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#2848 - Tuesday, June 19, 2007 - Editor: Jerry Katz
We're either so busy or so nondual here at the Highlights that we missed our 8th anniversary on June 3.
I'm celebrating with an issue featuring three people: Jack Kerouac, Tara, and The Streak. These people are different but identical in the spirit of freedom, nakedness, and hobo-ness.
Kerouac's style was not just philosophically bold; it was linguistic guerrilla warfare - a literary atom bomb smashing everything. -AM Homes
"Everything I write I do in the spirit where I imagine myself an Angel returned to earth seeing it with sad eyes as it is." -Jack Kerouac
Down and dirty
Discovered in a warehouse in 2005, Jack Kerouac's 1957 play Beat Generation, about the macho world of railway workers and drinkers, is a welcome addition to his work, writes AM Homes
Saturday June 16, 2007
In order to talk about Jack Kerouac's unproduced play Beat Generation you have to put it into some sort of a cultural context - it was 1957, Eisenhower was president, Nixon vice-president, the Pulitzer prize in drama went to Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night and no fiction award was given. West Side Story opened on Broadway, the sitcom Leave it to Beaver premiered on television, and if you were going to the movies, chances are it was to see The Bridge on the River Kwai, Twelve Angry Men or Peyton Place. On the home front there was the struggle for racial integration in schools, while the Russians launched Sputnik I and the space age began. It was 1957, and Kerouac's On the Road was published - other books that year included Bernard Malamud's The Assistant, James Agee's A Death in the Family and Noam Chomsky's Syntactic Structures.
At this point, Kerouac and his band of scribes were all about embracing, and celebrating, the "beat" life. Kerouac himself had coined the term, according to some accounts as early as 1948, suggesting societal conventions that were "beat", "tired", "worn out". Many have argued that the term "beat generation" evolved from a postwar reference to Hemingway's "Lost Generation" to become a more positive label: the Beats were enlightened, "beatific" ones - a confluence of the Buddhist and Catholic philosophies that were so important to Kerouac.
In 1957, Kerouac wasn't yet what he is today - a figure as dominant in contemporary culture as the faces on Mount Rushmore. In 1957, he had the benefit of a certain anonymity - he was still, for the moment, the purest version of Jack Kerouac, not a personality, not a celebrity.
Unlike the second world war vets who came home, got married, moved to suburbia and fully embraced the American dream and the blossoming culture of more, more, more, the beat life was lived on the edges. Beats had nothing to love and not far to fall. Holy men, meditators, anti-materialists, they were the exact opposites of "company men". Kerouac said his experimental fraternity aspired to something else - a kind of freedom. They wanted to soar, to fly, to move through time and space unfettered. They wanted to find spirituality and deliverance among the dispossessed. And they wanted to have a good time, win a few bucks on the horses, have some drinks, and get laid. Compared to the average Joe they were wild - awe-inspiring and threatening.
Kerouac's style was not just philosophically bold; it was linguistic guerrilla warfare - a literary atom bomb smashing everything. On one side of him were the hyper-intellectual Beckett and Joyce. On the other, the anti-academic: Hemingway, Anderson and Dos Passos. Kerouac absorbed it all and went beyond.
In 2005, a line of Jack Kerouac clothing was about to be released and the manuscript of On the Road was on tour across America when, in a New Jersey warehouse, a "new" play by Kerouac was discovered - three acts, written in 1957, and typed up by Kerouac's ever-loving mother, Gabrielle, also known as "Mémère".
The play had never been produced - at the time there was a lot of interest but no action. In a letter, Kerouac described his interest in theatre and film in this way:
"What I want to do is re-do the theatre and the cinema in America, give it a spontaneous dash, remove preconceptions of 'situation' and let people rave on as they do in real life. That's what the play is: no plot in particular, no 'meaning' in particular, just the way people are. Everything I write I do in the spirit where I imagine myself an Angel returned to earth seeing it with sad eyes as it is."
The play is a wonderful addition to the Kerouac oeuvre. It will be great fun to see what happens with it - I can easily imagine it being performed and each staging being incredibly different from the last - it's all about what you bring to it.
