In Honor Of Jean Bon Kerouac On The 60th Anniversary Of “On The Road” (1957)
By Book Critic Zack James
To be honest I know about On The Road Jack Kerouac’s epic tale of his generation’s search for something, maybe he truth, maybe just kicks, what he, or something associated with him, maybe the bandit poet Gregory Corso, called the “beat” generation (beat of the drum, dead beat, dread beat, beaten down, beatified like saintly you take your pick of the meanings-hell they all did, the guys, and it was mostly guys who hung out on the mean streets of New York, Chi town, North Beach in Frisco town) strictly second-hand. I was too young to have had anything but a vague passing reference to the thing through my oldest brother Alex. Alex, and his crowd, more about that in a minute, but even he was only washed clean by the “beat” experiment at a very low level, mostly through reading the book and having his mandatory two years of living on the road around the time of the Summer of Love, 1967 an event whose 50th anniversary is being commemorated this year as well. So even Alex and his crowd were really too young to have been there, being an understanding there at the creation.
Of course anytime you talk about books and add my brother Alex’s name in that automatically brings up memories of another name, the name of the late Peter Paul Markin. Markin, for whom Alex and the rest of the North Adamsville corner boys, Jack, Jimmy, Si, Josh, still alive recently had me put together tribute book for in connection with the Summer of Love, 1967. Markin was the vanguard guy who got several of them off their asses and out to the West Coast to see what there was to see. Some stuff that Markin had been speaking of for a number of years before (and which nobody in the crowd paid attention to, or dismissed out of hand in those cold, hungry cultural days) and which can be indirectly attributed to the activities of Jack, Allen Ginsburg, Gregory Corso, that aforementioned bandit poet, William Burroughs and a bunch of other guys who took a very different route for our parents who were of the same generation but of a very different world. But above all Jack’s book, Jack’s book which had caused a big splash in 1957 and had ripple effects into the early 1960s (and even now certain “hip” kids acknowledge the power of attraction that book had for their own developments, especially that living simple and hard part). Had to spend some time thinking through the path of life by hitting the road. Maybe not hitchhiking, maybe not going high speed high through the ocean, plains, mountain desert night but staying unsettled for a while anyway.
Like I said above Alex was out two years and other guys from a few months to a few years. Markin started first but was interrupted by his fateful induction into the Army and service, if you can call it that, in Vietnam and then several more years upon his return before his untimely end. With maybe this difference from today’s young. Alex, Frankie Riley the acknowledged leader, Jack Callahan and the rest, Markin included, were strictly from hunger working class kids who when they hung around Tonio Pizza Parlor were as likely to be thinking up ways to grab money fast any way they could or of getting into some hot chick’s pants as anything else. Down at the base of society when you don’t have enough of life’s goods or have to struggle too much to get even that little “from hunger” takes a big tool on your life. I can testify to that part because Alex was not the only one in the James family to go toe to toe with the law, it was a close thing for all us boys as it had been with Jack when all is said and done. But back then dough and sex after all was what was what for corner boys then, maybe now too although you don’t see many guys hanging on forlorn Friday night corners anymore.
What made this tribe different, the Tonio Pizza Parlor corner boys, was mad monk Markin. Markin called by Frankie Riley the “Scribe” fromteh time he came to North Adamsville from across town in junior high school and that stuck all through high school. The name stuck because although Markin was as larcenous and lovesick as the rest of them was also crazy for books and poetry. Christ according to Alex, Markin was the guy who planned most of the “midnight creeps” they called then although nobody in their right minds would have Markin actually execute the plan that was for Frankie to lead. That was why Frankie was the leader then (and maybe why he was a locally famous lawyer later who you definitely did not want to be on the other side against). Markin was also the guy who all the girls for some strange reason would confide in and thus was the source of intelligence about who was who in the social pecking order, in other words, who was available, sexually or otherwise. That sexually much more important than otherwise. See Markin always had about ten billion facts running around his head in case anybody, boy or girl, asked him about anything so he was ready to do battle, for or against take your pick.
The books and the poetry is where Jack Kerouac and On The Road come into the corner boy life of the Tonio’s Pizza Parlor life. Markin was something like an antennae for anything that anything that seemed like it might help create a jailbreak, help them get out from under. Later he would be the guy who introduces some of the guys to folk music when that was a big thing. (Alex never bought into, still doesn’t, that genre despite Markin’s desperate pleas for him to check it out.) Others too like Kerouac’s friend Allen Ginsburg and his wooly homo poem Howl from 1956 which Markin would read sections out loud on lowdown dough-less, girl-less Friday nights. And drive the strictly hetero guys crazy when he insisted that they read the poem, read what he called new breeze was coming down the road. They could, using a term from the times could have given a rat’s ass about some fucking homo faggot poem from some whacko Jewish guy who belonged in a mental hospital.
Markin flipped out when he found out that Kerouac had grown up in Lowell a working class town very much like North Adamsville and that he had broken out of the mold that had been set for him and gave the world some grand literature and something to spark the imagination of guys down at the base of society like his crowd with little chance of grabbing the brass ring. So Markin force-marched the crowd to read the book, especially putting pressure on my brother who was his closest friend then. Alex read it, read it several times and left the dog- eared copy around which I picked up one day when I was having my summertime blues. So it was through Markin via Alex that I got the Kerouac bug. And now on the 60th anniversary I am passing on the bug to you.