The transcript picks up at approximately twenty-seven-and-a-quarter minutes in, with a curiously subdued Peter Orlovsky
AG: Next will be Peter Orlovsky.
Gregory Corso: (And) what year for Peter?
AG: So that would beprobably around nineteen fifty…
Gregory Corso: … four
AG:…four, Christmas, or fifty-five, maybe mid fifty-five.
Peter Orlovsky – July was it?
AG: I guess. Sometime around then, yeah
Peter Orlovsky: Summertime?
AG: Summer… when you got back from New York
Peter Orlovsky: 1010 Montgomery Street, San Francisco, five and a half blocks from City Lights bookstore, we.. he came to see you then?
AG: I don’t remember
Peter Orlovsky: Well he was in the apartment
AG: At 1010 Montgomery
Peter Orlovsky: Right.. So what else do you remember from that..?…
So Jack was there and he banged on the bathroom door. I think Allen had told him (that) he was living with a friendly young cute boy and Jack got mad and said, you shouldn’t be doing the… [to Allen] – what did Jack say to you? – Yeah, he banged on the bathroom door and he cracked the bathroom door and I heard the noise and I said, “What’s this about?”, and he.. you told me, “You shouldn’t do that”. He should “He was just a little upset. He doesn’t like me fooling around with young boys”, or what?
Gregory Corso: How young were you, Peter.. ?
Peter Orlovsky: thirty-three
AG; I have no recollection of that, Pete, so you’d better tell.
Gregory Corso: How young a boy?
AG: That was Kerouac’s attitude but I have don’t remember that incident, that’s all (but I’m glad you do)
Peter Orlovsky: 1010 Montgomery Street
Gregory Corso: Yeah
Peter Orlovsky: He was in a jacket. He was in a work jacket, workman’s jacket, maybe blue, or brown?..
AG: Wearing chinos in those days…those blue chinos
Peter Orlovsky: And..
John Clellon Holmes: ..chambray
Peter Orlovsky: …chambray.. And he was very friendly, He said “Hello, I’m Jack Kerouac” .and..and.. what else did he say (I wonder)?
Gregory Corso: How long was he there for? Was it after an hour or so?
AG: I don’t even remember him being at 1010 Montgomery. The first visual recollection of Jack I have in your presence is up on Potrero Hill when we had that apartment
Peter Orlovsky: Oh, No, that was.. We stayed at 1010 Montgomery for a while, and then..where did we move after Montgomery, was it Portrero Hill?…
Gregory Corso: So you see your first recollections of Kerouac seem to be kind of dim in there. Like my conversation with him was he asked me, “What’s poetry?”, and I said “everything”, and that was about it for the first shot.
Peter Orlovsky: Well it was a summer afternoon, about three o’clock maybe… but I always remember Jack having notebooks in his pocket, and then the other… well, (at) the Six Gallery he was very happy and exuberant. When was… what month was the Six Gallery reading?
Gregory Corso: (19)56
Peter Orlovsky: That was(19)56?
Gregory Corso: Summertime, right?
Gregory Corso: Spring?
AG: None of us remember anything!
Gregory Corso: But Spring is Summer in San Francisco, right?
Peter Orlovsky: What was that?..almost nine months later?
Peter Orlovsky: So he was in San Francisco for..
Gregory Corso: Yeah
Peter Orlovsky:In and out…
AG: The question is what flashes do you remember, not try to reconstruct, but just what do you remember? of him
Peter Orlovsky: The first?
Peter Orlovsky: Yeah, well that’s about it.
Gregory Corso: (But) the bathroom door was a heavyweight, you know, I mean, good god!
AG: He was always very resentful. And, actually, if you’re..To check on that literarily, there’s that little Catullan poem that I wrote to Kerouac, saying that I had Peter, which has a line :”Your angry at me for all of my boyfriends, for all of my lovers”. So that Kerouac did have that reaction. It was some kind oflike real heavy mean, sort of mean-minded, mean-spirited put-down thing when it had to do with boys, when it was my boyfriends
Edie Parker Kerouac: Allen
Edie Parker Kerouac: I think Jack was very moral
AG: Very! It wasn’t just his mother
Edie Parker Kerouac: Squeaky moral
Gregory Corso: I remember another thing. When I had come out of
Arlene Lee right? – he writes The Subterraneans and has me pretty heavyweight in that book, that I was disloyal, that I went to bed with his girlfriend. Now, I didn’t know him that well, (and like Dusty..) So..
