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-5/20/2004 - John Clellon Holmes - (Jack's Book.)

Beat Quote of the Week - John Clellon Holmes

John Clellon Holmes first met Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg at a 4th of July party in 1948 in New York. He and Jack immediately became fast friends based on their shared passion for writing. Holmes actually published a novel in 1952, 'Go', that was based on some of the same people and many of the same experiences as 'On The Road'. This was five years before the eventual publication of 'On The Road' and Kerouac, Ginsberg and Cassady were all characters in that novel.

Holmes was born on March 12, 1926 in Holyoke, Massachusetts (exactly four years younger than Jack who was born on the same day in 1922). Holmes was the person who first asked Kerouac to describe their generation and that's when Jack flashed on Herbert Huncke's use of the term 'beat' and responded immediately that theirs was a "Beat Generation". It is generally accepted that the term 'beat' had a dual meaning for Kerouac - downtrodden, as in beaten down, trying to get by - and also "beatific" or sacred or holy, as reflected in much of Jack's writings. Indeed, those of you who have seen tapes of Kerouac on the Steve Allen TV Show know that in 1959, when Steve asked Jack to describe the term 'beat', Jack came back with a one word response - "sympathetic".

John Clellon Holmes lived in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. He remained close friends with Kerouac until Jack's death in 1969. John Clellon Holmes died in Middleton, Connecticut on March 2, 1988. He is the author of 'Go', 'The Horn" and "Representative Men'.

Below is an interview recollection of John Clellon Holmes from "Jack's Book - an Oral Biography of Jack Kerouac" by Barry Gifford and Lawrence Lee.

John Clellon Holmes:

"He wanted to break loose and he didn't want to have to pause for anything, so he wrote On the Road in one long paragraph about 120,000 words long. It was unparagrahed, using all the original names and everything.

He just flung it down. He could disassociate himself from his fingers, and he was simply following the movie in his head.

- Jack was a lightning typist. Once, Jack said, "Let's write a letter to Alan Harrington." And I said, ""What do you mean?" He said, "Well, you do the first page, dictate to me, and I'll take it down on the typewriter, and then I'll do the same with you." And literally-and I was talking much faster than I'm talking now-he took it down, just as I talked to him. I tried to do it-I'm a very fast but inexact typist-and I couldn't come anywhere close.

He wrote On the Road in the spring of '51 when he was living with Joan in Chelsea. They had split by that point and he was then living with Lucien, or he'd moved his desk into Lucien's apartment, and he was typing it up. Typing to Jack-in jack's career-meant rewriting. That's how he rewrote.

I remember going down there. Allan Temko was there, Lucien's then-girl, Liz Lerman was her name, was there. Lucien was there, and we were all waiting to go out and do something, and Jack had to finish typing up this chapter. It was noon. So it must have been a week after that that he finished and took it to Giroux and Harcourt, Brace.

How much longer it was after that that they rejected it, I can't remember. But it wasn't too long. Two weeks maybe. He never told me the details. He just told me that Giroux had rejected it and said that this isn't what we wanted. We wanted another novel like The Town and the City.

Here he was, after all the difficulty of writing the book, all the false starts, he thought he had something. So he delivered it to Big Daddy, and then when Big Daddy said no, he was both angry-he was angry on the surface-but I think much more important, he was confused.

I read On the Road. I read the roll, and I read it-I can't remember exactly, but it was no more than a week after he had finished it. He had not even read it. He brought it to me and it was a roll like a big piece of salami. And he was so confused and exhausted when he was finished.

It was much longer than the book is now, about a third longer, and it went on and on and on. It took me a whole day to read it. I read it like a Chinese scroll. And it was one paragraph! Of 120,000 words, with the names unchanged. We all used to do that then.

I knew it was good. I knew it was something. His work always changed my days, whenever I read anything. His enormous capacity for sense impressions and his gift for catching them on the fly somehow, always changed my reality whenever I read his stuff.

I took it to my agent, MCA, who read it and liked it, but also was kind of persnickety about it, but nevertheless took it on, and they finally-Phyllis Jackson-sent the book to Viking, and Viking said maybe. And that maybe lasted for an awful long time. Meanwhile Jack left town and became a bum, in effect. Worked on the railroad and the whole thing, and went on writing all those books for which we know and love him.

When he sent me Visions of Cody, and even Doctor Sax-Doctor Sax came first-I thought, man, no one's going to publish this. It's brilliant. It's youth. It's something absolutely new and unique and important, but no one's going to publish it. I'll never forget the afternoon. It was snowing. I was living on Forty-Eighth Street on the fifth floor of an old tenement, and I read that whole damned book Visions of Cody in one day. And I was depressed, not by the book, but by the fact that I knew he wasn't going to make it with this book. He wasn't going to get through. Nobody but me and Allen and a few people would ever read it, it seemed to me. I thought, "Oh, God, Jack! Why can't you write something that can get published so somebody can understand what you have?" In my foolishness it seemed he was being perverse. I was of two minds. I still am. In those years, in the fifties, it seemed to me most important that somebody come to understand him. They haven't to this day."

quoted from Jack's Book

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