Tag Archives: Kerouac

Kerouac logs 2500 words toward finish of his first novel ~ The Town and The City

While On the Road is still the most widely read of Jack Kerouac’s works, Mass Moments reminds us that the highly autobiographical The Town and the City was his first novel. On this day March 23, 1948  he noted in his diary or “writing log” that he had written 2500 words and was on a pace for completion in a matter of weeks. The best known writer of the “Beat” generation, Lowell-native Jack Kerouac eventually wrote more than a dozen books.


      …in 1948, Lowell native Jack Kerouac happily noted in his diary that he had written 2500 words. If he could keep up this pace, he would finish his first novel in a matter of weeks. The highly autobiographical The Town and the City was published in 1950, the same year he began writing On the Road, the novel that earned him the title “Father of the Beat Generation.” By the time he died at the age of 47 Jack Kerouac had published 14 books. On the Road is Kerouac’s most-read work today; it is widely considered one of the most important and influential American novels of the twentieth century, and Jack Kerouac is celebrated as one of Lowell’s favorite sons.The full article here: http://www.massmoments.org/moment.cfm?mid=91


New Kerouac Novel Released

Today is officially Jack Kerouac Day in Massachusetts. It’s the author’s birthday, March 12 (1922). The Governor will issue a proclamation in recognition of the day. The legislature put this on the books in 2001, thanks to state Sen. Moore of Worcester, Lowell’s Statehouse delegation at the time, local citizen advocacy, and the backing of the Kerouac Estate.  Here’s the 2012 proclamation by Gov. Patrick.

A new book by Kerouac containing a short novel, related writings, and letters is on the streets. Titled The Haunted Life, the collection of works was edited by Todd Tietchen, a professor of English at UMass Lowell.

The Guardian newspaper in England published a brief excerpt from the novel, which is set in Lowell in the early 1940s. Following is a passage from the excerpt:

Peter’s origins – the more recent ones – betrayed his intellectual convictions. Bent on lolling through the summer, he yet winced inwardly when passing by a group of workmen in the street, and avoided their eyes. His conviction was that history, as drama, was an unparalleled production – acted by the princes of destiny; directed by that brilliant, envious, and colorless crew that forever sat at the hem of greatness; financed – in terms of blood and labor – by the numberless, nameless masses who paused, only occasionally, to look up from their work and watch; and written by the reality of the hour, the reigning combination of cross-events that was supreme, final, and unalterable history.

Haunted Life

Patti Smith at Smith Baker Center, Lowell (excerpts from Thurston Moore interview)


The Winter 1996 issue of BOMB includes an interview of Patti Smith by musician Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth. She performed at the Smith Baker Center in Lowell on October 6, 1995, for the annual Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! festival. The band stayed overnight at the Stonehedge Inn in Tyngsboro. Following are excerpts from Moore’s notes in the interview, reprinted from bombsite.com—PM


“I flew to Boston to meet her and Lenny Kaye where we were to drive to Lowell, Massachusetts, for a benefit for the Kerouac Foundation. She asked me to play guitar on three songs: one she had written, one by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, and one an improvisation to a poem by Kerouac. We did a show in Lowell and two in Boston, all three in these cool churches. We spent Saturday visiting the haunts of Kerouac’s Lowell. Patti took Polaroids of my hands for a Sunday exhibit at a friend’s gallery in Jamaica Plain. She’d frame the photos with broad white frames and write around them vignettes pertaining to the subject. I was friends with someone I had dreamed of being friends with for nearly 20 years.

“Saturday night performance, Smith Baker Hall, Lowell.

“This poem is dedicated to the members of Sonic Youth . . . .

“from high on rebellion

“what i feel when i’m playing guitar is completely cold and crazy. like i don’t owe nobody nothing and it’s a test just to see how far i can relax into the cold wave of a note, when everything hits just right (just and right) the note of nobility can go on forever. i never tire of the solitary E and i trust my guitar and i don’t care about anything. sometimes i feel like i’ve broken through and i’m free and could dig into eternity riding the wave and the realm of the E . . .”

Saturday: Driving from Lowell to Cambridge: We stop for Polaroid film and Patti buys a present for my daughter, Coco. Then we head on to the grotto where Kerouac used to write, and light candles for Fred. From there, we go to Kerouac’s memorial, granite slabs with lines from his Dr. Sax carved into their surface. Patti leaves her guitar pick at his grave. . . .”

