1973 Jack Kerouac Conference – Part One

We’ve alerted you before to the remarkable Salem State Beat Treasures, the 1973 Salem State College Arts Festival and its focus on Jack Kerouac – the Jack Kerouac Symposium. Featured participants were Kerouac’s friends, local Lowell professor, Charles Jarvis, artist Stanley Twardowitz, biographer Aaron Latham, novelist John Clellon Holmes, Allen and Peter, and Gregory Corso. Predictably, Gregory Corso steals the limelight (or attempts to steal the limelight – we’ve seen that one before too!) – Allen: “Please..don’t interrupt my poetry”. Gregory (unrepentant): “But when I interrupt, I go fast..” The tape (part one, part two to follow) ends there, but not before a full hour’s banter and Gregory’s gets in plenty interruptions.

Tape begins with initial preparations. Gregory Corso smoking. Allen (typically), “There’s more room over here”. Peter (likewise, typically), “I wonder if there’s any kind of ventilation”. Gregory (typical too), a little contemptuous of Peter, “Penguin talk!”, he declares. Peter (righteously standing his ground), “The penguins that you love so much would never think of smoking a cigarette, they just love to sit on rocks and bare their breasts to the sun”. Gregory, “Peter, I’m going to steal your car…Always take from your friends ’cause they’ll never call the cops, take from a stranger, they’ll lock you up”.
Three minutes in, moderator, Steve Salvo speaks of benighted times – “television hypnosis” – ‘5o’s conformity, and against that, the very different, indeed heroic, spirit of Jack Kerouac – Salvo gives a seven-minute speech/eulogy – then introduces the panel members, noting, in passing, that Allen was the “King of May” (Gregory is moved to point out why exactly Allen was deported).

The bulk of the tape (from 16 to 47 minutes in) is given over to Charles Jarvis’ talk, “Jack Kerouac Angel Goof” – “Is it true that professors have the highest rate of masturbation in the professional ranks?”, Kerouac asks Jarvis. Jarvis tells of their friendship and of the legendary 1962 Lowell radio broadcast – “My thought doesn’t have to be improved, because I got it from heaven” – also of his (ultimately thwarted) plans of getting Kerouac a post at Lowell Tech as writer-in-residence. He concludes with the reading of a particularly transcendent passage from On The Road.

Salvo opens up proceedings next to the rest of the panel. Gregory chimes in, noting “the victims of the Beats” – the women! – the very different circumstances for women in revolt in ’50’s America – “$50 a day numbers” (psychiatric restraint, electric shock treatment), he remembers the fate of his first girlfriend, Hope Savage.

SS: I’m sort of curious, Aaron Latham’s working on a biography. I’d like you to respond, Aaron, if you would, on the (Ann) Charters biography and how you think yours might be different, and what you might try and develop in it.

AL: I haven’t read the Charters biography, just because I thought I wanted to finish mine before I started. I wanted to get the shape of my book down first before I started reading hers. The main thing that I’ve had is… the main difference is going to, be that I have letters that Kerouac wrote, and cooperation of the Estate and the agent, along with.. There’s one thing that I know, just from reading reviews, that she talks about is how On The Road came to be written, and, supposedly, the myth is, that Kerouac wrote On The Road in three weeks, he got this continuous roll of paper, put it in the typewriter and wrote On The Road in three weeks, and I am told that, in her book, she “debunks” this, you know, yet another myth shot down, like Paul Revere really didn’t ride to spread the alarm, all these myths go, like Jack Kerouac didn’t really write On The Road in three weeks. One of the things that I did find out, went back and looked at John Clellon Holmes’ journals, and went back and got the original manuscript of On The Road, and it turns out, the myth is actually true! He really did write On The Road, not in three weeks, but, actually, in twenty days. There was..er..one of his friends, a guy named Cannastra, had been an artist and…

GC: Bill Cannastra. Bill Cannastra, right.

AL: .. he had been an artist. He had an apartment down near the Village.

AG: He was a lawyer, he was a lawyer actually, but he had a loft on 23rd Street and 7th Avenue.

AL: At any rate, he happened to get on the subway one day, and he was going some place out to the Bronx, or whatever, and suddenly decided that he’d like to get off the subway and have a drink in a bar that he remembered nearby. He got about half-way, on the subway, when it started out..

