Happy Birthday, Jack!

by Helen on March 12th, 2010

Happy Birthday, Jack!

Jack Kerouac was born March 12, 1922 in Lowell, Massachusetts. If he were still with us he would be 88 today and a grand old man of letters. But Kerouac died October 21, 1969, at the age of 47.

In the Bible, in the gospels of both Matthew and Luke, Jesus is quoted as saying that “a prophet is not without honor, save in his own country and in his own house.” It took almost twenty years–a whole generation–but Kerouac is now honored in his own home town. In 1985 Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! was founded “to promote better understanding and appreciation of Kerouac’s life and literature.” And in 1986 the Lowell Historic Preservation Commission voted to establish the Jack Kerouac Commemorative at the Eastern Canal Plaza, a parcel of land off Bridge Street near the Massachusetts Mills.

At Kerouac Park, passages from ten of Jack’s books are inscribed on columns of polished granite that are arranged in a kind of Christian-Buddhist mandala that forms a cross within a circle. It is an extraordinary monument that breaks new ground in the way we publicly recognize the achievements of American writers.

Every year in October, Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! puts on a great festival, and every year in March, Lowell celebrates the birthday of its native son. This year is no exception; go to www.lowellcelebrateskerouac.org and click on “Help Us Celebrate Jack Kerouac’s 88th Birthday” for details.

I have been to several of these Kerouac events and they are truly wonderful. This year, alas, I am unable to attend, but I celebrate Jack in my own way by sharing his words.

The other day I came across a passage from Mexico City Blues that I’ve been hunting for for a while. Just as the Kerouac Commemorative combines the Catholic cross and the Buddhist mandala in an integrated whole, Jack’s poem, which Buddhist master Chogyam Trungpa called “a great manifestation of mind,” transcends all organized religion. I remember hearing His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama say that his religion was simply kindness. Here is the 157th Chorus of Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues:

The Art of Kindness
Is a dream
That was foretold by prophets
Of Old, wd. be continuous
With no broken lines
Buddha after Buddha
Crashing in from Heavens
Farther than expressioning,
Bringing the Single Teaching:
Love Everywhere.

Bring on the single teaching,
It’s all indeed in Love;
Love not of Loved Object
Cause no object exists,
Love of objectlessness,
When nothing exists
Save yourself and your not-self
Hung in a Moon
Of Perfect O Canopy
Sorrowing Starborrowing
Happiness Parade

On this benighted, beleaguered, and embattled green planet, God knows kindness is what we need. Jack said it best:

Bring on the single teaching!

Happy Birthday, Jack!

  1. Justin Chambers permalink

    Watching clip of him on Steve Allen, in my opinion his greatest moment. Spent many a summer driving around to nowhere in particular listen to the audio on my CD player.

    Plan on having a drink at The White Horse Tavern in a couple weeks when I return to NYC.

    (Someone who should have been born to live in the Beat era)

    • Yes, Justin, that was a great moment. Jack is obviously nervous at first, though he denies it, but then he goes on to read from his masterpiece and nothing else in the world exists.

      Give my love to the White Horse!


  2. Hi, Helen… The Saturday night, March 13th events held in Lowell at Cafe Paradiso on Palmer Street, for Jack’s 88th birthday were truly magical and outstanding. David Amram was there with his son, Adam, as were a jazz band, a folk band, many readers, poets, local dignitaries, a string quarted, and Jonathan Edwards at the very end. I taped the whole event, and will put it onto CD for the few to hear. … I got there an hour early to set up my equipment. It was raining. The closest open parking space was halfway down middle street. It was not until AFTER I parked my car that I noticed the number of the space: number 88 !!!

    I thought of Jack late Thursday night / early Friday Morning – March 12th – on his 88th birthday. This is what came to me: “Jack Kerouac embraced independence, and he rejected conventionality. He valued freedom of self-expression above all. He cherished his friends and remained loyal to them his whole life. He tried to become spiritually liberated, even as he failed to be a normal human being by consensus-reality standards. He loved life, did not fear death, and always strove to stay true to his values, his sense of enlightenment, and his determination to be a creative writer.” – Copyright (C) 2010 George Koumantzelis … Bless you, Helen! – George : )

  3. It’s been said many times, but not often so gracefully.
    The Beatles said it rather concisely:
    “All you need is love!”

    Thank you Helen, once again, for sharing Jack with us.

    love, Melissa

    • Yes, Melissa, I was thinking of the Beatles and hearing that song as I posted that blog. It is my pleasure and my honor to share Jack with anyone who crosses my path with an open heart. It’s especially wonderful to share him with family. You know who you are!

  4. Whoa what a cool sounding guy! Happy birthday Jack! :D
    Really like that verse you shared with us Helen and your thoughts :D

    Much respect,

  5. Where are you tonight,
    Jack Kerouac?
    Between my lips
    and fingertips,
    right where you belong.

  6. Ginny Palmieri permalink

    “Sorrowing Starborrowing” – how perfectly elegant his language and eloquent his heart.

    It strikes me as an amazing thing, the way we can love someone, apparently so fleetingly and briefly, how their time on this earth can be extinguished so soon, and yet how far reaching and whole that love remains, how big their fingerprint on another’s soul, and how miraculously forever their impact can be on any one of us – who then goes on to touch so many others.

    I feel touched by Jack through your presence in my life – and so moved that the young girl who loved him continues to honor him so fully.

    Thank you, Helen.

    Love, Ginny

    • And thank you, dear Ginny, for taking it all in and for the eloquence of your response.

      It took that young girl many years to learn to honor him at all.

      May hearts and minds be opened all over the world!

      Love, Helen

  7. Elly permalink

    Helen-he must have been a very special man-believing kindness is utmost-what could be a better code for, as you say, “this beleaguered, embattled green planet”!
    I’d like to say Happy Birthday, Jack, too!
    love, Elly

    • Thanks, Elly dear. I think Jack hears and sees us all.

      Bring on the single teaching!

      Love, Helen