Here’s a link to the full interview.

More on Local Film Action

In my 2013 re-cap, I should have included the major feature film “Big Sur,” directed by Michael Polish and produced by Lowell native Jim Sampas, whose aunt Stella married Jack Kerouac in the 1960s. “Big Sur,” based on the 1962 novel by Kerouac,  was screened at the prestigious Sundance film festival and went national afterwards. Congratulations to Jim, who has more projects in the works, from music recordings to movies.


9/11 Memorial at UMass Lowell

9 11 uml

Monument to the University of Massachusetts Lowell community (alumni and family members of alumni) who perished on September 11, 2001: Patrick J Quigley IV, Christopher Zarba ’79, Jessica Leigh Sachs, John A Ogonowski, ’72, Robert J Hayes, ’86, Brian K Kinney, ’95, and  Douglas A Gowell, ’71. Photos by Tony Sampas.

9 11 John Ogonowski name



by Billy Collins

Yesterday, I lay awake in the palm of the night.
A soft rain stole in, unhelped by any breeze,
And when I saw the silver glaze on the windows,
I started with A, with Ackerman, as it happened,
Then Baxter and Calabro,
Davis and Eberling, names falling into place
As droplets fell through the dark.
Names printed on the ceiling of the night.
Names slipping around a watery bend.
Twenty-six willows on the banks of a stream.
In the morning, I walked out barefoot
Among thousands of flowers
Heavy with dew like the eyes of tears,
And each had a name –
Fiori inscribed on a yellow petal
Then Gonzalez and Han, Ishikawa and Jenkins.
Names written in the air
And stitched into the cloth of the day.
A name under a photograph taped to a mailbox.
Monogram on a torn shirt,
I see you spelled out on storefront windows
And on the bright unfurled awnings of this city.
I say the syllables as I turn a corner –
Kelly and Lee,
Medina, Nardella, and O’Connor.
When I peer into the woods,
I see a thick tangle where letters are hidden
As in a puzzle concocted for children.
Parker and Quigley in the twigs of an ash,
Rizzo, Schubert, Torres, and Upton,
Secrets in the boughs of an ancient maple.
Names written in the pale sky.
Names rising in the updraft amid buildings.
Names silent in stone
Or cried out behind a door.
Names blown over the earth and out to sea.
In the evening — weakening light, the last swallows.
A boy on a lake lifts his oars.
A woman by a window puts a match to a candle,
And the names are outlined on the rose clouds –
Vanacore and Wallace,
(let X stand, if it can, for the ones unfound)
Then Young and Ziminsky, the final jolt of Z.
Names etched on the head of a pin.
One name spanning a bridge, another undergoing a tunnel.
A blue name needled into the skin.
Names of citizens, workers, mothers and fathers,
The bright-eyed daughter, the quick son.
Alphabet of names in a green field.
Names in the small tracks of birds.
Names lifted from a hat
Or balanced on the tip of the tongue.
Names wheeled into the dim warehouse of memory.
So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.


—Billy Collins (c) 2002

Note: Billy Collins was Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003. His poem “The Names” appeared in the New York Times on Sept. 6, 2002. Note that he mentions Patrick Quigley, who was married to a UMass Lowell alumna, Patricia Fleming. Some of our readers may know Billy Collins from his appearances on the radio show Prairie Home Companion. Billy Collins’s father, William Collins, was an electrician from Lowell, Mass., who married Katherine Collins. The future poet was born in New York City. Here’s what he told The Paris Review about his roots in an interview in 2001:

Both of my parents were born in 1901 and both lived into their nineties, the two of them just about straddling the century. My father was from a large Irish family from Lowell, Massachusetts, a mill town, incidentally Kerouac’s birthplace and the site of his first novel. I’ve never been to Lowell, but I was just invited by an editor of a magazine to go up there and write about my father and look at the Jack Kerouac place. I have a poem called ‘Lowell,’ which is about the coincidence of my father being born in the same town as Jack Kerouac. You couldn’t find two more disparate characters. The end of the poem says something like, He would have told Neal Cassady to let him out at the next light.

My mother was born on a farm in Canada. She was the one who taught me to read by reading to me. I have a feeling that was one of the most important experiences of my life. …


Did Football Damage Kerouac?, The New Yorker Asks

The New Yorker magazine’s online site has posted a thoughtful article by Ian Sheffler in which the writer examines the possibility that head injuries from his football days may explain some of the health and emotional disorders that plagued author Jack Kerouac as an adult. Read the article here.


