Thursday, March 14, 2013

Jack Kerouac, father

Of his friends and girlfriends and cross-country exploits Jack Kerouac wrote much, and made the Duluoz legend a never-ending odyssey whose narrator never reached home. Kerouac never was easy at home, and the periods when he felt obligated to stop traveling were made even more uncomfortable by the fact that he was a father.

Jan Kerouac, born in 1952, met her father only twice. By all accounts -- including hers -- marriage and fatherhood were adventures he never cared to discuss. He never acknowledged Jan as his daughter with his first wife, Joan.

This estrangement adds support to one of the more honest assessments of Beat writers that for the most part they formed a boys-only club. If he wasn't guilty of outright misogyny, as some claim, Kerouac's attitudes became a hallmark of his relationships and his writing. His books, as much as they are equally praised and reviled in their diary-like inclusiveness, avoid mention of much life that would reflect Kerouac "at home," other than in a round of sexual exploits and their inevitable consequences.

It's a surprise that Kerouac's early relationship to his own father was not as strained and faulty. He doesn't write much about his old man -- in his Book of Dreams,where Jack allows himself his darkest misgivings, Leo appears as "so mysterious and un-Kerouac." Leo's gradual dissolution and drinking after a series of setbacks were aspects of his own adult character that Jack obviously came to dislike, however.

In the eternal way all men turn into their fathers in some aspect, Kerouac admits "maybe this is me" in the haunted life of his dreams as early as 1960 and probably earlier. Kerouac would have turned 91 this year on March 12 and even in his dreams Kerouac couldn't avoid becoming the shade of his father: sitting with nowhere else to go, reading the paper in Memere's house, with his father Leo's "lost and distant air" about him:
LAST NIGHT MY FATHER WAS BACK in Lowell --- O Lord, O haunted life --- and he wasnt interested in anything much---He keeps coming back in this dream, to Lowell, has no shop, no job even---a few ghostly friends are rumored to be helping him, looking for connections, he has many especially among the quiet misanthropic old men---but he's feeble and he aint supposed to live long anyway so it doesnt matter---He has departed from the living so much his once-excitement, tears, argufying, it's all gone, just paleness, he doesnt care any more---has a lost and distant air--- 

We saw him in a cafeteria, across street from Paige's but not Waldorf's---he hardly talks to me---it's mostly my mother talking to me about him---"
Ah well, ah bien, he vivra paslon temps ce foi icit!"---"he wont live long this time!"---she hasnt changed---tho she too mourns to see his change—-but God Oh God this haunted life I keep hoping against hope against hope he's going to live anyway even tho I not only know he's sick but that it's a dream and he did die in real life--ANYWAY---I worry myself ... (When writing Town and the City I wanted to say "Peter worried himself white"—for the haunted sadness that I feel in these dreams is white---)
Maybe Pop is very quietly sitting in a chair while we talk---he happened to come home from downtown to sit awhile but not because it's home so much as he has no other place to go at the moment---in fact he hangs out in the poolhall all day---reads the paper a little---he himself doesnt want to live much longer---that's the point---
He's so different than he was in real life---in haunted life I think I see now his true soul---which is like mine---life means nothing to him---or, I'm my father myself and this is me (especially the Frisco dreams)---but it is Pa, the big fat man, but frail and pale, but so mysterious and un-Kerouac---but is that me? Haunted life, haunted life---and all this takes place within inches of the ironclouds dream of 1946 that saved my soul (the bridge across the Y, 10 blocks up from 'cafeteria'---) Oh Dammit God—
This is a darkness that is not often acknowledged in Kerouac's work, but biographers who do comment on it cite the tough working-class neighborhoods of Lowell and the alcoholism he shared with his father. It balances the decades-long image of the freewheeling beat writer whose "first thought, best thought" impressions became a template for an entire generation of writers. It is a darkness that Kerouac struggled with and never reconciled in his lifetime or in his relationship with his own daughter.

Jan Kerouac (1952-1996)

The doubts and fears followed him to the end, though he kept writing. At the last, in October 1969, he was sitting at home, drinking malt liquor and whiskey at 11 am, and scribbling notes about his father's print shop in Lowell. After a prolific writing career that revealed the history about everything else in his life, Jack was at last thinking about a novel of the "old man" whose drinking had led to his death in 1946 at the age of 58.

When he himself died of cirrhosis on October 21, 1969, Kerouac was 47. Jack was then living with his third wife Stella and his devoted mother, Gabrielle, who was 74. As one reviewer 
notes, Memere "held a tight grip on her son's life, and was rather cantankerous to almost any outsider who dared to come between herself and her son." This mother's-protectiveness may have even extended to family: In 1967 at the age of 15, Jan Kerouac was in Mexico, living as far away as possible from any family life with the Kerouacs.

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