Posts Tagged ‘Jack Kerouac’

Cut to the chase

March 4, 2013

“Dogging Steinbeck:  Discovering America and Exposing the truth about ‘Travels with Charlie,’” by Bill Steigerwald, was reviewed in the San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday and we stumbled on that review just after we had decided to write a column lamenting the fact that books about traveling on the road in the USA have become an extinct subgenre of literature.  It was accompanied by a review of Dan Baum’s new book “Gun Guys: A Road Trip.” 

Last week, we had just glommed on to a bargain bin copy of “Home Country,” by Ernie Pyle, which describes his search all across the USA for good feature stories. It was in mint condition at the Friends of the Berkeley Public Library’s bookstore. We intend on writing several columns this year about the topic of roaming about in the USA for several reasons and so finding out about two brand new books that fall into a category that we find irresistible didn’t discourage us; it strengthened our resolve to write several columns on this rather esoteric topic. Maybe that sub genre isn’t dead, maybe we just had to change the lead.

Pyle, who wrote approximately a million words about traveling around in America, sort of like a pitcher warming up in the bullpen, later achieved international fame as a war correspondent during WWII.  In “Home Country,” he wrote a piece about Adolph and “Plinky” Topperwein, who were a husband and wife team of famous shooters who worked for the Winchester Arms Company. We wondered if they were mentioned in Baum’s new book.

“Travels with Charlie,” and Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” had whet our appetite for the open road while we were in school.  Not long after finishing college, we had stuck out our thumb in a rural area in Pennsylvania and hoped to catch a ride to San Francisco hoping that maybe literary lightning could strike twice.

Two of our high school classmates had made different, more rational, decisions about the course their lives would take.  One of them is a retired Army colonel now living in Germany and the other is a retired teacher living across the Hudson River from NYC.  Both of them have decided to drive across the USA this year and since the World’s Laziest Journalist has accumulated a vast supply of travel experience, we have offered both of them our opinion on how to maximize the enjoyment of their adventure.

There are so many books we would like to recommend that they read.  Here are some of the lesser known “on the road” books we wish they could read before shoving off:  “I see by your outfit,” by Peter S. Beagle, “America day by day,” by Simone de Beauvoir, Alistair Cooke’s “The American Home Front 1941 – 1942,” and “It isn’t a bus pioneering motorhomers cross the USA,” by Martha French Patterson and Sally Patterson Tubach (no relations).  This columnist has read the Beagle book and is halfway through all of the others.

The school teacher (AKA “Jersey Bill”) has strongly recommended that we read “Blue Moon Highway,” and some day we intend to do that.

Jersey Bill has driven from his adopted state to Oregon and another time he went the southern route and got as far as Joshua Tree National Park just inside of Cali, but he has studiously avoided exploring California.

The Colonel wants to drive the Southern route but notes that this trip of a lifetime will be a one time only, “get ’er done” operation.  He has budgeted only two weeks to achieve his goal.  He wants to follow a portion of Route 66. 

Jack Kerouac concentrated on the personalities he met while on the road.  Our first night in Paris (France, not Texas) we went to Cactus Charlie’s and had a marvelous conversation about the specifics of the politics in California.  As we walked out, we regretted our decision.  “We could have had a great conversation about local politics at any bar in L. A. but we wouldn’t have had to buy an airplane ticket to get that payoff.”  So we resolved to “go native” and shun the ex-pat scene and see the things that are only available there.  We still follow that philosophy when traveling.

If the Colonel wants to talk to fellow Americans he can visit some wounded soldiers at the Landstuhl hospital. 

My advice in both cases will be something they won’t want to hear, so maybe if they read it in a column posted for all the world to see, it might have a better chance of making a point and influencing their thinking (and if not, at least the Managing Editor [M. E.] will get a new batch of Google bate to lure others to the sites where this will be posted).

Jersey Bill and his wife like “the great outdoors,” nature and the like.  If a city slicker like the World’s Laziest Journalist can be profoundly impressed with Yosemite National Park, just think how much the teacher and his wife will like it.  Oh, yeah, California also has another park with big trees that are very old.  He might like that, too.  Some alarmists think that park will suffer if new bullet train routs are built.  Isn’t zipping past those trees at 100 mph better than never seeing them at all? 

Jersey Bill likes automobiles and so we wonder why he has hung back from visiting a state that has two world class car museums in the L. A. area (across the street for each other) and two others that are still on our bucketlist.  Is he saving the best for last?

Jack London (reportedly) called the Monterey Peninsula the finest example of seashore scenery in the world.  We concur.

Our tourist exploration of Australia lasted ten fun filled weeks and we know that we barely scratched the surface of the subject but the colonel intends to make his jaunt across the USA a two weeks long venture.  Yikes!  We have to say that we strongly recommend that he forgets about an epicurean ten course meal approach to the task and cut directly to dissert and drive night and day until he gets to the state that offers Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, the redwood trees, the Golden Gate Bridge, and some last vestiges of beatnik history.  Or he could make the arrangements necessary to extend the time spent on making the trek.

Telling a colonel what to do is one thing but someone who can remember his mom telling a story about how a baseball hit by Babe Ruth fell into her lap might get away with offering him our very strongly felt opinion base on experience.  [We have hitchhiked from Pennsylvania to Tonkawa and traveled by Greyhound coast to coast at least three times.] 

Getting him to read “Watergate The Hidden History: Nixon, the Mafia, and the CIA,” by Lamar Waldron (from Counterpoint in Berkeley CA!) before the next round in our continuing Nixon vs. Kennedy debate will be a bit more of a challenge.

Our hope is that the colonel will change his own ground rules and take longer to do the trip or perhaps make the trip in annual installments of two weeks each for the next several years.  If he wants to see as many American icons as possible, we can’t offer much of an opinion about what to see until he gets to Route 66in Oklahoma, but we can strongly recommend that if he wants spectacular scenery, he should get to the Grand Canyon ASAP, and then budget time to see Yosemite, the redwoods, Lake Tahoe, and the Monterey Peninsula.  California is a very big state and it will take a few days just to skim the highlights.  At that point he can run down PCH and see Big Sur, the Hearst Castle, and the Bixby Bridge.  He’ll wind up in Santa Monica, where he can visit Venice Beach before going to the airport, turning in his rental and jumping on a plane back to Germany.

