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Kerouac’s 100th birthday celebration in Lowell

March 20th, 2022 · 25 Comments · Kerouac and The Beats, Real-life Adventure Tales

Jack Kerouac by lamppost in New York

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Everybody’s known for ages that Jack Kerouac’s 100th birthday was coming up on March 12th, 2022, but it was still the dark Covid times, and I hadn’t been On The Road in over two years — not since the New Hampshire Democratic primaries in February 2020 — plus I was really in no mood to drive ten hours to Lowell for the ten-thousandth time.  But then the-powers-that-be decreed that as of March 1st we didn’t need the $200 PCR tests to cross the border, and masks were no longer required in every building in America.  Then an even higher power, Holly George-Warren, hipped me to a Toronto filmmaker cat, Mike Downie, who was makin the trip, and I could be the writer Jack to his driver Neal.

Suddenly we were On The Road, first time outta the house since Bernie Sanders & Pete Buttigieg were fightin over first place, and the first joint we hit was Movieman Mike’s son’s Animal House frat house in Kingston.  The place was like a clown car with a never-ending stream of college dudes appearing out of rooms, and all of them … shaking my hand!  What is this?!  I hadn’t been pattin’ paws with strangers since we all learned more about germ transmission than we ever wanted to, and suddenly I was slapping flesh with John Belushi!

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By the time we got to Lowell on Friday . . . 

Lowell Celebrates Kerouac sign

Photo by Thomas Kauertz

the “100 Blues & Haikus for Jack” event at the Pollard Library was just wrapping up and the party just starting.  There was Jim Sampas and Sylvia Cunha from the Kerouac estate — and Steve Edington, Bill Walsh & Mike Wurm from Lowell Celebrates Kerouac (LCK) — and oodles of my bestest Beat buddies from all over — Thomas Kauertz all the way from Germany, Professor Brett Sigurdson from Minnesota, Professor Kurt Hemmer from Chicago, teacher-artist Roxanne from New Jersey, born Prankster Roadster Guylaine Knupp from Quebec, Beat brother Philip “Z” Thomas from Indy, and my eternal homie Dan Bacon from every LCK past.

And Boom — right off the bat I’m talkin to Jim & Sylvia about all the 100th birthday plans, including priority #1 — acquiring the long-vacant and ever-beautiful St. Jean Baptiste Church to turn into the Jack Museum and performance space.  This 1890s architectural gem was where Jack started life as an altar boy and ended it with his funeral — and where god-and-checks-willing new voices will rise and new psalms will be sung.

The free milk & cookies library buzz pretty quickly ran its course and the thirst for some adult beverages brewed, so we all wandered a couple hundred feet south to the LCK clubhouse — The Old Worthen, the oldest bar in Lowell.  This joint’s been every Jackster’s hangout since hangouts began, and every LCK in October in the railroad earth we have the run of the place.  But this being the early days after the daze and malaise of the Covid doldrums, every burly thick-accented Lowellian descended on their favorite tap room, and this worthy Worthen was certainly one.

Fortunately Kurt Hemmer, Brett Sigurdson, Jim Dunn and some other pioneering Beats had planted the flag on a long banquet table just inside the front door, and we had our home-away-from-home, everyone ordering Kerouac burgers (seriously) and sharing the latest tales of poetry, parties and progress.  Kurt was telling me how he’s working to expand the Beat Studies clique to be more inclusive.  Brett told me how he’s including me in his dissertation about how I’m the modern day personification of Jack in that I both live adventures and write books about them which almost nobody actually does anymore.  And there was some sax player regaling us with tales of playing with eccentric Beat raconteur Willie Alexander, who was gonna be closing Saturday night’s festivities.

But what was so freaky was how everyone was maskless and carrying on like — pandemic?  What pandemic?  We were crammed in tight on small bar chairs having to talk loud over the horrible attic bands blasting away upstairs, and people were hootin’ and hollerin’ and high-fiving and hugging like it was 1999.  I hadn’t stood within six feet of a soul in six-hundred days — and suddenly I was in a beer-drinking subway car at rush hour!  There wasn’t a mask in the joint — except on ol’ Thomas who had to test negative to fly back to Germany in a couple days — and Covid protocols were apparently now last-thought, worst-thought.  But somehow we survived it.  It’s now a week later and there’s been nary a positive case in the whole barrel o’ Beats.

 

Kerouac 100th birthday banners on lampposts in Lowell

Photo by Thomas Kauertz


Saturday was the big day.  Jack’s 100th birth day anniversary.  People from far and wide, young and old, black and white were filling Lowell streets under banners on light poles with Jack quotes flapping his life-lessons for all to live by.

