Remembering Jack Kerouac – 3

Jack Kerouac (1922-1969)

continuing from last weekend‘s two posts

Gregory Corso: Al Aronowitz.  Is Al Aronowitz here…Al Aronowitz is not here. okay, well then that’s it, so why don’t you guys rap back and forth. We’ll begin with the ones who, originally were on the stage to begin with, and end it.

Paul Jarvis (from the audience): Can I speak about…
Gregory Corso: You can ask a question.
Paul Jarvis: I want to share my experience with (Jack) Kerouac in Lowell
Gregory Corso: Okay but it’s got to be toute de suite. Come on.
AG: Okay, yes, come on, come on down, but directly, brief and straightforward..
GC: Brief, man.
AG: the point, on the first meeting.
GC: Right. I only said that, because I’d heard you’d laid it down before and it went on for hours!
Paul Jarvis: I guess…
Gregory Corso: Okay, What year?

Paul Jarvis: I guess chronologically, we just heard up to 1966 and I wanted to share my experience in Lowell, Jack’s home town, my home town, August 27th, 1968. (because a lot has been said about Jack in his later years and his attitude during a time when there was revolution and trouble in Vietnam and I think I have a clear feeling about what he felt in his home-town, Lowell, in 1968). I was in Chicago when the riots occurred, I was a VISTA volunteer there, I became disillusioned when the backlash vote took the election and the nomination away from the poet EugeneMcCarthy to Hubert Humphrey and then to Richard Nixon. I returned, knowing I had to seek Jack Kerouac out because I faced the induction physical when I gave up my.. I gave up my deferment. I.. The only person that I’d ever read in American Literature that defied the war machine was Jack Kerouac who wrote in The Town and the City how he threw down his rifle and historically got incarcerated into the Bethesda Psychiatric Hospital from May 20th to June 30th, 1943. I sought out Jack and found him in Cappy’s Copper Kettle, a working-class bar in Lowell. I told him who I was. He knew my father, Professor Charles Jarvis at the University of Lowell, and he was very kind to me and concerned that I might be inducted into the military and sent to Vietnam. I disagree with this previous marine statement by Mrs Charters
GC: Merchant marines, she meant.

CG: Excuse me?

GC: Merchant marine.

CG: Well, he was in the merchant marine in the most dangerous torpedo runs. He went into the Navy, but he was impounded and put into the psychiatric hospital. But his attitude towards me (and this is what I wanted to share), who was twenty-three years old at the time, very frightened, very anxious to be sent to Vietnam. And he invited me to go home, I drove him home, and he invited me into his home, where I spent a total of eight hours with him, and I was struck by the fact that.. I had heard things that he was a rabid drinker, you know, and possibly a drunk guy, and all this stuff, you know, and (but) he was casually sipping a few beers. And he listened to me and made me feel very strong about resisting Vietnam, he made the point that all the Vietnam War was about was the American government selling jeeps to both sides!  He then, at that point, (and I felt very honored and blessed and important), said he wanted to introduce me to his mother (and, then – it was three a.m, in the morning at that time – I said, “Well, gosh.. you know”, and he said, “No, no, I want you to meet my mother”. He went and woke her up and brought her into the room and she had a very tranquil peaceful understanding look on her face, and I felt very important, very validated, at a time when people said, “If you don’t like it here, go live in Russia!”. And he said, “Mamere, this is Paul, he’s a real honey lamb”. And I didn’t.. I wasn’t sure what that meant at that time, but I’ve come to find out that it was the ultimate validation for me as a pacifist. And soon thereafter I had my first pre-induction physical and didn’t act against the war, I mean.. I legitimately revolted against the induction physical on three occasions and the third one culminated with (me) seeing a psychiatrist,and I was judged to be “psychiatrically unfit for military duty”. I also would like to say that I wish some of this incredible pacifist energy found its way down to the streets of Denver downtown where the resistance is now [1982] going on for another draft and I met Jack again on September 2nd, Labor day, but maybe there’s not enough time to talk about that but I certainly want to share with this audience how kind-hearted and concerned and inspiring Jack Kerouac was in person, as much as his writing was (that I became aware of at the age of sixteen).
GC: Alright. We’re going to close it pretty soon. So if you want to ask any questions, that would be a good shot. And maybe we could volley it back and forth between us five here (sic)  Go ahead.
Q: Did Kerouac know Thomas Merton?
AG: Did Kerouac know Thomas Merton? (is this on?It is on?) – I think..Gerald Nicosia: (He admired him), Allen
AG Gerald Nicosia, who is a good biographer.
Gerald Nicosia He (admired Merton’s writings) very much, but he only got to meet him once, in the late (19)50’s, when Jack was really drunk, and he was too drunk to really have much of an intelligent exchange with him. But Merton always admired Kerouac’s writing and there was a mutual admiration there.
AG: The one person he did know connected with Thomas Merton was Robert Lax, poet from Columbia, and they had a long, long correspondence and had met.

