2. Lincoln Center and the New School are presenting a series celebrating the musical works of Paul Bowles, who was a respected composer (among many other things) before he left the United States to live in Tangier and became a novelist. Bowles is currently in New York to attend these events, and this is a big deal because he has not been to New York (where he was born 84 years ago, in Jamaica, Queens) since 1969.
3. The two sections of Literary Kicks run by contributors have both been updated. Sherri's Beat Bibliography now includes an extensive list of writings about Allen Ginsberg, and Inside the Kerouac Legacy is publishing a contribution by Jan Kerouac, an open letter to New York University regarding her exclusion from the recent Kerouac conference sponsored by the University.
4. Happy 60th Birthday to Ken Kesey!
2. I have a bunch of literary links to tell you about today:
I wouldn't expect to find myself plugging a website that bills itself as the "Harbor of the Western Soul and the Conservative Intellectual." A conservative intellectual is one thing I most decidely am NOT -- but somehow I like the Beaconway Press website anyway. These guys have a sense of fun, and I always like people who have the nerve to state their opinions clearly, even when their opinions are WRONG. But seriously ... these guys seem pretty cool, they know their western lit as well as anyone, and they hate the mainstream literary establishment as much as I do (of course they think it's too liberal; I just think it's too damn boring!). But, whatever ... drop by and see what you think.
Back on safer turf, the 4th episode of Enterzone is out. I first heard of Enterzone a year ago, when one of the founders sent me e-mail asking for a contribution to their first issue. Since then they've become my closest literary comrades on the web, and I think the stuff they're publishing is tremendously original.
I'm also very enthusiastic about a new novel that Enterzone fiction editor Martha Conway has begun serializing on the Web. Martha is a serious writer who's been published in many literary journals, and I think it's cool of her to take a chance on publishing this novel online, as I imagine she could have easily published it through more traditional means instead. It's called In Some Unrelated Land, and it's about a 22-year-old lost soul drifting through Berkeley, California after the sudden death of her parents.
Finally, I just discovered the Cosmic Baseball Association which is some sort of fabulously eclectic rotisserie baseball league where the players are chosen from among the historical luminaries of arts and culture. One of the teams is called the Dharma Beats and you've got to see this lineup. I can't quite figure this website out, which is why I think I like it so much.
The web is really exploding with originality and creativity lately, I think. All of the above sites are efforts by individuals or small groups of people, without a lot of money, and probably without a lot of technological resources either. All it takes is a little courage, and a lot of time.
3. The Whitney Museum in New York will be presenting a major exhibit of Beat-related artwork and artifacts beginning November 9. I'll write more about this after it opens.
2. I recently purchased the "Haight-Ashbury" CD-Rom (produced by Rockument) and found a ton of OBC (Official Beat Content) within. The project was led by Allen Cohen, who edited San Francisco's psychedelic newspaper The Oracle during the sixties, and much original material from this paper is here, including articles by Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, Lew Welch, Lenore Kandel and even William S. Burroughs. Maybe I bought this one because I'm so tired of waiting for the Jack Kerouac CD-Rom (produced by Viking Penguin) to finally show up. The word from Viking Penguin is that it will hit the shelves very soon, hopefully in the next few weeks.
3. To my surprise, Literary Kicks was chosen as one of the Top 10 Web Sites by Point Surveys. I showed up as #7 on the Best Overall list for the week of August 21, and again as #9 (hey! what's the problem here?) for the week of August 28. I'm especially proud to be one of the only non-corporate sites on the list, and also one of the only ones maintained by a single individual instead of a team. I was told by Point Communications that I'm now on their Top 5% of All Websites list, and so I get to wear this badge:
Paul Bowles was born in New York City on December 30, 1910. He was an only child and exhibited early the existentialist's sense of alienation.
Who was his father? The patriarchal figures in his stories are often brutal. The true stories of Bowles paint the picture of a cold, New York-Edwardian man as his father-- but not exactly cruel or abusive.
Paul Bowles studied with composer Aaron Copland. Bowles went on to produce a number of still-produced mostly-orchestral pieces. Later he wrote music for the work of Tennessee Williams, a friend and supporter of the talents of both Paul and his wife Jane.
2. An exhibit of Allen Ginsberg's photographs will be at the Tibor De Nagy Gallery on 57th Street in New York City starting September 7. Call (212) 421-3780 for more info.