There was a late-winter New England cold snap and some midday wind and rain that tested our mettle but never broke our spirit.  We started the day at the (Sal) Paradise Diner with omelettes and coffee and complementary souvenir mugs to go, then Steve Edington gave us a tour of the Ben Woitena-designed granite monoliths with Jack’s quotes in Kerouac Park, including the new marker for the great Roger Brunelle, the legendary French-Canadian Kerouac aficionado, who, among many other things, led colorful bilingual tours of local Jack haunts for decades.

Kerouac 100th birthday celebration in Lowell

Then, like the band of Merry Pranksters we are, we all jumped on a school bus and took this trip furthur!

Small town LCK regularly features bus trips as part of their festivities — but do they rent a regular plush big-window tour bus?  Of course not!  They use the town school bus! with its tiny old square windows that pull down and seats with leg room for 10-year-olds!

What made this trip particularly special, besides being Jack’s centennial, was that it was freezing cold and raining out, so only real intrepid travelers braved the arctic conditions to assemble in a park in the middle of nowhere in a gale storm that would sink a battleship.  It was like being hunkered down in a cabin in a monsoon with 33 strangers braving the elements because they knew there was a rainbow and pot o’ gold ahead.  And to add to the comedy of crazy, with 33 people breathing in the moist air, all the windows immediately fogged up!  So here we were on a bus to see Lowell — and we couldn’t see out the windows, and couldn’t get off the bus cuz of the freezing rain!

After navigating this big yellow ocean-liner through the narrow streets of old-world Lowell that are barely wide enough for a car, we wove our way to 9 Lupine Road where Jack was born on the second floor at 5:00 in the afternoon.  Then one of the first of many beautiful in-synch moments happened just as LCK president Steve Edington finished his biographical background and town tour stalwart Bill Walsh read Jack’s description of his birth day from Dr. Sax — the rain stopped!  Whatever gods or Saints named Jack or karma-coupon cash-ins were at play, somebody or sumpthin was looking out for us!

Suddenly we all became actors in a Magical Mystery Tour comedy as all these tourists poured off this giant bus, cameras in hand, filling the front lawns and sidewalks of this nondescript residential neighborhood frantically taking pictures of some house that looked no different than any other.  The town, in its wisdom, finally put a plaque on the front of the house, but it’s a two-unit rental, and from the looks of the faces peaking out from behind the curtains they didn’t know why the hell this plain place would attract anyone to take a picture of it!

Kerouac's birthplace, 9 Lupine Rd., Lowell

Crouchin down with Movieman Mike so I’m below the sign

Then we drove back over the Merrimack River from Centralville to the beautiful St. Jean Baptiste church that the estate is trying to turn into The Jack Museum, then over to the Pollard Library.  The tour guides were trying to stick to a schedule to hit all the spots we could, but I wanted my out-of-towner friends to see the Jack Kerouac Corner inside that they’d dedicated to the local kid who used to skip school … to come to the library to read!  I was just gonna run Toronto Mike and German Tom in to show them, but I ended up Pied Pipering the whole damn bus inside!

Kerouac Corner during 100th birthday celebrations

Photo by Mike Downie

Then it was off to Edson Cemetery to the same place Allen Ginsberg Pied Pipered Bob Dylan, Sam Shepard & photographer Ken Regan while on the Rolling Thunder tour in 1975.

Ginsberg and Ginsberg Kerouac's 100th birthday celebration

Photo by Ken Regan

The ocean-liner of a bus couldn’t fit through the ornate old-world gate, so we all had to power-walk in the freezing temperatures of the east to Lincoln and Seventh Avenue.  At least with the recent giant headstone that John Sampas put in it’s easier to find than the old flat marker in the ground.  There were surprisingly fewer bottles and memorial flotsam left behind than you’d normally find in October — although somebody did leave a thoughtful 100th birthday candle.

Kerouac's gravesite Lowell 100th birthday celebrations

German Tom and Canadian Brian with American Jack

And then things really got interesting . . .

We zipped over to the new Middlesex Community College Academic Arts Center that’s just been built inside the preserved brick facade of an 1876 building whose external walls had been standing intact for years with nothing but steel beams holding them up.  It’s a rare happy story in America that a cool exterior is preserved at all — and a bonus that the place wasn’t turned into a bank or a Gap!

historic Boston & Maine Building, Central Street Depot, Lowell, 1876

former Boston & Maine Building – Central Street Depot – Lowell

The new building is so pristine and fresh it still has that new-car smell.  They put in a 190-seat proscenium theater on the main floor, and a 100-seat lecture hall space on the second with nice raked seats which would host the biographers panel with Dennis McNally and Holly George-Warren, moderated by UMass’ Todd Tietchen, who edited Jack’s The Haunted Life, The Unknown Kerouac and a Jack Library of America collection.

