mémère

And then, at the end, after all of that solitude and madness on a mountain in Washington State, after prostitutes in Mexico and Tangiers, and hipsters in New York and Paris,  after consumption of narcotics, and from-the-bottom-of-my heart chats with/about God and the nature of eternity and the universe, our faithful Beat Master Kerouac returns to his mother, “Mémère,” who makes him breakfast and does his laundry and makes his bed up with “clean sheets.” Just the mention that Adult Man Jack is doing anything unusual sets him off [“But wretched leering thieves of life say no, ‘If a man lives with his mother, he’s frustrated’“] and then more cozy remembrances of how she mends his bloody shirt with the silent grace of a martyred holy woman [“And I’m just sitting there enjoying and in-joying the sweet silly peace of my mother”].

This reminds me of Kerouac’s ill-fated affair with Mardou Fox in The Subterraneans, where he tries to give Mardou and Mémère equal doses of affection and attention, and fails, and his relationship fails, as all of his relationships with the opposite sex fail, because who needs a woman [“Who’d left me because I complained!”] when you can have Mémère mending your socks, and making you coffee, and making up your bed with clean sheets?

As Joyce Johnson notes in,  The Voice is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac, lonesome traveler Kerouac had several opportunities to set up some kind of symbiotic relationship with a woman other than his [clean sheets!] Mémère, such as with Bea Franco, that Mexican girl he shacks up with in On the Road, before he inevitably leaves her because, once safely back on Long Island [fresh coffee!] with Ma, he sees very clearly that it will never work out.

Besides, to do that would have meant betraying his father Leo, who, as he lay dying (at age 57, after years of alcoholism, of cancer, in 1946), made Pious Filial Catholic Jack promise to take care of his Mémère, which he did, ’til the end of his tragic and toxic days.

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jack and me

Man, Desolation Angels is getting under my skin. These days I just want to grab a backpack and walk outside and keep on walking and scour the earth in search of adventure and enlightenment. There is Kerouac in me. That perpetual outsider status. The oddball-goofball friends that somehow seem to be better anchored in this world (“Julien,” “Irwin”) yet still retain alien-like qualities, as if the old bum Kerouac was the last real human among us. His time and place differ. In Jack’s books, you meet an old and content Henry Miller and an old and content Salvadore Dali, and Jack is the one wandering around while they eat their grapefruits and drink their wine and seem just fine with everything, the great struggle of adjusting to life, the artist’s struggle, digested and defecated from their bowels in the form of paintings and writings and renown. But Kerouac never got there. His alcoholism killed him. Or he killed himself. What do you do when so many of your heroes had miserable endings?

enter the ginsberg

I’m not sure how or when I got it into my head that Allen Ginsberg was a titan of 20th Century American Literature who had moved mountains with his “Howl” (“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving  hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry  fix”). The way it is put to us, he is an icon, end of story. But when “Irwin Garden” walks into Desolation Angels in “Passing Through: Mexico,” and starts babbling on about Samsara, I just want to grab him by the necktie and tell him to shut the hell up, I’m more interested in junky Old Bull Gaines’ junky cough (ke-he) or little dark eyed Tristessa’s “luvv.” Duluoz likes Garden, sure, he’s an interesting character in a postwar world of “crewcuts and sullen faces in Pontiacs,” but all of Ginsberg’s Samsara, Dionysus blah blah blah — it hasn’t aged well. I keep coming back to what Keith Richards called Ginsberg in Life — “a pontificating windbag.” Ha! There’s some real poetry. Anyway, it’s not that I don’t like you, Ginsberg (“Stop the machine!” You can’t stop the machine”) It’s that I don’t believe you.