John Clellon Holmes: You didn’t think he had a right to say that to you?
Gregory Corso: And I didn’t know who came on with whom.. the other girl..I think she came on to me a lot too. So anyway we laid, just once, we had one sex shot. But he writes The Subterraneans, and he had the manuscript done and he showed it to me, and in it he has, at the end, he picking up a table about to kill me, and I said, “Don’t do that, don’t have it.. just change it, don’t have it to end like that”, because it did not happen, you see, that way. And then he did, he changed it, how did he change it? well, he picks it up and his whole mind changes and he suddenly realizes that everything is beautiful, that I’m alright and all that. Yep. Yeah, I got to be friends with him..maybe about two years later.
AG: Dave (Amran)?
David Amram Yeah, I met Jack first in 1957. I was playing at a place called The Five Spot on Third Avenue between Third Street and the next street down [it was on Eighth Street]. It was a place where the painters and the poets, musicians, everyone used to come in New York City at that time. I brought Cecil Taylor, I began playing there. After about the fifth or sixth week, sometime around that time, Jack came in. I think I’d seen him (I’d heard about him from other people over the years. (but) we’d never met). And when you’re playing in a place, especially what would be considered to be a rugged environment, usually part of the way that you learn how to survive each night is to try to be aware on some kind of a psychic level, of who’s there, whether you make eye contact with them (which sometimes could be dangerous) or whether you just feel. Mostly you look and feel for somebody who’s listening. If there’s one person listening.. (because there was no microphone then, and most of the people that you’ve heard of, fantissimo rappers here at this festival, were all there in force. So there might be two hundred people having a hundred and eighty conversations, drawing pictures, painting, while the music was going on, We were the foreground and the background, the music was just part of the whole happening. But I could feel Jack’s presence, and I looked over and I saw this guy sitting there, listening. I said “wow! man, I got one person listening tonight”. I never forgot him. A few months later, I was at my place on Chrisopher Street (Ruthie [sic] is here who works at the school, she can tell you she helped me move from there, the Lower East Side between Avenue B and C, on two trips in her Volkswagen, I had all my earthly belongings. Less is definitely more if you have to climb six-and-a-half flights of stairs two times to move to a five-flight walk-up, which was a big step upward at that time – 114 Christopher Street. Howard Hart, who was a fine drummer and a struggling poet came over with Philip Lamantia and Jack to my place because they wanted to do some jazz poetry readings.
Jack came up and Howard sat down and started playing drums on the table with his hands, Philip read some of his fantastic poetry and then Jack started reading and I was playing the piano behind him. We didn’t say anything, but, in backing him up, he was so musical, so sensitive to the music, that it was just like playing with a great saxophone player or great musician. Even tho’ we had the material, the way he interpreted it, and the way he timed it, was like a true musician. After about the third poem that we were messing around with then I took out the French horn and started playing that, and at the end of one of the poems he started improvising and scat-singing and making up melodies [Amram mimics Kerouac’s scat singing] – I said, “Wow!” Here’s a man from the literary world that can sing! So after we had our.. that was our only jazz-poetry rehearsal we ever had, about forty-five minutes. Then we hung out for about three hours. I found out that he still spoke French. We were rapping away in French. He started talking about (Louis Ferdinand) Celine and (Charles) Baudelaire. He asked me how come I knew French and I had been a gym teacher at the Marie Reed School in Washington DC 1951 to (19)52, and we found out, through mutual interest in sports, connecting French language, (Louis Ferdinand) Celine, (Charles) Baudelaire (and) baseball, he began to tell me about his baseball games and all the way he had his little league and teams and games that he made. I’d never read anything by him but I was so impressed by the expanse of his mind and by his kindness that we started walking down the street towards MacDougal Street. (We said) “”let’s go and hang out on Christopher Street to go to Bleecker Street and MacDougal Street