SUR MARATHON READING
BRIAN HASSETT: Brothers and Sisters of the Universe,
Whale, we had another Jackfest by the Sea! This one in his
suburban hometown of Northport, the idyllic little living
Rockwell painting where he went to get away from the madness
but still remain a slip away. I'm just back from the road
trip with Cassady and the road jar's still chill on the
desk beside me and his bottle's still spinning around on
the table but not falling over as he's dashed out the door
to the car to return it to some rental place near JFK before
hitchin the bird back to Cali, so before the body gets cold
and the news gets old lemmi be so bold as to share some
I missed the opening proclamation on Sunday at noon where
they gave Carolyn & John Cassady and Dave Amram the keys
to the city or some such thing at a very official ceremony.
Carolyn read two revealing letters from Jack to her from
oh '61/62-ish where he was expressing his love to her. I
read them later -- really nice longing heart-felt passion.
Carolyn's just a beaming gem with a tender-heart treasure-chest.
They were really close, and it was so nice that she was
around for the whole weekend being open and accessible to
anyone who wanted to talk to her.
It was Sunday morning in the Universe, and this being
New York, there were no liquor stores open. Big Tim Moran,
who was Edie and Henri's friend, had come back to collect
the only bottle of cold white wine in town out of the fridge
at our Chalet hideaway and gathered me in the process. It
was a hairy dog morning after a night of howling at the
Jackmoon out on George Wallace's back deck. We were bad.
Clearly could have used some parental supervision. So Tim
and I drive by the gig, and he says, "Yeah, that's it right
there," pointing to a sign that reads "Northport Police
Station". We kept driving looking for a parking spot, and
looking back over my shoulder, I *still* see the word "Police",
and I'm sitting there tryin to shake the picture clearer
in my beer-soaked lab, but it still, "Looks like it said
'Police Station' back there." "Yeah," Tim says with a dramatic
sinister laughing pause. "That's what it is." Hmm. "First
time we ever played a cop shop," I say, turning around and
trying to count how many laws I was breaking currently.
We go up the stairs and on the right is the door directly
into the precinct, and in the center are 2 glass doors leading
to . . . a courtroom. Sure enough, we're celebrating Jack's
judgement day novel in a court of law. There's a poem in
here somewhere. But we must have been acquitted cuz at the
end of the day we were all let go on our own recognizance.
People are sitting up in the judge's bench area, there's
a big camera from the Metro Channel in the witness stand,
and the room's packed with rows of chairs that are all full,
here in the early stages. Maybe a hundred people, then a
spilling overflow anti-chamber room just outside the courtroom
by the glass doors where the pacers and racers had a space
to zoom. On the table selling the books and CDs, printed
on the front of the table it says, "Defendants Stand Here".
I always feel guilty enough when trying to decide to buy
a book or not, and this just amplified this innocent reader's
Outside the doors, the front steps became the green room
and hang-out scene. You could just open the glass doors
and hear the show right there, and sorta pick which chapter
or person you wanted to catch, then take a break and hang
outside with the cigarette smokers and on the road yakkers.
It became obvious that we needed a full dressing room, so
I brought out a chair for Queen Carolyn, and that pretty
much evened out the universe, except that we didn't have
a corkscrew. We thought of going in the police station to
see if they'd confiscated one recently but instead John
& Big Tim went across the street to the cool old brick house
with the Northport Hysterical Society and the two old ladies
behind glasstop counters with similarly aged artifacts in
rows with tiny labels. "Do you have a corkscrew by any chance?"
they ask. "No, I should say not." And then Ambassador John
turns on the charm and they get to talkin and he says, "It's
for me mum, she's the co-chairman at your event across the
street." "Oh, who's she?" asks the inquisitive matron. John
looks down at the countertop and there's a picture of her
and Jack and John's two sisters. "That's her right there."