3. What can I say about Jerry Garcia that hasn't already been said? Nothing, I guess. But I recently got a very nice note from John Cassady, Neal's son, and among other things he sent me the text of a letter he wrote to the San Jose Mercury News about his own memories of Jerry. Here it is.
4. I've mostly avoided discussing the hot dispute that has been raging over the ownership of Kerouac's estate. This topic has been so much in the news lately, though, that it seemed almost necessary for me to touch upon it in these pages. A great opportunity to do so arose recently when a Beat aficianado named Ralph Virgo offered to create a special section within Literary Kicks devoted specially to original writings from people who knew Kerouac or have particular expertise regarding his life or work. The first installment of Inside the Kerouac Legacy features an original article by Kerouac biographer Gerald Nicosia, who (as many of you may know) has been one of the key figures in the recent disputes over Kerouac's estate. This whole section is Ralph Virgo's gig -- I'm staying out of it myself ...
Other articles will hopefully follow in this series, focusing on a broad range of areas, and not just the matter of the estate.
5. Tricycle, a popular Buddhist journal, has dedicated a large part of its latest issue to "Buddhism and the Beat Generation." They'll also be publishing a book on the subject, "Big Sky Mind," with writings by Gary Snyder, Lew Welch, Ginsberg, Joanne Kyger and others. Tricycle also has a new web page.
6. There's a new Ken Kesey home page here.
I must admit, though, that I am color-blind (red-green color blind, to be exact, which means I see colors, but slightly differently). So if anyone really HATES my colors let me know -- I'm trying to be correct here, but this is kind of like putting on a shirt and a tie for me -- I think it's right, but I'm not exactly sure.
Anyway, I've been working hard on LitKicks lately, and there are several new things here. Probably the two I'm most pleased with are the extensive new bibliographies of published writings about Kerouac and Kesey, both of which were created specially for LitKicks by contributors. There's amazing stuff here -- I never knew, for instance, that John Updike actually stooped so low as to make fun of Kerouac in The New Yorker (man, I hate that guy.) There's a chronological list of reviews of Kerouac's books, and it's fascinating to observe the ebb and flow of mainstream literary interest in his works over the years. The Kesey bibliography also contains fascinating entries I'd never known about. Thanks to Sherri and Martin Blank for sending these to me!
2. Would you like to know why I've been so busy? I've been trying to finish my new web project, which I'M FINALLY DONE WITH!!! I've really been knocking myself out over this thing, and I'd really like it if you'd visit and tell me what you think. I'm not going to try to describe it except to say that this is my first attempt at truly expressing myself on the Web. It's dedicated to the city where I live, it's inspired by the music I listen to and the books I read, and it's called Queensboro Ballads.
3. There's a new internet mailing list dedicated to the Beat Generation. It's called the BEAT-L, and you can subscribe to it by sending a SUBSCRIBE BEAT-L message to email@example.com. There's been some very interesting activity lately, and after three weeks there's already a minor flame war going on.
4. Penguin is releasing a CD-ROM dedicated to Jack Kerouac. I haven't found it in any of the stores here in New York, so I can't say much about it yet, but there is a very extensive preview available at Penguin's web site. Click here.
The Writings of Jack Kerouac conference at New York University began on June 4 as scheduled -- and that was about the last thing that went the way it was supposed to. The first sign that events were spinning out of control came when the Unbearables, an inspired and largely disorganized group of angry writers planning to protest the complacency and dullness of the NYU event, got more publicity in publications like the Village Voice (and in web sites like Literary Kicks) than the official conference got. They announced a series of alternative events, like a Jack Kerouac Impersonators Spontaneous Prose contest, to take place at the same time as the official events.
I exchanged e-mail with a few of the Unbearables, and promptly decided to cast my lot with them. I wasn't sure how much they would have to say, but whatever it was at least it was going to be new, and they weren't planning to lighten my wallet by $140 for "registration" either. Also, panel discussions bore me and I hate wearing "HELLO! My Name Is ..." tags. Easy decision.
The Unbearables' protest, though, ended up being upstaged by a much more shocking one. The fate of Jack Kerouac's estate and legacy has been a topic of controversy for some time now; the Sampas family (Kerouac's last wife was Stella Sampas) owns everything, basically, and Jack's daughter Jan has been vying for a share. Jan Kerouac was barely recognized as a daughter by Jack during his lifetime, and her attempts at being included in the "family" now have mostly been rebuffed. Jan (author of a couple of books, including Baby Driver, which I heard was pretty good) has also been very sick with kidney failure lately, and this may have contributed to the intensity of feeling she has been expressing about the ownership of her fathers' estate.