GC: He went out. That’s when I came on the scene, right Allen? When Cannastra came out, I came in. That dumb fucker put his head out of a moving train! Out of the window! Blat! Splat!
What do you mean “quiet”? – it’s the truth!

AL: At any rate, that was the end of Bill Cannastra, trying to get off the subway when it was moving..get to the end of the line..and he was killed..so..Cannastra..his apartment was taken over by one of his girlfriends, and Jack Kerouac went around there one day to see the girlfriend, actually, he thought there was a party at Cannastra’s, and it turned out there’s no party, but there’s this girl there, so.. pretty soon Kerouac marries a girl called Joan Haverty, and moves into that apartment, and what should he find there but Chinese art paper, 20-foot-long strips of Chinese art paper, so he took the strips and pasted them all together (a strip, that was 120-feet long) and rolled it into his typewriter, and started writing. On The Road. I mean, just the weird way things happened in this man’s life. If Cannastra hadn’t decided to get off the subway, he wouldn’t have been killed, (the) girlfriend wouldn’t have had his apartment, Kerouac would not have found the Chinese art paper, and American Literature would have been different

GC: Let’s keep this factual. Allen, when did he get that roll of paper? I thought he got it from UPI.

AG: My understanding was that he got a roll of teletype paper – teletype, quote, unquote, from…


AG: ..from Lucien Carr..


AG: ..who was, at that time, living with me..

GC: That’s the truth. If you’re gonna write a biography, baby, get it straight!

AG: .. wait a minute, next door, and used one of Lucien’s teletype rolls – I think.

GC: And Jarvis, don’t you tell me to shut up again!

CJ: I never said that!

AG: Aw, take it easy..

GC: You did

AG: (pointing to Gregory). He’s sensitive..

AL: It’s in Kerouac’s letters, that he..

AG: ..that he used the Chinese paper?

AL: It’s true that all his later books, once he discovered this technique of using a continuous roll of paper.. he knew, he knew Lucien Carr, who still.. who worked for UPI, and Lucien Carr gave him..er.. teletype paper on which he wrote Big Sur, Maggie Cassidy, later books, but, at any rate…

AG: The original one then was Chinese art paper pasted together?

AL: Right, and, in fact, it’s intact in Sterling Lord‘s safe [this was 1973]

JCH: It is. –

GC: Well, you know, he gave me a roll of Mexico City Blues on a roll, his beautiful poetry, Al, and I sold that to buy dope! – beautiful! – you see, it’s not in no safe, it’s gone. I shot it in my arms..beautifully, and Jack cried, “Oh, good god, Gregory, taking dope..” “It’s true.. you fuckin’ lush..”..

AG: I saw that teletype roll when he was typing on it. He moved to 21st Street, right, or moved over to the West Side to a street which was later occupied by Leroi Jones [Amiri Baraka], maybe seven years later, eight years later, ’60- ’61 – ’59-’60-’61, in a.., it was a one-room apartment that he lived in, bed in the middle of the room, kitchenette, and a screen, one of those..

AL: ..screens covering the..

AG: ..area where he worked, I believe – he worked right in the middle of it all – but I thought it was a teletype roll

AL: ..about twenty feet from the window, where he could unroll enough to…

GC: And Jarvis, you know when you talk about masturbation with Kerouac. He hit the high-class shot, but he got it unnaturally, I got it the natural way, because I was in prison, and you have to jerk off in prison, you see, but it’s the best, masturbation.

CJ: Doesn’t it get boring, Gregory?

GC: It’s not boring at all, masturbation, it’s beautiful, you cum all over yourself when you cum

CJ: But you’ve got to be a poet, right?

GC: What?

CJ: You’ve got to be imaginative, creative, is that it?

GC: No way. You’ve got to think in your head what you’re cuming for, yeah

CJ: Well, that’s what I’m talking about

SS: Can I ask…

AG: Jack’s fantasy was black panties!

SS: Aaron, do you want to conclude..

GC: Do you know what mine was, Allen?..women bending down for their baby-carriages! Oh god! can you imagine! I get my dick erect like that!

SS: Okay, Aaron..

AL: At any rate, going back over, you find that actually, very little, very very little, of it was actually changed. I mean (On The Road) was published almost exactly as he wrote it in that twenty days. His editor at Viking made him cut some of it because.. [this, of course, pre-dates the recent publication of the unedited On The Road manuscript].

