Brother-Souls: John Clellon Holmes, Jack Kerouac, and the Beat Generation

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 464
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    Book Description:

    John Clellon Holmes met Jack Kerouac on a hot New York City weekend in 1948, and until the end of Kerouac's life they were--in Holmes's words--"Brother Souls." Both were neophyte novelists, hungry for literary fame but just as hungry to find a new way of responding to their experiences in a postwar American society that for them had lost its direction. Late one night as they sat talking, Kerouac spontaneously created the term "Beat Generation" to describe this new attitude they felt stirring around them. Brother Souls is the remarkable chronicle of this cornerstone friendship and the life of John Clellon Holmes.From 1948 to 1951, when Kerouac's wanderings took him back to New York, he and Holmes met almost daily. Struggling to find a form for the novel he intended to write, Kerouac climbed the stairs to the apartment in midtown Manhattan where Holmes lived with his wife to read the pages of Holmes's manuscript for the novel Go as they left the typewriter. With the pages of Holmes's final chapter still in his mind, he was at last able to crack his own writing dilemma. In a burst of creation in April 1951 he drew all the materials he had been gathering into the scroll manuscript of On the Road.Biographer Ann Charters was close to John Clellon Holmes for more than a decade. At his death in 1988 she was one of a handful of scholars allowed access to the voluminous archive of letters, journals, and manuscripts Holmes had been keeping for twenty-five years. In that mass of material waited an untold story. These two ambitious writers, Holmes and Kerouac, shared days and nights arguing over what writing should be, wandering from one explosive party to the next, and hanging on the new sounds of bebop. Through the pages of Holmes's journals, often written the morning after the events they recount, Charters discovered and mined an unparalleled trove describing the seminal figures of the Beat Generation: Holmes, Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Gregory Corso, and their friends and lovers.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-580-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-2)

    Our new apartment was in one of those time-stained buildings on Manhattan’s Lower East Side that had been newly renovated to bring young renters into an old New York neighborhood. It was on St. Mark’s Place, close to First Avenue, and despite the noise and dirt, the prevalent discomfort over street crime, and the tensions with older Polish and Ukrainian neighbors, it was on the Lower East Side. In the 1960s what was left of New York City’s spirit of restless cultural experimentation had left Greenwich Village and moved a few blocks east to streets that were even shabbier, but...

  5. Chapter 1 A USABLE PAST
    (pp. 3-15)

    John Clellon Holmes was only ten when the flood of 1936 prodded the rivers in the northeastern United States over their banks and into the surrounding towns and cities in New England. Jack Kerouac had just turned fourteen. Each of them vividly remembered the flood, and for Holmes it became one more point where their lives had crossed, even if miles apart and only on the banks of flooded rivers. In their temperaments they were more different than they were alike, but their boyhood in New England towns was a place from their past they would always share. It wasn’t...

  6. Chapter 2 THE MAGIC OF WORDS
    (pp. 16-25)

    The Depression had a devastating effect on every level of American society, including Kerouac’s family in Lowell, where he was a high school student during the worst years. Despite the economic collapse, however, and despite the dislocations of his childhood, Holmes lived in a social world that had a measure of shelter from the hard times most of the country was facing. The collapse had left many large homes in Englewood vacant, and for a few years his parents moved from one to another. Holmes later figured that he had moved twenty times before his eighteenth birthday. Despite the birth...

    (pp. 26-46)

    Although Holmes and Kerouac never lost their sense of their New England roots, it was to be New York that was their scene for twenty years, despite occasional periods away from the city and the scattering of the group of friends who brought them together. They each came to New York as teenagers, but Kerouac was older, and he was the first to arrive. Of all the anomalies of Kerouac’s life, one of the most unexpected was that he came to New York City as a football player on a scholarship.

    Kerouac had entered Lowell High School as a sophomore...

    (pp. 47-64)

    Later in the summer of 1945, as Holmes slowly fought his way back from the emotional trauma of his hospital experiences, whatever uncertainties he felt about his future were swept into insignificance by the destruction of Hiroshima by an atom bomb on August 6. His optimistic ideas about a world with new economic goals that he had absorbed from Macguire seemed suddenly meaningless measured against the power of the new weapon. He wrote of the attack later as

    “a crime without a name” or “antimatter,” even the language of Lear proving inadequate to the descriptions of the shadows of atomized...

  9. Chapter 5 A WEEKEND IN JULY
    (pp. 65-82)

    It’s often chance collisions that most effect our lives, rather than the carefully planned encounters we often discount beforehand, since we have some idea of what to expect. In 1948 Holmes had no idea of the people he would meet on the Fourth of July weekend. What he noted in his journal was that the first days of July were very hot. It was hot and muggy and oppressive, with the stale breathlessness that hangs in the narrow corridors of the New York City streets, hemmed in on both sides by the weight of building fronts that leave no room...

  10. Chapter 6 A KIND OF BEATNESS
    (pp. 83-100)

    Holmes wrote later that he felt like a different person after the first weekend of July, but he also remembered that as it all was happening he had no idea how it would effect his life. A perspiring weekend of edgy encounters with four new individuals as complicated and challenging as Landesman, Legman, Kerouac, and Ginsberg would have been a puzzle to sort out for anyone, and Holmes had only a casual brush with each of them.