That's enough background -- now I'll get to the fireworks. Gerald Nicosia, author of the most acclaimed major Kerouac biography, Memory Babe, was apparently not invited to participate in any part of the NYU conference. Ann Charters, author of the first major Kerouac biography, Kerouac (published in 1973), was invited. Because Ann Charters has been considered 'friendly' by the Sampas family while Nicosia has expressed support for Jan Kerouac, Nicosia believes that his exclusion from the conference was a conspiracy against himself and Jan.
This may very well be the case. But get this: Nicosia showed up at the conference anyway, wearing a black t-shirt that said
"Gerald Nicosia ...
A tiresome wannabe"
-- Ann Charters
I found this very surprising. Nicosia is quite an established figure in the Kerouac 'field,' and I've heard people praise his book -- the longest and most thorough as well as the most recent of all the Kerouac biographies -- more than any other, including Charters'. He was certainly risking his reputation by airing his grievances in such a public fashion.
It is also admirable, I suppose, that he is doing this not for himself, but for Jan Kerouac. At the same time, as I watched him wander the lobby outside the auditorium where booksellers and Kerouac-interest-groups had set up tables and where people like me (who hadn't paid to get in) hung around taking in the scenery, I detected a certain psychotic intensity to the expression on his face, and it occurred to me that he was maybe taking this all a little too seriously.
This opinion was reinforced when I talked to some other people hanging out around the lobby. I heard that somebody -- either a Jan/Nicosia supporter, or Nicosia himself -- had disrupted one of the conferences in the morning. Later I was talking to someone else about the Beat figures who were hanging around the lobby (at that moment, Anne Waldman, Joyce Johnson and Ray Bremser as well as Nicosia) and this person was telling me about the conversations he'd had with them. He looked at Nicosia and advised me, "Don't talk to him unless you want to do a lot of listening."
That was Act One: Act Two took place at Biblio's bookstore in Tribeca, where the Unbearables were staging their Jack Kerouac Impersonators Contest. Ann Charters showed up with her husband Sam (a legendary Blues author, who wrote Country Blues and The Blues Makers, and who played a very important part in the late-fifties/early-sixties rediscovery of Robert Johnson, Son House and many other old bluesmen). They were sitting at a table with a very nice guy I'd recently talked to in the NYU lobby (Ralph, from Minneapolis) and since Ralph offered me a seat near him, I suddenly found myself sitting next to Ann and Sam Charters. Then in comes Gerald Nicosia, still wearing his black t-shirt with the nasty Ann Charters quotation on the front, and he heads straight for our table. Ann sees him coming and looks away. "Excuse me, Ann," Gerald Nicosia says. "I just had to ask you ... do you think it's right that I was forcibly removed from the conference this morning under threat of police intervention?"
Or something like that. Ann tries to play it cool. "I know nothing about it, Gerald. I had a cold today, and wasn't even at the conference."
"Well, do you think it was right? And do you think it's right that so-and-so Jan Kerouac-this and Sampas-family that and so-on and so-forth ..." all in a strident, nearly-threatening tone of voice. He did not seem far from physical violence, although this would not have been much of a problem, as Sam Charters was about a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier than Nicosia. Ann kept trying to put off his questions. "I'm very sorry that happened, Gerald" "I really don't know what it is you want me to do about that" and so on. Nicosia walked away, simmered for a few minutes, then came back even angrier and started in again.
All the time I'm sitting there thinking: Wow. I'm sitting here watching the two major Kerouac biographers duke it out, and I got a ringside seat.
I'm now going to do something I've never done before in Literary Kicks. I've never expressed my opinion on the Jan vs. Sampas Family hijinks, and that's mainly because I think the whole thing is kind of dumb. I also don't think it's very interesting to serious Kerouac readers -- although from my seat at Biblio's I have to admit it was starting to get pretty damn interesting.
Anywhere, here's how I call it, for what it's worth:
1. Every family has problems, and there is nothing surprising about the fact that Jan Kerouac (Jack's daughter from his second marriage, and a daughter that he refused to recognize and almost never met) is not friendly with the family of Jack's last wife. I'm not saying the Sampas family is right to snub her, or that she should not feel free to express how she feels about being snubbed. But like I said, every family has problems, and I don't see why this particular problem (which is all about money, really, and has nothing to do with incest or rape or death or drugs or anything like that) should be blown up into such a major public issue.
