Archives For August 2013

Two Young Men and Two Paintings on a Hot Summer Day

“In the air-cooled museum Phil spent ten minutes in front of a portrait of Jean Cocteau by Modigliani. . . .Then we both stopped in front of Tchelitchew’s Cache-Cache and looked at that for a while.” And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs, 2008, (174).

The morning after he murders his long-term friend, Ramsay Allen, Phillip Tourian and his other friend, Mike Ryko, spend the hot summer day at bars, a 42nd Street penny arcade, the New York Public Library park, a movie, another bar, and then the Museum of Modern Art.modigliani
Modigliani’s portrait is soothing and elegant and presents the young, neatly-combed, well-dressed subject with eyebrows slightly askance sitting upright in a chair with hands serenely folded. He looks not unlike a young man sitting across from a lawyer or district attorney or influential uncle or Columbia dean.
The Russian-born Tchelitchew’s surreal Cache-Cache (Hide and Seek) is more unsettling with its anxiously searching mother as subject. This is a large, six-feet-square painting and Tchelitchew’s most significant work. It was painted in 1940-1942, so it was a new painting for the two young men viewing it in 1945 when the story takes place. Much of the artist’s work suggests “psychosexual conflict and homoerotic longing” i and that was exactly the nature of the tangled relationship between Phillip and Allen and the murder. As Will Dennison (William Burroughs) writes in the first chapter, when Al and Phillip “get together something happens, and they form a combination which gets on everybody’s nerves.” So the relationship was combustible to a violent finale.
How both of these paintings fit into this story is a deft example of the perception of both writers. I tend to disagree with critics who deem And the Hippos as not quite worthy. Not only that, but critics of the Beats, particularly critics of Jack Kerouac, seem to miss his marvelous humor. Burroughs, it almost goes without saying, is hilarious in his dry, no-nonsense way. This is the story of a murder but it’s entertaining. The book ends with Will relating, “Phillip’s uncle fixed everything up and had the boy committed to the state nuthouse.” Danny, Will’s gangster acquaintance—an arsonist wanted by the FBI—concludes, “Well, he can go into politics when he gets out.”
The end of a season, the end of a life, the end of a young man’s freewheeling ways at summer’s end—always a sad event—but the paintings remain unchanged on museum walls.

i Mendelsohn, Meredith. (August 27, 1998). Pavel Tchelitchew: Landscape of the Body. ArtNet Magazine.

“The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise” and the Hippos and Benny Goodman and the Savoy

Kerouac screenshot
“We passed the Apollo theater . . . . and then we crossed the street to a penny arcade . . . . and we started playing pinball machines . . . . I shoved a nickel in the jukebox and played Benny Goodman’s ‘The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise.’” And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs, (written 1945), 2008, (172).

My World War II generation (termed “The Greatest Generation”) parents would be surprised at my (“Baby Boomer” from Beatles to Woodstock to CBGB to jazz) interest in Benny Goodman. I recently found “The Original Recordings, Benny Goodman, Let’s Dance” and track number twelve is none other than “The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise,” (Quartet/Mel Powell & His Orchestra, March 10, 1942); however, this is probably not the recording Jack spent a nickel to hear. I’m curious why Jack would choose this song. Was it a favorite of his? Or just a popular song of the time? Is he being ironic? After all, his friend just killed a friend, so where is the sunrise in this scenario? However, if my friend just killed a friend, this upbeat tune would probably be the last thing I’d play, but then again I probably wouldn’t be hanging at the penny arcade, either.
This extended 1942 CD version (according to the linear notes) “doesn’t actually exist.” It is two versions mixed together with a record time of 5:16 minutes; most of the other recordings are half that time. The “King of Swing” does indeed swing like crazy, when “Swing was the Thing,” Benny Goodman, clarinet; Mel Powell, guitar; Sid Weiss, bass; Ralph Collier, drums. Goodman recorded the song many times and several versions, of course, can be found on YouTube.
The song was first published in 1919 and has been recorded by hundreds of musicians including many jazz musicians. Les Paul (one of the architects of rock and roll) and Mary Ford had a million-selling hit with it in 1951, and even the Beatles got into “World” with a home version of their own in the late 1950s. It’s on “The Early Years 1958-1963” and the boys—pictured with Pete Best the original drummer—look and sound rockabilly. This little number that Jack mentions by title, written by Ernest Seitz- Gene Lockhart, has had quite the history.
For those too young to know, Benny Goodman was BIG. He became famous in 1935 and his career lasted for more than six decades. Maybe at first glance, bespectacled, bow-tied, tuxedoed “The King of Swing” and the someday to be “the bloody ‘King of the Beatniks’” i seem an odd duo, considering Jack’s well-documented love of bebop, but Benny came first—after Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington—and was an intoxicating influence on the culture. And, Jack, short-term U.S. Navy sailor and merchant marine, was a member of the “The Greatest Generation” before the Beat Generation was conceived.
If this song seems tame have a listen to Goodman’s “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” or better yet, have a look at the Ken Burns PBS Jazz series and check out the dancers at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, and I’m talking wild off-the-floor-and-ceiling dancing, and it is exhilarating, and America at its finest, liberatingly glorious, and racially unencumbered. And while you’re at it, check out bandleader Chick Webb at the Savoy—a king of swing drummer—and the great battle of the bands in 1937 between Webb and Goodman, featuring Gene Krupa on drums. It drew a big crowd, so big, that New York riot police were on hand for the thousands of fans who showed up.
Two years later in 1939, a young Jack Kerouac and Horace Mann schoolmate, Seymour Wyse, heard the great bands at the Savoy. ii It doesn’t appear Jack was much of a dancer, but that doesn’t matter. It seems there were two types at the Savoy: the dancers and those who watched the dancers, into the early morning waiting for the sunrise.

