My review of The Rolling Stone Book of the Beats

The Rolling Stone Book of the Beats is composed of the writings of many who were, knew, or were influenced by the Beatniks, as they came to known.

The article by Douglas Brinkley titled The American Journey of Jack Kerouac is my best deep dive into Jack, and I am sympathetic to him. If only he exercised more Buddhist admonitions for compassion and self-control over his drinking, who knows, he might have given us a better model to emulate. Allen Ginsberg took that assignment upon himself and helped create a model for seeking youth to follow.   

It’s a welcome and timely read for me, as I’ve belatedly begun reading and trying to map out the influence they had on my hippie-yippee generation. Generation is the wrong word. I’m sick of the wholesale labeling of people born into a certain era as good, bad, or indifferent, especially as GREAT in some way or other. The so-called GREATEST GENERATION, meaning my father’s WWII generation, was also the very same Beat generation. Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, et al were all a few years older than my father, who was a gunner on a Fletcher Class Destroyer who splashed a few Japanese planes in some of the big fights. At that same historical moment these still unlabeled Beats began their palling around and writing. Jack even served hazardous duty in the Merchant Marine for a time, from 1942 until he was discharged as a “schizoid personality” in 1943, perhaps because he announced he’d never kill anyone, even in self-defense.  

In fact, all these men and a few women, beat or not, were individuals, as different as they were similar. Jack even distanced himself from his fellow Beats in the sixties and rather than advising and mentoring the oncoming Hippie “generation,” again composed of many elder mentors like Tim Leary, et al, he turned into a sour, politically conservative alcoholic mama’s boy, expressing too little of his vaunted Bodhisattva compassion. I’m grieved to note that lack of compassion included his daughter, making him a deadbeat dad as well as an ingrate to so many who’d helped him. We must separate the man from his art and not deify our heroes as any more perfect or moral than mythic Greek Gods.   

Mythology can be fun, but it can lead us astray if we take it too seriously. Jack, for one, created a mythic persona to obscure much of how he wrote, even who he really was. His spontaneous prose style of writing was, according to numerous witnesses cited in this book, revised through countless drafts before a final draft was hammered out on his famous “scroll” fed through his typewriter, so he wouldn’t have to break his flow by inserting another page. How many earnest writers have been misled by this aspiration to be ‘spontaneous’ at all costs and got swamped by unedited gibberish? It sure didn’t work for me.     

My Review of Charles Bukowski’s Book Post Office

I’d seen and enjoyed some of Bukowski’s work with Ron Crumb’s comix but hadn’t read any of his books or poetry. When a reviewer compared MY book, CHICAGO RAGE to HIS writing, I just had to dive into his POST OFFICE and look for resemblances. It’s a novel, but reputed to be autobiographical, a window into his mindset, as are my memoirs that read as novels.  

His main character is either drunk or hung over all the time, whereas I’m only an occasional imbiber who favors psychedelics over the hard stuff. His fascination and lustful desire for the female body matches mine, however he shows little empathy for those he beds beyond his own gratification. Well, okay, he paints a stark portrait of the all-too-common man, too many of whom I’ve written about. I suppose he’s being honest about his motivations, but even a guy down on his luck, enveloped in an alcoholic haze, ought to have some flicker of interest in his broader horizons.

His portrayal of the hostile workplace is spot on. Employees are verbally abused and ground down, used up, their only reward is to be thrown away as worthless empty shells to be replaced by fresh meat for the grinder. The American work culture is remorseless and often as pitiless and deadly as a fascist labor camp. De-fanged labor unions may be powerless to address these issues head on because achieving broader goals in the Realpolitik power-play with entrenched management often necessitates compromise and sacrifice for the greater good. I’ve been there.

I couldn’t identify or sympathize with his character’s lack of effort at understanding womankind, much less his sad-sack workmates, until his divorce. Then his character, still valuing booze over the affection of his ladies, makes more of an attempt at some show of minimal gratitude for all he’s received on a one-way street of emotional and financial support. That gets a low-key BRAVO from me.

But then there is the birth of his child and the death by booze of an ex, sad tales of distracted interest that should inspire the reader to forswear drinking and wrap his/her arms around those precious beings in his/her own life.

Yes, the book is worth reading, adding to the sum of our experience and as a warning not to emulate a near-sighted drunk. I hope the real Bukowski is more of a Mensch than his cartoon character. Maybe I’d like to have a beer, even get drunk with him some time. Or maybe we ought better to trip on LSD or Magic Mushrooms and explore the death culture from another angle.

My New Book Coming Out

Great news, my new book is accepted for publication! And so it is on the way to editing, cover design and all the necessary steps it takes before landing in the reader’s lap. As a new author, getting published is like climbing Mount Everest, but getting to the top of a lesser mountain can be just as exhilarating. I’d only gotten ‘thanks but no thanks’ from agents who told me my genre wasn’t marketable right now. ‘Try back in a few years.’ I should live so long.

I mean REALLY, I’m 70 freaking years old now, the same age my father and both of my grandfathers died. Sure, I’m still healthy, trying to follow the usual recommendations of eating right, exercising, getting more sleep than I was able before my semi-retirement, but even so, my cholesterol remains higher than it should be. The obits of friends and classmates keep reminding me of our common mortality. Time’s a wasting.

Sending queries direct to the big name publishers got similar ‘sorry’ responses, but I kept at it, sending my words to small and far distant publishers, even offshore. Then success at last. Or was it? I almost didn’t believe it. Maybe it’s a scam. I’d been getting so many of those, promising book and even blockbuster movie deals, but at a steep cost. They almost hooked me too, because flattering interest is a beguiling oasis to one crawling across the hot desert floor of rejection.

It is a small press but legit and we all have to start somewhere. New hurdles arise. Marketing is an ogre, even by a bigger publisher it may not be enough to get your book noticed. The market is ruled by the same invisible economic hand that moves the consumer of other goods. You can become lost in a swirling sea of ‘social media’ attempting to plug your book, even finding an audience–on the media. That doesn’t always mean they will shell out to PAY for your book. Don’t expect to get rich or even break even until by some lucky stroke, a typo of fate, perhaps a love affair with a celebrity, you become the next Steven King. That may come posthumously, so don’t hold your breath.

Maybe you are like me, a struggling writer, balancing work and family, with a nagging goal to craft a message that should withstand the passing of ages, a legacy for future generations! Maybe you too have read and studied under writing coaches who applauded your efforts. You have re-written, honed your literary effort as best you can without losing the message you need to convey. You are ready. Do not give up hope. Persevere. March or die across the vast Sahara. You are doing it for love of your tempestuous muse. Some flesh clothed reader in this harried world will appreciate it. Write on!