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Sunday, 4 December 2011

On the Road with Jack Kerouac in Lowell, Massachusetts

On the mystery train, in truth, from Boston to Lowell, home town of Jack Kerouac, to explore the sights and sounds that inspired five of his novels.

Sweet Lowell by the river, O dark Lowell, O My Lowell
Jack Kerouac, October 12, 1955, Letter to Stella Sampas (from The Sea is My Brother, The Lost Novel).

Lonesome travellers- three generations on the road:

We visited Lowell High School (where Jack graduated in 1939, aged 17), the Boott Cotton Mills, the Kerouac Commemorative, the Mill Girls and Immigrants Exhibit.

Why there? There's a display case with his backpack, camping gear, typewriter and a pair of his hiking socks!

"From Chelsea I carried that woesome pack of mine clear around downtown London in the foggy night, ending exhausted at Fleet Street..." (Desolation Angels).

This small display is in the Immigrants' section (French Canadian), alongside items from the Greek community- a bouzouki, a record of Tsitsanis, and items from the Orthodox Church.

Kerouac had many close connections to the Lowell Greek community.

A Boston Greek 78rpm record on "Hellenic Dawn" -  "O Meraklis"

No time to visit his birthplace at 9 Lupine Road, or his grave site at Edson Cemetery (remember when Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg went there to pay homage?).

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, The Canticle of Jack Kerouac

O tall red chimneys of the Cotton Mills of Lowell, tall redbrick goof of Boott, swaying in the terminus clouds of the wild hooray day and dreambell afternoon--, The usually blue windows of the Boott Mills in the night are piercing, heartbreaking with a blue that's never been seen before-- terrible how that blue shines like a lost star in the blue city lights of Lowell...(Doctor Sax, 1959).

The extracts from his novels inscribed on the granite columns at the Commemorative, and his backpack and typewriter, seemed  a lot more relevant and meaningful. Not sure about the socks.

Some of the inscriptions are beginning to fade. If I were asked to select a quotation from Mexico City Blues to inscribe on a stone column, I'd choose these lines from the 231st Chorus:

When rock becomes air
I will be there.

A great day out (thanks Alex). Now back in Boston, listening to Hey Jack Kerouac, by 10,000 Maniacs, Cleaning Windows by Van Morrison, Home I'll Never Be by Tom Waits, and Jack and Neal by Tom Waits- followed by a cassette copy, an amazing private recording from Allen Ginsberg's library, given to me by a dissident Czech professor of American Literature and Beat specialist (before the Velvet Revolution) of Kerouac reading from his Lowell novel Doctor Sax, with a Sinatra ballad playing in the background. Thanks Professor Josef Jarab!

1952 article by John Clellon Holmes, "This is the Beat Generation".

Here's a suitable song for Jack: The Vagabond (Bryn Terfel, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Robert Louis Stevenson)

Something more appropriate? Tom Waits talks about Kerouac and sings

Update, February 2013:  Photo Essay here

Lowell Visitor Centre Exhibition

Jack Kerouac, An American Haiku:

All day long
Wearing a hat
That wasn't on my head.

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