It is a play of its time - which is why context is important. In bits and pieces it is reminiscent of Tennessee Williams, Clifford Odets and a bit of Arthur Miller. But by comparison to those playwrights, whose work is formal and well defined, this play is loose, unfettered. It is about juxtaposition, relation, words and ideas bouncing off one another, riffing in a bebop scatter.
Beat Generation opens in the early morning in an apartment near the Bowery in New York, with drinking - the reverie of the first glass. It is a man's world: these working men, brakemen for the railroad, drinking men, whose day off is spent betting on horses, men who swear by saying "durnit", men who have a girl waiting on them, warming their coffee - women's liberation never made it into Kerouac's world. It is set in a disappeared New York City, with the smoky scent of cigarettes hanging over all, men playing chess, the racket of the elevated subways, the feel of life lived underground, everything a little bit beat. And Beat Generation is pervaded by the music of conversation.
Working in spurts, Kerouac spewed this "spontaneous bop prosody" or "jazz poetry". The play (like the novels) is everything and the kitchen sink too. It is a kind of demolition derby pile-up, a jazzy musical of words picking up speed and hurling themselves forward in a bumper-car version of dialogue. Beat Generation is about talking and friendship and shooting the shit, it is about the biggest question of all - existence. Kerouac and his rough-hewn characters - just this side of hobos - want to know how and why we exist and then in some spontaneous combustion they come to know that, in the end, there are no answers, there is just the moment we are in, and the people around us.
Here is the romance of the road, rebirth and karma - Kerouac's peculiar and deeply personal combination of the working man discussing astral bodies, karmic debt, past lives and the selling of Jesus. Here is the power of ideas and the difficulty of escaping belief. And here is the love of god and the fear of god - despite Kerouac's interest in the alternative, his exploration of Buddhism and eastern philosophies, he could never escape his Catholic upbringing.
Yet the play has a masculine swagger, a brand of bravado. Language and characters career off each other, in a kind of doped deliciousness, in which one feels the heat of an afternoon, the smell of hay and shit and beer at the racetrack, the greasy squeal of brakes, and the kind of down-and-dirty that never really washes off.
Kerouac was the man who allowed writers to enter the world of flow: different from stream-of-consciousness, his philosophy was about being in the current, open to possibility, allowing creativity to move through you and you to be one with both process and content. It was about embracing experience rather than resisting; it was in fact the very roman candle Kerouac writes about in On the Road
On a more personal note - without Kerouac, without Jimi Hendrix, without Mark Rothko, there would be no one. I used to think Jack Kerouac was my father (sometimes literally) and Susan Sontag was my mother. I could draw one hell of a family tree, with Henry Miller and Eugene O'Neill as my uncles and so on. Kerouac raised me spiritually, psychologically, creatively - he gave me permission to exist.
Beat Generation is a treat, a sweet found under a sofa cushion. For those of us who never had enough Kerouac, now there is more.
Beat Generation is published by Oneworld Classics, price £7.99, next week. To order a copy for £7.99 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 870 836 0875 or go to guardianbookshop.co.uk
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007
Over the years I have occasionally featured writings from people who live by choice in rv's, vans, cars, and have a unique view of world. I've introduced a retired pilot, a poker player, a homesteader, an un-schooled teenager. Tara lives in her van and travels from job to job. In her blog entry below she reveals her oneness with nature in its diverse forms from owls to high heels. Visit Tara's Hobo Stripper blog at http://www.hobostripper.com/.
This is why my sleep schedules so backwards by Tara Published June 11th, 2007 The sun is still up at four am, but the birds are quiet. I just left the club and now Im padding barefoot along the lakeside trail. When I reach the spot, my spot, where the trail intersects with a wildlife trail that goes down to the river I sit, cross-legged in the dirt, under a spindly spruce. Sometimes, if I sit here long enough, a great horned owl will swoop along the edge of the lake. My love of owls goes back to when I was a little kid riding along in the sled with my dad while he checked the trapline. There was an owl that flew the trail ahead of us twice, maybe three times. He said it only happened when I came along. In recent years, my relationship with owls has become more personal. This winter when I was doing a quest in a desert cave an owl came to visit me a couple times.
