chapter 4 — Meeting Your Heroes 101
An excerpt from
“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac”
The Adventure of the Boulder ’82 On The Road Conference —
Finding Kerouac, Kesey and The Grateful Dead
Alive & Rockin’ in the Rockies
One of the first and forever impressions I had was — being on the inside hanging with Allen and his loopy longtime lover Peter and Beat badboy Gregory Corso and cigarette-chaining novelist John Clellon Holmes in their little homes, just watching these guys, these old friends who’d been brothers of the night and the light since they were the age I was as I was meeting them, and now here they were much older, full-grown adult MEN, who were still pranksterish, still plotting cool adventures, still finishing each other’s sentences, still knowing what the other meant by just a gesture or a silence, and making each other laugh, constantly, but all within the context of business, productivity, doing things, writing things, working things out. They weren’t sitting around talking about sports or half-baked pontifications about politics or trying to prove they were up on the latest band like so many people my age. No. They’d been playing this poetry productivity game forever and probably never even noodled in those foolish things but were talking about philosophy and spirituality and writing and writers and quoting themselves and quoting others and talking over each other and as excited in the moment as little kids.
Allen was definitely the professorial boss, the accepted (but not to say unchallenged) ringleader. He was always carrying around this cloth sorta Guatemalan over-the-shoulder bag full of papers and schedules and books and god knows what, and usually wore some stray suit jacket a couple sizes too big for him with some tie a couple sizes too small. He was gentle, but vibrant; soulful, but lascivious; clipboard following, but constantly poetically improvising. He was sort of the one and only father figure keeping an eye on everything, yet was always fun to be around. He had no problem correcting or admonishing someone, but did so with love and a tender demeanor.
He was like a referee in a pick-up game — making sure we played by the rules, but knowing the whole game wasn’t too serious.
Gregory seemed to always have on this black leather vest looking like a slightly older Dylan from “Street Legal,” like a hot happening sexy dude, with a full head of bushy black hair. He would definitely have been the (and probably only) lady’s-man of the group. He didn’t give a damn about the outcome of the game, he just wanted to score. He was definitely the Puck, the imp, the joker, and the one most likely to be called to the principal’s office. And thank god he was in with the principal or he woulda been expelled fer sure!
And a neat thing I loved — the long-form novel writer John Clellon Holmes had a slower cadence than the rest, and a softer voice, and when he’d solo on his Horn, the rest of the band laid low. There was an unspoken respect — perhaps still stemming from him being the first of any of these soon-to-be-famous young men to have a Beat book published — his gone novel “Go,” in 1952.
He wouldn’t speak too often — whereas Allen and Gregory were like Dizz and Bird, constantly playing off and over top of each other — but John would come in like the organ and lay down these thick slow chords that would then totally alter the next round of soloing. He was Zeppo, the thoughtful straight Marx Brother who didn’t really fit in with the others, yet was one of them, and there was nothing he could do about it.
What was extraordinary was that they were exactly like I dreamed and imagined they would be — and as they conveyed themselves from the ’50s. Close friends just hanging out, but always up to sumpthin.
And I thought back to seeing that poster that made me embark on this trip, and the karma / fate of that, and how it was the phrase “Partially funded by The Grateful Dead” that tipped the scales from “I should” to “I’m going” — but whatever the hell it was, I’d somehow made my way here and was now studying Hangoutology with my heroes. And unlike hanging with rock stars, writing was my art form of choice and practice. Instead of being in private circles of master musicians, I was now sitting among the masters whose music I played.
And another guy who blew me away early and often was Herbert Huncke. I’m not much one for these junkie guys, but Huncke was a trip. He was SO nice, so friendly — the most personable people-loving people-person you could ever meet. But it was the guy’s cadence, how he spoke — it’s no wonder Jack & Allen & Company totally dug this guy. Whereas I tried to talk to mumbly Burroughs a few times, but he was as freakin’ weird and misanthropic as he comes across. The adding machine magnate’s grandson in the grey flannel suit may have been a Queer and a Junkie, but other than that he sure didn’t seem to have much in common with the other Beats I knew and loved — not the same celebration of life, joy, optimism and gushing compassion in his heart.
Although Huncke may have shared some of Bill’s proclivities, he was personable and gentle and open in his own peculiar way. Just a few degrees shy of being locked in a federal pen, he was a total character — and that was this constant commonality to most of the people in ol’ J.K.’s life. Odd ducks. As a novelist, Jack magnetized to these people as fodder for his fiction. Whereas Allen was sort of a businessman, a promoter, a former market research man, and Gregory was a bit of an aggressive hustler and loose cannon, Huncke was absolutely “one of us,” not intimidating in stature or demeanor, just a guy you could sit with for hours who’d engagingly listen to whatever your story was, and then share some wild ones of his own. If anybody in this whole batch of aspiring Buddhists was living in the calm sea of nirvana … it was Herbert Huncke.
You can order a copy of the book from CreateSpace here
. . . or Amazon here.
Or here’s a bunch of videos of performances from the book with all different line-ups of musicians.
Or here’s a bunch of readers’ reactions.
Or here’s a bunch more rave reactions that came in from all over the world.
For more from the Boulder Beat Book — check out Who All Was There.
Or this other part about Jack’s wife Edie and best pal Henri.
To read my keynote essay from “The Rolling Stone Book of The Beats” on the decade that birthed the Beats — go here.
Or also from “The Rolling Stone Book of The Beats” — here’s my riff on The Power of The Collective.
For a vivid account of being at the historic “On The Road” scroll auction — check out The Scroll Auction.
For a story about the London “On The Road” premiere at Somerset House — check out this sex & drugs & jazz.
For a great story of the world premiere of the new shorter final version of “On The Road” — check out this Meeting Walter Salles Adventure.
For a complete overview of all the Kerouac / Beat film dramatizations including clips and reviews — check out the Beat Movie Guide.
For another riff involving Allen Ginsberg and some of the Beats — check out Famous People Who Don’t Have Kids.
For an inspiring and colorful description of being at a Beat jazz-&-poetry reading in Greenwich Village — check out Be The Invincible Spirit You Are.
For a story about Henri Cru’s birthday — check out The Legend Turns 70.
For a poem to Carolyn Cassady on her birthday — check out the Carolyn Cassady Birthday Poem.
For an account of the historic Beat show at the Whitney Museum in New York — check out Wailin’ at the Whitney.
For prints of the best photos taken at this Super-Summit — check out the Lance Gurwell Collection.
by Brian Hassett
karmacoupon@ gmail.com BrianHassett.com