and see what was happening (because there was always something, twenty-four-hours-a-day on the street happening). And we were walking and didn’t say anything for about half an hour and suddenly he turned and he said, “Sometimes”, he said, “you know, you meet somebody and you feel you’ve known them forever”. And that was exactly the same feeling that I had had with him but I never would have been able to articulate it that way. We continued walking around and finally when wegot to MacDougal Street, which is about two blocks long, there were a lot of lights, bright lights over on one side where they have all these little dinky shops, and on the left hand side , where they had. the Gaslight, the Kettle of Fish, all these great places where people would get together and hang out , it was very dark by then.And I said, “Well, man, let’s go on the sunny side of the street”. And he said, “No”, he said, “this side”. I said, ”How come?”. And he said, “Because a writer should always be a shadow”. That was something that I never forgot and that’s why I think he was such a beautiful observer, such a beautiful person to be with, such a sympathetic, modest, humble, warm, giving, caring and sharing person, because he always saw himself as being part of the situation, and even when he became so well-known later on, he never would barge in and take over . He would go to the most insecure person in the room and consciously go to hang out with them, and if anybody was a writer, poet, painter, musician, carpenter, plumber whatever, he’d try to find out what they were doing, and encourage them to feel good. And ever since that time, up until a few months before he passed, I would always see him when he came to New York City and very often talk to him on the phone . (I) feel blessed to have known him, and I’d just like to say one tiny thing – that the last two days I’ve been here (at the Kerouac celebration) I’ve seen and felt more attention and respect and love for his work than I think he ever had in his own lifetime and I think that that’s a beautiful beautiful thing, especially for all you people who came here, if you’re writers, whatever you do, to know that if you have one person listening, one person reading it, you have the beginning of your audience and the rest of your life you can write even for that one person, and eventually, if you keep on and are true to what you believe and what you feel, and keep developing, then it will never stop. And Jack’s flame is very much alive, and I think a major thing about it is that all of us are able to be hereand that what he did is really just beginning to be appreciated, and, twenty-some years later , to see that happen is a very beautiful and moving and rejoicing experience.
Edie Parker Kerouac: Allen, can I tell you how he learned how to scat?
Edie Parker Kerouac: Do you remember Seymour Wyse?
AG: Yes, sure.
Edie Parker Kerouac: Seymour Wyse was from Liverpool, England.
AG: A Liverpool Jew.
Edie Parker Kerouac: Yeah and he used to scat, and he and Jack used to do this together. And the first time, it was terrific. They’d get one side of the street, Seymour, and he’d get on the other, and they’d walk down the street, and everybody would listen, it was beautiful. And then, the first time that Jack ever smoked pot , we went from the Village Vanguard at about four in the morning with Lester Young to Minton’s (Playhouse) and he gave Jack pot for the first time
AG: How did you know it was the first time?
Edie Parker Kerouac: Oh yeah, he told me so because he said so
AG: Who gave it to him?
Edie Parker Kerouc: Lester Young
John Clellon Holmes: Lester Young
AG: Quite a transmission!- Well that’s a new fact.
GC: (Michael) McClure just came in – and is Jan Kerouachere?
AG: Is Jan Kerouac here?
Gregory Corso: Michael (McClure)’s here
AG: So Michael would, chronologically, probably be, no, I think my brother Eugene would be next, because he met him in (19)45
Gregory Corso: Yes. Eugene
AG: Eugene, are you here? – Yes – could you step up for a moment please.
Gregory Corso: And Michael, when did you first meet Jack?
Michael McClure: Me?
Gregory Corso: Yeah
Michael McClure: October of (19)55
Gregory Corso: There you go
AG: Okay, so, then, we’re doing it chronologically, so (Eu)gene, could you come here..
Edie Parker Kerouac; Allen? shall I get down?
AG: ..for a moment
Edie Parker Kerouac: That’s great, listen, I’m tired
AG: No I’ll get down.
Edie Parker Kerouac: No, no.
GC: Up here I’ll be the transitory chair.
AG: Yeah.. So, let’s see now, Eugene Brooks, my brother, (also a poet), now when did you..when did you run into Jack, I think real early?- first, first hit?