No such luck today though, so I resume my walking. The bottoms of my feet are covered, almost calloused, by spruce pitch. My toenails are painted bright red for work, marking me stripper-slut-goddess-whore if there were anyone here to see. But there isnt, so I strip naked and wade slowly into the lake. The cold takes my breath away. I squat in the shallow water, my toes digging into the bottom mud, and wait for my breath to come back. When it does I stand up and run to dry ground, laughing, spinning, getting dry in the cold morning air.
I am so in love with life.
Clothed again I run up the hill, then back down, then up again and Im warm. The further I walk, the more the trail becomes veined with roots and I have to watch where Im stepping. Soon I come to a little thicket of Devils Club, my newest plant love. Ive dug up some of her roots, which, I was glad to discover, grow into networks so that digging up one plant probably makes several more grow in its place. Despite my little harvest, I dont feel like I really know her well enough to use her, so I come here most days to sit and see what I can learn. She is covered in thorns, but she doesnt feel like other thorny plants to me. She feels like joy, bursting into bloom. Her stalks are woody and tough. I wonder what the thorns are for.
Back at the van I play ball with Bro until hes tired before I scrape the most exterior layer of stuff from the bottom of my feet and climb into bed. Tomorrow, which will really be this afternoon, Ill take a five dollar shower at the Laundromat. Ill scrub every last bit of mud and spruce pitch from my feet and touch up that red nail polish before I go to work and slip on my bright red eight inch stripper shoes.
Read Tara's blog at http://www.hobostripper.com/
You go to a retreat or some kind of nondual gathering and there's always some singer and player of beautiful and wondrous songs. But you'll never hear them play the greatest of all guru/devotee songs, The Streak, by Ray Stevens. The guru or grace comes as a vertical shot, a bolt out of the blue, perpendicular to the timeline, something you can only stumble over. Same could be said for the streak!
by Ray Stevens
Hello everybody, this is your action news reporter
With all the news that is news across the nation
On the scene at the super market
There seems to have been some disturbance here
Pardon me sir, did you see what happened?
Yeh, I did...I was standing over there by the tomatoes
And here he come
Running thru the pole beans, thru the fruits and vegetables
Naked as a jay-bird
And I hollered over at Ethel...I said don't look Ethel
It was too late, she'd already been incensed...
Here he comes, boogie-dy, boogie-dy
There he goes, boogie-dy, boogie-dy
And he ain't wearin' no clothes
Oh yes, they call him the streak
Fastest thing on two feet
He's just as proud as he can be
Of his anatomy
He's gonna give us a peek
Oh yes, they call him the streak
He likes to show off his physique
If there's an audience to be found
He'll be streakin' around
Invitin' public critique...
This is your action news reporter once again
And we're here at the gas station
Pardon me sir, did you see what happened?
Yeh, I did...I was just in here gettin' my tires checked
And he just appeared out of the traffic
Come streakin' around the grease rack there
Didn't have nothing on but a smile
I looked in there and Ethel was gettin' her a cold drink
I hollered...Don't look Ethel
It was too late...She'd already been mooned
Flashed her right there in front of the shock absorbers
He ain't rude, boogie-dy, boogie-dy
He ain't lewd, boogie-dy, boogie-dy
He's just in the mood to run in the nude
Oh yes, they call him the streak
He likes to turn the other cheek
He's always making the news
Wearin' just his tennis shoes
Guess you could call him unique...
Once again, your action news reporter in the booth at the gym
Covering the disturbance at the basketball playoffs
Pardon me sir, did you see what happened?
Yeh, I did...half-time, I was just going down there
To get Ethel a snow cone
Here he come right out of the cheap seats
Dribblin'...right down the middle of the court
Didn't have on nothin' but his PF's
Made a hook shot and got out thru the concession stand
I hollered up at Ethel, I said don't look Ethel
It was too late...She'd already got a free shot
Grandstanded...Right there in front of the home team
Here he comes...look...who's that with him?
Ethel, is that you, Ethel?
What do you think you're doing?
You get your clothes on!
Ethel, where you going?
Ethel, you shameless hussy
Say it isn't so Ethel
Now watch the video featuring Ray Stevens, a great comedic performer, acting out the scenes of the song: http://youtube.com/watch?v=LftTCsGVaZ0.
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