October 21

by Helen on October 21st, 2009

There’ll be flowers on Jack Kerouac’s grave up in Lowell today: he died forty years ago to the day.

There’s always a party on Jack’s grave. I was there for the twenty-fifth anniversary of his death, back in 1994. I met some amazing people and we read passages from On the Road and smoked a joint in his honor.

There was a sheaf of roses on the grave. I’ve been back many times since, and there are always offerings: empty wine bottles or beer cans, rolled joints or roaches, I Ching coins, peace buttons, candle wax, poems, flowers: you name it. Once even a typewriter, I understand. Jack’s in-laws, the Sampases, have to come and clean off his grave on a regular basis.

On the Road has sold over three million copies. But the man whose book became the voice of a generation died a lonely death, having achieved notoriety instead of the respect as a writer he longed for and deserved.

Forty years later, all that has changed.

The enfant terrible of the fifties has become an American icon. As far as I know, all of Kerouac’s books are in print, and many are taught in schools. On the Road is regarded as a classic.

Jack’s spirit is very much alive. Only the other night on NPR Terry Gross was interviewing author Dan Fante. She asked Fante why he writes, and he said he had this quote from Kerouac on his wall:

I want to work in revelations, not just spin silly tales for money. I want to fish as deep down as possible into my own subconscious in the belief that once that far down, everyone will understand, because they are the same as me, that far down.

“That’s why I write,” said Fante.

That passage was in a letter Jack wrote to his friend Ed White in 1950. And in The Dharma Bums he wrote:

I intended to pray. . .as my only activity, pray for all living creatures. I saw it was the only decent activity left in the world.

October was Jack’s favorite time of year. As we enjoy the beauty of the changing season, let’s say a prayer of thanks to Jack Kerouac, poet of impermanence, for the courage of his heart and for his lifelong commitment to candor.

16 Comments
  1. Helen:
    Here is a link to Jack singing: “Ain’t We Got Fun.” You can click on this link and hear it.

    http://sundaymorning.tumblr.com/post/55634494/jack-kerouac-aint-we-got-fun-vocals-jack

    Marjorie

    • Thanks so much, Marjorie! Curt Worden at Kerouac Films kindly sent me that link just before my signing at the Golden Notebook here in Woodstock. I was so moved to hear Jack’s clear, beautiful young voice–I think the recording was made in 1959–that at the last minute I hired a friend to throw together a whole CD of Jack singing and reading from his books so that he could be there, too.

      I meant to post this link on my website, but have been overwhelmed with a myriad of details. I’m glad you read my mind, for this is a great voice at its sparkling best!

  2. Hey Helen. I still love you. Please come home. Oh, that’s right, you are home. Please visit my myspace page because there is music there for you. http://www.myspace.com/cyrilcaster

    • Hey Cyril. I still love you too. Just got caught up in finishing my book and now in Shameless Self-Promotion. I will try to figure out how to get to your space. Music, I love music!

      I tried to send you a link to Jack singing “Ain’t We Got Fun” but it didn’t work. Will keep trying. Weaver over and out!

  3. I am re-reading “On the Road.” I am older now, and I am amazed how much more strongly this book is affecting me than when I first read it. I think a reader needs some life experience to really appreciate how beautifully and excellently crafted the book really is. It is so profoundly spiritual. When I was younger, I honestly do not think I even quite understood the book.

    In my opinion, a great writer is able to bring the readers to a place where they experience the same level of feelings and emotions as the characters. Jack greatly succeeded in that and “On the Road” is a masterpiece of exquisite writing.

    Helen, your book arrived from Amazon and it’s next. I cannot wait to get started.

    • Marjorie, your experience is very similar to mine. As you will see when you read The Awakener, it took me years before I was able to appreciate On the Road. I just didn’t get it!

      I remember the exact moment when I first realized that On the Road is a great book. I was visiting my niece in Vermont some time in the nineties. (Long after Jack’s death, alas!) I was reading Doctor Sax, and finding words I didn’t know. (English was a second language for Jack, but he had an amazing vocabulary.)