And the motherly one behind the counter smiles and says,
"Just a minute," and goes and unlocks one of the glass cabinets
and takes out this ornate porcelain & brass corkscrew that
Walt Whitman used or something and goes, "Here, maybe this'll
So we popped open the wine, and oh yeah, we'd brought
one nice wine glass from the sweet suite and got Carolyn
perched on a throne sitting at the top of this grand staircase
like Abe Lincoln, drinking a glass of wine and surrounded
by her coterie of boys, sorta holding court as different
people would come by and start talking to her. Most people
would squat down to be close to her and they'd each yak
about whatever particular thing they wanted to say to or
ask her, often including the line, "I read 'On The Road'
in about 19whatever and it changed my life . . ." Eventually
some other chairs wandered out to this little corner we'd
taken over and it evolved into our full-blown feet-up office
for the day -- on the Main Street police station steps.
Inside at the reading, Dave Amram's set up in the corner
with his 7,000 instruments strewn all over the place, and
drummer Kevin Twigg with a full kit workin the brushes,
with bearded John Dewitt thrummin' the upright bass. There's
about 5 different little digi cameras rollin, and it looks
like a two-camera shoot from the Metro Channel. There's
musician poet Casey Cyr, painter sculptor Susan Bennett,
installation artist China Blue, the actors Michelle Esrick
and Peter Gerety, Larry Smith the photographer and whatever
else he is from around here, the poet George Dickerson,
and so on. Some of my favorite readers, and I couldn't catch
nearly everyone, were -- Levi Asher on chapter 9 who was
understated and funny and riveting about Jack's first Surreal
breakdown, and then this actor John Ventimiglia who's in
The Sopranos among other things, plays Artie the restaurant
owner. He's very into Jack (had just played him in the Joyce
Johnson play 'Door Wide Open') and as Cassady said later,
"He sounded more like Jack than Jack does." And Carolyn
said, "When I closed my eyes I thought I was listening to
Jack." So there ya go. He was pretty good. He read both
chapters 10 and 11 including Jack's great description of
Welch & Whalen's Beat pad.
And then this local woman Kate Kelly came up for 12, and
she was really earnest and passionate and playful and strong
and forceful and funny, all done with a smile as Jack rages
thru his confusion. Kinda kicked it off. Then John Cassady
read chapter 13, and he's funny cuz he throws in all these
little asides and commentary on the text as it's passing
-- and he'd picked chapter 13 cuz it was about their life
in Los Gatos, and he's tossing comments off to his mom who's
keeping a running visual commentary back - an unspoken thought-sharing
across a half a stage and half-century of them playin together.
After John read, we had a break until we were going to
be on for our chapter 23 group effort, so we walked down
Main Street and popped our heads in Gunther's Taproom, Jack's
old drinking hole, and you can see why -- nuthin but a bar.
Then we ambled off like dingledoodies down the sidewalk
until we found a front window booth in some joint and no
sooner had we sat down than Levi and his sister Sharon (who
was into the Beats before Levi was, we learned this weekend)
and they stand there looking at the menu as we'd done seconds
earlier and make the same call we did. And then Regina Weinreich,
and now there's a whole swack of us munchin the Big Cereal
But this is also how ya also miss part of the show, you
understand. So of course after a course of regal Caesar
salads we get back about 5 minutes before we're supposed
to go on. I'd picked chapter 23 about the Cassadys coming
out to the cabin and surprising Jack and McClure before
we knew the Cassady's were coming out to Northport to surprise
us, cuz I wanted to do it justice (it is a courtroom after
all!) if they weren't going to be here to do it themselves
-- then Lo and Behold! The angels! They showed! So we weaved
it into having John do the Neal & Timmy parts, Carolyn doing
her parts, and me playing narrator Jack. We'd read together
in Amsterdam -- the first time John & Carolyn ever performed
together thanks to High Times and the Cannabis Cup of all
things. Then John and I did a duet in LA at that great Jack
'On The Road' show that S.A. Griffin put together, so we
were already old hams at this.
And it was funny putting it together in advance cuz everybody
else was just reading solo and suddenly we're talking "a
trio" with god knows what kind of improv winginess and I'm
sure producer George Wallace was just kinda, "Oh jeez, what
are these guys gonna do?" Course we had no idea either.