Eugene Brooks (Eugene Ginsberg): I had been in the army from nineteen till.. till nineteen forty-five, 1942-45, and that would be about October, and I came to visit Allen,and I think it was in the West End Bar when Allen introduced me to Jack, What I remember at the time was mostly his smile, sort of a modest smile and I don’t remember any of the conversation at that time. My recollections of him were fragmentary but I had visited this great apartment on 118<th
Street earlier in 1944 I had gotten a clipping from my father which told me all aboutthe Lucien Carr-(David) Kammerer thing and here I..then I suddenly stepped into this apartment, there was (William) Burroughs talking about different kinds of narcotics,Joan Vollmer, who was very pretty, Allen, Lucien, and Kerouac would come in and out. Subsequently over the years I saw him once or twice. I got married (my wife Connie’s up there) in 1954 in December, and Kerouac.. Allen came in from California for the wedding and Kerouac, apparently, was in town, and I think the day after we took a trip downtown and around Columbia University because I was living at 105th Street. He took some movies of us which I still have.
AG: Jack did?
Eugene Brooks: Yes, Jack took some movies of us cavorting, you know, after we were married, we were kidding around, sitting at a park bench. I went into some pantomime trying to pick my wife up, you know! – In 1955, he had grown a little.. he had moved to ..well, he was not moved to Northport yet but he had some problem with..Joan Haverty.
(I just want to get the dates straight here) He had met Joan Haverty in 1950 and married her, November 17, rather soon thereafter, wrote On the Road in April (19)51, in May they were separated, in 1952 there were some family court proceedings, in the 1950’s, they continued for some time. Joan did not really want to pursue it (I have some copies of letters she wrote to him , in which she indicated, basically, that her poverty compelled her to bring him to court once in a while . So she finally got a lawyer in 1961 and brought a proceeding in the Spring, Court of New York County, to recover monies for necessaries that she had paid for her daughter Jan, who was then I think nine years old, and whom I met in the intervening time, twenty years has passed and she’s thirty years old now. What happened then was that we, after some difficulty persuading Jack to settle the case, we settled it on the terms that he..conceded the paternity (in other words, he acknowledged that Jan was the child – so that”s a final thing, there isn’t any questioning about that.
John Clellon Holmes: He acknowledged it to me too.
Gregory Corso: He never did it to me. See, that ‘s a….
John Clellon Holmes: Yes, there was a story in Confidential magazine [“My Ex-Husband, Jack Kerouac is an Ingrate”] with a picture of Jack and a picture of Jan as a child and I took one look at that photograph and I simply… he had been sort of denying it, publicly. And I simply held it up next to his face and looked at both of them and he understood and said..”Ok”
Gregory Corso: Why did he have to doubt? Why was he doubtful?
AG: His mother kept pushing him saying it’s not yours, don’t acknowledge it..
Gregory Corso: the father
AG: Money.. (It was his) mother, I think
Eugene Brooks: It might be interesting, he met Jan twice, once around that time, and then once, I think that was 1957 or (19)58 when she visited him when she was on the road herself. When Jan met him in 1961, Joan (she went back to her mother and told her what had happened, and her mother, subsequently, about a month later, wrote to Jack, saying, “I wasn’t afraid of anything you might have said to her or in frontof her, Tuesday, because this kid just bounces back like a rubber ball. She’s virtually uncrushable. But what a new cocksure step she’s cut now that she’s met you and the old spontaneous belly-laugh is back. I haven’t heard it since she was about three or four” – That’s about it
Gregory Corso: We can take a quick question (before we) get Michael McClure
AG: Quick question because we’d like to bring up Michael McClure next
[Audience-member] – (You mentioned about Lucien.. ?)
AG: About the what?
Eugene Brooks: Lucien..
Gregory Corso: The Lucien Carr thing, the letter..the..
Eugene Brooks: The Kammerer thing? No, I’m not talking about the letter. What I’m talking about is the New York Times. My recollection is thatit was the New York Times, on the front page, (or maybe my recollection’s incorrect there), detailing the fact that there was this murder on Morningside Heights, and that Lucien Carr had been arrested, and that my brother was held as a material witness, (and Jack, of course, had been held as a material witness too, and had to get out on bond, and I think that was the point at which he married Edie Parker)
[Audience-member] (Where is Lucien now?)
