Posts Tagged ‘Neal Cassady’

April 26 will be the day to remember Gurenica and tell stories.

April 20, 2012

Guernica happened 75 years ago, on April 26, but that story is not liable to be noted much in American media during the coming week because the military tactic of using bombs to kill civilians is anathema to Obama’s reelection team because they want to project an image of Lincoln-esque nobility for his term in office and the Republicans (the American Republicans and not the neo-fascists in the Spanish Civil War) do not want to hear any criticism of the American military adventures started by George W. Bush and so it was with great joy that the World’s Laziest Journalist accidentally encountered a second chance last weekend to photograph the art installation in San Francisco titled “Defenestration” because that provided a striking visual metaphor for the Republican budget philosophy.  “Defenestration” depicts useful household items being recklessly tossed out of a building’s windows.  The Republicans seem intent on throwing out useful social programs so that the taxes on millionaires can be either greatly reduced or eliminated.

This week’s news stories about the role the Secret Service played in President Obama’s trip to Columbia provide a columnist with a chance to make a casual allusion to a half century old novel titled “The One Hundred Dollar Misunderstanding,” but it also provides a rather tenuous chance for the team at the Amalgamated Conspiracy  Theory Factory’s Research and Development Department to unleash some trial balloon speculation about the possibility for something more dark and sinister such as a Republican spawned plan to reinforce their contention that President Obama is an inept manager. 

Is there anyone in the Republican Party who could arrange for the Secret Service to be humiliated and left looking that bad?  Could it have been a gigantic Political Dirty Trick which would just add more evidence to the Republican assertions that Obama is a poor administrator?  Would any Republican be that unscrupulous? 

This week the Los Angeles Times published pictures which may stir up anti-American sentiment in theMiddle East.  Won’t what that newspaper did be as helpful to the American mission inAfghanistanas someone spreading thumbtacks on the route Sisyphus will use and then forcing him to work barefooted?

WhenGuernicawas bombed, a contingent of journalists was in the nearby city ofBilbao.  When their dinner was interrupted by news of the bombing, they raced off to cover the news and get the chance to hear survivors tell their stories.

Since neither conservatives nor progressives want to read about Guernica, perhaps the fact that April 26th is also National Story Telling Day, could provide us with a chance to morph the focus of this column to the topic of storytelling?

Back in the day, when Jack Paar was the host for NBC’s Tonight Show, talk show guests were given ample opportunity to tell amusing and entertaining stories.  Now the only reason for someone to be on a talk show is to sell some new bit of entertainment such as a movie or album.  The stealth talk show sales pitch spawned a new word.  Such unpaid ads can be called promobabble.

Traveling and story telling seem to go together like ham and eggs ever since the guy who wrote the “Iliad” the “Odyssey” was in J-school.

As we recall, TV personality Herb Schriner wrote a history of mobile homes.

War correspondent Ernie Pyle traveled about theUnited Statesbefore World War II writing columns in a Chevy coup that had a modified trunk that functioned as his portable office. 

Jack Kerouac made a career out of writing about the adventures on the road that he experienced with his pal Neal Cassady.

John Steinbeck wrote “Travels with Charlie” in the early Sixties.  Some critics compare that with Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Travels with a donkey,” which may have provided the motto for travelers with this sentence:  “For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go.  I travel for travel’s sake.  The great affair is to move.”

If that philosophy appeals to you, then you might want to do some Googleing and investigate the possibilities offered by spending July inParistaking the travel writing course offered by Rolf Potts.  (What would the boss say about an assignment to go report on that learning experience?  Maybe we could include some reports about the 24 hour race atLe Mansfor sports cars and get a twofer for our money?)

Speaking of an endless summer on the road, we noticed that theUniversityofSydneyis offering their students who are studying United State Politics a chance to spend their winter (our summer) studying at UCLA.  Hey, fellows, what about turn about is fair play?  Gees any student who got into that program and who knows how to surf would only be a MTA bus ride away from The Call to the Wall surfing contest inMalibuwhile they were calling Westwood their home.