John Clellon Holmes: But their connection with Jack was through Bob..Robert Giroux, his editor, who was a classmate of theirs at Columbia. I’ve heard Jack, I heard Jack talk about Merton quite often and he had great respect for him. I didn’t know, Gerry, that they’d ever met at all
Gerald Nicosia: They were not at Columbia
John Clellon Holmes: No, this was an earlier class
AG: It might have been actually Merton was there in the late (19)30s at Columbia?Gerald Nicosia: Later.
AG: Early (19)40’s? Because he was there just before I was there as editor of Columbia Review, a couple of years,  and Jack was around then, so they might have met there.Gregory Corso: Okay
Q: (Of all the.. What was Jack Kerouac look..?)
Gregory Corso: Looking for? Did he find it? I think On the Road gives it pretty clear what he was looking for – his friend, his hero, the archetype American hero, he’s looking for “it”, right? – What was “it”? – They seem to have found it in some mountain in Mexico? …the little children and all that? giving his depiction of a heavenly state and all that?..
Q:  (I was wondering, more from what you knew)
Gregory Corso: Oh, of what I knew of him? Oh well the Catholicism gave him a shot out, as you know, if you’re really a Catholic, you stick to it and when you’re old, you bleed, you’re going to slip through your death like butter and go to heaven – you got it made! His intellectual side took to Buddhist(ic) hit – the no-God.  (Well) – and they seemed to meld pretty well with him.
John Clellon Holmes: Jack, Jack often spoke with me about, particularly after he’d been on the road, or was going on on it again, that what he really wanted was a cabin in New Hampshire, all by himself. He spoke of that many many times. In fact, once he came to Old Saybrook to actually look for a house but it turned into a gigantic binge that lasted ten days and..he never got out of the chair.
Gregory Corso : ..The acceptance, like Ms. Charters mentioned, was.. (that he not get the acceptance) and I think the ego, obviously, was tremendous there for the writer,and he was put down, he was totally put down. He was not accepted by the academy, nor the media, or anything, and that must have hurt the man a lot, (and) so I’m sure maybe that was a shot he was after, and he got it, and it blew him away (alright, that’s really what blew him away)
John Clellon Holmes: And I think you must consider that Jack was a very..was a notorious personality right after On The Road. Many of you may think that that would be an ideal state – to go on television, to have a little money for the first time, but the people who Jack.. whose respect Jack wanted, he didn’t get. The people who trailed after him and climbed over his fence and that, out in Long Island, and bugged him at night on the telephone, were just fans of his (they were like fans of Jimmy Dean, they’d never read the book, that.. so, in a sense, his appeal, his very dynamic personality and his good looks, worked against him.. because he was considered to be kind of the showbiz.. or rather, the Marlon Brando of showbiz.) And this is not what he wanted at all. So he got plenty of recognition but he got no appreciation on the part of people for his literary accomplishment
Gregory Corso:  And it fell back on him,  the Beatnik thing. For instance, if you see a blue whale, imagine you see a blue whale, it doesn’t necessarily make you a blue whale! – but, boy, they gave him that appellation “Beatnik”, it fit on him. He didn’t have the beard did he?, or the bongo drums –   but other than that..

AG: I think, Paul Krassner (has a question)..