AG: He’s working in the office in New York, with his kids – I thinkMichael McClure is here?- Yeah – [to Michael McClure) want a little step up?
Gregory Corso: (I’ll get a) glass of water (water for Michael McClure) (aqua)
AG: So the questions were..what we were doing was going on a round of where.. what was your first hit on Kerouac.. first time you met? That was the thing that each one of us was trying to recall as accurately as possible.
Michael McClure: Well, that’s easy enough for me. I remember that very well.
AG: Also, what year and everything?
Michael McClure: That would be.. well, I think.. Allen had told me. We’re talking about ..first time I saw Jack was October 1955. I met Allen earlier that year, (or late in (19)54, I forget which), we met at a party for W.H.Auden after a reading that Auden had given at The Poetry Center in San Francisco.Ruth Witt-Diamant who was the director of The Poetry Center had a party and Allen and I met each other there, and then as I got to know Allen, he talked to me about Jack, he showed me letters from.. and I think I remember (is this a true memory, Allen?) that you showed me parts of Mexico City Blues
AG: Yeah. Around (19)55
Micheal McClure: Yeah. ok. Because I remember the first time I saw Mexico City Blues I liked it a lot and then, when at the Six Gallery reading in San Francisco, when Allen first read “Howl”, that was the first time I saw Jack, because Jack was in the audience, and I don’t really think I had a hit on Jack then because I was a little stunned by “Howl” and by what we were doing. A couple of days later, or maybe the next day, Allen brought Jack over to our place, Joanne (McClure) and I were living on Sacramento Street in San Francisco in an apartment that used to belong to the painter Harry Jacobus. And he’d gone to Majorca with Jess Collins and Robert Duncan and we’d taken over that apartment, and so it was a nice.. nice place. Allen and Jack came over and they had a matchbox full of grass, and I remember my thought about Jack was “this is the first time in my life I ever met anybody that was maybe more self-conscious than I was”. Because my memory of it is, you know, like, in high school.. when I walked across the high-school auditorium in high school, I could feel my neck creak as I walked (it went crack, crack crack, like that), I was that self-conscious, and just to see Jack walk across the room wth just Joanne and Allen and I, I could see his neck creaking. And also he was very handsome at that time.I was impressed, you know, like, with, with his good looks. He was (a) slender, almost kind of movie-star-ish, masculine guy, with a lot of grace to his movements and that kind of self-consciousness that goes with it. I remember I was talking to somebody about this the other day and they said.. it was Henry Allen..they said, “Oh you mean shy” and I said, “No, I don’t mean shy:. We talked about.. and Henry and I talked about that for a minute and I said “”Shy” is where you can live with being shy, you’re just shy. “self-conscious” is where you know you’re self-conscious but you’ve got to stand up and do all those things anyway, as if you weren’t.
AG: You remember the first conversation… any first conversation? or earliest conversation you can remember? or any, any flash?
Michael McClure: Well I.. always something that has served as an example for me in the sense of Jack. Well, yeah, I have a.. I mean.. like favorite memories of Jack are watching him read the sound poem at the end of Big Sur,sitting there outside of Lawrence (Ferlinghetti)’s cabin on the coast of California, in the darkness of night with the clouds drifting by and he sat down by the ocean on the point of the land where he had sat. He wrote a long poem what the ocean said This poem ends his novel Big Sur and it goes like..
