Important New Kerouac Work

We’re ORF to the races and it’s Lazy Charley taking the lead, at the clubhouse turn there’s your — darling, marvelous eggs just fluffy and light … hm just like my baby’s pudding, hoo! … and now listen now old Buck now old wild sonumbitch don’t you get drunk today on that w-i-n-e cause boy, we’ve got — who’s got a cigarette, I’m fresh out — we’ve got to out out there, and we’ve got something to do today

That’s Kerouac talking. Or actually it’s Neal Cassady, aka Dean Moriarty, aka Milo, Jack Kerouac’s mouthpiece and the fast-talking hero of a play Kerouac wrote in the late 50’s. The play is being published now for the first time by Thunder’s Mouth Press, and it’s a notable work.

It’s usually no big deal when a new publication from the Jack Kerouac archives is released. We’ve recently seen the collected letters, early stories, poems, half-finished novels, paintings, songs and annotated dreams. In fact, he’s got the biggest posthumous career since Nat King Cole or Jimi Hendrix, and much of the stuff is mundane. But it’d be a shame if nobody paid special attention to this play, because Kerouac wrote it at the peak of his skills, and it shows his talents in a new perspective.

The play (unfortunately titled Beat Generation) is about a bunch of charmingly crazed adults acting like general fools in the 1950’s. We’re in the home of beatnik family man Milo and his hip-chick wife, and they’re entertaining guests, playing speed chess, composing spontaneous poetry and arguing about how to calculate their exact odds when they go to the race track. Then the local church Bishop comes by with his two elderly aunts, and the beatniks have a great time with this situation. A situation comedy is what it is, in fact, and Kerouac keeps the dialogue crackling.

Dialogue was always Kerouac’s strength — even his first-person narratives were dramatic monologues, spoken “in character”. Here’s Irwin (based on Allen Ginsberg) testing out the Bishop’s patience:

‘IRWIN: Ooh you twisted like a snake then


IRWIN: Yes your movement then was exactly like a supenatural illuminated serpent arching its back to Heaven

BISHOP: Well, yes, probably, of course

IRWIN: I mean, that was the hippest thing I’ve seen you do tonight.’

Jack Kerouac wrote this play at the same time he was preparing On The Road for publication. A New Yorker who enjoyed going to the theatre, he yearned to see a play of his own produced on Broadway, and he spoke of wishing for Marlon Brando in the lead role. According to biographer Ann Charters, Kerouac asked the playwright Lillian Hellman for advice on the play, and she didn’t think it could work. The script eventually became the basis for the movie ‘Pull My Daisy’ (which is also about a dinner party including a bishop and a bunch of beatniks), but that film was largely improvised and Kerouac’s artistry is hardly visible in it.

Despite what Hellman might have said, I think this script would fly in a theater — it’s got humor, plot momentum and plenty of snappy dialogue for an energetic ensemble cast. I hope some high school or college or community theater companies will give it a try — tell us if you do.

Beat Generation will be available from Thunder’s Mouth Press in October.

No less worthy (though perhaps less newsworthy) is a source book, Conversations with Jack Kerouac, edited by Kevin J. Hayes and published by the University of Mississippi. This is a useful and smartly designed slim paperback volume of interviews with Jack Kerouac from the days of his first fame in 1958 to just before his death in 1969. Among the notable interviewers are Mike Wallace, Al Aronowitz, Stan Isaacs, and, most successfully, a posse from the Paris Review that includes poet Ted Berrigan and author Aram Saroyan. In the early interviews, Kerouac is nervous, high-pitched but passionate. His main theme is religion, and he speaks unceasingly of the practice of writing as a spiritual event. In the early sixties, a switch seems to be flicked and Kerouac suddenly morphs from a hopeful and mystical poet into a mean, funny, miserly crank, drunk off his ass, scratching his belly and mouthing off like Archie Bunker about the hippies, minorities and communists who are ruining America.

The best interview is the Paris Review piece, in which Kerouac can play off the literary skills and insights of his interlocutors. My favorite piece, though, is Stan Isaac’s deadpan description of a baseball card game Kerouac invented to amuse himself. Here are some of the names of his players: Lefty Murphree, Burlingame Japes, Herm Bigger, John Gronning, Johnny Keggs, Sugar Ray Simms, Byrd Duffy, Francis X. Cudley, Hophead Dean. Kerouac could even make rotisserie baseball swing.

