Saturday, March 6, 2010

Kerouac Was Queens Recluse by Jason Antos - Queens Gazette

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Last week the Queens Gazette ran an article about a lecture given by Pat Fenton about author Jack Kerouac’s life in Queens. The article attracted the attention of Larry Myers, a playwright and associate professor of rhetoric and communication at St. John’s University, who has also been studying the prolific author and his movements, not only in Queens, but also around Greater New York and the country. Myers wrote an Off-Broadway play about Kerouac entitled, “Jack Kerouac, Christian.” which opened in 2009. Given a very strict Catholic upbringing, Kerouac would often paint depictions of Christ with a religious orientation.

The author of On the Road lived at 133-01 Cross Bay Blvd. in Ozone Park and 94-21 134th St. in Richmond Hill for a total of 12 years. It was the longest amount of time that Kerouac and his mother, Gabrielle, with whom he lived for a good portion of his life, ever stayed in one place.

“They were constantly on the move,” Myers said. “Jack and his mom would sometimes just pack up and leave because they could not pay the rent.”

The Queens period of Kerouac’s life has always been shrouded in mystery, simply because he never talked about it. However, the reasons for his silence are less significant than others might think.

“Kerouac kept quiet because nothing major ever happened to him while he was living there,” Myers said. “Gabrielle worked all day in a shoe factory in Brooklyn while he sat home and wrote. He was kind of a recluse.”

Although he lived a mainly uneventful existence in Queens, Kerouac had his moments. He was hospitalized not too far from his home in Ozone Park after having an attack of thrombophlebitis (inflammation of a vein caused by a blood clot) while walking with poet and friend Allen Ginsberg across the Brooklyn Bridge. Kerouac would go on to mentor Ginsberg by giving him lessons in his apartment on Cross Bay Boulevard, which was also the former home of actor John Garfield. It was in this home where Town and the City was written. Ginsberg and Kerouac would take many walks together around the city.

One day they stopped at the Atlantic Avenue overpass of the recently built Van Wyck Expressway. “It looks like a bowling alley of cars,” Kerouac observed.

July 17, 1947 was the day that Kerouac left Ozone Park for his trip across the country. This was one of several journeys that would come to shape his On The Road.

By January 1948, Kerouac rarely left Ozone Park for Manhattan or anywhere else. Whenever he was lonely or felt melancholy, he would write letters to Ginsberg. Most of the information about Kerouac in Queens comes from the correspondence between Ginsberg, Neal Cassady and himself.

On July 26, 1950, Kerouac, now living in Richmond Hill, wrote another draft of his book and entitled it Gone On The Road. This version would be one of many to be scrapped.

From 1952 through 1957, Kerouac continued traveling around the country and even made a trip to Mexico, writing poems. Kerouac lived with the Cassadys through the winter and into the spring of 1952. After leaving Queens in 1955, he went back to a succession of addresses.
Kerouac’s writing would become known as “beat” literature. He has been called the creator of the beat generation, an accolade that he detested. Kerouac meant “beat” to mean “beatific”, or the showing of joy and happiness.

The success of On The Road propelled Kerouac to legendary status. Some people compared him to Walt Whitman. Kerouac was also the inspiration for the television series “Route 66”, which aired on CBS from 1960 to 1964.

Despite his fame there was little fortune. Not all of his books were successes. He was also an alcoholic. When Kerouac died in 1969 at age 47 he had only $87 in his bank account.

Many celebrities make more money dead than when they were alive and Kerouac is no exception. The famous scroll of teletype paper on which he wrote On The Road was purchased by Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay for $2.6 million.

“Kerouac’s family makes millions each year off his name.” Myers said. “He is bigger than James Dean.”