Inside the empty pre-show lobby, there’s Sylvia Cunha at the merch table with all the cool Schae Koteles-designed t-shirts and bags and posters and such.  I have a strict policy of never buying t-shirts anymore because I have 50 million of them I never wear — but the 3-face “Kerouac @ 100” shirt was just too impossible to not bring home.

Schae Koteles's Jack Kerouac t-shirt for 100th birthday

Just then, in from the blustery cold, Holly, Dennis and Todd came swooshing in.  One of the weird things about the 2½ year break from Lowell, was how so many people had changed so much physically.  You don’t notice it when you see everyone once a year, but 2½ years including a locked-down pandemic rendered some almost unrecognizable!  And ol’ Todd Tietchen I hadn’t seen since the Michael McClure show in 2015!  He really took a minute for the gears to process.  And boy Holly’s sure kicked herself up into swashbuckling rockstar poise, rocking a Janis-like fur hat atop an all-black punk-chic getup!

We all had a nice little lobby reunion hug-a-thon before they went up to the green room to prepare to blow our minds.  Then the very next person through the door was the great Oliver Trager who for some reason I had no trouble recognizing even hidden behind a mask and the fact we hadn’t seen each other in 15 years!  Oliver’s the greatest Lord Buckley impersonator / channel on the planet, although he says he’s tied for second.

In their wisdom, LCK’s booked him to bring the good Lord into the house for the festival this fall, and right away he and I started jammin performance tips.  We’ve shared many bills many times back in the New York daze, and much to my surprise he’s been watching a bunch of the shows I’ve posted online over the years.  You put the stuff out there — and ya always wonder if anybody ever sees it — but Oliver was the first of several people over the weekend who’d tell me they’d been watching me from afar.

It was great to talk the performing arts with an experienced cat who does something very similar to what I do — namely, solo on stage at a microphone for an hour — and I was happy to hear him extolling the value of rehearing.  Some performers hate doing it, but I love getting better with each run-through.  I also loved to learn he’d been collaborating with the great New York multi-instrumentalist John Kruth, who I’d just seen in L.A. one of the last times I was outta the house.  It seemed like a lot of circles were coming together on this magic weekend for Jack.

Then, while we’re talking, who comes walking up but the one-&-only David Stanford, the editor of all the Kerouac books that came out in the ’90s once the estate passed on from Stella.  David was a fixture at all those Jack and Beat events in the ’90s when everything exploded.  He was always such a nice and smart guy — and was Kesey and Babbs and Garry Trudeau’s editor to boot — so it was such a happy surprise to see him again after 20 years.  This party was gettin started!

Upstairs in the performance space / lecture hall was the first time the full cast of the birthday weekend’s Kerouac Company assembled.  There was everybody I’ve already mentioned, plus Lowell’s own leading man actor Jerry Bisantz, Town & The City festival promoter Chris Porter, and poets Anne Waldman and Scarlett Sabet before their evening show.  I thought it was weird they were putting Holly & Dennis in this small-ish 100-seat room, and my great notion was confirmed as every seat filled and people began lining the stairs and holding up the walls.

Before the show started, I went exploring the new theater and stumbled across the glassed-in green room with Holly, Dennis, Todd and event producer Chris Porter.  I remembered Jack’s 5PM birth time, and knew these guys were gonna be on stage at the exact 100th moment, and I did the bold thing you never should do — I opened the dressing room door to their pre-show ritual and got some momentarily aghast faces as I invaded their space, but blurted out into their sanctuary — “Remember — Jack was born at 5:00,” and I saw Dennis look at his watch.  “You guys are gonna be on stage at that exact moment.  Don’t fuck it up,” and they all laughed as I closed the door as fast as I opened it.

Back in the theater, I got a few minutes catch-up with David.  He was always appreciative of my writing, and I didn’t know if he knew about my recent five books in five years, and when I dropped some reference to them, he said, “Yes, I’ve read them all except the most recent political one.  I’m one of your customers,” he let me know with a twinkly-eyed smile over his mask.  Then we got talkin’ Pranksters and it turned out he’s seen a bunch of my show videos with George Walker!  Couldn’t believe it.  This internet thing really seems to be working!

The show itself was a joy-jammin blast.  One thing I appreciated — the two biographers gave author-length answers to the questions, and moderator Todd Tietchen let them riff.  I hate it in interviews where the subjects are expected to answer in 30-second soundbites, and if they don’t, the interviewer interrupts with another question.  At least on this stage in this moment it was accepted that adults exist on this planet and can follow a train of thought that lasts more than a minute.