Our hope for the teacher is that he will get to California, have a St. Paul’s moment and when he returns to his luxurious home within sight of the Manhattan skyline sell it, put the money in a safe investment, and then jump back in his motor home and become a motorhome vagabond inside the California borders for the next 12 months (or more).

The hippie will (we hope) get to some California towns we have never seen and finally get to live out his Fred C. Dobbs wishes to find some nuggets of gold in a miner’s pan.

Simone de Beauvoir wrote (Ibid page 136):  “We do not see much of San Francisco because we stay only four days and don’t know anyone.”

Now the disk jockey will play the Cantina Band’s song “Out in California,” Glenn Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman,” and “Living on Tulsa Time.”  We have to go and contact the National Parks people and ask two questions:  “What state has the most National Parks? And “How many National Parks are in California?”  Have a “life is short; eat dessert first” type week.

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The case of the crying banker

December 31, 2012

After posting a column on Friday December 28, 2012, in which we criticized the CBS Evening News for relying heavily on videos of people crying, we tuned in that night to the broadcast and saw a crying man who went out and actually begged for a kidney for his wife, a crying woman who lost her house to the bankers (banks don’t foreclose homes people working for those banks do [?]), and a crying man who was part of a couple whose effort to adopt a Russian orphan had come to a halt because of a new Russian law.  On the NBC Nightly News broadcast for Saturday December 29th, we saw a feature story with a video of a fellow who plays soccer and might get an offer from an American Football team to come and work in the USA.  The video had gone viral on the Internets and we wondered if a video of a crying pundit would “go viral” if it was posted on Youtube.  Did we just sabotage all (and we do mean all) our chances for becoming a late addition to the list of famous journalists known as “Murrow’s Boys”?

Slightly after four p.m. on the day we published the column criticizing CBS for tarnishing their legacy that was established by Edward R. Murrow, we heard Norm Goldman criticize, on his radio broadcast, a brand of banks (think of a 1939 movie that was a career breakthrough for John Wayne) because a recent decision by the Ninth Superior Court seemed to legitimize some unscrupulous accounting practices that always favored the bank and screwed the public.

While preparing to write a new column, we suddenly remembered the old oriental parable that ends with the punch line:  “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet (those damn drones at it again?).”  Voila!  We had a Sutter’s Mill Moment.  An epiphany, as it were.

We didn’t need to envy CBS their ability to send a reporter and (union) camera crew out to video a person who was having tough times during post financial cliff period of uncertainty, if we wanted to get a video that would go viral on the Internets, we needed to get a video of a bank official who, wracked by guilt, was crying while contemplating the damage he had wrought.

Then what?

Everybody would see it.

Then what?

One thing seems certain.  If we get a video of a banker crying because of his complicity in a business practice that destroys hundreds of lives, CBS Evening News sure as hell ain’t gonna do a feature about how the World’s Laziest Journalist made a video that went viral on the Internets.  Dang!  It’s a tad late in the game to start searching for a new career . . . but . . . it will be a new year soon.  It will be a new year in some places when this column is posted.

Whatever happened to the guy who was America’s oldest porn actor?  Did he retire?  Could we do some Gonzo style reporting about walking a mile in his moccasins?

Speaking of the cinema, since we do love movies and since a goodly number of young folks like the movies made by Quentin Tarantino and since he has a new film just out, perhaps we could go see it and write a review as a way to rekindle our career as a film reviewer.  (Google Richard Ebert’s review of “Van Wilder” and read the last two paragraphs.)

Perhaps since we are not fully versed on the Facebook fad, we can just designate everything the World’s Laziest Journalist posts as “open to the public” and give George Takei (of Stark Trek fame) a run for the title of the most popular guy on that website.

We have heard of one woman in L. A. who went to a director to ask for a loan and was told:  “Write a sentence on this sheet of paper.”  She was totally perplexed but did as she was asked.  He threw the results in a drawer and jumped on the intercom and instructed his secretary to draw up a standard amount check for buying the film rights (to that sentence).  There are people in Hollywood who make a decent living just by selling ideas (known as “a pitch”) for films.

Didn’t one of those specialists become a director with offices on Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica?  Hmmm.  If he is busy maybe we could track him down and start a new career in pitching and sell him an idea for a new film?

Hey, bro, do you want to buy the story (with a few more specific details supplied) of a nurse who successfully escaped from a POW camp?  Yeah, yeah, yeah we know about the guy who used a motorcycle to escape from a POW camp in WWII but this is another “based on a true story” adventure with a chick as the protagonist.  What actress could turn down a chance to walk a mile in Steve McQueen’s moccasins?

Our columns rarely get comments but isn’t the topic of which young actress could evoke favorable comparisons to Steve McQueen rich with the potential for astute suggestions?

On the same program that he castigated bankers, Norm Goldman proceeded to tackle the legalize pot issue.  Back in the Seventies there was a novel, titled “Acapulco Gold,” that hypothesized what American culture would be like when (not “if”) marijuana became legal.

Wouldn’t it be odd if Washington’s repressive attitude forced the NRA and the legalize pot advocates to agree to a mutual assistance/defense treaty and seek refuge as a coalition group in a third part such as the Pirate Party?

Maybe after the bankers repent and ask forgiveness and the gun control issue is settled once and for all, maybe then the lobbyists representing America’s pharmaceutical companies will permit the politicians to address the legalize pot issue but in Thirteen the chances for that happening fall below the “slim and none” level down to the Australian category labeled “not bloody well likely, mate!”