We'd gotten together the afternoon before and attempted
to block off paragraphs and passages, but we were all just
seeing each other for the first time in ages and all much
more gushy gooey gabby than rehearsey. And it was funny
-- I wuz tryin to funnel some paragraphs or passages to
Carolyn cuz she didn't have too many "lines", and each time
I'd pass over something she'd scan down it and then go,
"Aaa-no." It's all really good but all too close to home
and some pretty graphic stuff about Cody's, uh, private
parts. But it also has the stuff about Carolyn having two
husbands for a while, which she loves, so we just thought,
"Ah, wheel wing it. No potholes on this golden road." So
we go into the courtroom and Amram's just taken off to do
his soundcheck for the evening concert at the Harry Chapin
Rainbow Stage down the road. Our thing was so chaotically
theatric that we were more than making our own music. So
we start off, bouncing back forth, and John takes the McClure
dialogue so we get to do the cabin rap in two voices, and
then he also rides the "Boom!" Cassady-bursting-in-the-door
part, and when Jack lists the kids' pseudonyms John starts
laughing at his sister Jamie's name 'Gaby'. "See, that's
so perfect for her cuz she used to get up on his knee and
just gab-gab-gab-gab-gab." So John takes off on the Neal
raps, channeling Pop, rollin fast like the road, with animated
hand gestures, laughing, goofin, playin'. Carolyn yells
out "Grape" when Cody's tryin to think of his new jeep's
color. Jack's comical epitaph for Neal, "He Lived, He Sweated",
cracks John up, and he starts doing a Neal Sweating Shuffle
dance at the podium and laughin and hemmin 'n' hawin and
ah-shucksin', ya-had-to-be-therein', and he laughs again
and says, "Ah man, that's the best line in the book. I'm
only serious." At Carolyn's dialogue we all get it about
half right of course which makes it really funny and everybody's
laughin but it's workin and there's Carolyn gentle and petit
and lady-like laughing away and gamely trying to hit her
mark and it was a sweet tender family-beaming moment in
So after that we were done in more ways than one. We went
off on a wild adventure to the first two of Jack's 3 houses
in Northport. The first one at 34 Gilbert was Really Nice!
Couldn't believe it. Bought six months after On The Road
splashed down, it was huge, big front porch, high hedge,
big tree in backyard, big old garage with upper attic space.
The house has three floors, garret windows, a basement,
and as Levi kept commenting on, this beautiful stained-glass
window in the front, looked like a reclining cubist nude,
maybe 3' wide, 18" high. "You'd think this would have made
it into the fiction somewhere," Levi says. So we take a
buncha snaps with Levi and John and China Blue and Anthony
who booked us in Amsterdam and who grew up right behind
Jack's house here as he tells us about Memere inviting them
in for cocoa in the winter and he remembers cranky Jack
shuffling around in his bathrobe.
And all weekend there were people with stories of Jack.
Stanley Twardowicz was around for part of it, and Larry
Smith the photographer, but all these other people had some
little remembrance story about Jack. He really did live
here for a long time -- April '58 to '64, with a few excursions
to Orlando. Stanley was a great guy by the way. Very friendly
and open and sensitively remembering his old friend. Larry
Smith had a few pictures he's never had reproduced that
were haunting. One of them just gave Carolyn the shivers.
"It's all in there. It's all in those eyes," she'd say and
then just shiver all over. Then we went over to 49 Earl
Avenue after getting lost for about 500 hours, and by this
time Johnny's thinking 'steak', so we just looked at the
Earl house for a minute from the road. It looks smaller
than the Gilbert Street house, and did indeed have a six
foot old stockade style fence around the backyard that you
couldn't see thru or get over. This is where he was living
when he made the 'Big Sur' trip and is where Tyke is buried
under the honeysuckle vines in the corner of the backyard.
Sitting on the front step of the house watching us watch
the house was this big warm friendly calico cat, that never
laid down or ran scaredy-cat away, but rather held there,
saying, "Hello. Yes. I'm here." But Cassady was like, "Yeah,
this is great. Let's eat." So that was that for little Tyke.
We never did find Judyann Court. Next time.
Oh, they're doing something at Gunther's on August 23rd.
For some reason this gig just feels right to me. REALLY
good people out there. Oh, and we were fully stoked about
the town, the harbor, the distant dreamy vibe. I mean gorgeous,
quaint Main Street, windy tree-covered sideroads, hills,
nooks & grannies, and for some reason, a ton of police stations.
