Remembering John Montgomery

In my efforts to pull on the shirtsleeves of them that were left of the Beat Generation, i came across some works edited by one John McVey Montgomery, who (according to Ann Charters) appeared as the cameo character Henry Morley in Jack Kerouac‘s book The Dharma Bums. Morley was the clownish character who rambled through the Sierra bramble, accompanying Jack and Gary Snyder until realizing that he’d forgotten to drain the water from his auto’s radiator. Morley turned back, heading down the trail and waving over his shoulder that he’d join his companions at a later tick of the clock, only to disappear.

John M. Montgomery edited a number of books about Kerouac, and I ordered these from the publisher, Fels and Firn, attaching a note to John on the order. As I suspected, Fels and Firn was John, and he was pleased to hear from me, pleased to receive a check, and pleased to engage in a correspondence that lasted for five years.

When I’d least expect it, I’d receive a postcard or letter from John, each one typed out in an odd font. He would respond to questions, ask questions of his own, or talk-up the idea of having the library in Marquette, Michigan order his books and sponsor his coming to town to talk about Jack and, well, everything.

At one point, I asked John what he thought about Jack Kerouac’s attitude regarding the working class. His response was:

Stedman: While Jack and I never talked about the working class, I don’t think he thought of it as a political class. He wanted to go back to Cape Cod to live at the end and has got Memere to agree (sic) He never liked Florida and went there only as a trade with Memere when she agreed to try and regain her strength after her stroke, and was sore that she did not take physiotherapy or exercise. He also told Stella he planned to divorce her. I don’t know why he moved to Hyannis or Northport but he went to bars where clammers went in Northport. Bob Boles is a source for what went on in Hyannis, but I don’t know where Boles is. I don’t think Kerouac liked working at “jobs” thus I don’t think there was any guilt regarding that. He thought of his writing as work but he was inconsistent also waiting for bursts of inspiration so that he would write long hours for several days trying to write a whole book. It was a negative thing about the workers. He distrusts people with money partly because of what he saw at Horace Mann. I think it was inherited from his parents. He distrusted professors and was apprehensive when he had to make an appearance at Lowell House at Harvard. So that is he felt more comfortable with working, that is, uneducated people. Most of his reading with an idea of imitating as a writer was done in high school. He read and studied all his life but not particularly for literature. He read McLuhan in about 1965, for example. The Buddhist period meant heavy reading but then he ended it and went on. My ideas come from reading Kerouac’s books. I think the 4 chaplains and the sinking of his ship, the Dorchester, might have given him some feeling of guilt but the main reason for the guilt was being brought up by nuns
until he entered a different school for the fourth grade. Kerouac did not feel guilt as to sex like many Catholics but he did not want marriage. He was of course shocked to learn of Edie’s abortion. Jack was friendly and loyal to his nephew Paul Jr., whom I met. Marriage would have meant that Kerouac would have had to reduce his nights in bars and at the homes of his men
friends and he did not want to give that up. I think Kerouac was satisfied with his books though he did say that he could do no better than “Visions of Cody.”

He stood by his books and I do not think he recanted. He did tell me that “On The Road” and “The Dharma Bums” were potboilers and that he would not write any more potboilers. He said it was truer to call himself Jack than John as he did in
“Town and the City.” Well, I don’t claim to have all the answers but most of the writers about Kerouac are a bit twisted in my view. That’s why my books on Jack are as far as possible writ by people who knew him and I did not edit them.

(sales pitch deleted)

Best, John Montgomery

In the Fall of 1992, I received the following letter:

To the Friends of John Montgomery:

My father, John Montgomery, died of a heart attack on Friday, June 5, 1992,at Kaiser Hospital in San Rafael. He had been hiking at Kent Lake in Marin when he had his first heart attack, and we had a week of visits together before he passed away from a second one. I found your name in his address book and thought you would like to know. I am asking those who knew him if they would write about how they were connected to him and a memory or two (an anecdote or whatever you wish to share with me) for a festschrift. If you would like a copy of this, please let me know and I would be happy to send you one.

Memorial services were held privately by the family.


Laura Montgomery Petersen

I wrote back to John’s daughter, explaining our connection, and included a cryptic sort-of poem for the collection.

I had found John to be a very loyal correspondent. Extremely witty and verbose and obviously cosmos-knowledgeable, John Montgomery was every bit the madman that Jack described him to be.

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