i Kerouac, Jack, Big Sur, 1962.
ii Moore, Dave. (March 31, 2013). My really best friend . . . an interview with Seymour Wyse. Empty Mirror.

Episode One

In this first episode of the Beatdom Podcast, your host, David S. Wills, talks with Charles Cannon about his Burroughs 100 event, discusses the questions of “What is Beat?” listens to poetry by Beatdom contributor, GK Stritch, and speaks with Michael Hendrick, author of the forthcoming novels Egypt Cemetery and Whiskers in the Wind.

As this is our first ever foray into the world of podcasting, please forgive our lack of technical expertise. The sound quality will improve in future and we are exploring various hosting options. However, we do appreciate constructive criticism, so please feel free to leave your thoughts below or via e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter.

The player below should be working, but if not, you can catch us on iTunes at: Don’t forget to subscribe in order to catch all future episodes.

Early Summer Mourn

It feels so safe in this soft summer bed
With the sheets smelling sweetly
And the light warmth of the cotton blanket
And the early morning birds chirping
After the cicadas have stopped
Why can’t it always be peaceful?
Like this moment
“All things hang like a drop of dew
upon a blade of grass” i wrote the poet
In the blink of an eye
I have truly seen
Best minds destroyed
By sorrowful disease
Neurologists never give good news
And I lie on a bed with an anguished dread in the pit of my core
Jesus, take away this crown of thorns
And touch these sword pierced hearts
i Yeats, W.B., “Gratitude to the Unknown Instructors”

Subterranean Lost Love

Alene Lee and William Burroughs

“They are hip without being slick, they are intelligent without being corny, they are intellectual as hell and know all about Pound without being pretentious or talking too much about it, they are very quiet, they are very Christlike.” The Subterraneans

The great Basie band. . .
one, two, and you know what to do
Thank Chu Berry much
Sassy classy Vaughn
Gerry Mulligan hobo stew
Stan Kenton rues the roux
This jazz is for you, Mardou
red toenails peek from Cleopatra sandals
other gals pale by this woeful tale
Heavenly Lane fast pushcart Trane
Charlie Parker
Bird as word
. . . it IS the nightingale
and not the lark . . .
measure for measure
Paradise Alley gray sheet feathers
like the lost alleys of Russian sorrow . . . i
Are the stars out tonight or morrow?
Allen Eager Po’ boy blues
Art Blakey’s
cracked weeping shoes
Thelonious the monk and saint of bop ii
Spin the records and the top
“You go out in joy and in sadness you return,” says Thomas à Kempis. iii

i Kerouac, Jack, Big Sur, 1962.
ii Kerouac, Jack, The Subterraneans, 1958.
iii Kerouac, Jack, Big Sur, 1962.

Announcing the Beatdom Podcast

I am pleased to announce that, beginning August, 2013, Beatdom will be expanding yet again into new territory. Not content with being a literary journal and publishing company whose works sell on every continent (except those bastards in Antarctica), we are taking our first steps into the audio world with the introduction of Beatdom: The Podcast.

You might well be wondering how this will function. Beatdom’s reputation at present is forged upon sterling essays published every six months. What will be included in the podcast? Why the hell should you listen in?