Kerouac Lowell birthday celebrations, biographers panel, Dennis McNally and Holly-George-Warren

Photo by Jim Dunn

Another beautiful takeaway was — Holly and Dennis really like and respect each other.  It was great to experience their playful repartee.  Think Mike Nichols and Elaine May.  Or what people observed about George Walker & I on stage — where there’s a similar age difference, and not only mutual respect, but love, and with that — playfulness.  I hope these two team up again — and if they do, I hope everyone reading this gets to experience it.

Oh, another cool thing they riffed on — when Dennis started his research back in 1972, he had access to all the people who were still living who knew Jack, who, at that time, were still in their primetime 40s and 50s.  But he had no way of accessing all the notebooks and letters and unpublished manuscripts that were in Jack’s filing cabinets behind Stella’s iron walls.  By contrast, Holly now has access to the entire gold mine of secret scatological doodlings but can talk to very few who knew Jack, and if she can, they’re in their 80s or 90s.

And this led into the whole subject of historiography, which, to be completely confessional, I’d never really paid much attention to until it came up re: that other great collective of Beats — The Beatles.  Historiography is the study of how history is recorded — which may sound like just more academic wankery, but it’s fascinating and valid and worth knowing about.

Dennis & Holly riffed on this, the latter even dropping the key code word “Rashomon” — namely that multiple people can witness the same event and each relate a completely different account.  Which then gets into the fallibility of primary sources — which Dennis had to rely on.  But as history rolls out and more facts come to light, firsthand accounts can be clarified.  In fact, primary source accounts can change as those very people themselves reflect further on events they previously described in one manner, but then came to realize their first impressions may not have been accurate.  We can all think of events in our own lives that we interpreted one way in the moment, but upon further reflection, saw differently.  These are the realities historiography deals with.

Dennis’ Desolate Angel, Ann Charters’ Kerouac, Barry Gifford & Lawrence Lee’s Jack’s Book, Bruce Cook’s The Beat Generation, John Tytell’s Naked Angels and Charles Jarvis’ Visions of Kerouac were the first generation of biographies in the ’70s, the first draft of history, as it were.  They’re all invaluable — but in the decades since, all kinds of new facts have come to light, and the truth of what actually happened changes.  This reality is something anyone interested in any form of history should be well aware of.  For a riveting conversation on the subject of historiography, check out Matt Williamson and Erin Weber’s conversation on the great YouTube show Pop Goes The Sixties.

I was so happy to hear Holly cite Dobie Gillis and the beatnik character Maynard G. Krebs as a positive influence on her as a young girl.  I’m so sick of the holier-than-thou jerk-offs in Beatlandia who think it makes them superior to shit on every reference to Jack or the Beats that doesn’t come from some academic or primary source.  It’s these alternative out-of-the-library manifestations of the Beats that expands their reach and turns new people onto the whole canon — whether that’s a Dior fashion show in Paris, or the Harry Potter actor playing Allen in a movie.  They should make a gawdamn Kerouac chocolate bar!  The Beats were always inclusive, expansive and playful — the opposite of exclusionary, restrictive and judgmental.

In other news — we learned that Lucien Carr became a lifelong father figure to Dennis after he first interviewed him back in ’73, and that, as Dennis tells it, years later when he introduced Lucien to Garcia, it was the only time he ever saw Jerry nervous to meet anyone.

I was so glad that the stand-up-and-sizzle Dan Bacon asked the first audience question out of the gate about CTE and the brain injuries Jack experienced on the football field and in some drunken beatings, and was happy to hear Holly is planning to explore this in her new biography.

I loved that Kurt Hemmer brought up the improvisational approach of the Method Actors and how that connected to Jackson Pollock, Charlie Parker and Jack’s approach; and Dennis reminded us he has a section exploring this in his seminal biography.  Kurt also said something I hadn’t quite put my finger on before — that James Dean, Montgomery Clift and the new Method Actors of the ’50s — the theater/film wing of the Beat Generation — could cry and be vulnerable on screen — the opposite of the established prevailing John Wayne macho bullshit — just as the Beats were the opposite of Hemingway.

Also, it was brought up again how the regular (Beat-hating) New York Times book reviewer (nicknamed “Prissy”) happened to be on vacation when On The Road was released, and cool Gilbert Millstein (who had solicited Holmes’ 1952 Beat Generation article) snagged the review copy.  How history would have been different.  To me, that’s on the order of Brian Epstein happening to catch The Beatles one lunch hour.  But as Dennis joked, none of this also would have happened if Leo had not met Gabrielle.

When the panel wrapped, Dennis jumped up and said — “100 years and 25 minutes ago today this whole thing started!” and all three on stage looked, laughed and pointed at me.