      One word was “hincty.” We looked it up in Webster’s Unabridged, but it wasn’t there. So we looked in the Oxford English Dictionary. It said “hincty” was American slang and meant conceited, snobbish, stuck up, and it quoted “J. Kerouac, On Road,” “Wetting their eyebrows with hincty fingertip.” The OED said it was on page 86 so my niece’s boy friend got out his copy of On the Road and we turned to that page but we couldn’t find the word.

      Just in case we missed it I read page 86 out loud. That page fell in the middle of the story about the little Mexican girl, with a great description of the streets of Hollywood.

      And that was when it happened. For the first time in my life, I heard the music of Kerouac’s words. For the first time in my life, I got it. And I remembered hearing somewhere that people who don’t think Kerouac is a great writer should try reading him aloud.

      That’s the secret, that’s the test of poetry. And that’s the reason On the Road has sold over three million copies. On the Road is a poem.

  4. I ordered your book today. I look forward to reading it. I believe all time exists at the same time and consciousness is eternal… so somewhere in time Jack is feeling our thoughts from places far away.

    Jack Kerouac is one of the people I miss who I never met.

    • Marjorie, I totally agree.

      They say if you repeat aloud the name of someone who has passed on, they receive a blessing.

      My friend Laurie Oliver is a gifted psychic, and when I happened to tell her that I think Jack helped me write The Awakener, he immediately came through. He said a bunch of stuff, but the thing we both remember is that he said I was the stubbornest woman he had ever known! He was/is right about that.

      In a strange way (as you will see), I felt closer to Jack after he died. I hope reading my book helps you to feel close to him, too.

  5. The Awakener is the book I have been waiting to read. I read Kerouac’s books several times before I could view them as extensions of him, like seeing an arm propped in a car window, or a leg shuffling through an unappreciative crowd. Now I read those pages as a memory of someone I never met, but don’t tell my imagination that! I thought of myself as being Beat for years before I realized that I was 16 when the Berlin Wall came down. Kerouac is still my most comedic editor, but I keep writing despite what he would have thought of what I do. I love and appreciate your accessibility to Artaud and am looking forward to your deeper bond with Kerouac!

    • Au contraire, I think Jack would have said Keep writing, furious poet! And bless you for keeping the flame alive.

  6. Andrew permalink

    We don’t need a telescope to see why Jack Kerouac fell in love with you Ms. Weaver. With a Sun and Venus in Pisces how could a soul like Kerouac’s resist?

    • Thank you kindly. And with Virgo on my seventh house cusp (and Mars conjunct Neptune in Virgo), how could I resist him? No way Jose! With that magnetic opposition of our Ascendants just a little over a degree from exact, it was love at first sight.

      For more about Jack’s chart and a little about mine, check out my article in the upcoming NCGR Memberletter for December (and, of course, the Astrological Appendix in The Awakener, of which it’s a very loose adaptation).

  7. Helen, you can be proud of this achievement; and as far as atonement is concerned, not only the book but this website are worthy atonements of the first order, and worthwhile from lots of other perspectives as well!

    Congratulations on the nice reviews.

    And thanks for your observations in commemoration of this date. Very nice!

    • Thank you, Bill. I can only hope that Jack, wherever he is, can forgive us all for seriously underestimating him as a writer while he was still alive.

      If I can help to undo that wrong, I’ve done my job. That’s why I write!

  8. Connie Fisher permalink

    Confession time: I have NEVER read Kerouac. Will you drum me out of the family for this?? Should I read On the Road before I read your book? I AM excited for you…

    • You’re asking the wrong person! Let’s put it this way: If you read my book first, you’ll know that we are definitely part of the same family. It took me years before I “got” On the Road.

      On the other hand, Jack’s been waiting to get your attention for fifty-two years. He has seniority.

      Whatever you decide–please try reading On the Road aloud: maybe to Bill? You’ll be amazed!