In our efforts to select a photo to accompany this column, we remembered an image we acquired while doing some fact checking for a possible trend spotting story about snapshot collecting.  It showed a woman on a ship and carried the cryptic caption “Spring 1942.”  In the Spring of that year, the world was in turmoil but someone was making an effort to improve their lot in life.  Aren’t all journeys manifestations of optimism?  Couldn’t that woman be a metaphor for the USA at the start of 2013?

Maybe in an effort to achieve “fair and balanced” news coverage, CBS will hire a pundit to criticize the efforts of mainstream media in the USA?  They could feature a televised version of the media criticism made popular by A. J. Liebling.  Maybe not.  Maybe we could get a job at the American Studies Center at the University of Sydney helping them understand contemporary culture in the USA?  Maybe not.  Maybe now that Wolfman Jack has gone to the great sound booth in the sky, XERF needs a replacement announcer on the night side?  Maybe not.

All three of our writing heroes, Hemingway, Kerouac, and Hunter S. Thompson, seemed to find the obligations accompanying fame very disagreeable so maybe we can reconfigure  the old F. Scott Fitzgerald wisdom to read “Living well (in obscurity) is the best revenge.”?  If you don’t believe us, then ask author William Kotzwinkle if there is any truth in that amended quote.

Isn’t it amazing that the political commentators are making the assertion that the congressional representatives and the Senators are feeling pressure for the members of the 112th  Congress to reach a fiscal cliff agreement now because of concerns about possible resentment for not getting a bipartisan plan to avoid the cliff, playing  a role in their reelection as members of the 113th Congress.  Isn’t there an old political adage that states that American voters have a short memory?
Winston Churchill may have predicted the fiscal cliff political stalemate when he said:  “We conferred endlessly and futilely and arrived at the place from whence we began. Then we did what we knew we had to do in the first place, and we failed as we knew we would.”

Now the disk jockey will play “As Time goes by,” “the Alabama song,” and the Eagles song about James Dean.  We have to go post a link to this column on Facebook.  Have a “good night and good luck” type of new year.

Those who are about to vote ignore reality

November 2, 2012

The 2012 Election Day in the USA may well become known as the day that Journalism died because no matter what happens the actual results will be the subject for an eternal debate.  Brad Friedman, who is the leading spokesman for the critics of the unverifiable results produced by the electronic voting machines, has, in a preemptive move, been labeled as the voice for a conspiracy theory and thus all skeptical responses to the final counts will have been neutralized before they can be printed in the next day’s newspapers.

If Mitt Romney wins, there can and will be no criticism of the outcome.  Any Progressive voice who dares to contradict the news will be trashed as a conspiracy theory lunatic by the conservative noise machine just as Friedman was.

If President Obama wins, the conservative propagandists will discredit his win without in the least way casting any doubt on the electronic voting machines.

Either way partisan gridlock will ignore any attempts to let fully fact checked journalism play the roll of umpire or referee.  Then on one side or the other major segments of the American population will have serious doubts about the validity of the next President’s right to occupy the White House.

If Journalism per se is DOA, what then will columnists, who don’t want to be a cheerleader for either side, write about?

Lucy, the building in Margate, New Jersey, which resembles an elephant, apparently escaped major damage in Hurricane Sandy.  That fact may not be of much importance to readers in Western Australia, but anybody who flocked to the Jersey Shore during their formative years, will be glad to know about Lucy’s good fortune.  Folks who have never heard of this bit of unique American architecture, will probably appreciate the chance to click on a link that will produce a photo of the storm’s photogenic survivor.

http://boingboing.net/2012/10/30/lucy-the-elephant-1881-novelty.html

 

The folks in France and Germany may possibly get some reliable journalism about the election, but will the people in Australia and Great Britain get unbiased reports in their national media which is controlled by Rupert Murdoch?

We could write a column that asks what happens to the personal belongings of people who lose their homes when banks foreclose.  If the personal belongings and furniture are not moved, do the banks have a legal right to sell the items left behind?  Are the people who buy those goods still known as shinnies or is the use of that word forbidden in the land that was built on the principle of freedom of speech?

In Berekley CA, the voters will decide about enacting a sit-lie law.  According to information we received from a member of the city council, Berkeley has, in the past, enacted a sit-lie law and lost a sum of money when the ACLU took the municipality to court.  Berkeley lost that past case and perhaps could become the target for some “those who forget the past” criticism if history repeats itself.

Has the national news media reported that California Governor Brown has stated that the California Highway Patrol may be used to supply some law enforcement services in the cash strapped cities that are struggling with smaller local police forces?  Would using the California Highway Patrol that way be similar to sending members of nationally known baseball teams to substitute for the professional hockey players who have been locked out by the team owners?  (Just asking.)

The debate in California over Prop 32 has us asking this question:  If businessmen can not run ads which make fraudulent statements, why then can the people known as corporations run political ads which make fraudulent claims?  If two political PACs run contradictory statements, wouldn’t one of those ads have to be making some false statements?

If Mitt Romney had been elected President in 2008, would FEMA already have been disbanded?  If so, would America see the wisdom of cutting taxes for the billionaires while simultaneously dividing the job FEMA does among 50 different state levels of bureaucracy?  What’s not to love about duplicating the miracle of the loaves and fishes using bureaucrats?

If Mitt had been elected President in 2008 would the government be sticking its nose into the management decisions of a Massachusetts pharmaceutical company or would a sincere apology to the victims’ families have already been issued and the matter dropped by now?

Has the Los Angeles county assessor finally raised bail money or is he still in jail?  If so, why haven’t his campaign donors rushed to help him?  Will his plight be used as leverage to put pressure on him to cooperate with Federal investigators in return for leniency?

San Francisco politicians are hinting that it might be nice if Superbowl L (what the hell is “L”?) is played in their fair city.

In a country where having a prominent political father was enough of a resume to make Al Gore, George W. Bush, and Mitt Romney qualified Presidential candidates, we were doing some prep work for a column that would ask if John Allen Cassady is a genuine Beatnik.

John Allen Cassady is named John because his mother had an affair with Jack Kerouac.  He is named Allen because his mother had an affair with Allen Ginsberg.  He is named Cassady because his father was Neal Cassady.