At 7:00, it was the big Saturday night poetry reading in the big room, featuring Anne Waldman, Scarlett Sabet, and Lowell native Paul Marion.  This, like the Dennis–Holly talk was put on by the Kerouac Center at UMass Lowell.  And for those keeping score at home, of the six performers on stage at the two main birthday shows, three were women and three were men.

And before I forget — one interesting thing about the whole birthday weekend — whatever funds the “Kerouac @ 100” committee raised, they utilized them in part to make sure all the events were free to the public, which was nice.  There was no feeling among birthday celebrants that anyone was trying to profiteer off of this sacred anniversary.

Paul Marion opened the night appropriately with some poems that captured Lowell old and new in words and rhythm.  Scarlett Sabet, who did not bring her boyfriend who may have caused a distraction, opened with her touching rocking loving For Jack poem.

Scarlett Sabet with Anne Waldman Lowell Kerouac 110

She’s British, she’s 32, she has four books of poetry out — and she’s creating new art inspired by and in the spirit of Jack Kerouac.  This is what I’m talkin about.

Plentiful on the earlier bus tour and in the theater seats tonight were young people of both genders that Jack was still speaking to, who had travelled long distances to be here, and were animated and excited every time I looked into their faces.  Jack’s been dead for longer than he was alive, and theaters were overflowing with people as young as teenagers still inspired by how he strung words together.

And I’m happy to report 76-year-old Anne Waldman has not lost a step!  She was fiery, punchy, rhythmic and rockin.  She opened with two passages from Jack’s linguistic gem Old Angel Midnight, including the part that climaxes with the touchingly beautiful “it might as well be gettin late  Friday afternoon  where we start  so’s old Sound can come home  when worksa done  & drink his beer  & tweak his children’s eyes” which I’ve performed live myself.  Knowing it’s such a beautiful piece that so many aren’t familiar with, I let out a healthy whoop after that final word to cue the crowd, and it worked, sparking an explosion of applause.

Anne Waldman Scarlett Sabet Middlesex Arts Center Kerouac 100

Photo by Jim Dunn

Something else I like about Anne’s performances that only experienced performers can pull off is to be able to riff in between pieces with the same fast-paced poetic dialog as the words carefully crafted on the page.  She jammed a seamless flow — almost chorus and verse — between the improvisational riffs and the written poetry.

She mentioned her recent Penguin book, Trickster Feminism, which I hadn’t heard of, and boy what a title!  Don’t try to tell me the Pranksters and the Beats aren’t woven together through-and-through!

After the reading, all the day’s performers hung around on the stage, and you could see the demographics of the festival play out.  Young women poets rushed to Scarlett;  older Beats sidled up to Anne Waldman;  active Jack history-shapers buttonholed Holly;  and Deadheads surrounded Dennis McNally.  And you can count me among the latter.

I hadn’t seen ol’ Dennis in ages and wanted to thank him for one of the definitive books about Jack.  Back when I first got into all this stuff there were very few texts on the subject, but Dennis’ was and still is the best at putting what was happening in the Beats’ and Jack’s life into a larger historical context.  I love that shit.

In 1984, my first job out of NYU was at Ren Grevatt’s office – the revered music business publicist.  Dennis was just taking over as the Grateful Dead’s press guy (after he’d already been tapped by Garcia to be their official biographer), with his only claim to fame at that point being his book Desolate Angel published five years earlier and which wasn’t exactly a #1 bestseller.  But in my mind it was.  So when he called Ren’s office in Manhattan that first time, I asked if he was the Dennis McNally.  There was this funny moment of silence as I could hear him thinking, “Why would somebody at a music publicist’s office in New York think I’m the Dennis McNally?  Maybe there’s another….”  It was a classic moment, and after I waxed rhapsodically about his brilliant book, we became friendly for life.

There was one pending question I wanted to resolve.  A well-known Kerouac biographer and I had a lengthy difference of opinion about when Dennis first became friends with Jerry Garcia.  I knew from conversations and interviews with Dennis that it was during the band’s 15th anniversary shows in 1980 that it began, which he confirmed, but he also shared an interesting anecdote, that they had met once before in 1973 after an Old And In The Way show at the Capitol Theater in New Jersey.  The legendary New York Post music writer Al Aronowitz, who’s famous for, among other things, introducing Bob Dylan and marijuana to The Beatles, invited Dennis to accompany him to an interview with Jerry to get him to talk about Neal Cassady.  Boy — Garcia, Al & Dennis together in a Gramercy Park Hotel suite in 1973 is one get-together I’d love to have been at!

