John Clellon Holmes, Jack Kerouac, and the Beat Generation
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: University Press of Mississippi
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First and foremost, we would like to thank Holmes’ sister Elizabeth Von Vogt and her husband, Carl, whose wholehearted sympathy and patient responses to our queries have made the task of writing this book easier. Furthermore, without Liz’s endorsement of our project, we would not have had unlimited access to the materials in the Shirley and John Clellon Holmes archive, which were indispensable. ...
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Our new apartment was in one of those time-stained buildings on Manhattan’s Lower East Side that had been newly renovated to bring young renters into an old New York neighborhood. It was on St. Mark’s Place, close to First Avenue, and despite the noise and dirt, the prevalent discomfort over street crime, and the tensions with older Polish and Ukrainian neighbors, it was on the Lower East Side. In the 1960s what was left of New York City’s ...
1. A Usable Past
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John Clellon Holmes was only ten when the flood of 1936 prodded the rivers in the northeastern United States over their banks and into the surrounding towns and cities in New England. Jack Kerouac had just turned fourteen. Each of them vividly remembered the flood, and for Holmes it became one more point where their lives had crossed, even if miles apart ...
2. The Magic of Words
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The Depression had a devastating effect on every level of American society, including Kerouac’s family in Lowell, where he was a high school student during the worst years. Despite the economic collapse, however, and despite the dislocations of his childhood, Holmes lived in a social world that had a measure of shelter from the hard times most of the country was facing. ...
3. Whatever World There Would Be
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Although Holmes and Kerouac never lost their sense of their New England roots, it was to be New York that was their scene for twenty years, despite occasional periods away from the city and the scattering of the group of friends who brought them together. They each came to New York as teenagers, but Kerouac was older, and he was the first to arrive. Of all the ...
4. The Stale Bread of Dedication
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Later in the summer of 1945, as Holmes slowly fought his way back from the emotional trauma of his hospital experiences, whatever uncertainties he felt about his future were swept into insignificance by the destruction of Hiroshima by an atom bomb on August 6. His optimistic ideas about a world with new economic goals that he had absorbed from Macguire seemed suddenly meaningless measured against the power of the new weapon. He wrote of the attack later as ...
5. A Weekend in July
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It’s often chance collisions that most effect our lives, rather than the carefully planned encounters we often discount beforehand, since we have some idea of what to expect. In 1948 Holmes had no idea of the people he would meet on the Fourth of July weekend. What he noted in his journal was that ...
6. A Kind of Beatness
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Holmes wrote later that he felt like a different person after the first weekend of July, but he also remembered that as it all was happening he had no idea how it would effect his life. A perspiring weekend of edgy encounters with four new individuals as complicated and challenging as Landesman, ...
7. Neal & Co.
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On January 4, 1949, the day after Holmes wrote to Mira Kent about the two “friends”—Neal Cassady and his ex-wife, LuAnne—sleeping on his couch while he made noises around them in an effort to wake them up, he wrote a letter to Alan Harrington in Arizona, describing the arrival of Neal Cassady in New York at the beginning of the week. Cassady’s abrupt arrivals in New York have become so much the material of the Beat legend that ...
8. This Particular Kind of Madness
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In his disappointment with Kerouac for being drawn into the excitement of driving off with Neal Cassady to New Orleans and San Francisco on January 19, 1949, Holmes noted, almost in a scolding tone, that for Kerouac it was a way to avoid facing his own dilemmas. However in the doubts that became a recurring theme in Holmes’ journals and letters after the group finally left, it was clear that the weeks when Cassady was roaring around ...
9. Angelic Visions
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In the spring of 1949, as Holmes struggled to deal with the disappointment of his novel’s rejection, he began to realize that he was closer to an answer to his dilemma than he understood. What he had learned from his opportunities to read portions of the manuscript of The Town and the City, with its final chapters describing Ginsberg and others in their crowd, was that ...
10. In the Temple of the Gods
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The first night after his return to 681 Lexington Holmes began his new novel. He and Marian came back from their weeks in Provincetown without even enough money for food, so she went to stay with her family in Chappaqua, leaving him alone. New York was in another of its summer heat waves—oppressive, lifeless, stale, and sweaty. This was before most New ...
11. A Torrent of Words
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Even though it was a long subway ride into midtown Manhattan from his mother’s apartment in Queens, Kerouac still climbed the stairs to Holmes’ apartment at 681 Lexington Avenue almost every day through the winter of 1950–1951. Usually they started with whatever beer was in the refrigerator and listened to some of Holmes’ new bop singles. Whatever they began talking about they inevitably picked up their old quarrel over what ...