    For the moment everyone had scattered. Landesman and his wife returned to St. Louis a few days after their meeting at the hotel,...

  11. Chapter 7 NEAL & CO.
    (pp. 101-116)

    On January 4, 1949, the day after Holmes wrote to Mira Kent about the two “friends”—Neal Cassady and his ex-wife, LuAnne—sleeping on his couch while he made noises around them in an effort to wake them up, he wrote a letter to Alan Harrington in Arizona, describing the arrival of Neal Cassady in New York at the beginning of the week. Cassady’s abrupt arrivals in New York have become so much the material of the Beat legend that Holmes’ description, written the day after Cassady and LuAnne had left the apartment, helps to set what sometimes seem to...

    (pp. 117-130)

    In his disappointment with Kerouac for being drawn into the excitement of driving off with Neal Cassady to New Orleans and San Francisco on January 19, 1949, Holmes noted, almost in a scolding tone, that for Kerouac it was a way to avoid facing his own dilemmas. However in the doubts that became a recurring theme in Holmes’ journals and letters after the group finally left, it was clear that the weeks when Cassady was roaring around Manhattan—either “manna from heaven or the plague,”¹ as Holmes had written in a letter to Harrington in Tuscon—had also given Holmes...

  13. Chapter 9 ANGELIC VISIONS
    (pp. 131-149)

    In the spring of 1949, as Holmes struggled to deal with the disappointment of his novel’s rejection, he began to realize that he was closer to an answer to his dilemma than he understood. What he had learned from his opportunities to read portions of the manuscript ofThe Town and the City, with its final chapters describing Ginsberg and others in their crowd, was that their everyday lives—their friends and their lifestyle—could be a subject that would free him to introduce the themes of rebellion and moral defeat that continued to tantalize him. Kerouac’s autobiographical approach to...

  14. Chapter 10 IN THE TEMPLE OF THE GODS
    (pp. 150-172)

    The first night after his return to 681 Lexington Holmes began his new novel. He and Marian came back from their weeks in Provincetown without even enough money for food, so she went to stay with her family in Chappaqua, leaving him alone. New York was in another of its summer heat waves—oppressive, lifeless, stale, and sweaty. This was before most New York apartments had air conditioning, when bedside fans only pushed stifling air listlessly around the room. Photographers created a vogue of night pictures of New York families crammed onto fire escapes, trying to find enough relief from...

  15. Chapter 11 A TORRENT OF WORDS
    (pp. 173-195)

    Even though it was a long subway ride into midtown Manhattan from his mother’s apartment in Queens, Kerouac still climbed the stairs to Holmes’ apartment at 681 Lexington Avenue almost every day through the winter of 1950–1951. Usually they started with whatever beer was in the refrigerator and listened to some of Holmes’ new bop singles. Whatever they began talking about they inevitably picked up their old quarrel over what they felt the other should be writing, and they continued their dispute on long afternoon walks through Manhattan. They tried to make it back to the apartment to clean...

  16. Chapter 12 THE LIVEITUP KID
    (pp. 196-215)

    The final paragraphs ofGowere the book’s emotional culmination. Its story ended in an anguished shudder of despair at the meaninglessness of their lives as Hobbes and Kathryn huddled drunkenly on the night ferry taking them back to Manhattan after the shambles of the crowd’s attempt to mourn their friend’s senseless death. If only for a moment, Hobbes had contemplated suicide as he stared into the darkness, searching in the lights ahead for some sign of a place that he could call home. Although there was no way Holmes could foresee what would happen, before another year had passed...

  17. Chapter 13 PERFECT FOOLS
    (pp. 216-235)

    Those uneasy weeks before a first book appears are one of the most difficult ordeals any writer can face. It seems that whatever happens will alter forever their own perception of themselves. After so many years of straining and dreaming to become that other person—apublishedauthor—it’s difficult not to think that for a moment at least the earth will stop turning. For most writers, however, the only change they find when they come out from under their cloud of anticipation is that their friends regard them differently. The people close to them who were involved in the...

  18. Chapter 14 THE RISING TIDE OF FAME
    (pp. 236-258)

    During the next four years, Holmes struggled against a steady erosion of his emotional reserves as he realized that he couldn’t live on what he was earning as a writer. The shadow of financial catastrophe continually hung over him. Yet the first few times Kerouac saw him after the publication ofGo, he managed to give the impression that he was doing well.

    In late September 1953 they met unexpectedly when John and Shirley visited Ginsberg in his new apartment on the Lower East Side. It was the first time Holmes met Burroughs. Burroughs’ first book,Junky, had been published...

  19. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  20. Chapter 15 WHAT AM I DOING HERE?
    (pp. 259-278)

    In San Francisco Judge Horn may have found in his judicial opinion thatHowlhad “redeeming social value,” but in hindsight he seems almost as detached from the mood of American society as Ginsberg and his friends were. The emergence of the Beat phenomenon in 1957 caused a furor that continued with unabated force through the next decades. At first, oblivious to the coming storm, Holmes and Kerouac were carried on a tide of their own satisfaction. They had always reassured each other that this moment might come, with recognition and some kind of financial reward—but the long years...