the vanished race

Lots of opinions voiced about the Zimmerman verdict, some outrage, some head scratching, plenty of talk about American racism against its African-descended population, in which a ‘white Hispanic’ (Zimmerman) shot and killed a black man (Martin) and was found not guilty in the former Confederate state of Florida. Hmm. The story was always framed in US national news media in two tones, white and black. Zimmerman was our white, Martin was our black. But Zimmerman isn’t really “white,” he’s half-Peruvian, identifies as “Hispanic,” and phenotypically isn’t that far from Hugo Chavez or Evo Morales. All of these terms we throw around here, “white Hispanic,” “Hispanic,” “and “Peruvian,” don’t actually get to the core of the matter, which is that George Zimmerman is Amerindian. He is, at least in part, an indigenous person of the Western hemisphere, an “Indian” as Hollywood and Columbus called them. And no American news network would ever describe him as such. How is that possible? Because of American myth making that portrayed aboriginal Americans as a proud, but vanishing race, one that had died out, or was in the process of dying out. It was one of many ways that the original real estate owners of the Americas were outflanked — devastated by wars and disease, many Amerindian people took as partners people of a race other than themselves, Europeans and Africans. Their offspring were no longer considered Indian. They had native heritage — if they could document it and prove it beyond a reasonable doubt — but in many cases they could no longer claim to be something that society had decided no longer existed. Such individuals no longer had the ability to claim land as their own, or to refer to treaties that had been concluded with their ancestors, because that proud race had vanished, and all that were left were some “mixed bloods.”

Like George Zimmerman, who now, somehow, represents white American racism.

no stick

I have been plowing forward through Angels, but Jack is still up on that mountain and I am not sure how much more I can take. I tried to get back into EIMI, but that wasn’t sticking either, which is a shame, because I really liked EIMI before I set it down before we went to Bali. It was too thick to drag along for the trip. For Whom the Bell Tolls is eyeing me curiously from the drawer. Can Hemingway hold my attention?

The last book I finished was called The Long Goodbye, by Raymond Chandler. I enjoyed it. My friend’s always going on about Chandler, and I know he influenced Haruki Murakami {and Kerouac influenced him, too, though such influences are not always apparent}. In a way, Murakami is spoofing Chandler. Their worlds and stories are so different. But the narrator’s voice in a lot of Murakami books {A Wild Sheep Chase comes to mind} reminds me a lot of Marlowe’s.

My own writing is pained. I’m not happy with what I am producing. I feel like it’s not important enough or significant enough. Then I think of how Kerouac filled a fat book called Desolation Angels with his unimportant, insignificant thoughts at the top of a mountain. Aha.

desolation

Desolation Angels is a book I’ve heard plenty about … I bought my copy in a book store in Penn Station (I think it’s called Penn Books, I’ve purchased many train-ride’s worth of novels in that establishment). Angels is supposedly one of Kerouac’s best books, but as someone who loves Kerouac, I’ve had a rather hard time getting into it. Part of the Beat Mystique is that something happened in the mid-20th century, something that changed American culture and literature for-ev-er. If only we could have been there at that momentous, stupendous, earth-ratting, cosmos-vibrating, yab-yumming time to .. spend a few days … alone … with Kerouac … on a mountain.

Yeah, that’s why I always put Angels down. It opens with Kerouac alone on a mountain. I’m sure other wonderful things happen while he faces up to his own personal void, but Big Sur had him getting drunk in San Francisco in the first scene, and, say what you want, On the Road goes somewhere, naturally … Dean shows up, he leaves, things happen. And then there’s Angels. Kerouac. Alone. On a mountain. I know Kerouac’s a great writer but he’s still just some guy from Massachusetts.

Today, I dug through a pile of other books, and there was Mr. Solitude looking back at me from half a century ago. I decided to give Angels another spin. Maybe I’ll finish it.

joe hill and julian lennon

Got the new Writer’s Digest for Aug. 2013, read the interview with Joe Hill, spawn of Stephen King, with interest. It is indeed fortunate that Joe didn’t go down the Julian Lennon path to “son of” irrelevance. Makes one wonder if Julian could have pulled it off as, say, Julian SMITH. No, singers don’t have the anonymity of writers, but, wait, actually they do … Remember Belle & Sebastian, who remained faceless for the first part of their career (maybe they looked like those hipsters on their covers, we all thought) Jules could have peddled himself down that route (and he sounds so much like Lennon!) … stranger things have happened