Tag: Jack Kerouac

Starting with a Song: Big Dipper

I’m going to try something new today, I will start with a song and see where it leads me. My goal will be to get back to the song by the end of my rambling. I will not edit or make corrections while composing. So here it goes…

Cracker’s song Big Dipper is a song I have been listening to a lot lately. It is my favorite Cracker song of all time, for right now. There is a melancholy aspect to it that I really like, the primary instrument is a piano, but there seems to be a slide guitar hiding in the background giving the whole song a very strange sound. The song turns at one point and John Hickman (lead singer) sings about a brother of Jack Kerouac calling him a lucky bastard.

Now Kerouac isn’t someone who I would call a lucky bastard. The leader of the Beat Generations road novels doesn’t seem that lucky to me. I have been reading Dharma Bums lately. I haven’t formed any real opinions about whether I really like the novel or not, but I have been a big fan of Gary Snyder‘s poetry for a long time. Snyder is portrayed by Kerouac in the novel as a small Dharma Bum who takes him on a long hike to the top of a mountain. I do believe that Snyder is probably like the man portrayed in the novel, but I like Snyder’s poetry better than I like his portrayal in the novel. If that makes sense. Snyder’s poetry has just the right amount of rebellion and nature for me.

I wrote a letter to Snyder at one point in my life. I never sent the letter. I am not one for too many overt hero worshipping moments, but I thought poets probably don’t get many fan letters. I knew that Snyder was teaching poetry at Cal Davis and that he lived in the mountains in a stone house he built himself. I don’t know if the whole house was made of stone, but that is how I imaged the house. Like a cave, but cool and with a dinning room table and windows. I guess that says more about who I am than Snyder, but I never sent the letter.

Two years ago, when I was taking a writing class from Pam Houston, who also teaches at Cal Davis, I asked her if she ever met Snyder. She had, and then I did a weird bit of creepy hero worshipping. I guess telling one writer how much you like another writer is like telling a girl how beautiful her friend is. But like most men, I only know how stupid I am being about four hours later. Anyway, Houston did say that Snyder was a nice man, but he was no longer teaching. I don’t know why I was disappointed, it isn’t like I was going to fly down to Davis to take a class, but I was sad to think that he might be holed up in his stone house drinking tea and making ax handles.

This year I went to see Pam Houston and Cheryl Strayed do a reading in Port Angeles, Washington. Houston is one of those writers who is great to see read. Her sense of humor and condensed stories make her material perfect for a reading. She charmed the packed audience and sold out her latest novel, Contents May Have Shifted, at the reading. Each of her 144 stories has an element of humor, but what I liked best about the novel is the puzzle quality of the stories, they fit together and tell a story, but it is not a traditional novel built on a plot. The one thing I thought was really interesting was that Houston read before Strayed. Houston was the more established writer, but Strayed’s novel Wild was the New York Times best seller at the time.

When Strayed read she was as warm and caring as I expected. Having a novel take off and become a best seller is probably a mind bending experience, but Strayed did not put on airs. She talked for a little bit, read from Wild and then took out a book that she had just released, Dear Sugar. The Dear Sugar book is a collection from her online advice column. She said that she started the column with the focus of “radical empathy.” I bought the book that evening and have been reading a letter a day since then, the letters a often heart wrenching and sad, but Strayed’s advice is so insightful and wise it is hard to believe that she isn’t sitting atop a mountain in the Himalayas. There are times she takes her writers over her metaphoric knee and gives them a good spanking, but most often she deals with the brokenness of the human condition with such compassion that it gets me a bit weepy. (Yeah, I am a crybaby, so what.)

When I had Strayed sign my copy of Wild I told her I only cried twice while reading the book. She guessed that I cried about the horse, which wasn’t the case, not a huge horse fan, but I told her that the part about Crater Lake really got me. If you haven’t read the book, I won’t give it away, but it is a beautiful metaphor for turning life’s challenges into something wondrous.

