Ginsberg on Kerouac (Vanity of Duluoz)

“Macao”- still from the 1952 movie “Macao” (directed by Josef von Sternberg – starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell & William Bendix)

Allen Ginsberg from 1977 Naropa lecture on Jack Kerouac (and Vanity of Duluoz) continues from here (concluding here)

AG:  (reading from Vanity of Duluoz)  – “But now that I’m 45 years old and in a continual rage myself, I can understand and sympathize with that chief mate at last, and I know what way the salmon jump up that river of bitter time and pain, wifey”  (So he’s 45 when he’s writing this, and actually pissed off, still) –  (Allen flips through the book) – There was a pretty phrase that I always like here – on (page) one-eighty-nine – “And  “I’m wondering..” – (he’s on the ship) – “Joseph Conrad  wasn’t wrong, the really are old sea dogs who’ve been to everywhere from Bombay to British Columbia smoking their pipes on poops of old sea vessels , practically born at sea they are, and die at sea, and don’t even look up…Even have cats down below for the rats, and sometimes a dog…What tobacco they smoke? What they do where they go when they put on their glad rags in Macao. to do what?”  – (I thought that “glad rags” and “Macao: was pretty sound  – I think that’s the essence of Kerouac – playful, stylish –  stylishness,  actually,  playing,  (sometimes it’s playing with the stylishness of a slang phrase, like “Put on your glad rags, dearie, we’re off to the show”,  but combining with “put on their glad rags in Macao” – it’s an odd ear, the music is right there) – “to do what?  What a vast crock it all is to dare to even think of anything when all is said and done, Mayetey, I saye, get those lines wound right..”..Talkin’ to myself , I laughed all night. Not even a drink since Brooklyn….Who needs it?” –  (that was the key that “glad rags” and “Macao” for that line)

Student: What’s Macao?

AG … oh Macao – the town outside Hong Kong is it?  Portuguse Macao, that’s right outside of Hong Kong? Well, it’s a big dock port, a free port, a free port so lots of ships go in there, a little Portuguese bit of Portuguese… even isn’t it now? … a little piece of China that is Portuguese.  [Editorial note – the  colony remained under Portuguese rule until 1999, when it was transferred to China].  So it’s a big opium center and a big place for contraband and counterfeiting and mysteries and shadows and “evil Chinamen” and “sinister spies”, [a siren is heard outside] places where sailors hear sirens in the night, while they’re on an opium reverie . They get off the ship and put on their glad rags and go off to Macao -they “put on their glad rags in Macao” .And they take off their dirty old oil-soaked engineer’s or wiper’s uniforms,  and get all dressed up spiffy and go out, and “put on their glad rags in Macao”.  It’s just a normal commonsense thing.  It’s a pretty way of saying that – “What do they do. when they go when they put on…”What tobacco they smoke.. what they they do where they go when they put on their glad rags in Macao.. to do what ?” (trying to get laid? –  “to do what?’).   I just assumed that everybody. knew what “Macao” was.

There’s a funny anecdote on page one-nine-our, that Kerouac… (that) was a sort of key reference-point for Kerouac for the British character and British sound in his prose –  “Well morning and a few cold beers with American airforcemen in Piccadilly beer bars, where they chill the beer for American tastes, a walk around, even a nap in the park during an air raid , and then I have to find my way to Threadneedle Street because Lilian or something or somebody took most of my money away (I think it fell out of my pocket in Piccadilly dark) to borrow money for the train back to my ship in Liverpool from an American shipping office. An old man carrying an umbrella and wearing a homburg hat comes up to me and says imperiously, tapping me on the shoulder, “I say, which way to Threadneedle Street?..”  – “I say, which way to Threadneedle Street”? – unquote – he kept saying for years.         

So I’ll finish with a.. I want to continue on this book for one more shot next but I want to finish with one last paragraph

“And it was that last morning before we got ready to sail to Brooklyn that I devised the idea of “The Duluoz Legend”, it was a gray rainy morning  and I sat in the purser’s office over his typewriter, he was having his last drunk I guess, and I saw it – a lifetime of writing about what I’d seen with my own eyes, told in my own words, according to the style I decided on at whether twenty-one years old or thirty or forty or whatever later age, and put it all together as a contemporary history record for future times to see what really happened and what people really thought.” –     (“to see what happened and see what people really thought” –  that’s page one nighty-five –  that’s exactly what he did– “to see what happened….)

tape ends here

Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately thirty-seven-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at the end of the tape

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