AG: So – “ F. Scott Fitzgerald the Alamoan/Huckster” – (“Huckster” means he’s peddling something) – “… Crockett Hero/Who burned his Wife Down/and tore up the 95 Devils/with crashes of laughter/and breaking of glass/in the monocled Ibyarritz/the Little Grey Fox” – (Now, I don’t know what the “Grey Fox” is. I don’t know what that reference is.
Peter Orlovsky: (A patron?)
AG: Well, there’s a Grey Fox Press now, but that’s this generation. – “(T)he Little Grey Fox” – I’m not quite sure – “OF NEW HAVEN CONN”
PO: His father? or..
AG: Um, no. Maybe… It might have been a restaurant or some ritzy inn where Fitzgerald went with his friend, the critic Edmund Wilson, who lived in Connecticut. But New Haven – that was Yale. So it’s Princeton and Yale. Maybe “the Little Grey Fox” is maybe a bar at Yale? Actually. Might be the elegant bar at Yale that people go (to). Because Kerouac knew Yale because he was from New England. Or he knew the (area) so it might have been that.
“…the monocled Ibyarritz/the Little Grey Fox/OF NEW HAVEN CONN/via Princeton O Sure” – Tender is the Night – ”Tender is the marlin spike..’
Student: (What’s a marlin spike?)
Student: (It’s very) sharp.
AG: Yeah. Sharp at one end. It’s like a cone, an elongated cone, and you could stick it in a knot and work it out. Kerouac was a sailor. So he’s saying “Tender is the marlin spike,” of all things.
“Tender is the sea,/ Tender the London Fog/That Befalls to Me/ Tender is the Cat’s Bath…” – (Not merely tender is high society in the ‘Twenties and the nostalgia of “An American in Paris”) – “Tender is the Cat’s Bath/ Blue Meow/ The Little Grey Fox/That nibbled at the grapes/Tender was his foreskin,/tender his Nape” – (foreskin is the foreskin on a penis. It’s an odd word to pop up all of a sudden. “Tender was his foreskin,/tender his Nape.” I guess Kerouac, looking at the foreskins of the cats)
So that’s a funny one. Does that make sense now? See, it’s a babble of harmonious associations making a funny kind of archetypal statement. You get an archetypal impression of the ‘Twenties. It’s like a little fast collage of images of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Biarritz and Zelda and smashing champagne glasses and trains to New Haven the morning after. And then Kerouac is comparing it to his own world of marlin spikes, sea, the London Fog. He had a lot of writing about going to visit London, he couldn’t see anything because of the fog and bumping into huge-bellied British gentlemen with bowler hats and umbrellas saying, “Oops, pardon me.”
Student: Was the fog that thick?
AG: Well, he said so. He was exaggerating. “Tender the London Fog/That Befalls to Me,” because London fog in which you couldn’t see anything was just nothing but blank brightness. So he began comparing the fog in London to the blank brightness of nirvana, since he couldn’t see the Tower of London or the Piccadilly Circus statue of Eros – all he saw was fog in London. “Tender the London Fog/That Befalls to Me.”
Then, right back at home with his momma – “Tender is the Cat’s Bath/Blue Meow.”
The next one (Chorus 31) is sort of a self-description. Since he was on the “Twenties.
PO: Did he go to London? He went….
AG: Yes, he had been to London and as a merchant.
PO: Before he wrote this?
AG: Yeah. As a merchant seaman in the ‘Forties.
PO: Oh alright.
to be continued
Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately fifty-six-and-a-quarter minutes and concluding at approximately fifty-nine minutes in