  21. Chapter 16 THE HORN
    (pp. 279-290)

    Often with ambitious novels it is difficult to trace the structure that lies beneath the events of the narrative or the descriptions of each character’s idiosyncrasies. With his brilliant, troubling testament to jazz,The Horn, however, Holmes wrote detailed notes on what he was attempting to do. Any reading of the novel has to be done with an awareness of what he considered its creative intentions as well as his book’s ultimate achievement. Holmes wrote at length about the conception of the novel in a letter on July 25, 1977, to Richard K. Ardinger, who had become interested in the...

  22. Chapter 17 TOO-LATE WORDS
    (pp. 291-303)

    With the attention being paid to their books—Kerouac’s work causing major controversy and Holmes’ second novel a success in their world of jazz writing—each of them at this point in his life could expect some kind of stability, but instead over the next few years each found himself spinning out of control.

    For once Kerouac’s problems didn’t revolve around money. He had a steady stream of income from his articles and appearances, as well as from the sale of new manuscripts and the expected royalties fromOn the Road. Though he continued to use Joyce Glassman’s apartment as...

  23. Chapter 18 A SWEET ATTENTION
    (pp. 304-318)

    In the weeks after Holmes’ humiliating day in court for shoplifting, what-ever had been blocking his writing shook loose, and he found he could write again. When he was presented with an opportunity to get away from the isolation of Old Saybrook and the frustrations of his stalled career as a novelist, he was too buoyed up by the work on his new novella “Old Man Molineaux” to consider breaking off. He was certain that his writing was moving in a new direction, even if he was uncomfortably aware that the novella’s length would make it difficult to place with...

  24. Chapter 19 TO THE EDGE OF EROS
    (pp. 319-331)

    In the early 1960s Holmes began to describe his sexual experiences in his journals, which resulted, as he wrote Kerouac, in a “document so selfdamning in its intimacy and revelation that no publisher would believe I don’t care who knows it.”¹ There is no question that Holmes intended to publish what he’d written, since near the end of his life he worked for months with his bibliographer Richard Ardinger preparing all of his sixties journals for publication. If Holmes had the financial resources, as he wrote Kerouac, he would have published the journals himself.

    The graphic content of the material...

  25. Chapter 20 GYPSYING
    (pp. 332-351)

    In the middle of September 1963, John and Shirley left Old Saybrook for a year at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. They brought nothing with them except the books that filled the car and the clothes they’d need for the winter there. After some initial indecision they decided to rent someplace away from the campus. Iowa City, the former state capital where the University of Iowa was situated, was a quiet city, with enough contact with the cultural world through the Workshop to sidestep some of the daunting provincialism that pervades university campuses situated out of the social mainstream. Although Holmes...

  26. Chapter 21 A TURN OF THE CIRCLE
    (pp. 352-370)

    In the late autumn of 1965 Holmes began to worry about the manuscript ofNothing More to Declare. It had been weeks since he’d delivered it to Viking, and there had been no response, even though Viking had signed a contract for the book and paid him half of the advance. His years of disappointments had already prepared him for small sales and little change in his reputation, but like all writers who have labored long on a manuscript and felt they had said something they believed in, he wanted the book to come out. As the weeks passed and...

  27. Chapter 22 GONE IN OCTOBER
    (pp. 371-384)

    Holmes had often confided to friends that he didn’t think Kerouac would live much beyond forty, but he was stunned at the radio announcement on October 21, 1969, that his friend had died that morning in St. Petersburg, Florida. Kerouac was forty-seven. At the time of his death he’d been working onThe Beat Spotlight, another book in his Duluoz Legend. Around noon on October 20 Stella heard him vomiting blood in the bathroom and she called an ambulance to take him to the hospital, where he underwent extensive abdominal surgery for hemorrhaging esophageal varices. After hearing the news, Holmes...

  28. Chapter 23 ON A PORCH IN BOULDER
    (pp. 385-399)

    The mornings were quiet on the wide porch of the old wooden house above Boulder. There was a dining room inside where anyone who got up early could have breakfast. After a cup of coffee a casual crowd slowly gathered to sit on the porch. In later years there would be other gatherings in other cities of some of the same people who sat talking on the Boulder porch, but this would be the last time so many of us would come together at the same moment. It was the summer of 1982, and Allen Ginsberg had gathered everyone who...

  29. Chapter 24 FINAL CHORUS
    (pp. 400-404)

    The letters from Holmes became more infrequent, but they continued to express his concern about the collected volume of Kerouac’s writing that he still hoped he and Ann could edit together for the Viking Portable Library series. His letter on March 10, 1987, contained news that he would return to the hospital on April 3, and the letter continued with the disturbing news that Shirley would also go to the hospital the next week, “for what will be hopefully a minor exploratory operation on her lung.” Shirley’s years of smoking had finally taken its toll on her body, as it...

  30. NOTES
    (pp. 405-426)
    (pp. 427-431)
  32. INDEX
    (pp. 432-441)