The Beat Museum in San Francisco is hosting a major literary conference this summer. The Beatnik Shindig or 2015 Beat Generation Conference will take place at the Fort Mason Center on San Francisco’s beautiful waterfront from June 26 to June 28 … and I will be one of the participants!
Hey, it’s one of the benefits of a last name that begins with “A” that I can appear on this lineup next to the soulful David Amram, my favorite jazz piano player and ethnomusicologist, who famously jammed with Jack Kerouac himself back in the day. David will be leading one of several poetry jams this weekend, and I hope this entire conference will loudly fill not only the Fort Mason Center but all of North Beach and the entire Bay Area with the joyful sounds of syncopated music and spontaneous spoken word, allowing us all to travel back in our imaginations to the incisive 1950s and 1960s when the first generation of Beat writers pounded these streets.
There will also be a live poetry performance by Ruth Weiss, who is scheduled to close out the entire event with her own jazz band, and another by David Meltzer, whose new book Two-Way Mirror has just been published by City Lights. I know these will both be historic shows to catch, and I’m looking forward to feeling the vibe in the room when these two seasoned Beat poets each hit the stage.
I’m also looking forward to meeting and hearing from Eric Drooker, Will Durst, Neeli Cherkovski, Herbert Gold, Dennis McNally, Christopher Felver, Jack Hirschman, Brenda Knight, Hilary Halloday, Marc Olmsted, Ryan Cassata, Jonah Raskin, Marian Wallace and V. Vale, and really every single person on this lineup. Even more, I’m looking forward to meeting the people who will attend this weekend event, and I hope everybody who can be there will attend the two exciting panel discussions I will be moderating on Saturday the 27th and Sunday the 28th.
The first of my two panels (on Saturday June 27) is dedicated to the legacy of Neal and Carolyn Cassady, the two real-life figures who Jack Kerouac transformed into Dean and Camille Moriarty when he wrote On The Road. This panel will feature five guests: Jami Cassady, Cathy Cassady, John Allen Cassady, my good buddy Brian Hassett (who has a new book out, and who I haven’t seen in years), and a person I’ve never met before but always wanted to meet: Al Hinkle, the real-life model for Neal’s easygoing traveling partner Ed Dunkel in On The Road. This is going to be a great discussion, and if you know anything about me you’ll know that I plan to skip all the obvious and conventional questions and instead come up with some original and probing topics to discuss. I’m also looking forward to hearing what questions the audience members want to ask.
My second event, on Sunday June 28, will be an onstage interview with Gerd Stern. Gerd is a fascinating and brilliant experimental poet and pop artist who fell in with the Beat crowd as a young man after befriending then-unknowns Allen Ginsberg and Carl Solomon inside the harrowing walls of a New York City mental institution. Stern and Ginsberg and Solomon all managed to escape this particular Cuckoo’s Nest, and Gerd apprenticed around the hip scene with Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac during the 1950s before taking his countercultural journey to the next level during the turbulent 1960s. This journey led him into friendly relationships with folks like Maya Angelou, Marshall McLuhan, Richard Brautigan and Huey Newton. I have a feeling I’m going to need to dedicate an entire blog post to my upcoming onstage interview with Gerd Stern, so all I’ll say at this point is that we’re going to have a lot to talk about, and that I hope you can be there to hear it live.
Old friends of Literary Kicks may know that I haven’t done a lot of public events like this one, and also that I haven’t been out to California in many years. This conference already feels to me like an attempt at a significant journey in my life. Literary Kicks was born 21 years ago this summer. The site has broadened its focus greatly since it launched, but I know that many people still think of Literary Kicks as the little website about Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg that launched in 1994. While Litkicks is no longer devoted to the Beat writers, it’s a fact that this site was originally built with Beat-inspired style and attitude. I think this style and attitude has remained a constant at Literary Kicks, and has served the site well through many evolutions.
Litkicks seems to me to be at a crossroads in 2015. I am personally at a crossroads at this point in my life too — well, aren’t we really all at a crossroads, always? This fact makes me think of a trip I took to San Francisco many years ago, which I ended up writing about in a short story called “The History of the California Burrito” that became a part of my 1995 writing project Queensboro Ballads.
This is a story about a confused guy in a rotten mood who visits his sister in Berkeley (near San Francisco) and finds revelation in an organic taqueria. It was on the real-life California journey that inspired this story that I first began seriously reading Jack Kerouac and the Beat writers. So, in a sense Literary Kicks was born in San Francisco. The site probably wouldn’t exist at all if I hadn’t once taken my chances on a big jet plane, searching at the time for something I couldn’t find at home.
A couple of years after I wrote this story, I read “The History of the California Burrito” to the beautiful minor-key piano accompaniment of David Amram in a smoky New York City bar. That was nearly two decades ago, though, and today I don’t think “The HIstory of the California Burrito” really represents where my head is at anymore.
If I get a chance to do some spoken word at the Shindig, I don’t know what I’ll read. However, I do plan to eat a California Burrito at some point during this weekend of festivities. Whole wheat tortilla, soy cheese, brown rice and all.
I hope the Beat Museum’s 2015 Beat Generation Conference and Beatnik Shindig will be a significant literary, social and personal exploration for every single person who can attend. And most of all, if you can be there between June 26 and June 28, I hope we’ll get a chance to meet and talk. Don’t hesitate to find me and say hi!