We were talking to Cassady at a recent event held at the Beat Museum in San Francisco and mentioned that we had read somewhere that Kerouac had met Hemingway at a party.  A fellow who was listening to our conversation said:  “Oh, that was in my book.”  It turned out he was Gerald Nicosia, author of the Kerouac biography titled “Memory Babe.”  He offered to sign a copy of his new book “One and Only:  the Untold Story of ‘On the Road,’” which was for sale in the gift shop section of the Museum.  We bought one, had him sign it, and then asked John Allen Cassady to sign it as “witness,” which he graciously did.

Nicosia’s Kerouac biography reported that the fact that the famous beatnik had met Hemingway at a party in the Greenwich Village section of New York City in the late forties had been supplied to him by Kerouac’s wife and he felt safe in putting that bit of hearsay evidence in the book.  Kerouac fans can learn more about Gerald Nicosia at the <a href =http://www.millvalleylit.com/> Mill Valley Lit</a> website.

For recreational reading, we have been perusing “The Wolves are at the Door: the story of America’s Greatest Female Spy” by Judith L. Pearson and the title reminded us of some liberal pundits cynical assessment of Mitt Romney’s quest for the Presidency.

Some cynical California pundits are promoting the easy way out by urging “Vote ‘yes’ on all odd numbered ballot propositions and ‘no’ on the even numbered ones.”

[Note from the Photo Editor:  If citizen journalists have limited access to Presidential candidates for getting photos, then you have to go with the photos you can get.  If photo op access for citizen journalists is very limited; does that same principle also apply to the facts available for pundits to use in their assessments of the candidates?  The photos are posted over at https://worldslaziestjournalist.wordpress.com%5D

John Quincy Adams said:  “I can not ask of heaven success, even for my country,  in a cause where she should be in the wrong.”

Now the disk jockey will play Hank Williams Jr.’s “I’ve got rights,” Nancy Sinatra’s “Boots,” and Jacob Dillon’s song “War is kind.”  We have to go over to Frisco to see the art exhibition, by Wes Anderson, at the Spoke Art Gallery, titled “Bad Dads.”  Have a “just following a family tradition” type week.

Beatnik flashbacks

March 30, 2012

When William Hjortsberg started reading chapter twelve, “frisco,” from his new book “jubilee hitchhiker:  the life and times of Richard Brautigan” (Counterpoint Berkeley hardback $42.50), and got to the lines about the role the City Lights bookstore played in the start of the Beat era in the city at the South end of the Golden Gate Bridge, it seemed rather appropriate to be hearing it with the audience in the poetry room of that very same bookstore.

In an era when perpetual growth, unlimited opportunity, and boundless optimism made it seem like America was driving a stake through the heart of poverty and that the starving artists of San Francisco were serving as artist proxies who would voluntarily submit themselves to the rigors of destitute living so that the middle class in the Eisenhower years would have some interesting and entertaining novels available to help amuse those who were enjoying the start of the era of infinite prosperity to know what life as a starving artist would be like rather than experiencing the American Dream firsthand.

The story of Richard Brautigan and a legion of others who would become the roster of celebrity artists who converged onSan Franciscoin the Fifties and Sixties has been fertile ground for almost all of the participants in the events that provided a gold rush opportunity for those luck enough to be there.

The World’s Laziest Journalist first heard Hjortsberg’s name when the mystery book sub-genre of vampire detectives became an obsession.  Two decades ago, Hjortsberg’s books had become prized collectors’ items and so obtaining a copy of his “Falling Angel” became both a challenge and a necessity.  Our quest led us to Vagabond books, back when they had a brick and mortar presence onWestwood Blvd., inLos Angeles.  We asked if they had the book and they did.  It was a mint condition copy.  We balked at the price but mentioned how a New York Times review indicated that book was an outstanding example of the new sub-genre we were investigating.  The clerk said:  “Oh do you just want to read it?”  We said yes and she scurried off and returned with a battered edition.  It was just a “reader’s copy” and much less expensive.

That, in turn, led us to read several other Hjortsberg’s novels that were not about a vampire detective. 

When we passed by the City Lights bookstore on Tuesday, March 20, and saw a flyer indicating that later in the week, Hjortsberg would be reading and signing his new book about Richard Brautigan.  We decided that the event would be a twofer because we have also read some of Brautigan’s work. 

Since our political punditry columns predicting that JEB will be the next President seems to upset both Liberals and Conservatives and since JEB endorsed Mitt Romney the next day, it seemed like the twofer reading and autograph party just might provide a timely and convenient opportunity to produce a column that veers away from partisan politics but still retains the right to be classified as news appropriate for use in the pop culture section.

The book was facetiously described as 50% a Brautigan biography, 50% a novel, and 50% Hjortsberg’s memoirs and that may sound like inaccurate mathematics until you see the gigantic book.  The book could easily be described as an Encyclopedia of facts for fans of the Beat Generation. 

The new book may revive the dormant debate about who precisely is and who is not a beatnik writer.  Many of the authors mentioned in this new book are irrefutably classified as founding fathers of the Beat Generation.  But some, like Brautigan, may not seem to qualify to be on the list.

One member of the audience at City Lights was a woman who was acting on behalf of her Brautigan fan husband who was out of town.  One fellow came equipped with a large variety of Hjortsberg material to be signed by the author.  He even had vintage copies of Playboy magazine with stories by Hjortsberg.  The topic of writers’ autographs and getting books signed would provide enough material, such as the  signed copies of the Philip K. Dick book that was published posthumously [signatures from his returned checks were pasted into numbered copies of the book], for an entire column.

Since Hjortsberg mentioned that James Crumley was among the vast array of writers that the author knew personally, we used that as an excuse to ask Hjortsberg during the Q and A segment of the evening a question that we had previously (at the Ocean Front Bookstore on the Venice Boardwalk) asked Crumley:  “What is your favorite dive bar?”  Hjortsberg responded by noting that his favorite bar in all the world did not qualify as a dive bar and that was the legendary McSorley’s Bar inNew York City.