"Why didn't Jack write more about this place?" Carolyn kept
asking. The beauty of the town was really the surprise of
the weekend for all of us. That, and 4-show-instigator George's
hospitality. Very nice guy in a very nice town. So I'm fully
bummed I didn't see more of the readers, but it was this
gorgeous day and there were 7 or 8 Adventure Cards on deck.
Had t'play 'em. We all went out for this enormous steak
dinner after a tip from a local actor Cassady'd dubbed John
Goodman, and we took over the place. It was your jumbo grill
here's-the-beef kinda joint where we could only get a table
in the non-smoking section so would keep leaving our spread
completely empty like a Dine 'n' Dash and huddling in the
smoking corner while our food sat there.
Then we went over to Amram's show late as hell, got lost,
were trying to come up with all kinda excuses, but boy were
we hungry, and when we finally find the park in the dark
there's this flood of people leaving with lawn chairs and
blankets, and we're like, "Whoops." Carolyn and John were
supposed to read some Jack with Dave's band. So we get there
and thank God Dave's takin a break and there's gonna be
a second set! Carolyn came out and read the part of OTR
where he's "on the rooftop of America," at the great Divide,
yelling across the Plains to where an old man with white
hair would come walking toward them with "the Word". And
then John came out and knocked it out of the Harry Chapin
Park -- probably his best reading ever. Somehow just on
and gone. Levi was there with his parents & sister on a
blanket in the front and whispered, "He's channeling Neal."
And I thought, Boy, he's gettin more comfortable on stage
and is just playin with it. Dave gave him a passage about
driving into Denver for the first time. "I'd be seeing old
Denver at last," Cassady read. Great moment. Then that channeling
voice of Jack's, John Ventimiglia, did the 'Hearing Shearing'
part of On The Road with Dave's Sextet playing the role
of Shearing's band. Killer jazz-jam riffin rendition of
course. And George Wallace closed the show with the classic
last paragraph of OTR, but read it with this quiet sadness
that almost made me cry, and it sounded like he was going
to break down himself and could barely choke out the words,
"I thought of Dean Moriarty."
Jason Eisenberg, the Lord Buckley guy who read chapter
18 and was probably great but I missed him when we went
for that surreal recovery brunch that got us thru the show,
so we snuck out to the holy echoing chamber gazebo in the
back of the park and had a fine yak about the Universe as
Dave wailed away on Ellington and Monk down the dark treed
hill below us. Of course he pushed it all the way to the
11 PM limit and just lockwalloped that stage with a knock-out
blessing second set.
So there it is. I believe there may have been some drinking
involved. Some folks are real straight and some folks are
nine-bottles-later. It was pretty funny. But everyone was
a gem and shining. It was really -- I dunno -- small town
niceness. The locals are livin' right near New York so there's
a certain amount of voltage surging thru them, and they're
passionate about words & self expression and being yourself
while living in a Norman Rockwell painting, and so they're
really good people but with this weird bent who all get
together on Sundays and party in police stations. Weird
little place. But nice weird.
JASON EISENBERG: One of the best and most enjoyable
did I say innovative? tributes to Our Man Jack Kerouac.
So many GREAT readers at Northport breathed new life into
the novel. David Amram nailed it to the wall as usual with
110% focused goodwill soul and joy of living, Carolyn Cassady
was likewise amazing, gracious, forthcoming, blunt and FUNNY,
I told her she had a voice like honey drippin' off the vine
and she coo' d like a dove. John Allen Cassady raved happily
as is his wont. I thought his reading at the park concert
was great. Matter o fact the park concert was not only the
hottest quartet I've seen David assemble, but his 32 bar
solo was likewise the gone -est testament to his jazzmanship
not to mention you-all (Carolyn, John, John Ventimiglia
and George Wallace), who read with the band really took
the whole scene beyond Cloud 9 to the Twelfth of Never.
And speaking of Never, I never played a Police Station
before; glad to add it to my resumé. And this just one quarter
of the shout heard round the nation. A mighty congratula-chez-son!
with a golden glow from a solid show.