He also shared the detail that the Jack photo at the top of this story first appeared on the cover of the first edition of his Desolate Angel.  They knew of the Jerome Yulsman color photos in front of the red Kettle of Fish BAR sign, but wondered if he had any others.  His editor found Yulsman’s name in the phone book, called, and he said he had one roll he’d never developed (!)  On it were the beautiful blue-shirted color photos around the old lampposts in Sheridan Square in the West Village that we’ve all been enjoying for the last 40 years.

While Dennis and I were jamming, the great David Stanford came and joined us.  They’ve of course known each other forever and on many more professional levels than I knew either, so I happily laid back and played brushes on the skins while those two riffed on Ken Babbs’ new book and his recent recovery from surgery and other insider baseball.

Editor David Stanford and publicist Dennis McNally at Kerouac 100 in Lowell

Photo by Mike Downie

After we’ve lost so many in recent years from the Beat, Prankster and Dead worlds — in this moment I certainly appreciated that these two giant facilitators were still with us, still smiling, and still loving each other.

And speaking of love between Beat brothers, after the post-show groove-down ended, my German compadre Thomas Kauertz had lined up a video-chat with fellow Canadian Beat Dave Olson who’s now living in Japan following in the Gary Snyder tradition, and unlike back in the Beat-old-days, we were able to talk live on screen in that real Star Trek world we find ourselves — and let’s never forget how frickin wild this all is.  Within seconds, we’ve got Dave on the screen in our hands, 14 hours into tomorrow on the other side of the world, as we shared live the visual buzz of Jack’s birthday back-and-forth in real time.  Beat that!

Dave’s built a crazy directional sign post in his front yard for all wandering Japanese to stop and wonder about.  He only puts cool locations on it, and the next day he sent a picture of his next addition . . .

Destination signpost for Lowell Kerouac 100 birthday

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Of course the night appropriately climaxed with rock n roll in a bar full of crazies goin crazy.  The joint’s called the Warp and Weft (named for the looming process that was the foundation of Lowell’s early economy) and featured local hero Willie “Loco” Alexander who wrote one of the first songs to namecheck Jack (in 1975!) — simply called Kerouac — and here he was weaving into the night his avant-garde songwriting magic with just him on keys and a sax player.  You don’t often hear a duet with that combo.  And the other positive was it wasn’t a full overwhelming rock band blowing off the ears of these quiet literary types.

It’s one of those clubs with the stage right in front of the front sidewalk windows, and it’s a double-wide establishment that went way back, so there was tons of room for everybody from the bus tour, the Dennis–Holly talk, the Anne–Scarlett show, and every other beatnik ne’er-do-well who’d pilgrimaged to Lowell for Saint Jack’s centenary.

After the Dennis-David hang and the Dave video-call, we arrived at a party in full swing.  Brother Cliff Whalen, our unofficial LCK bouncer, was sitting at his post just inside the door keeping out the local riffraff.  Cliff’s a former wrestler, and I don’t mean the TV kind, I mean the Kesey kind, and he’s still got the body to show for it.  With all the little toothpick poets in our coterie, it’s a blessing we’ve got one guy who can referee any disputes without them being disputed.

All the hard parts were over — concentrating on poetic imagery, absorbing erudite biographers’ insights, soaking in local tour guides’ rich details — and suddenly it was the all-star encore jam — and everybody was wailin’!

There’s Holly and the two promoter/organizers Chris Porter and Sylvia Cunha jamming plans for the future.  There’s the two Pranksters Dan Bacon and Thomas Kauertz at a table with a pile of Jack bobbleheads between them plotting future magic.  There’s documentarian Mike Downie workin the room soaking in stories like any good storyteller does.  There’s the new Kerouac art designer Schae Koteles internalizing the chaotic spirit to later manifest in art.  There’s Jim Dunn holding court at the end of a table with an enwrapped audience he’s conversationally conducting.  There’s the voice of Lowell Mike Flynn beaming away in person after years of us jamming on radio.  There’s Anne Waldman who shows up even later than we did and manages to have a good time without attracting a scene.  There’s Joshua Tarquinio who looks so young but is furiously recording astute observations in the nicest hardcover road notebook I’ve ever seen.  And there’s Professor Brett Sigurdson doing his never-ending research with his ever-present smile and curiosity.

Brett Sigurdson, Dan Bacon, Warp and Weft, Kerouac 100 celebration, Lowell, Mass

Brian, Brett Sigurdson & Dan Bacon
Photo by Joshua Tarquinio

It’s table-hopping through the universe — Holly and I ear-to-ear finally catching up on everything that’s happened since she got officially tapped as the official biographer.  There’s Jim Sampas getting some quality time with Anne Waldman, as he knows to get to know those who may be next to go.  There’s Willie Alexander improvising lyrics in the spirit of Jack, all while having the author’s favorite instrument accompany him.  “There’s fireworks, calliopes and clowns.”  There’s the fat guy who’s been drunk since this afternoon and thinks he’s now good enough looking to take off his shirt.  There’s the middle-aged former babe who starts shedding her clothes in a last minute bid for companionship.