It turned out that Hjortsberg’s father owned a different bar inNew York City.  Later when Hjortsberg was signing copies of the new book, one member of the audience compared Brautigan unfavorably to Gene Sheppard and that caused Hjortsberg to elaborate on being influenced, as a kid, by the New York late night radio talk show hosted by Sheppard. 

Luckily the massive book (Will it be compared to Boswell’s Life of Johnson? [It just was in the last sentence.]) has an Index and that will make it much easier for students of literature who want to read this new book as a source book for possible thesis material.  Crumley’s name gets three pages listed and he appears in a caption in the selection of photos in the book.  As best as we can recall, Crumley’s response to the question was a bar named “Mother’s” somewhere inMontana.

At this point, the fact that many of the beat writers used their own life experiences as the basis for their books, such as Brautigan did with “Willard and his bowling tropies,” caused this columnist to notice a distinct similarity to the “New Journalism” style of writing that emerged fifty years ago immediately following the Beat era.  Where does the Beat style end and the New Journalism style begin?   Will this new book provide fodder for a debate about that very topic?

Jack Kerouac wrote about one particularSan Franciscopoetry reading in 1955 in his book “The Dharma Bums.”  Kerouac fictionalized the names of the participants in the actual poetry reading at the 6 Gallery.  Kerouac also included some of the participants, Neal Cassady and Alan Ginsburg, with yet other fictionalized names, in his classic beat novel “On the Road.”  Tom Wolfe, one of New Journalism’s founding fathers, wrote about the exploits of Neal Cassady in his work of nonfiction titled “The Electric Kool Aide Acid Test.” 

When the line of those getting items autographed disappeared and we noticed that there was one copy of the new book left, we decided that it was time to start our Christmas gift shopping (Is this a manifestation of doubt concerning our claim that when JEB wins the November 2012 Presidential Election, we will do our Christmas shopping in Paris [France not Texas {should we put a visit to the town in Texas on our Bucket List?}]?) and buy the last copy and have it inscribed.  (The recipient will never know we read it before giving it . . . unless they read this column and that’s not bloody well likely.)

Hjortsberg said that a great amount of material had been cut from the original manuscript to pare it down to the massive volume which was printed.  During a period of skimming through the book, we encountered several topics which might warrant use as a subject for a full column in the near future, so we appreciated the challenge of the task of figuring out (as the song goes) “what to leave in and what to leave out.”  If this new book becomes a runaway best seller, does that mean that sometime in the future Beatnik fans can clamor for a “director’s cut” edition which will be twice as big?

We noticed that many of the complaints of the poets and writers described in this new book sounded very familiar.  That brought up a question for another potential column topic:  Are the Occupy Protesters recycling the Beatnik’s criticism of “the Establishment”?

The Vesuvius Café, which is just across Jack Kerouac Alley from the City Lights bookstore, is mentioned in the book but not listed in the Index. 

One of the passages Hjortsborg read described a Brautigan project that combined poems with plant seed packets “published” with the title “Plant this book.”  Brautigan gave them away in the late Sixties and Hjortsborg said that ones in mint condidtion are now valued at a thousand dollars by collectors.  This columnist lived inSan Franciscoin 1969, but we don’t know how valid our “oh yeah, I remember seeing that” memories are because this column’s closing quote is the current folk axiom:  “If you can remember the Sixties; you weren’t really there.”

Now the disk jockey will play “The Age of Aquarius,” Country Joe’s “Fixin’ to die rag,” and “Big Bad Bruce” (that may have been a regional hit played only on San Francisco jukeboxes).  We have to go and search for a way to exceed our life time best (in a letter to a high school classmate inVietnam) of a quadruple end parentheses punctuation.  Have a “solid!” type week.

Visions of Kesey

August 7, 2011

When morning for Monday, August 8, 2011, arrives onAmerica’s East Coast, the financiers will have already coped with their response to the Asian stock markets, the military will be replying to the weekend’s helicopter attack inAfghanistan, and the President will be meeting with his advisors to implement the Obama Administration response to the credit downgrade.  Voters in the USA will be visiting various web sites to learn the political pundits explanation for and analysis of last week’s news and that will be one step behind the playing out of this week’s reality and so the curious citizens might just as well be reading a subjective response to one of the new movies that opened this past weekend and by a remarkable co-inky-dink that is what this column contains.

 

The film “Magic Trip” contains home movies made by novelist Ken Kesey of a cross country trip he and his acolytes made in 1964 to visit theNew YorkWorld’s Fair.  The 16 mm home movies, almost 50 years old, used to provide the bulk of the movie’s images, may provide an inadvertent and very accurate prediction of what the USA would be like in the summer of 2011.

 

Ostensibly the documentary provides a nostalgia laden look back at a more innocent time when theUSAwas poised to grow and prosper and provide workers with a consumer’s paradise full of mod clothes, exciting new music, and inexpensive travel opportunities.  Unfortunately a closer look at the adventures of the Merry Pranksters may provide a metaphor for the dazed and confused America that is trying to figure out why their own government social services must be eliminated to provide a balanced budget that will permit the continuation of some capricious and perplexing military adventures in far away lands.

 

The film starts with the shot of a microphone which provides film aficionados with a visual pun that refers back to promotional material made for “Citizen Kane.” 

 

Successful novelist Ken Kesey (who was enjoying success from “One Flew Over the Cookoos’ Nest” and “Sometimes a Great Notion”) spent some money in early 1964, to acquire a 1939 International Harvester bus that had been transformed into a rolling dormitory room.  He envisioned using it to take his friends on a quest for an insightful movie about their journey.  The group of road acolytes were accompanied by Neal Cassidy who had already achieved fame as Jack Kerouac’s on the road traveling buddy.