(Michael McClure approximates Kerouac’s classic sound poem – “Kssh lssh shrr shloosh laboobish shlaa cra nash boo ka-bom-pa sza-la merchna missy blue mist green star shlaboosh –ch-ch-ch-ch – sh-bong wah wah!”) – [“..arrac’h–arrache–/Kamarc’h Jevac’h–/Tamana—-gavow–/Va–Voovla–Via–/Mia–mine—/sea/poo..”] –
And he took this from.. Jack‘s little letters from Ferlinghetti’s cabin, down to the point of land where he sat writing that poem and read that poem, at night, with the mist drifting over him and the stars seen occasionally through that. I mean, that’s a wonderful memory. Also at that same time, I remember Jack giving for what has always been for me a kind of example that I refer back to maybe once a day for all the rest of my life, for maybe sometimes more than once a day and that is we were all sitting around doing what we used to like to do in those days – somebody would say, “I read this” – “I just read Mickey Spillane’s new novel”, somebody said “Oh yeah but I read Albert Camus‘ book of essays” and somebody would say, “Oh yeah, man, but I read David Copperfield” and somebody would say,”oh yeah man, but I read this” – And Jack would say, we’d done that for a while and Jack would say,”Well, you’re just, you’re masturbating, that’s just some kind of intellectual masturbation, because you’re not giving any point of information, you’re just moving it one up constantly”, He said “Why don’t you say, if you’re going to say you read something, why don’t you give a perception about it”, he said. Like, for instance, “I just read, or recently read, a novel by a nineteenth-century novelist named Herman Melville which was about a one-legged sea-captain who was having a war with a great white whale who represented the cosmos, and it seemed to me that the central issue of this novel was Captain Ahab saying at one point (that) we must strike through the mask of evil. Therefore it occurred to me that Melville saw evil as white in the form of this great black whale – and he had this other man who was a protagonist”. And he said, “That way you give some information about it.
AG: Was that actually his take?
Michael McClure What?
AG: Was it his actual take on Melville or were you improvising his take?
Michael McClure: I’m sort of improvising as I go. I think it was Melville he spoke of (but) I don’t even remember specifically what the book is. I remember the tone of his conversation, and whenever I hear myself saying (or not whenever, but oftentimes when I hear myself saying) those..those little hierarchical, or those little masturbational things, I say “oops, I better say something about it if I’m going to do that, otherwise I’m indulging in a kind of hierarchical grooming going on here”. And that’s always been an exemplary lesson for me. It.. how long should I go on here?.. I… Another exemplary thing comes, not from anything Jack said but, from his novels themselves, because I see Jack as being a kind of athlete and master of the sensorium, of sensorium, of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. For instance, when I would read something of Jack’s thatI’d oftentimes very strongly disagreed with his point of view on, what he saw and what he gives me, is the gift of the way he saw it, not some vague repetition that I can align my sensibilities with but a very clear, very sharp-edged, perception of what he saw. So he’s giving me something. So I guess I’m saying the same thing, in both instances. In Jack’s work he’s saying, you give your perceptions and, in this incident that took place in Lawrence (Ferlinghetti)’s cabin, he’s saying, you should give your perception with your statement about it.
Gregory Corso: Right, now Nanda [to Fernanda Pivano] – you would be the next shot…excuse me, the Italian connection – Thanks Michael.
GC: or who? Carolyn (Cassady)? , yes, she is important. Where is she? Is Carolyn here?
AG: Or Carl Solomon)? or (Herbert) Huncke ok?
Fernanda Pivano: So..the first time I heard about Kerouac was when On the Road was published. Hannah Josephson was the librarian of the Academy of Arts and Letters took me a copy to Italy, she was a friend of Malcolm Cowley and Malcolm Cowley had given her the copy to read on the ship. So she gave me the book. At that time I was the advisor of an Italian publisher. She gave me the book and she said. “And soon we’re going to do something out of it” And so I had the book published by that publisher and I started corresponding with Kerouac. The correspondence was mostly for professional reasons, about his books, about the characters in The Dharma Bums, then when The Subterrraneans was seized [sic] I had to ask him to write letters for the Italian judge and so on. Then, when the Italian publisher published the fifteenth no five hundredth book of a prestigious series called the Medusa, they used Big Sur for that volume,and they gave Kerouac a thousand dollars to come to Italy to celebrate the anniversary, and Kerouac came. And so this is when I first met him (except that when he arrived, he was drunk, desperately drunk, because someone on the plane had told me he was making passes at the hostess and so someone told him “don’t make an ass of yourself “, and this made him furious, humiliated him, and so he started drinking, and when he arrived in Milano he was so drunk that he even lost his suitcase!) And so, when he was taken to an hotel(Allen knows the hotel because he has been there himself) someone gave him a morphine shot,and at that moment he called me, and he shouted at the telephone desperately thathe wanted to go back home right away, to go and rescue him so he could go home again, that he would give back the thousand dollars, he didn’t want to stay in the country where they were giving him shots of poisons, (his paranoia was exchanging morphine for poison). And so his disasterous trip in Italy started that way. He came to the television, I had to interview him for the television. He tried to recuperate somehow some energy and so he was very arrogant, he didn’t answer the questions, it was very difficult. And then he went to the press conference and he didn’t say a word, and then he went to a party and he stayed all the evening just drinking without speaking with anyone.