Which brings me back to where I started, Big Dipper. What I like best about Cracker is the skillfully written lyrics. Hickman, in my opinion, is one of the great song writers of today. I first fell in love with his songs back when he was leading Camper Van Beethoven. When I Win the Lottery is still one of the best songs ever written. Big Dipper is wonderful because the song is so personal. Is he really sitting on a cafe steps watching all the girls walk by? Is he really in love with a girl who is in love with someone else? I don’t know where the song is set, but I picture it being Berkley. The same Berkley where the Dharma Bums live and where it is a short day trip to the mountains where you can see Monterey and think about San Jose even though it isn’t that pleasant.

Top Ten Literary Halloween Outfits

Now dressing as an author or literary character is probably not something many people consider because most people will not know who you are and you will spend most of the evening explaining to people who don’t read books who you are. Instead of looking at the negative side of the evening think about how superior you can feel.

10. Captain Ahab: Now this is a no-brainer. Get a peg leg, a little scar down the side of your face and carry a 8’10’ glossy of a white whale and ask party goers if they have seen the offending whale. It wouldn’t hurt to have a harpoon.

Captain Ahab proclaims: "Blacksmith, I se...

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9. Holden Caulfield: Get yourself a hunting hat, carry around a broken record and crumbly old suit case. It helps if you can find a suit jacket for some snotty school like Pency Prep, but this outfit is more about drinking too much, being an ass and having a condescending attitude.

holden in the park

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8. Emily Dickinson: Wear a white dress, scribble lots of little poems on scraps of paper, don’t socialize too much and then lock yourself in a room upstairs.

A cabinet card copy of a daguerreotype of Emil...

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7. Jack Kerouac: Jeans, button down shirt, casual shoes, maybe a little grease in the hair and you are ready to roll. Now if your goal is to get outrageously drunk and out of control, this is the outfit for you. Later you can just explain to all your friends that you were, “Staying in character.”

Jack Kerouac by photographer Tom Palumbo, circ...

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6. James Joyce: Tweed suit, really thick glasses, possibly an eyepatch, hair slicked back and a small cane. Now no one will know who you are, but you can carry around a copy of Ulysses all night. For those of you going for the truly authentic author, Joyce also wore several watches, always had ink on his hands and liked to recite Dante when drunk, so you might want to brush up on your Italian.

James Joyce, 1 photographic print, b&w, cartes...

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5. Gertrude Stein: Now I don’t want to sound too mean, but this outfit might be best attempted by someone male. Plain dress, hair up in a tight bun and comfortable sandals. Repeat the same phrase over and over and over all night long and then talk a lot of trash about other writers. You could pair this costume with a Pablo Picasso, or if you want to go crazy and have an ugly girlfriend, you could have her dress as Alice Toklas. (Yes, that was mean, but I couldn’t help myself.)

Portrait of Gertrude Stein, 1906, Metropolitan...

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4. Lady Brett Ashley: Ladies, if you want to misbehave this is the costume for you. Tight flapper dress, stylish cap, short hair and an attitude that says, “I’m ready to run away with any of you bullfighters here.”

"Where there's smoke there's fire" b...

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3. Ernest Hemingwaythe Paris years: Young Hemingway liked to dress like a French fisherman. Blue and white striped shirt, high-water pants cinched around the belly and a beret. You could bandage your head for a real touch of authenticity.

Ernest Hemingway, Paris, circa 1924.

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2. Ernest Hemingway the later years: Do you have a grey beard? Well, then you are halfway home. This costume is more about attitude than anything else. Challenge people to fight, drink far too much and carry a shotgun.

American Author Ernest Hemingway aboard his Ya...

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1. Hester Prynne: Black dress, big red A stitched on the breast. Carry a baby if you like or if you have a toddler, bring them along and let them run wild. Guys that want to capture this time period have a couple choices: John Proctor or Arthur Dimmesdale, either way Adultery is part of your past. If you are Dimmesdale all you need is a red marker and an open shirt. John Proctor might your choice if you have a really young girlfriend who likes to accuse people of being witches.

Hester Prynne

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