 

What the movie actually shows is a group of social misfits and fuck-ups lurching through a series of travel disasters, a string of social <I>faux pas</I>, several encounters with American Literary legends Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg, an anticlimactic visit to the World Fair, a bumbling inept visit to Timothy Leary’s estate, a series of numerous dispensations from their marriage vows, a return to the West Coast and coping with their leader’s jail term which was (magically?) truncated by a promise to denounce the use of the growing popularity of the experimental psychedelic drug called LSD.

 

Is the Tea Bag movement the political equivalent of LSD for conservatives?

 

The new century has seen theUSAbecome embroiled in questionable examples of democracy in action, a series of unprovoked wars, an imitation of Hitler’s distain for the Geneva Convention rules of war, the principlesAmericaestablished at the Nuremburg War Crimes Trials, and the standard American dream of a home surrounded by a white picket fence going into foreclosure. 

 

Simultaneously,Americahas turned on Fox News, tuned into the Republican talking points and dropped out of being well informed about political issues.

 

When theUSAbombsLibyaconstantly for more than four months to protect its citizens from their leader of forty years at the same time that the President turns his back on the Syrians who are being shot down like rabid dogs in the street, no responsible political pundit takes notice of the dichotomy. 

 

Why should they?  Aren’t they being paid to reassure the voters that the radioactive sites inJapan, the economic turmoil, the endless wars, the unexplainable election upsets, and the rapidly dwindling 401K accounts are no cause for alarm?  Chill out, dude!  You’re just having a bad trip. 

 

After seeing “Magic Trip,” we went to the Berkeley Public Library and borrowed a copy of Tom Wolfe’s book, “The Elecgtric Cool-aid Acid Test,” which was about what happened to Kesey’s posse

 

The book is highly regarded as a pioneering example of gonzo journalism, which was the label given to the trend in journalism whereby the writers injected themselves into the story they were covering.  From the vantage point of more than forty years later, the tone of the beginning of the book is more like a sales pitch at the entrance of a freak show.  Wolfe provides the ordinary folk with an alter ego for a journey into the land of pathetic drug fiends. 

 

Will he actually drop acid later in the book?  Perhaps, as the long hot summer of 2011 continues to play out, we will have a chance to finish reading the Acid Test book and write a column on its efforts to be a valid example of gonzo journalism.

 

Wolfe’s newspaper article and subsequent book anointed the Merry Pranksters to a high level of fame and notoriety.  Perhaps with some lucrative book deals some influential future historians will be able to depict the summer of 2011 as a time full of warm and fuzzy sentimentality when folks walked out of their recently foreclosed homes and went off in search of their inner Woody Guthrie? 

 

Wasn’t the Great Depression chock full of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies, Amos ‘n’ Andy radio shows, and Black Mask magazines that were just so much fun?  Won’t the future look back at this summer with so much envy because they will have to settle for a vicarious participation in the antics? 

 

CBS radio news’ hour long weekend recapitulation of the week when the debt crisis was settled and theUSA’s credit rating was lowered is available on line at radio etc.  The political pundits’ analysis of this week’s current events should be available next weekend.

 

According to a popular urban legend, Kesey’s bus was the subject for a request from the Smithsonian Institute that it be donated to them.  In real life, it became a rusted out hulk on Kesey’sOregonfarm.  Future historians will know if the suggestion that the bus was a metaphor forAmerica’s Democratic process was valid or not.  How does the binary choice of “Four more years!” vs. JEB, grab ya?  In the “Magic Trip” movie, someone is heard dispensing the advice:  “Enjoy the chaos!”  Could there be a better epigram for capturing the zeitgeist for the summer of 2011?

 

Tom Wolfe wrote:  “They get the feeling that Kesey was heading out on further, toward a fantasy they didn’t know if they wanted to explore.” 

 

Now the disk jockey will play “Mellow Yellow,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” and “Puff the Magic Dragon.”  We have to check the current flower power level.  Have a <I>do svidaniya</I> type week.

The battle of the bogus ballots

February 23, 2011

Just as we were noting a possible rise in the number of homeless people, we encountered a new worthy cause seeking donations.  The Suitcase Clinic has been a “humanitarian student organization and volunteer community” which offers free health and social services to the underserved population since 1989.  They are a source of items such as toothpaste, razors, safety pins, aspirin, and other such “household items” for the homeless.  We offered to add some buzz boosting their efforts rather than donate an insignificant buck because isn’t that what being a Gonzo Bloger is all about?

According to Doug Brinkley (as quoted on pages 125 – 126 of “Gonzo: the Life of Hunter S. Thompson” Little Brown and Company hardback edition 2007):  The Internet is full of bogus falsehoods propagated by uninformed English professors and pot-smoking fans about the etymological origins of ‘gonzo.’”  Brinkley adds that it comes from Cajun slang in the New Orleans jazz scene and means “to play unhinged.”  (Ibid.) This we know because we scored a mint condition copy of that book on one of our frequent book safaris in Berkeley CA, which we contend (mindful of the Golden Days when the Book Row of America was located in New York City) is the used book buyers Valhalla.

The legendary Cody’s Books in Berkeley is closed.  That gave us an opportunity to write a column headlined “Memories of Cody’s Books,” which helped lure some Jack Kerouac fans into our realm of Gonzo blogging.  There are other marvelous bookstores still available for the seekers of the great white whale of books. 

Every time we go into the Shakespeare and Co. on Telegraphy Avenue, we wonder if the charming fellow who owned the similarly named store in Paris is still offering writers a rent free year in an apartment in the City of Light.  We learned about that marvelous opportunity while visiting Paris in 1986.  Do Gonzo Bloggers qualify as writers?  We’ll get back to you on that.

Are the young folks asking for money on that Berkeley street aging beatniks?  Kerouac and Ginsberg lived in Berkeley CA during 1955 and some familiar street names pop up in the “Dharma Bums” book.  We refuse to take this opportunity to besmirch Berkeley’s image by speculating about any possible walking around DNA evidence of the “free love” philosophy those writers promoted.  (We missed a great opportunity a few decades back when a coworker in Santa Monica claimed that his mother had been a member of Kerouac’s SF Posse.)