Jack Kerouac on the move in the Lowell-Lawrence football game, 1938.


Talk About ‘Place-Making’

There was some buzz and rattle on the web yesterday when the online appliance of a venerable magazine with a Boston root system, The Atlantic, posted a fizzy report about a made-up episode in the life and times of John L. Kerouac, all of it putting Lowell in the news stream for another 15 minutes. These are the moments that separate Lowell from a thousand other small cities. This is the kind of stuff that gives Lowell a special allure in the minds of people who enjoy places with character. I’m the last one who wants to read another story about bad behavior by the author of “On the Road” and “Doctor Sax,” but that “cat” is out of the bag, so to say. Nonetheless, the “fakelore” incident from Mill No. 5 on Jackson Street got traction on the web. Read for yourself.

And here’s the video for the song mentioned by the reporter in The Atlantic.



Will Kerouac Stamp Proposal ‘Stick’ This Time?

Reporter Joel Kost in today’s Sun newspaper puts some gas in the tank of a long-time effort to get the US Postal Service to issue a commemorative stamp in honor of author Jack Kerouac. One of this blog’s loyal readers, Dean Contover, has been leading the stamp charge for about 20 years. Over time, he has  amassed a thick sheaf of support letters from local officials, scholars, and Kerouac fans. Read today’s article about the latest surge of activity around this proposal. 

Years ago, the Brush Gallery at Market Mills sponsored an art exhibit with suggested designs for a Kerouac stamp. This may have been one of them:


Farewell, Ray Manzarek

Ray Manzarek, one of the giants of 1960s rock and roll, died yesterday at the age of 74. The co-founder of The Doors performed in Lowell once with The Doors, at the Commodore Ballroom in 1967, and twice with poet Michael McClure at the Smith Baker Center for the annual Kerouac literary festival. The Smith Baker Center is a former Congregational Church, a large brick edifice across the street from Lowell City Hall. Now closed and in disrepair, for a long time the Smith Baker Center was used for performances and community gatherings.

I had the privilege of giving Manzarek and McClure a private tour of the Jack Kerouac Commemorative the day before it was officially dedicated on a Saturday in late June 1988. I was accompanied by Rosemary Noon and possibly Brian Foye, then-president of the local Kerouac organization now called Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! Brian’s group had invited McClure and Manzarek, who had begun performing as a spoken word and music duo, to be part of a massive poetry reading set for the night before the dedication of the Commemorative.

Manzarek and McClure were awestruck by the sculptural tribute to Kerouac, all those words sandblasted into the polished reddish brown granite. Not the kind of words that are usually incised in stone. Not the words of a president or a general or a saint. The words of a writer who pushed the boundaries of prose-writing. Words of a poet from Lowell who wrote poems that looked like poetry, but who also told his friends that he wrote poetry in paragraphs or whole pages. Michael McClure at one point stepped back from one of the triangular granite pillars and said, “This is subversive.”

I was 13 years old when I first heard “Light My Fire” by The Doors on the radio. It was the summer of 1967, and my father had taken a job at the Cal Wool Co-op in Stockton, California. My mother, brother David, and I had joined him out there—we had moved from Dracut in the Merrimack Valley to the San Joaquin Valley, the Great Central Valley. We lived in a modern apartment complex built in a U-shape with an outdoor pool and paved plaza in the center. Day and night for weeks, transistor radios around the pool played “Light My Fire” with the volume cranked up. It was the Summer of Love in San Francisco, 60 miles away, but I was just a kid and didn’t have much of a clue about what was going on in Haight-Ashbury. I liked the music, but I was more interested in what the Red Sox were doing 3,000 miles away in their Impossible Dream season.  Here’s a YouTube version of the song.

The night before the dedication ceremony, Manzarek and McClure performed for an audience of more than 1,000 people in the Smith Baker Center. Also on stage that night were Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, John Weiners, and a few others, including a couple of writers from the community. McClure later described the event as the most important poetry reading in America that year, 1988. He wrote about his visit to Lowell in “California” magazine when he returned to his home near San Francisco. Manzarek and McClure came back to Lowell a few years later to play again at the Smith Baker Center for LCK! Below is a publicity photo of them at the time.

 Ray Manzarek and Michael McClure