13 Responses

  1. Neal at the
    Neal at the alter

    ‘Orf!’…Classic Kerouac. That keen observation of the aural brain-spell music of magic butchering of the pedantic through regional slur and whimsical/casual blindsight!

    Lovely and comedy and very underappreciated as a fine quality of JLK’s work.

    Just read ‘Old Angel Midnight’

    Makes the brain plead and blead and laugh kingly flowers. What a world in words if we’d only listen. Or stop trying to hear.

    The play sounds wonderful. I’m looking forward to reading it, or one day seeing it.


    I slightly disagree about the ‘mundane’ posthumous. I think he was one of those artists like Picasso or Paul Mccartney who just can’t help but create. There’s so much work that there’s bound to be a few see-through spots in the wear and tear. I like it all. I tend to back the artists I like in that way. I like most of it more than some, but there’s nice funky stones in with some of the jewels. Like ‘Some of the Dharma’…nice Buddhist ramble-jamble and good wary wire to the mind of his own scrambled and lucid watch. Check out the inside covers of the hardback for the diagrammatic mapping he wrote to describe his various techninques and styles.

    The Paris Review interview with J. by Saroyan and Berrigan is a must read if anyone is into the CRAFT of Kerouac.

  2. Pull my daisy…This sounds
    Pull my daisy…

    This sounds like a theatrical version of the film Pull My Daisy. Is it, or is it more like a part 2, either way, I appreciate the article & will check it out.

  3. Hot dog!I want to read the
    Hot dog!

    I want to read the play and the interviews. I love Kerouac.

    I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again: I think Jack Kerouac died before he physically died, if you know what I mean. I really believe he attained the joy of enlightenment in his mind, but as we get older, the body cannot sustain that steady flow of joy unless we start taking better care of ourselves.

    “Before I was enlightened, I chopped wood and carried water. After I was enlightened, I chopped wood and carried water.”

  4. Yep, ‘Pull My Daisy’ was
    Yep, ‘Pull My Daisy’ was based on the play. That was after Kerouac had already given up hope that it would be produced on Broadway. ‘Pull My Daisy’ is a good film, but it’s only a half hour long and it doesn’t do justice to this full-length script.

  5. You knowWhen I searched for
    You know

    When I searched for the interview book on Amazon, I came up with a yet to be released book by Paul Maher Jr. Empty Phantoms: Interviews and Encounters with Jack Kerouac published by the same Thunder’s Mouth Press that’s publishing the play. Either it’s slighly more comprehensive than the Hayes book, or they printed it using gigantic font, as it’s 352 pages vs. 100. It seems odd that two overlapping books of interview s would be published only 5 months apart by two different presses.

    I’ve held off on reading the Kerouac juvenalia, as well as the later books like Satori in Paris and Pic, but the journals and letters of writers fascinate me. I guess it’s just reassuring to read them struggling with their own creative demons, to know that their words weren’t transmitted to them from on high, they actually sat at the table full of self-doubt, and as Mike Royko described the process, dripped blood from their fingertips.

    Oh, I had originally read about the Kerouac play on Bookslut, and they also had an interesting link to a link of the cover art of various editions of On the Road. Check out China 1998 and Russia 1995 in particular.

  6. alcohol does tend to destroy
    alcohol does tend to destroy beautiful spirits, it’s an immense shame …

  7. I agree with you, Bill.
    I agree with you, Bill. Though he had a long, slow miserable physical decline-based on what I’ve read- his spiritual decline probably began shortly after the publication and release of OTR and he was forced unwillingly into celebrity. We think of 47 as young to die,even from alcoholism, but it took some down even quicker such as Dylan Thomas or Jim Morrison…

  8. Kerouac as portraitist?i just
    Kerouac as portraitist?

    i just saw a book (which I can’t quite afford) on Kerouac’s Lost Paintings though I saw that it included sketch pad portraits too, in photos of his little notebook pencil scribbles.

    Anyone seen this book or own it and can give a better account? I was quite surprised to learn that he was serious about painting and visual representation, since none of the bios I have read mention this. Anyone have a comment?

  9. oh cool! thanks for the
    oh cool! thanks for the info. i will read it with great anticipation. thanks for you time and response.

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