Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Give a Brother a Hand

Recently I read the novel AND THE HIPPOS WERE BOILED IN THEIR TANKS by Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs. Everyone by now knows of the Beats, and Kerouac and Burroughs were two of the most important members of this group. The strange thing to most of us was how so many of these close friends from the underside of society managed to become famous artists. It seems uncanny when just examined superficially. How do these blokes who all hung out together as low-life scum end up at the top of the artist heap by the time the late 1950s rolled around?

And of course, the more I read by these fellows, and the more I read about them, the answer became obvious.

They were pulling one another along. If one had success, he allowed the others to ride his coattails. As soon as a member of their club-that-was-not-a-club had a hit, he used whatever influence that gave him to help a brother. And so, they pulled one another along, if not always up. Thus, we saw HOWL, and ON THE ROAD, and JUNKY, and GO, and so on. Ginsberg, especially, always seemed to be working behind the scenes with publishers trying to talk editors into taking on the work of one of his friends. Each seemed to do whatever he could to help the others achieve literary notoriety, if not always financial rewards (but often that, too). There seemed to be almost no jealousy among them when it came to their respective works. And it was because of this weird kind of camaraderie that they did, in fact, reward one another through these shared friendships.

One does not see a lot of this in modern times. I can't think of another such example of it, but it might exist beyond my experience. I've certainly witnessed almost no instances of it in my own career as a writer.

Many of Kerouac's biographers claim that he was confounded by his fame and didn't know how to deal with it and never sought it. This is bullshit. He always sought fame--mentioned the desire to have it in his manuscripts before they were ever published to great acclaim. He ate that shit up and loved being the center of attention. This was a performance piece done with Steve Allen, who was always keen to be hip, especially in those days of the the peak of the Beats fame. Kerouac went with it and this was likely just before he began his big downhill alcoholic slide.

Burroughs, the child-molesting wife-murderer manages to show some brilliant insight on his old friend Kerouac.

The three biggest of The Beats: starting second from left: Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs. Lowlife scum who hit it big in the field of poetry and fiction.

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