Let me tell you:

We are never short of Beat topics to talk about. In fact, the literary journal format is a little restricting in that it doesn’t allow us to keep entirely up to date with the news. If there’s a new book released or a new discovery made, we have to wait several months before the next issue in order to pass comment. That’s why we use our website and social media outlets to discuss, for example, film adaptations or new editions of Beat texts. I believe that the podcast, which will be released fortnightly (that means every two weeks), will allow us to stay on top of all the news from the Beat realm.

So, every fortnight we will start with a roundup of Beat news, before moving into tackling a question. For the first episode, we will be asking a deceptively difficult question: “What does ‘Beat’ mean?” It’s something that everyone has a different opinion about, and I want to hear from our readers prior to the show. On air, I will read out various tweets and comments from Facebook and the website, as well as adding my own thoughts, and I will discuss the topic with another Beatdom editor, Michael Hendrick.

It is important for us to interact with our readers, and so in addition to reading your comments on air, we will also be seeking to answer your questions. If there’s something you want to know about the Beat Generation, or about Beatdom, or anything within reason, please get in touch via e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or this website’s comment boards. We will try our best to answer your question.

In addition to this, we will be adding an extra dimension to our poetry publication by having poets read out their work. As we know, poetry is not intended solely for the page. It is also performance art, and this podcast will allow Beatdom to better showcase its talent. We are also looking for musicians to accompany these poets. For the first episode, we will be featuring the poetry of G.K. Stritch, whose work has previously appeared on our website.

Finally, we will conduct interviews for each episode. The interviewee will contribute by discussing the question du jour as well as contributing their thoughts on the breaking Beat news, and of course we will talk to them about their own projects. For our first episode, we will be speaking with Charles Cannon, the sci-fi writer and collage artist who’s in charge of organizing the Burroughs 100 celebration – a year long catalogue of events to mark the centenary of William S. Burroughs’ birth.

Another Unpublished Kerouac Book Coming 2014

THE HAUNTED LIFE by Jack Kerouac, due March 2014:
Jack Kerouac wrote THE HAUNTED LIFE in 1944 when he was 22 years old and attending Columbia University. It was originally meant to be a three-part novel, but only the first part was ever polished (it runs roughly 19,000 words). Upon its completion, Kerouac promptly lost his only hand-written final draft in a New York taxi cab, remaining unknown to the public until its appearance at Christies about ten years ago. Kerouac’s family has now decided to share this manuscript with the world.
While the entirety of the novel remained unfinished, the surviving manuscript successfully works alone as a novella with a satisfying, if open-ended, conclusion. It features a scaled-down version of the Martin family and is set in Lowell, Massachusetts, as was Kerouac’s first novel The Town and The City. Kerouac had planned on writing a cycle of novels tentatively titled An American Passed Here, which was to be set primarily in the fictional town of Galloway (based on Lowell). That cycle was to contain The Haunted Life and The Sea is My Brother, tracing the story of the Martin family throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Eventually Kerouac’s plans for his Martin cycle materialized into his first novel, The Town and the City, shortly before he moved on to compose his iconic On the Road.
Todd Tietchen, the editor of the project and the Jack Kerouac/Beat Scholar in residence at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, has assembled a number of archival documents to thicken out the context of this lost novella, documents that attest to the level of intention and care that went into Kerouac’s writing projects.

William S. Burroughs: Botanist

Burroughs Botanist

In 1953, William S. Burroughs published his first novel, Junkie, which ended with the ominous line, “Yage may be the final fix.”

Burroughs had written the novel during his travels in 1950-52, when he was living in Mexico, as well as visiting Panama, Peru, Columbia and Ecuador. The line was meant to anticipate Junkie’s sequel, Queer, about his travels in South America, although the book wasn’t released released until 1985. Burroughs had been sending chapters from Junkie to Allen Ginsberg, who managed to have the “unpublishable” novel published by Ace Books, under the pseudonym ‘William Lee’ in 1952.

Also in 1952, he sent Ginsberg Queer, and in 1953 he sent In Search of Yage; when they lived together in New York later that year, they worked on editing In Search of Yage, which, when combined with some of their correspondence from the period, was published as The Yage Letters by City Lights in 1963.
Interestingly, when Burroughs wrote, “Yage may be the final fix,” and then, when he referenced it in correspondence in 1952, (a year after returning to Mexico from the Amazon) he had still failed in his search. “Did not score for Yage, Bannisteria caapi, Telepathine, Ayahuasca – all names for the same drug,” he wrote Ginsberg. Nonetheless, his curiosity grew thanks to his reading on the subject, and the great sense of mystery surrounding a drug of which Western science knew remarkably little.
It wasn’t until 1953 that he succeeded in finding the drug. The Yage Letters primarily concerns Burroughs trip to the Amazon in that year and Ginsberg’s own experiences Seven Years Later (the title of his story). The second line of In Search Of Yage, “Wouldn’t do to go back among the Indians with piles…”, references his unsuccessful earlier explorations and harkens back to the final line of Junkie.