If they believe that turnabout is fair play shouldn’t UCLA students get a chance to study for a semester (our winter their summer) inSydney?

Personal note:  If things go as planned we intend on doing our Christmas shopping in Paris (France not Texas) and perhaps attending Christmas Eve midnight Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral (has this year’s Mass been sold out already?).  If that doesn’t happen, then we will change to Plan B and opt for celebrating Christmas in the traditional Australian way; i.e. on the beach (Bondi or Cottesloe?) in a bathing suit.

Speaking of “On the Road Again,” on Friday April 20, 2012, on CBS radio’s World News Roundup, they mentioned that a statue of Willie Nelson would be unveiled inAustinlater in the day.

Tom Wolfe wrote an article for the Sunday magazine section for the New York Herald Tribune and got enough material for a book by joining a busload of hippies (with Kerouac’s buddy Neal Cassady doing the majority of the driving) going from San Francisco to the New York World’s Fair.  A documentary film about that expedition was released last summer.  Many folks have written about their attempts to imitate the Kerouac “On the Road” exploration ofAmericabut the fact that Tom Wolfe wrote about Ken Kesey’s installment in that category inspired many more subsequent imitations. 

Now (thanks to a news tip in the form of a comment posted about Kerouac for a recent column) we have learned that a modern attempt to chronicle a similar adventure for something called the “magic love bus” will be posted online as that story unfolds.  (Google tip:  “magic love bus.”) 

Who hasn’t wanted to write their own version of “a savage journey to the Heart of the American dream”? 

Early in the Online era two fellows traveled about in a mobile home and produced the magazine “Monk” on a computer from their mobile office.  Don’t they still maintain an online web site?

The history of cars and California are intertwined and mystery writer Charles Willeford may have produced a minor classic novel on the topic of used car salesmen with “The High Priest of California.”

Southern Californiaused car legend Cal Worthington was a regular guest on the Tonight Show during the Johnny Carson phase of its history.

In the late Seventies, former President Richard M. (Tricky Dickey) Nixon in an interview tossed out a quote that Americans were like little children and needed to be told stories.  Fact checkers with access to Lexis/Nexis should be able to find the exact detail about the origin of this obscure bit of Presidential history.  President Ronald Reagan was a gifted story teller and usually managed to work a folksy story about ordinary Americans into most of his Presidential speeches. 

Didn’t the New York Times do a trend spotting story about the resurrection of the dead art of story telling recently?  Doesn’t that provide conclusive proof that story telling is making a comeback?

Speaking of used cars andCalifornia, earlier this week a little old lady (fromRichmondCA) walked into the new car showroom at McKevitt Volvo inBerkelyCAand asked what they would offer as a trade in value for her car parked in front of their establishment.  As luck would have it, the World’s Laziest Journalist just happened to walk past there and got some car-spotting photos to use on his photo blog.  She was driving a 1960 MGA (with the old style yellowCalifornialicense plate with black letters [used up until 1961]) in mint condition.  By Thursday afternoon, the sports car was sitting in the middle of their new car showroom (with 10,238 miles on the odometer).

We sent an e-mail about this classic example of tales from the used car trade to the tips editor at Jalopnik.

Columnist Herb Caen used the term “Little old lady” so often that he resorted to the initials “LOL” and his regular readers knew what that meant. Caen’s Name Phreaks department used to take note of people with names that were either very appropriate or inappropriate for the job they held.  A used car salesman who worked onVan Ness AvenueinSan Francisco, named Bob Cheatum, was submitted by readers so often that he was given Hall of Fame status. 

After Aimee Semple McPherson told an incredible tale about being kidnapped, journalists asked some skeptical questions about the details and she responded:  “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”

It’s been a sad week in musical history, so the disk jockey will play some songs that will always evoke American Bandstand memories for this columnist; “The stroll,” Fabian’s “Tiger,” and Duane Eddy’s “Forty Miles of Bad Road” plus “Cripple Creek Mountain.”  We have to go and check the Porchlight calendar for this month’s story telling competition inSan Francisco.  Have a “You’re never going to believe this, but . . .” type 4/20 day.

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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.