GC: Do you ever jerk off, Aaron?

AG: Let him finish.

GC: I wondered if he ever jerked off

SS: Let him finish, Gregory, please

GC: Finish jerking off!,

AL: Anyway, the point of the story was this great myth is true. He did write it in twenty days, and it was a whole new beginning for his way of writing (and, really, of a lot of people’s).

AG: His speech then was that he could type athletically 120-words-a-minute at best, so he was able to transcribe instantaneously all the flash thoughts that went through his head in a continual and a single stream.

CJ: Allen, may I ask you something? Didn’t he write some of these.. weren’t some of these hand-written manuscripts?

AG: Pardon?

CJ: Hand-written.

AG: He has lots of those, with a very athletic hand, also

GC: Why did that man seem like he came through life to check it out?

AG: Why did he what?

GC: He seemed like he came through to write it all down. You know, when I left prison, the old mafia man, the big man there, finally spoke to me, as I left, and he said, “Gregory, if you see three people, make sure you see four”. In other words, dig, always keep in control. That guy must have gone through life always digging himself and being in control – but with his drinking (I saw today on the film and on the tape) how was he in control? That’s a little spooky. I want Aaron to answer..what about participation?

AG: Control?

GC: Yeah, all the way he must have been in control, all the way, and that’s spooky. You know, I fuck up a lot. He doesn’t seem to fuck up, that man – except his death, of drinking! – wow! – and, we’ve all got to go, gentlemen..

AG: No, well, he sort of goofed..

GC: Well, that’s the truth, man. He seemed like he was..

AG: Like (on) the Buckley show, when he felt, or others felt..

GC: Do you think I would have met Mr Kerouac if I hadn’t met you, Al?

AG: Pardon?

GC: Would I have met Johnny Kerouac if I hadn’t met you?

AG: Probably, because he was hanging around the Village, same time you were, actually,

GC: I was born there, Al, I wasn’t “hanging around”. You guys came down there, you fuckers

AG: Yeah, but he gave birth to the Village for that generation.

GC: You want to hear a great thing about Kerouac that nobody knows? – and this is what he wrote in The Subterraneans (which he put in San Francisco, but actually happened in New York, at the San Remo bar). The hipsters, Mason Hoffenberg (who worked on Candy with Terry Southern), Anton Rosenberg (who had the beautiful face), me, sitting at that table (and Bill Teck?) – Jack is talking, and one of the hipsters says to the other hipster,”Dig that aggression” – Because he was talking! – (they never talked – those guys never said a word, man). Jack was talking to me (and it was) “Dig that aggression”

So he was hot and they were cool, and the hot made it

AG: There was a great deal of resentment against him, both from subterranean, very cool, tense (later, junky) hipsters, as well as from very cold academic hard hearts, it was.. against his enthusiasm, which, in an essay called “The Origin of the Beat Generation”, he describes in lively presentation, the realization that, in America, there are.. there is a Dostoyevskian, enthusiastic, nutty, friendly tendency – people rushing up to confront each other’s souls..

GC: Imagine! You go up and say “Hi Ma”, and she says “Dig that aggression”! – Your wife, or someone you love? – Ay, “Dig that aggression”!

AG: ..but as part of that enthusiasm. The last passage you read from was from what?

CG: On The Road

AG: From On The Road . So what was being presented there was a vision of life in which we here in the room are still all sitting, a permanent vision, a permanent way of looking at ourselves and each other, (because), in a sense, this room is an extension of one of Kerouac’s novels, in which I think everybody here who appreciates Kerouac sees himself as another personage in the novel of the universe, another strange angel, sitting in the eternal place, discussing an archangel, who proclaimed the eternity of our presence together, which is the curious thing about this symposium, I think, in a sense, more open-hearted than most academic symposiums could be because the subject was one who proclaimed open heart and consciousness of one’s own divine presence in the place we are.

GC: Oh, Jack was a big creep, Allen. You know that, a big creep, man.

AG: No, no.

GC: It’s true., he was a creep, man.

AG: Gregory, please be quiet.

SS: Gregory, let him finish..

GC: I’m saying he was a creep, man, why not?

AG:….because I’m older than you..

GC: You see how up-tight they get, man..

SS: Just let him finish..

AG: Please, don’t interrupt my poetry

GC: But when I interrupt, I go fast.