This was a Jack night, alright — benevolent hustling — kind chaos — intellectual pursuits in inspirational cahoots — saxophones wailing over barstool sailing — riffs through the mind to grooves one-of-a-kind — tippin’ back jams with local hams — slippin’ out for a smoke with the packin’ folk — soakin’ in tales that’ll later be wailed.

We did it right in good ol’ Lowell.  Jack wasn’t there in body but he was in soul.  His Spirit was in every twinkle and glance, and nobody left the dance without a hundred years of his blood dyeing our own with colors for real, not fade away.

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Kerouac "Something good will come of all things yet."

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Here’s a great Adventure Tale of the biggest celebration of Jack that ever happened — Boulder ’82 — The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac.  As John Clellon Holmes put it — “We had come from all over the country, from all periods of Kerouac’s life, and more of us were together than had ever been in one place at one time before.”

The cover of The Hitchhiker's Guide to Jack Kerouac by Brian Hassett

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Or here’s a whole bunch of tales of going On The Road with Cassadys.

On The Road with Cassadys – Carolyn Cassady, John Cassady, Neal Cassady

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Or here’s a bunch of Kerouac Adventures that blend Jack, the Beats and the Merry Pranksters . . .

Jack Kerouac, Ken Kesey, George Walker – The Beats and the Merry Pranksters

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Or here’s a great new April 2022 interview with The Beat Soundtrack‘s Simon Warner that riffs on Jack, the Beatles, the Dead, the writing process, befriending your heroes, “zapping an audience from the stage with electric words,” and how we’re all still writing new verses in the epic song that the Beats first started jamming a while ago and has never stopped being written.

Or here’s a great ode to the annual October Kerouac festival in Lowell — Lowell Celebrates Kerouac!

And here’s the kind of fun we have at LCK — jamming The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack with David Amram and Kevin Twigg . . .

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Or here’s a great riff that clarifies the whole “Beat” versus “beatnik” thing.


Peace, Pranks and Progress!
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by Brian Hassett

karmacoupon@gmail.com   —  BrianHassett.com

Or here’s my Facebook page if you wanna join in there —

https://www.facebook.com/Brian.Hassett.Canada

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25 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Walter Salles // Mar 20, 2022 at 9:41 AM

    What an insanely luminous, heartfelt tale — loved everything about it!!

  • 2 Holly George-Warren // Mar 20, 2022 at 10:10 AM

    LOOOOVED reading this lively and incredibly thorough recounting of JK’s 100th birthday gathering!! Thanks so much for all the kind words about me and our panel. It was wonderful seeing you again.

  • 3 Jerry Cimino and The Beat Museum // Mar 20, 2022 at 10:56 AM

    Our good friend, intrepid traveler Brian Hassett emerged from isolation, hitching a ride with a Toronto filmmaker to make a triumphant return to Kerouac’s hometown of Lowell, just in time for the centennial festivities. We couldn’t make it to Lowell this year, but thankfully Hassett, ever the chronicler of his remembrances on the run, delivers the next best thing in this detailed account of everything that happened

    Brian’s prose splendidly crackles with energy as he recounts Kerouac@100 unfolding in all its glory.

  • 4 Cliff Whalen // Mar 20, 2022 at 11:07 AM

    Brian, another great description of a magical weekend. It is wonderful when a person of your unique perspective can put all the relevant pieces together. The names and places you put down on paper help us who were there, and the people who wished they could have been, understand the importance of the weekend. Like Kerouac, someone must write about it or poof it’s gone. You play that role. Thanks again for all you do.

  • 5 Dave Olson // Mar 20, 2022 at 11:47 AM

    Oh my goodness! Whatta riff… so much to say about this but mostly how you don’t “freeze the beats in amber” and remind us all that *We are the Beats* and continuing the tradition of rambling, riffing and writing. It’s “tomorrow morning” here in Japan and I’m rolling through coffees and reading your fun-soaked celebration with a leap in my heart.

    Love being out here in the far far west and was so grateful for you and Thomas Kauertz for including me as it can get *a little* lonesome (traveler).

    Thanks too for including my sign and if anyone’s curious, they can see more of it here —

    https://daveostory.com/daveo-dispatches/improving-campsite/tsuchida-station-sign-post/

  • 6 Oliver Trager // Mar 20, 2022 at 12:18 PM

    Nice write-up BH & grateful for the shout out!