Sometimes when there is an anti-war demonstration in Berkeley, you have to wonder:  which war are they protesting? 

We scored a trade paperback copy of Rupert Holmes big band era mystery titled “Swing” and learned that students in Sproul Plaza had demonstrated in the Thirties against the FDR foreign policy which (they asserted) would lead to involvement in the war in Europe.

Living in Berkeley has taught us the futility of bragging.  We recently stopped to chat with a young film-head photographer and when we tossed in the fact that Paul Newman had once asked for our autograph, the kid responded:  “Who is Paul Newman?”  (Look it up on the Internet, kid.  Maybe he can’t if he isn’t into digital photography?) 

Did you hear Uncle Rushbo make a reference to the World’s Laziest Journalist today?  Me neither too.

We have recently asked some Berkeley students if they knew who Mario Savio was.  A streak of negative responses quashed our enthusiasm for continuing work on that informal survey.

What was it that the kids at UCLA used to say (back in the pre-Bush era)?  “If you can remember the Sixties, you weren’t really there.”  That reminds us of a passage we found in our bargain bin copy of “Johnny Cash.”  He wrote (HarperPaperbacks 1998 page 49):  “Sitting down with pen and paper (or tape recorder and Microsoft Word), the words ‘I don’t remember’ and ‘I’m not sure one way or the other’ don’t seem adequate, even if they do reflect reality more accurately than whatever you are about to write.”

Getting up at 6 a.m. to bang out another blog column berating bogus voting machine ballot results is getting very boring, especially when it becomes obvious that should the predictions be judged to be very accurate in retrospect, the fact that all liberal media will have vanished in America will mean there will be no chance to post any “We tried to warn ya” columns and gloat.

Do readers of liberal blogs care if the first time a columnist sees a Rolls Royce in Berkeley CA it has a flame paint job?  We double dog dare you to look at a photo of that and not think of the Beatles band member named John Lennon.

We’ve only seen one Ferrari in Berkeley CA.  We can’t locate the digital file for the photo showing the time that we spotted two Ferraris sitting side-by-side at the traffic light at Windward and Pacific in Venice.  In L.A., no one else noticed that co-inky-dink.  Is Uncle Rushbo referring to our car-spotting efforts on our photo blog when he mentions the drive-by journalists?

It may be boring to be the blogger battling bogus ballots, but we becalm ourselves by the thought that we are on the brink of a boredom busting breakthrough.

George Noel Gordon (AKA Lord Byron) wrote:  “I’ll publish right or wrong:  Fools are my theme, let satire be m song.” 

Now the disk jockey will play the Blues McGoos “Psychedelic Lollipop” album, Johnny Bond’s “Hot Rod Linclon” album, and Molly Bee’s “Swingin’ Country” album.  We gotta go look for the new Johnny Cash album featuring rarities such as the B-sides of his hit singles records.   Have a “Biutiful” week.

Imagining Lenny Bruce on Fox News

February 12, 2010

It was about six o’clock in the evening of February 9, 2010, the sun was gone and there was a threat of hard rain in the cold crisp air of the Berkeley evening.  I was wearing powder-blue jeans with a dark blue T-shirt, black sneakers, and black socks.  I was neat, clean, shaved and sober and I didn’t care who knew it.  I was on my way to the Pacific Film Archive to see “Pull My Daisy” written and narrated by Jack Kerouac.

In a video introduction, film maker Alfred Leslie told the audience about a time when the film was just being shown for the first times.  In San Francisco, Lucius Beebe hosted a social event, at a restaurant he owned, for the beat poet/novelist and the film maker.  Leslie told about how the two were sulking at the bar when actor David Niven arrived and was escorted to a table which would obviously be the social hub for the evening’s activities.  Niven quickly invited Kerouac and Leslie to sit at his table and immediately offered a toast for the guests of honor.  It was at that point, according to Leslie’s anecdote, the film maker and writer both realized that they had just been anointed into San Francisco’s high society and had graduated up from the ranks of the bikers, beatniks and bay area bohemians. 

Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg had been Berkeley residents and so we wondered if any of the graybeards in the audience were living links to the celebrated hitchhiking legend from the past.  We wondered if the Digihitch web site would cover the PFA program.  We were disappointed to note that the proprietor of the Beatnik Museum over in Frisco was, as best as we could tell, missing from the audience. 

“Pull My Daisy” is a specialty item.  The film would not hold much interest for anyone who was not interested in the subject of “The Beats.”  For those who do like that particular era of literary history, the thirty minute long film was a chance to see members of the famed writing group when they were young and vibrant.

On the walk back to the World’s Laziest Journalist Headquarters, we noted that Berkeley had also been a hometown for Philip K. Dick and since he was the author of “The Man in the High Tower,” Berkeley could legitimately make a claim to being where the cottage industry producing fictional alternative history was born. 

[It seems that this columnist is the only person in the universe who thinks that “The Man in the High Tower” accurately predicts the role Hunter S. Thompson would play in the history of the state of Colorado.]

Riffing on the idea of alternative history, we turned our back to Sproul Plaza and started walking down Telegraph Avenue.  We wondered:  If he were still alive would Fox News hire Lenny Bruce as a political pundit?  That idea seemed absurd, which consequently made it seem like something Fox News might try.

Our expectations of Fox News after the midterm elections are that they will increase the level of subtle racism in their attitude towards and coverage of the 44th President.  How would Lenny Bruce be fitted into such a strategy? 

Wasn’t Bruce a free speech martyr who got arrested and thus became synonymous with a nasty four letter word?  Didn’t George Carlin and the United States Supreme Court collaborate to prove that Bruce’s favorite word had to be bleeped off the airwaves?  Today that word is splashed all over the bleeping Internets and would be of no use to the Fox News game plan.  Unless . . . ?  Is there one word that Bruce could say and maybe get arrested on the air for using?

