulk of his "papers" and information about him. He was much more popular in France than in America. He also published several "chapbooks" or "manifestos" for City Lights in the early to late sixties. Those are completely unavailable, and "Golden Sardine" is out of print and only available at better libraries.

Kaufman's poems include love poems, jazz poems and odes to Hart Crane, Charlie Mingus, Ray Charles, and Albert Camus. They often infuse jazz sounds and rhythms, and are meant to have musical accompaniment. He died in 1986. He remains one of the best 2 or 3 of the Beat poets and the most underrated of all American poets.


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