12. The Liveitup Kid
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The final paragraphs of Go were the book’s emotional culmination. Its story ended in an anguished shudder of despair at the meaninglessness of their lives as Hobbes and Kathryn huddled drunkenly on the night ferry taking them back to Manhattan after the shambles of the crowd’s attempt to mourn their friend’s senseless death. If only for a moment, Hobbes had contemplated suicide as he stared into the darkness, searching in the lights ahead for some sign of a place that he could call home. ...
13. Perfect Fools
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Those uneasy weeks before a first book appears are one of the most difficult ordeals any writer can face. It seems that whatever happens will alter forever their own perception of themselves. After so many years of straining and dreaming to become that other person—a published author—it’s difficult not to think that for a moment at least the earth will stop turning. ...
14. The Rising Tide of Fame
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During the next four years, Holmes struggled against a steady erosion of his emotional reserves as he realized that he couldn’t live on what he was earning as a writer. The shadow of financial catastrophe continually hung over him. Yet the first few times Kerouac saw him after the publication of Go, he managed to give the impression that he was doing well. ...
15. What Am I Doing Here?
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In San Francisco Judge Horn may have found in his judicial opinion that Howl had “redeeming social value,” but in hindsight he seems almost as detached from the mood of American society as Ginsberg and his friends were. The emergence of the Beat phenomenon in 1957 caused a furor that continued with unabated force through the next decades. At first, oblivious ...
16. The Horn
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Often with ambitious novels it is difficult to trace the structure that lies beneath the events of the narrative or the descriptions of each character’s idiosyncrasies. With his brilliant, troubling testament to jazz, The Horn, however, Holmes wrote detailed notes on what he was attempting to do. Any reading of the novel has to be done with an awareness of what he ...
17. Too-Late Words
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With the attention being paid to their books—Kerouac’s work causing major controversy and Holmes’ second novel a success in their world of jazz writing—each of them at this point in his life could expect some kind of stability, but instead over the next few years each found himself spinning out of control. ...
18. A Sweet Attention
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In the weeks after Holmes’ humiliating day in court for shoplifting, whatever had been blocking his writing shook loose, and he found he could write again. When he was presented with an opportunity to get away from the isolation of Old Saybrook and the frustrations of his stalled career as a novelist, he was too buoyed up by the work on his new novella “Old Man Molineaux” ...
19. To the Edge of Eros
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In the early 1960s Holmes began to describe his sexual experiences in his journals, which resulted, as he wrote Kerouac, in a “document so selfdamning in its intimacy and revelation that no publisher would believe I don’t care who knows it.”1 There is no question that Holmes intended to publish what he’d written, since near the end of his life he worked for ...
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In the middle of September 1963, John and Shirley left Old Saybrook for a year at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. They brought nothing with them except the books that filled the car and the clothes they’d need for the winter there. After some initial indecision they decided to rent someplace away from the campus. Iowa City, the former state capital where the ...
21. A Turn of the Circle
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In the late autumn of 1965 Holmes began to worry about the manuscript of Nothing More to Declare. It had been weeks since he’d delivered it to Viking, and there had been no response, even though Viking had signed a contract for the book and paid him half of the advance. His years of disappointments had already prepared him for small sales and little change in ...
22. Gone in October
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Holmes had often confided to friends that he didn’t think Kerouac would live much beyond forty, but he was stunned at the radio announcement on October 21, 1969, that his friend had died that morning in St. Petersburg, Florida. Kerouac was forty-seven. At the time of his death he’d been working on The Beat Spotlight, another book in his Duluoz Legend. Around noon on October 20 Stella heard him vomiting blood in the bathroom and ...
23. On a Porch in Boulder
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The mornings were quiet on the wide porch of the old wooden house above Boulder. There was a dining room inside where anyone who got up early could have breakfast. After a cup of coffee a casual crowd slowly gathered to sit on the porch. In later years there would be other gatherings in other cities of some of the same people who sat talking on the Boulder porch, but ...
24. Final Chorus
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The letters from Holmes became more infrequent, but they continued to express his concern about the collected volume of Kerouac’s writing that he still hoped he and Ann could edit together for the Viking Portable Library series. His letter on March 10, 1987, contained news that he would return to the hospital on April 3, and the letter continued with the disturbing news ...
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Page Count: 464
Publication Year: 2010