The publisher was very resentful. And then they took him to Rome and in Rome they made another interview, the television, because they were hoping that the second interview would bemore more…responsible, but instead he was there on the stage under a flood of spotlights, very sad, very desperate, defeated, completely defeated. And all the establishment, all the literary critics of the establishment were around, all well-dressed, you know, with the grey suits and so on, and he was wearing his lumber-man’s shirt and his proletarian shoes andthey were looking at him like a wounded lion. He was a wounded lion but he was a lion, and the other ones were just.. creeps.And then he was taken to a night-club. Imagine! Jack in a night-club – in an Italian night-club!- and so, there was a girl there and, completely drunk as he was, he tried to make a pass at her, but she didn’t realize who he was, so she was just disgusted because he was drunk, she didn’t want to have to do with him. So he was frustrated and he was taken back to his hotel and he called me and he spent two hours on the telephone, and in that conversation by telephone he told me about this book, mostly of his mother of course, how desperate he was, (because his mother had just had a stroke, the day before he left, and so he didn’t know what to do with her, he had not yet solved the problem of how to attend to her). And so he kept saying, “I came because I had to pay the rent for my mother’s house” and then he spoke of Thackeray (William Makepeace Thackeray) and about how Thackeray had been a postman – [Editorial note – is this true?] – And so he said “Maybe I will be a postman” – and I (said I) don’t believe it. And, and so on. And then he talked very much about San Giovanni de la Croce (St John of the Cross), which was one of his beloved characters (as well as Gregory (Corso)’s – I remember Gregory speaking of San Giovanni de la Croce) – And now I don’t want to tell you what he said exactly in two hours telephone call. (but) (And) then, next day, he went to Naples, but in Naples he couldn’t even walk, he was just carried around, like that, like a suitcase – And this was my encounter with Kerouac.
GC: What year was that?
Fernanda Pivano: This was in (19)66, Gregory. He died three years later. He was still very handsome but somehow.. inflated..how do you say”
John Clellon Holmes& Allen Ginsberg: Bloated
Fernanda Pivano: Swollen, swollen, swollen, somehow swollen in his face, but his eyes were still beautiful, his voice was still beautiful. When he was in Milano, I took him to my house and he came onto my terrace and there he was calm and he could talk a little, then he talked of (Allen) Ginsberg, of course, and of Gregory and of his friends, and of Henry Cru (because I had met Henry Cru, a year earlier) . He was quiet and he wanted to drink but I didn’t want to let him drink so I just gave him a glass with a drop of whisky so h smelled it and it was enough for him to to..quiet down. He..he was an extraordinary person and the fact that he was drunk didn’t mean much. It was just bad for him, not for us
John Clellon Holmes: That’s great.
Gregory Corso: Okay is there anybody here who knew him, let’s say..
AG: Oh Ann Charters..
Gregory Corso: Oh Ann Charters knew him? ..alright..
AG: Jan Kerouac is not here is she?or is she? Jan?
Gregory Corso: No, I asked for her a few minutes ago
AG: Ok. If anybody sees Carl (Solomon) or (Herbert) Huncke or anyone like.. that knew him
Gregory Corso: What year?
Ann Charters: Well, I could talk about Kerouac in 1956 at Berkeley at the second reading of “Howl”
G: Right, right
Ann Charters: But I’d rather, because we’re running out of time and I think there are other (things to do)
AG: First hit, the idea was the first hit, first conversation, any first recollection..