Yet, back among the Indians he did go, and despite his lack of qualifications (Burroughs was educated to some degree in anthropology, archaeology and ethnology, but not in botany; he also never been on a field trip) he succeeded in tracking down the drug. It is important to note the timing in his expedition. In correspondence from the period, Burroughs seems obsessed with finding yage. He was fascinated with it for its qualities – namely its supposed ability to bestow upon the user the gift of telepathy, and its internal healing qualities, which Burroughs believed “could change fact.” Burroughs was interested in the drug as a possible cure for opiate addiction, but he also recovering from the accidental shooting of his wife, Joan. His life was a complete mess and a drug that could “change fact” was welcome.

How Burroughs came to be so obsessed with yage is a mystery. Ginsberg speculated that Burroughs had heard about yage “in some crime magazine or National Geographic or New York Enquirer or some goofy tabloid newspaper,” but at the time there was very little information about the drug anywhere. Western science knew little about it, and it’s unlikely that National Geographic or any other publication would’ve been aware of its existence. Oliver Harris, in his introduction to The Yage Letters Redux, speculates that Burroughs may have read Richard Spruce’s Notes of a Botanist on the Amazon and Andes (1908) and Louis Lewin’s Phantasica (1924), both of which mention yage.
Yage is now quite well known, but back in 1951 it had only been known to the West for one hundred years, and not much progress had been made in understanding it for thirty years prior to Burroughs’ journey. Of course, it is significant to note that, although the West was thoroughly ignorant about yage, it had been used by natives of South America for thousands of years prior to Western discovery. Although Burroughs and Ginsberg both referred to it mostly commonly as ‘yage’, it is also known as ayahuasca, cipo, caapi, hoasca, santo daime, natem, shori, and telepathine across the continent.
Perhaps yage went so long without being understood because it is not a simple, naturally- occurring chemical from any one plant, like psilocybin or mescaline. Although ‘yage’ is often the name given to the plant Banisteriopsis Caapi, it is the drink made when extracts from Banisteriopsis Caapi are mixed with shrubs from the Psychotria genus – something both Burroughs and Ginsberg discovered before Western science
These days, yage tourism is common in South America. The drink has spread across the world, and anyone with access to the internet can easily study the plant, the drink and the History of Yage. However, when Burroughs first set out on his 1951 expedition, little was known. It was during his 1953 trip that Burroughs met Richard Evans Shultes, who is widely considered the father of modern ethnobotany. The two Harvard men could not have been more different. Shultes was on a serious twelve-year trip and, although he respected Burroughs’ courage in trying yage, did not take him seriously. Indeed, In Search of Yage is a chronicle of Burroughs’ misadventures, rather than a serious botanical study.
Shultes was present when Burroughs first tried yage near Mocoa, and Paul Holliday (a member of the group with whom Burroughs and Shultes were temporarily travelling) described the experience: “The old Ingana Indian gave him a wineglass full of the stuff… and within 15 min. it sent him almost completely off his rocker: violent vomiting every few minutes, feet almost numb & hands almost useless, unable to walk straight, liable to do anything one would not dream of doing in a normal state.” Although Shultes’ and Holliday’s statements suggest they thought Burroughs was more ballsy than informed, and although Shultes is considered the real expert on yage, it seems that Burroughs is due more credit than he was ever given for his expedition. At the time, yage was thought to be a plant that was made into a brew, and that the components of the hallucinogenic aspect came entirely from the one plant. Burroughs, however, deduced that it was only when two plants were mixed together (as detailed above, from much later research) that yage gained its unique and legendary qualities. It turned out that Burroughs was not quite the foolish, lost drug addict that he appeared…He had made the first major achievement in understanding yage since its ‘discovery’, over one hundred years earlier.



This essay was originally published in Beatdom #9

On the Road (2012) on iTunes

On the Road Poster

Last year’s hit Beat movie, On the Road, based upon the novel of the same name by Jack Kerouac, is now available on iTunes. Starring Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty and Sam Riley as Sal Paradise, the movie also features Kristin Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen, and Steve Buscemi. It’s directed by Walter Salles, who previously directed The Motorcycle Diaries. The movie has received mixed reviews and mixed reactions from Beat fans, with the consensus seemingly that the film is enjoyable but is certainly not a classic like the book upon which it’s based.