2. Jan Kerouac and Gerald Nicosia are saying that the Sampas family is getting rich by selling off the Kerouac papers little by little, and that they should instead donate or sell the entire Kerouac archive to a library. Well ... okay, whatever. My problem with this argument is: who really cares? Maybe it's better for a single library to own the whole thing, but is this really a critical issue?
You all know how much I care about Kerouac's life and work. But let's admit it ... the guy published enough stuff even during his lifetime to keep his readers busy for years, even decades. And that's not to mention his voluminous letters and journals and art notebooks, and the reminiscences of his many friends and lovers and compatriots. If you put me in a room with the entire Kerouac archive right now, I don't honestly know how interested I'd be. Shit, I haven't even gotten around to reading Vanity of Duluoz yet!
I always find it ridiculous when people make too big a deal over a writer's personal archive. No writer is that good. Kerouac was a man, not a holy savior. Just chill out, everybody, all right?
3. By the end of the night I had spoken to Ann Charters, and I liked her. I'm aware that many serious students of Beat literature consider her to be a little too chummy with some of the major living Beat figures (mainly, Ginsberg). She's been accused of prettying up the truth in some sections of her book, and she's even been dissed here in Literary Kicks by Tim Bowden in his Carolyn Cassady memoir (he accuses her of bringing a friend to Carolyn's house to engage Carolyn in a vapid discussion while she -- Ann, that is -- furiously scribbles notes from Carolyn's personal papers.) So I feel she's already been raked over the coals, and I would just like to say a word in her defense.
This woman wrote about Jack Kerouac in 1973, back when nobody took him seriously as a writer. I mean, NOBODY. Her book wasn't even published by an established firm: Straight Arrow Books was a division of Rolling Stone magazine. That was what the mainstream literary world thought of Jack Kerouac back in '73, four years after his death. It took courage, vision and selfless dedication to devote her career to a a writer whose literary reputation had never been good, and was now in a state of utter ruin.
Now everybody from Viking Penguin to New York University kisses Kerouac's ass, and it's an all-new world for Beat scholarship. But let's have a little respect for the person who put her reputation on the line back when it meant something. Yeah, Nicosia is sticking up for Jan Kerouac. But Charters once stuck up for Jack Kerouac, and that means something more.
Okay, I'm done talking about this. I'd like to conclude this report with a big "YEEE-HAHHH!" for the Unbearables, who put on a fun, truly spontaneous show at Biblio's. It started off with some jokes that were pretty dumb, focusing mainly on a burly guy in a mustache running around in a wig and housedress pretending to be Kerouac's mother. Kinda cute, kinda reminiscent of The Diggers, but also much too long. Some of the audience left during this part, but then the night started to get going, and a session of Kerouac-inspired spontaneous rants and readings began to really generate some steam. Some of it was even good writing, and almost all of it was good ranting. The Unbearables are a cool bunch; I've heard they've previously protested the bad poetry in the New Yorker, to which I can only say: what about the shitty fiction?
At one point during the Sip A Beer With Mrs. Kerouac Contest I leaned over to Ann Charters and said "You know, it just occurred to me that you're the only person in this room who actually did sip a beer with Mrs. Kerouac."
She replied, "It was actually champagne. She only drank champagne."
"Oh really?" I said. "Expensive stuff, or cheap?"
"Cheap stuff," Ann Charters said.
That's the end of my report. You'll notice I didn't say anything about the conferences themselves. They're still going on today, as I sit at home writing this up. I have a feeling I'm not missing much. As for what's going on in the lobby ... I think I've seen enough already.
June 4, 1995, 2:30 pm.
The University Theater, 35 W.4th Street
Rollo Whitehead walking tour.
June 5, 7pm
Biblio's Cafe, 317 Church St, 212/334-6990
Jack Kerouac Impersonators Contest.
June 6, 7:15 pm
Town Hall, on 43rd St btwn 6th & 7th Aves
A gathering to protest exclusive & expensive reading of Kerouac's poetry. Bring signs, banners and implements of conspicuous outrage. We'll also be reading poetry in front of Town Hall for *free*.
On the other hand, I've never seen Lawrence Ferlinghetti in person, and since he doesn't show up on the East Coast often I hate to miss this chance. But still on the OTHER hand, Lou Reed had originally been listed as one of the speakers, and now he's off the list. Hmmm ...
See you at Biblio's Cafe. Or maybe I'll just stay home and read.