Ann Charters: Well I was with Peter (Orlovsky) and I was mostly interested in Peter. I was also interested in someone else who was there..my husband-to-be, but he was with some other person, and, you know, it was the typical confusions of being nineteen and away at school. But I was with Peter and I really always was fascinated with Peter. For me Peter was the best-looking person in that room. And I know Jack was vibrant, Jack was vibrant and he was exciting, and he was in a way mobilizing the crowd, even before the poetry began to get rolling, because of, you know, drinking, passing the wine and collecting for it (he was organizing the party in his little way too). But I didn’t say anything to him then, I was just impressed with his vitality and with Allen’s poem, “Howl” and with Peter, you know. Okay – but the important thing to put on record – and why I came down – is because something – to follow up something Nanda said about 1966 – which is, when I went to see Kerouac in Hyannis. (he didn’t remember me at the “Howl” reading, or at Ginsberg’s party eating spaghetti even before that, it was ten years previous and there’d been a lot of girls and a lot of wine) – but – now, here’s the thing – he had suffered, among other reasons, the neglect of any literary recognition and I was doing a bibliography – I, a PhD from Columbia, you know, a young woman, who he regarded as a gentle woman, and a scholar. So he allowed me to come in, and he was very very helpful and very very considerate – he answered my questions about how he wrote the books, he allowed me to take twelve shots with my Rolloflex (camera) . He wouldn’t record our conversations, he had… you know, he was a little careful and kind of paranoid about that, but he would have been a vastly different person if more readers during his time, literary critics, especially the literary establishment, had taken him more seriously as an artist and as a writer. And why I came down was to continue this thought, That’s what Nanda was saying about being a postman, you know. Like nobody was taking him seriously and he needed to make money to support his mother, which was an obligation he took extremely seriously, and she was his best friend. (I mean. let’s face it, she kept that house for him and she kept it all going.)
Well, she cooked dinner for me the night that I was there, We worked all day on the books and she cooked dinner, and Jack said (Jack was drinking Johnny Walker Red and beer and he said), “This isn’t any good for dinner”, he said, “My mother has a great chicken pie. Why don’t we go out and get a little wine at the liquor store?”. So I agreed to go with him, you know, to get away from the house and let his his mother finish the dinner – I also had an Irish setter, and Jack, very considerately, said, “Why don’t we take the setter to the beach? (this was in Hyannis). So we got in my little Volkswagon car, and I’m driving. and the dog’s in the back, and Jack’s sitting, you know, and he palmed a beer-can so skillfully out of the house (because his mother was screeching at him not to take anymore out. “You know, Jack, you shouldn’t drink on the streets”). Well, he had it, right up there, you know, he was.. really neat..I was really impressed with that!. So he said, “Before we go to the liquor store, you know, we’ll go to the beach for the dog,”
We did that for a while. We sat on the rocks and talked, and he talked a little about Vietnam and Korea and the whole thing about war, and he was.. he was definitely proud of being masculine and proud of being a marine and fighting for his country and that sort of thing. And I was mostly keeping the dog in check. And then he said, “Before we go to the liquor store, let me take you to a bar”, you see. So I (thought), “ God!, sure, I’m on the road with Jack Kerouac!” – I was so proud, you know. And he takes me to the bar and he continues, of course, he has another shot of scotch – and I had one too. And we listened to the juke-box and it comes on the tune “Exactly Like You” – and he says :That reminds me of my first wife”, you know. Now, I have my little notebook and I’m writing all these things down, and drinking my scotch, listening, watching him, and he’s just incredible. And then we go to the liquor store – and here’s the point, he says “My mother just wanted me to buy wine, but I think I want to buy champagne”, he said, “because this is a very special dinner because what you’re doing for me is a very special job, with the bibliography”. So we bought some domestic champagne, (and) took it home. His mother said, “Oh Jack, you shouldn’t have”, you know, and he said, “Well I’ve also bought this for you, mother”, he said, “because I know you’ll drink it” (it was the only thing she drank, she considered champagne healthy and everything else made you sick! – a wise woman, in her way, you know!)/ And so..and so in that kitchen we opened the champagne and Mamere and I drank it and he continued with his scotch (and didn’t eat anything!) – But the point is that he really did have a sense, even if he was at the end of his life, of celebration, which existed in his life as much as it
Gregory Corso: Is Al Aronowitz here?
The final part of this discussion (question and answers, with the active participation of the audience), will be serialized next week
[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately twenty-seven-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately seventy-and-three-quarter minutes in]
[A version of this text appeared in Beats at Naropa – An Anthology (edited by Anne Waldman and Laura Wright, Coffee House Press, 2009]