[Back in the Sixies, this columnist saw a local new reader in the New York City area get arrested on air, for possession, immediately after displaying a marijuana cigarette which had been sent to his station.   It looked a bit contrived.  Why did a cop just happen to be in the TV studio?  Who was that guy?  How did the case play out?]

Let’s see.  Could Bruce get arrested for calling the President a nincompoop, nitwit, nefarious or a nematocyst?  Nope!  Is there some other word that could produce a dramatic freedom of speech arrest of (hypothetically) Lenny Bruce these days?  NNNNNahhh?  Wait, what about if Bruce uttered a one word racial slur?  That might, with a bit of preparation on the Fox News producer’s part, work. 

How would liberals react?  Would they back the attack him or would they defend their darling?  If the Liberals defended Bruce for using the word, they’d look like racists; if they attacked him (in this alternate history case) they’d look like hypocrites.  Either way Fox News could just sit back and chortle. 

Fox likes to lull their audience into a hypnotic state and then download some Republican talking points so that they can be activated later, Manchurian Candidate style.  Lenny Bruce liked to shock and push things to the limit.  Could Fox use Bruce’s psychological quirks and drives to seduce him into their studio to say the most outrageous imaginable thing possible?  Wasn’t his specialty breaking social taboos?  Wasn’t he compelled to be bad when he faced any taboo?  How could the bad boy inside him decline any such invitation from Fox?

WWPKDD?  What would Philip K. Dick do?  It seems like many (most?) of Dick’s tales start with someone going somewhere (just as this column did?) and then running afoul of the fascists in charge of the country.   Their destiny seems to be a doomed existence.  It seems likely that Dick would endorse the idea of Lenny Bruce becoming a free speech martyr again, only this time as a pawn on the set of Fox News for a cause he didn’t believe and to prove the complete reprehensibility of “selling out to the establishment” by doing it.

Ursula K. McGuinn (who was born in Berkeley) has been quoted as saying:  “What sane person could live in this world and not be crazy?”

Now, in an effort to prove that he’s a hep cat and familiar with the contemporary music scene, the disk jockey will play Daisy Dares You’s “Number One Enemy,” Me$ha’s  “Kiss and Tell,” and Seasick Steve’s “Cut My Wings.”  It’s time for us to go take a nap.  Have a “you are a card, sir!” type week.

Dharma Bumming Around

September 19, 2009

Originally this columnist intended to write something with “The Week the Truth Became Irrelevant” as the headline, but then we decided to put that column off until later and do a “clear old items off the desk” type column.  Wasn’t that a ploy used by Stan Delaplane?

Jack Kerouac, in his novel The Dharma Bums, brings up the concept of Zen Lunatics and that, in turn, leads us to ask:  If Sam Spade (Is this column going to have San Francisco as a connecting narrative?) was called  a “knight errant,” could a practitioner of the gonzo style journalism be called a “clown errant”?

That was Zen, this is now.  Has anyone written a column pointing out that when Ho Chi Minh city was being established, the fact that the North Vietnamese were mostly Buddhists and not into revenge and that fact might make a difference and the quick end to the war in Vietnam might not be relevant to a discussion of a possible withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan because revenge is a major factor in Muslim culture and it seems that dozens and dozens of civilians may have been harmed in those two areas of American military activity?  If not, we’ll put writing such a column on the “to do” list.

Also on our “to do” list is visiting Burritt Alley.  Would any city other than San Francisco put up a historic plaque in the place where a fictional event probably occurred?  They do the CYA shuffle by saying:  “On Approximately This Spot, Miles Archer, Partner Of Sam Spade, Was Done In By Brigid O’Shaughnessy.”

Is it unrealistic to expect President Obama to include a stop on San Francisco’s Russian Hill to solicit votes from the socialists there?

If you close your eyes and listen to Scott McKenzie, doesn’t his voice sound remarkably like Jim Morrison’s?  Didn’t Bobby Bare record as “Bill Parsons” before he went country?  Say, you don’t suppose . . .?

Isn’t it odd that there isn’t much on-line about the original Mr. San Francisco, Freddie Francisco (AKA Bob Patterson)?  When one of the San Francisco newspapers fired him for faking Nixon era dispatches from China, the guy’s termination was mentioned in Newsweek.  Information found on-line indicates the famous columnist <a href =http://www.sunpopblue.com/Frisco-Tales/shell.html>slit his wrists in a bathtub</a>, which gives this very much alive columnist the perfect opportunity to inset the Mark Twain line about “rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” It’s just one of those “same name” coincidences.

Here’s some SF history for Mike Savage.  One of the reasons that a large gay community accumulated in “Baghdad by the Bay” was because during WWII, when men in the Pacific theater of operations would be court marshalled for homosexuality, the service would muster them out in San Francisco and many were reluctant to face the shame that returning to their home town would mean, so they elected to stay in the more gay-tolerant city in Northern California.

Speaking of dirty laundry, according to http://www.tfdutch.com, the first commercial laundry in the US opened on September 19, 1849, in Oakland CA. 

Harry Bridges has been quoted as saying:  “There will always be a place for us somewhere, somehow, as long as we see to it that working people fight for everything they have, everything they hope to get, for dignity, equality, democracy, to oppose war and to bring to the world a better life.”

One of Herb Caen’s best lines is:  “A man begins cutting his wisdom teeth the first time he bites off more than he can chew.”

Now, the disk jockey will do his David Letterman imitation by playing his top ten San Francisco Songs.
“If You’re Going to San Francisco” by Scott McKenzie
“I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” (Dean Martin’s version)
“Nothing Else, Ma.” Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
“Omaha” by Moby Grape
“Flower in the Sun” by Big Brother and the Holding Company
“Truckin'” by the Grateful Dead
“Jingo” by Santana
“What About Me” by the Quicksilver Messenger Service
“Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag” by Country Joe and the Fish
(Big finish – you know what to do when this song peaks)
“White Rabbit” by the Jefferson Airplane.

We have to go look for a Beatnik coffee house.  Have a “far out, man!” type week.