Paul Krassner:
(...Kerouac was writing a column for a magazine named Escapade for a while and then he stopped  short Anyone know why he stopped?)
Gregory Corso: It was called “The Last Word” was it?
John Clellon Holmes: The Last Word
Gregory Corso: The magazine just failed, that’s all.
AG:  No, I think he had a contract for twelve articles or so (eight or ten or twelve)…
John Clellon Holmes: (I think that it was twelve)
AG: ..and then he did them, he completed them (they have been xeroxed and copies of them are in the Naropa library), and I think it just wasn’t picked up, either because he got sick of doing it.. I think he got sick.. (it wasn’t that well-paid anyway, four hundred (dollars) a column, or something),  and he just got sick of the work of doing them, (and also they probably weren’t that.. they weren’t that inviting, the Escapade people), because one was on dharma, ((a) real great serious article on dharma that I read aloud to (Chogyam) Trungpa (Rinpoche) the other night, who was astounded by it, it was so sharp), one on history, one on contemporary poets, one on baseball..
Paul Krassner: And this was a skin magazine.
Gregory Corso:  
Skin mag, Yeah.
AG: Escapade

Ann Charters – Allen, Can I answer the question?  I noticed in Kerouac’s letters with Sterling Lord that he accepted a lot of stuff after the fame of On The Road, a lot of writing (commissions), including the Escapade contract, but he was poor then. Well he was interested to begin with, and then, as a writer, he just.. just didn’t want it, so he, voluntarily, said, “no more of that”.
AG: Yeah, for instance, he had a couple of articles commissioned for Holiday magazine and he couldn’t stand it. So, you know, he just wasn’t interested, so he sat down in my kitchen with Gregory and Peter and myself, and we wrote a couple of them with him.

Gregory Corso: Right – that was good, it was good to make us.. because I had no money at that time, right, I had no money at the time, and he said, “Come on, Gregory, help me with this and I’ll give you half the shot”, and I said, “Great!”

AG: We all concocted a big tour of Green-wich Village and the Lower East Side together for Holiday for holidayers who were coming to New York – where to go in the Bowery for a good meal! – Yes?

(Q: Will your share some of your last interactions (with him and when) …your last interaction?)

AG: My last interaction I think was on the telephone. He.. as is known, he called up his friends, to the very end, very very late at night, and he was bugging me one night. He called about two in the morning and bugged me by saying – “You dirty Jew..bastard…

Gregory Corso: I was there

John Clellon Holmes: You were?

Gregory Corso: Yeah, I remember

AG: ..The trouble with you, Ginsberg is all you’re trying to do is be famous. You’re sticking your beard into every television set you can and you’re trying to start a war no reasons for spitefulness bla, bla, bla), anyway my mother says you’re nothing but a Jew and…”So I said, “Listen, Jack. If you don’t tell your mother to shut up, I’ll throw some shit up her cunt and make her eat it!”
Gregory Corso: Right right right, that was big, yeah, I remember that.

AG: And at that point, he started laughing.

John Clellon Holmes: He started laughing

AG: At that point I started laughing. I realized for twenty years, he had been bating me, waiting for me to have a sense of humor!
Gregory Corso: Right on, And Allen told me, after that phone call, he said, “Gregory, Jack is the saddest of the lot”. (Now I was going through some rough times at that time too – Well, Allen said, “No, it’s Jack, Jack is probably going to be hurt the most out of all this”).And so it was.
Q: When was this?)
AG: Well, let’s see, that would be the late ‘Sixties, very late ‘Sixties – Sixty-seven? – Also I asked him what he thought about (Bob) Dylan, because I’d just met Dylan, and was hanging around, and I was trying to connect them, and he said he loved Dylan’s singing (which interested me because his real singer was (Frank) Sinatra. The last time.. the last time we met long before he died? I don’t know, maybe a year (before)?, he came up to New York to go on the William Buckley show

Gregory Corso: Right right

AG: And…

Gregory Corso: He went.. when?.. he died in October, (19)68?<
AG: Yeah

John Clellon Holmes: Nine.