  • 7 Ken Bole // Mar 20, 2022 at 12:49 PM

    Exactly what those of us who couldn’t make it to Lowell needed! Thanks Brian!

    I especially related to this near the end: “Tippin’ back jams with local hams — slippin’ out for a smoke with the packin’ folk — soakin’ in tales that’ll later be wailed.”

  • 8 Brian // Mar 20, 2022 at 1:23 PM

    Yay! Glad to be of service, Ken! And I love that you love that line — from one creator to another. 😉

    Hope you can make it for 100th Birthday Part Two in October.

  • 9 Richard Modiano // Mar 20, 2022 at 1:56 PM

    Terrific read, Brian! The next best thing to being there.

  • 10 Kurt and Erin Hemmer // Mar 20, 2022 at 2:01 PM

    Love it, Brian! Reading it gave such a great play-by-play, as if I had gotten to be there. I read it to Kurt while he’s driving us to Denver. So cool.

  • 11 Howard Park // Mar 20, 2022 at 4:33 PM

    Hope I was there in spirit. As a fellow Deadhead beatster politic-nik you are the slightly older brother I never had.

  • 12 Thomas Kauertz // Mar 20, 2022 at 10:04 PM

    A perfect description of German Tom’s weekend in Lowell.
    A unique text from the unique “Canadian Brian”.
    Herzlichen Dank / thank you very much, my friend!

  • 13 Joshua Tarquinio // Mar 20, 2022 at 11:09 PM

    Fantastic chronicling! Wish we’d gotten to talk more.

  • 14 Rob Booth // Mar 21, 2022 at 1:19 AM

    Great piece, love the energy.

  • 15 Stephen Edington // Mar 21, 2022 at 2:23 PM

    Thanks for all this Brian — you captured the spirit of the weekend so well!

    I’m off to an LCK meeting later this evening at (where else?) The Worthen to continue with our plans for the October LCK Fest that will be the other “bookend” to the Centennial following the past two weekends. And a few one-shot events between now and then.

    We’ll get them up on the LCK website —
    https://lowellcelebrateskerouac.org/jack-kerouac-centennial-birthday-event-schedule/ — as they come into place.

    Best to all Jacksters everywhere!

  • 16 Jim Nystrom // Mar 21, 2022 at 6:27 PM

    Very cool … an all-star cast for sure.
    Excellent reporting, amigo.
    Hope to see you in October.

  • 17 Brett Sigurdson // Mar 22, 2022 at 4:23 PM

    This is a hell of a write-up — all the gusto and verve of yr best writing.
    For a weekend light on actual events, you show how much good stuff happened anyway.

  • 18 Guylaine Knupp // Mar 22, 2022 at 8:16 PM

    Grate read!

  • 19 Dave Olson // Mar 23, 2022 at 12:51 PM

    Yass yass yasss!

    The sign post is slowly turning into a neighborhood attraction as folks take evening walks and pause to wonder what the renegade foreigner in their midst is up to now – each place, of course, has a whole backstory, a journey and a vision.

    Indeed we continue “living beat” like the guy said — “There you are traveling and writing books about it” — the wheels turn on and on and on.

    Really grateful to hear that they were beatific youth in attendance eagerly representing as well.

    Their sparks need to be turned into roaring bonfires – each generation more remarkable than the last.

    PS the Internet is mostly “lurkers“ people who read things, watch things, but don’t necessarily comment, share or post themselves. Funny how it works … but people are always watching.

  • 20 Dean McClain // Mar 23, 2022 at 9:53 PM

    Nice coverage, Brian!

  • 21 Eric Douglas Augustsen Mani // Mar 24, 2022 at 5:54 AM

    Thanks for recording your time on the road and time spent in Lowell. You must have felt right at home with your surroundings and brothers & sisters.

  • 22 Jacob Akman // Mar 25, 2022 at 3:19 PM

    Brian — I finally had a chance to sit down with this and really dive in, follow all the links and references, and soak it all up.

    Really, really amazing. Put a smile on my face, made me laugh, rise to the edge of my seat and much more!

    You’re an incredible writer, and I’m so happy to hear all the little amazing things that happened along the journey.

  • 23 Brian // Mar 26, 2022 at 12:38 PM

    Wow — It’s just been announced that Anne Waldman will be giving the keynote address at the Bob Dylan and The Beats seminar coming up in a month!

    https://dylan.utulsa.edu/keynote-announcement-anne-waldman/

  • 24 Tami Twarog // Mar 27, 2022 at 7:36 PM

    A fantastic read!!!

  • 25 Kurt Hemmer // Mar 30, 2022 at 10:29 AM

    Excellent. I also just read your cool interview in Beatdom and ordered your two other Beat books.

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