Happy Birthday Jack Kerouac!

 

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He was a wide spirit, a dazzling voice that revealed a landscape of metaphor, a believer in humanity, a dreamer, a doer and an explorer of metaphysical consciousness. He was also a recluse, socially awkward, a drug abuser, an alcoholic and a man who became so overwhelmed with his own fame it ultimately destroyed him.

There are two types of people in this world; those that ‘get’ Kerouac, and those that do not. I am in the first category, of course ūüôā

Jean-Louis Lebris de Kérouac (aka Jack) was born on March 12, 1922 in Lowell Massachusetts to French Canadian parents who had emigrated from Quebec.  Little Jack spoke French as a child and reportedly did not learn English until he was six years old. Yet he went on to become one of the most prolific and controversial American  writers of the 20th century.

Kerouac’s childhood was a mix of working class sensibilities and Catholic spirituality. When Jack was just four years old, he lost his older brother Gerard to rheumatic fever. He never quite recovered from the loss and believed Gerard followed him around as a guardian angel. After meeting ¬†Neal Cassady in the late 1940’s, the two developed a close bond and Jack always felt that Neal was possibly the reincarnation of Gerard.

Jack played football and earned a scholarship to Columbia University. It was there he met fellow writers Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs.

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Jack broke his leg playing football, lost his scholarship and dropped out of school but nevertheless he, Ginsberg and Burroughs became known as the founders of Beat Literature. Jack went on to serve in the Merchant Marine and the Navy, later taking a series of odd jobs. All the while he was writing, writing and writing more. Some of his early books were not published until after his death.

Ironically, when people think of the word Beat, they associate it with Beatniks — those cool-cat-hip beret-wearing bongo players who eventually took over the poetry cafe scene. This idea was, however, not what Kerouac & company intended. The true meaning of Beat, Kerouac insisted, was the feeling his generation had after being ‘beat down’ by World War 2. It also referred to beatific, as in the Beatitudes of the Bible. The Beats were a marginalized segment of American society; leftover hobos, shell shocked veterans, ramshackle misfits — the exact types of characters Jack met during his cross country adventures. They shared a longing for the Divine.

His masterpiece novel ‘On The Road’ was published in 1957. ¬†It brought him almost instant fame and success. That success was, in reality, hard earned, as Kerouac had spent most of his life as a poor drifter and outcast bum. Fame and fortune overwhelmed and eventually devastated him.

A restless heart, often accused of misogyny, Kerouac was married three times and had one daughter. His life followed a nomadic pattern that he could never quite resolve.  He made his home in various places around the country, never truly settling down. On The Road is a thinly disguised memoir of his trips between the East and West coasts. He often traveled with best friend Neal Cassady.

The Beat movement represented a certain type of freedom, patriotism and love for the land. Apple pie diners, Colorado cowboys, Frisco jazz clubs, purple mountains, red rock deserts and the tranquility of nature.  Jack began to study Buddhism in his quest for spirituality.  In later years, the peace loving Hippies of Haight Ashbury would pay tribute to  the Beats.

Jack may have had a guardian angel, but his demons never left him.

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After he achieved literary success, his privacy became a thing of the past. He was now a celebrated author, the spotlight forced upon him.  Still socially awkward, Jack took to heavy drinking. He once told his friend and fellow poet Fran Landesman that he would have liked to commit suicide, but because his Catholic faith prevented him from doing so, he had decided to simply drink himself to death.

It worked. Jack Kerouac died on October 21, 1969 at the young age of 47. ¬†The official cause of his death was internal bleeding due to alcohol abuse.¬†Jack had once said he wrote his novels because “we’re all gonna die.” ¬†Luckily for us, his words live on.

Natalie Merchant of 10,000 Maniacs wrote this musical tribute ‘Hey Jack Kerouac’:

This short documentary (30 minutes) captures some of the most important parts of Kerouac’s life. Hope you enjoy it!

 

 

 

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Through Generations

 

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They called us the Blank Generation. This was, I believe, a term coined by Richard Hell back in the days of CBGB punk-fests. Richard was always a bit of a pessimist.  I mean, just look at his name. Sorry Richard, I do love you and all. But really.  The Blank Generation? Granted, this was a time when a lot of folks (myself included)  were writhing on their backs half naked or slamming in dance pits with some guy named Sid.

I thought about this term ‘Blank’, did a short comparative study and decided that these generational labels were worth reconsidering.

The Blank Generation is, mind you, not to be confused with the Lost Generation ‚Äď that was Fitzgerald and Hemingway and all those greats who got to hang out with Gertrude Stein in her Paris Salon. Woody Allen, paying tribute to them,¬†wrote a really cool time travel movie called ‚ÄėMidnight in Paris’. ¬†Be sure to check it out if you care to relive a bit of 1920’s avant-garde¬†sentiment.¬†¬†

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The Blank Generation is also not to be confused with the Greatest Generation. That was General MacArthur, President Roosevelt, Rosie the Riveter and all those good souls who survived the Depression, championed American manufacturing, took down Hitler and made the world safe for Democracy. (Or so they thought.)

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It is¬†also not to be confused with the Beat Generation. That was Kerouac, Ginsberg and other jazz grooving cats who went On The Road in search of American Pie. (The pie, I have been told, was apple ūüôā ) ¬†The Beats were the disenfranchised youth who ¬†ended up in a state of depression and ¬†PTSD due to the aftermath of WWII. Thus begging the musical question War: What is it good for?

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Young people today are being called Millennials.¬† But I like to call them Starseeds or the Harry Potter Generation. ¬†If you are under age 32 or so, this is you ūüôā ¬† ¬†There are a lot of you out there, even more than Baby Boomers, so say the latest statistics. The name ‘Millennial’ seems a bit generic. ¬†It insinuates only a hallmark of time, a commemoration.¬† But Starseed and Harry Potter ? Ah, now THAT contains a good flash of magic…

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We are all, in one way or another, headed toward Magick.

But back to Blank.

There used to be this constant threat of Nuclear War. You know — like some idiot could press the button any minute and somehow all of existence would just be annihilated. That is what I remember hearing as a young person and I used to believe it. It made everyone kind of cynical and fearful. ¬†It made everyone feel a bit useless. ¬† Now I am older and wiser ūüôā ¬†And I am still here, far from annihilated, far from Blank. ¬† I daresay the illustrious Fitzgerald was far from Lost, the prolific Kerouac was far from Beat, and the multi-talented Mr. Hell was never Blank a day in his life.

Blank, on the other hand,  can be a good thing.  Blank is uncluttered.  Blank is free.  Blank is a smooth patch of land ready for planting, an empty vessel ready to be filled, a January calendar with no appointments.  Blank is your computer screen before you begin typing. The possibilities are indeed endless.

Blank is the elusive moment before you send your thoughts into this stratosphere of connection where all ideas are considered. This connection leaves ¬†us all less Lost, less Beat, more magickal ¬†and maybe even ¬†a little closer to Harry ūüôā

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This post is in response to the Daily Prompt pingback

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/blank/