Gregory Corso: Nine, Sixty-Nine

AG: And he was..we were…he came up to William Burroughs’ hotel room, and Bill.. with a couple of Greek relatives, brothers-in-law –  and Bill refused to go down to the television studio with him. He asked him “Come on down, kid, come with me”, (he was drinking). I went along. Bill said ,”Jack, I don’t want to see this, this is going to be… You’re too drunk and I don’t want to be there”. And I said, “Okay, I’ll come”. So, when we came up in the elevator, Ed Sanders was there. And Jack had, actually, been manipulated (as had happened before) – he wasn’t told that he was not the only guest. Buckley had first invited him – and Sterling Lord, his agent had set him up for that – and then, it turned out, that Ed Sanders was also supposed to be on the panel, and a professor from Stony Brook, a sociology professor, I’ve forgotten his name [Lewis Yablonsky]. So Jack immediately began putting down Sanders in the elevator, saying , “I don’t know you”, and Sanders, very generously, said, “Jack, I’m your baby, I’m your child, I grew up under you, I grew up reading your books. I’m your.. whatever, I’m your product” (because Sanders knew that, Sanders knew, Ed Sanders knew, that he was a good product, so he wasn’t ashamed of proclaiming that). Jack didn’t know Sanders (or said he didn’t know Sanders’ work) and so put him down. They were all lined up on the tv set, Jack slumped in his chair. And (he) came on drunk, grudgingly. When Buckley asked him what he thought about the Vietnam War, Jack gave it back to him in one-hundred-percent redneck fashion, saying,”Ah, all those South Vietnamese want to do is get our jeeps, free (just as Paul Jarvis said ).It was apparently, like, a favorite redneck Lowell-type line..

David Amram: Allen? can I mention one thing?

Paul Jarvis: That’s not true. I don’t think that’s true
AG: Yeah, wasn’t it you who quoted that?
Paul Jarvis: I was with him two nights before he went down to the William Buckley show and that’s not a typical redneck idea in Lowell.
Gregory Corso: No, you mentioned the jeeps, man
AG: No, what I’m saying is that it’s a sort of ..
Paul Jarvis:  I have the audio..
AG: honorific redneck.
Paul Jarvis: …of the Buckley show..
AG: Oh yes, so what did he say? What was the phrase?
Paul Jarvis: He didn’t make any redneck statement.
AG: No, he didn’t say, he didn’t say the word “redneck”.
Gregory Corso: He said..
AG: I said it was a redneck statement, not him.
Gregory Corso: ..his opinion.
AG: The statement was that all those South Vietnamese want to do is get our jeeps, that’s what he said. Is that your recollection?
Paul Jarvis: That’s not a redneck statement.
Gregory Corso: Aw, you’re just picking on him.
AG: That’s right, Paul, it’s not a redneck statement, it’s another kind of American statement, it’s American blue-collar statement, it’s a blue collar statement.
Gregory Corso: Okay, I think it’s the end of the ball game, guys. But let’s not end on that note, that

David Amram:  Allen, can I mention one thing? I have an answering-machine, one of those machines that answers your phone when you’re not there, and Jack called up a lot in the last few years, always very late at night .(In) 1968, the Houston Symphony had played a piece of mine. I set (the) Lonesome Traveler for chorus, solo, and symphony orchestra, and I did a show on PBS with the Houston Symphony. Jack saw it. And I was able to get the engineer to get a tape and send it down, and some (of the) other records. And he called up one time, 1969, and I think it was end of April, or May (I was just back off about four months of traveling all over the place), and he said, “Man”, he said, “every time I call(ed) up all I get is that damned machine!” (he would always leave a fantastic message with some scat-singing, some improvised poetry, and something insane saying “you’re not here” at the end of it, “this is Jacky”, at the end of the tape). I finally was there. So we talked for about an hour-and-a-half. He said, “Look”, he said, “You know I’m in one place, and you’re still traveling, going all over the place”, and he said, “Why don’t you stay in one place?” And I said, ”Well, I am in one place, just different areas of that one place”. And he said, “No”, he said, “did you ever think (and this what really flipped me out) did you ever think of lying in a hammock for three days looking up at the stars and just picking your teeth and letting the Zen-full feeling flow over you?”. And I thought about that, and of course I hadn’t done that. I’d never.. No, the only reason.. I’d never had the chance yet, but every time I really get tired (and I’m still out there travelling), I think about that, and what he said was so beautiful that just imagining doing that was really health-i-fying and relaxing. And he had a way, sometimes, of saying things, and putting things in your mind, that could really help you. So the very last conversation I ever had with him on the telephone he put that thought in my mind and every time I’m really tired I think about that and, much better than any kind of dope is to have abeautiful thought that can relax you, give you that tranquility and that peace. And on that note, since people have mentioned so much about (his) drinking, I never saw Jack, in all the time I knew him, (and we played at Brooklyn College for a poetry reading where there were all these kids that were dying to meet him and a lot of other places that we won’t go into because there’s no time), I never saw him offer a drink to anybody, I never saw him suggest drugs to anybody, (and we talked about that a lot – since I had been a gym teacher, we were both interested in sports). Whatever he did to himself, he knew wasn’t beneficial, and he did feel a responsibility to young people, at least to be decent to them, (and so much of what has been written about him really suggests the opposite), and he was really, as people said, a very moral person, very decent and very beautiful and caring person. And what he did to hurt himself, or to ease the hurt, was not something that he laid on other people. He had no shred of decadence within him. He might have destroyed himself, (as many people do), but he never had any..any kind of spiritual decadence, he was always a pure true spirit up until the very end. And I just wanted to say that, because I think maybe that might help to set the record a little straighter, (at least in one person’s picture).

AG: Well I thought.. that’s a good idea.. Very swiftly, I’ll give my last shot on Kerouac. And then John (Clellon) Holmes and maybe Peter (Orlovsky)and maybe Gregory (Corso)

John Clellon Holmes: As others have stated, he was in the habit of calling people, calling his close friends up when he was lonely, which was a good deal of the time. He mostly called at night, late in the night, and, depending on his condition, how long his evening had been, the conversation could spin on for two hours. The last time he called me (although I, of course, didn’t know it was going to be the last time) was in September of 1969, a little bit more than a month before he died, and he was extremely.. he wasn’t extremely drunk, he had clearly been drinking for a long time but mainly he was very sad and he talked and talked and talked and we talked (tho’ he mostly talked, he just wanted to talk to somebody) and this was in the late afternoon and I was due to go out some place and the hour crept on and I hadn’t taken a shower yet and I had to get ready to go out, and I said, “Jack, look, I’ve got to go up and draw…” – it was a bath, actually. I said, “I’ve got to go up and draw a bath”. He said, “Why are you turning me down?” . And I said, “I’m not turning you down, I’ve just got something else that I’ve got to do”. I was irritated, thoughtless. He said, “If you’re my friend… I’m going to hang up”, he said, “and if you’re my friend, you’ll call me back, when you’ve drawn your bath”. I didn’t call him back. I’m doing it now.

GC: My last one? I was invited to read at Wellesley (College) in Massachusetts and Jack went along with me. And it was in (19)66 or (19)67. And no-one knew who he was, at that time – that was very odd – the students, they hardly knew. And being as I used to go to Harvard (I spent two years at Harvard), and that was nearby, so, let’s go, Cambridge, you know, and see if I could meet any people I used to know there. And we went along. And they just had dances there, big parties, big jock parties at Lowell House, and things like that. And he was there drinking and dancing and no-one knew him! – total, you know – it was amazing, what was this? (19)66 (19)67 – huh? – Now they do, now they know him, but it was a real beauty to see that those guys there at that time wouldn’t recognize him. That was the last time that I encountered the man, (and, being that I was moving so much about, I had no telephone, so I didn’t get the calls, see).

Peter Orlovsky: I think it was on Tenth Street , between (Avenues) C and D in (19)67 maybe? Do you remember when he came, the last time he came there?

AG: No. I remember the time he came for the DMT

Peter Orlovsky: On Tenth Street
AG: Yeah
Peter Orlovsky: And he was very drunk. And I think I grabbed him around the waist and tried to throw him in a tub of cold water to sober him up and he screamed at me to let him alone.
John Clellon Holmes: (And you tried to do that?)
Peter Orlovsky: I think I grabbed him around the waist from behind and I was going to throw him in a tub of cold water so he’d sober up and you [Allen] said leave him alone.
AG: What did he say?
Peter Orovsky: I don’t know. We got into a little bit of a rassling.
John Clellon Holmes: Wrestling?
Peter Orlovsky: Wrestling, yeah.

Gregory Corso: He wasn’t an alcoholic when I fisrt met him, you know. He started drinking after..since On The Road came out 

John Clellon Holmes Yeah

AG: So, what conclusion?

Gregory Corso: When we heard about his death, we were together, right? You, me and Peter were together
AG: We were all up in Cherry Valley, New York, and went out into the woods and carved his initials on a tree

Gregory Corso: Right

John Clellon Holmes: And then you called me up and we arranged to meet the next afternoon to go to the funeral

AG: And so we prepared a funeral wreath which said – “Guard the heart”.

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