Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Letter in Response to Stephen D. Edington's The Beat Face of God

Dear holy readers,
“In America there’s a claw hanging over our brains, which must be pushed aside else it will clutch and strangle our real selves.”
Jack Kerouac got ‘it’ right when he wrote those game machine-like words. It’s why Stephen D. Edington, author of The Beat Face of God, and more so, the inspiration behind this letter, considers him a spiritual guide. And I couldn’t agree more. Jack Kerouac didn’t want average. He didn’t want what mainstream American society had to offer to a white male attending a prestigious university. With his intelligence and drive he could have easily have graduated Columbia University, the prestigious college I previously referred to, and been on his way to an affluent, secure livelihood, but like I said, he didn’t want average. He wanted more. He wanted something spiritual, from his French-Canadian, Roman Catholic upbringings to his dabbling in Buddhism, Kerouac wanted more, i.e. spiritual. It’s arguable that the force behind everything and anything he did was a spiritual one. It’s what I and many others believe was the driving motivation behind all his travels on the road. It’s why he did what he did. It’s why he lived the life he lived. It’s why he’s had such a cultural impact on countless people spanning decades and generations.
But Kerouac wasn’t the only Beat figure to have had and still have such a spiritual influence on people. None of the Beat writers escape this influence; in fact, they all have had vast effects on many people whether they were aware of it or not. Neal Cassidy in particular has had such an indelible effect, and yet as already hinted at previously, never really realized his influence in the shaping and molding in the minds of a plethora of people. Part of this reason is because he never published any writings during his life, a feat accomplished by many of his Beat friends, namely Kerouac and Ginsberg. But he didn’t have to so as to secure immortality in the hearts of those who lived on after and well after his 42 years of living. His life has been captured in the multitude of notes that he wrote to his lovers and friends and in the writings of his lovers and friends. And they all seem to have said the same things, if not very similar things. And what of? Of an insatiable person crazed and loaded with indefatigable energy exhausted by only death itself. They all seem to have recognized a soul that, flawed as it may have been, was on to something in all his searching and traveling. Forget the fact that he screwed as many women as he did nails (a by-product of perhaps a sexually abused childhood), forget the fact that he had abandoned his wife and children multiple times, forget that he was a shitty friend as equally as he was a non-shitty friend. Forget all those things. Those are all things self-righteous people point out who only see on the surface-level. Delve deep into his persona and see the spiritual aspects that pervade all that he did. I don’t mean to beautify an ugly soul, that’s not what I’m trying to do at all; but rather, I’m trying to show how despite the ‘sins’ Cassidy might have committed against himself and others, there was something great and genuine and worth honoring with at least our words.
At this point I could probably continue writing about several other Beat writers and how they were spiritual guides. And maybe that’s what I should do. But I’d get bored. Instead, I’d like to shift our attention to the story of Gerard Kerouac, Jack Kerouac’s older brother who died at the premature age of 9 when Jack was only 4. Jack’s brother died of rheumatic fever at a time when no knowable cure was available. His death was never rationalized in the mind of Jack because in his mind his brother was nothing short of a saint. More so, his brother’s gravesite is visited by numerous Beat aficionados who consider it a holy landmark, mostly because of the picture Jack has etched in their minds regarding his brother. Like his brother, many other figures throughout history have been beatified by those that they have left behind, such as Jesus of Nazareth and Siddhartha Gautama Buddha. These two religious figures have been perhaps the most prominent people ever to grace this earth with their presence. They, like Gerard, have been people revered. Jack revered them. I revere them. So many people revere them. But I thought the Beats were incapable of anything good? Didn’t FBI director J. Edgar Hoover place the Beats as the most dangerous thing against Americans barring Communists and Eggheads (intellectuals/academicians)? It seems at odds that these dangerous people could be the same people who so highly revered the innocence and beauty of a 9 year old boy. I don’t agree with the previously mentioned FBI director. I think Jack and the rest of Beats were the best things, not the most dangerous things for America. They were the ones who were themselves when everyone else was on their knees sucking up to the corporations and institutions. They were the ones who were remembering that they had deeper desires craving satisfaction when everyone else was forgetting their most intrinsic needs. They were imperfect. They were misfits. They were a lot of frowned upon things. But they were spiritual seekers. Let’s not forget that if we remember nothing else!
Sincerely, Enlightened Egghead

1 comment:

  1. "Enlightened Egghead," hm? I like it. On your observation that we immortalize figures like Gerard Kerouac and Jesus and Buddha, I think I'd like to add a thought or two. In truth, there must be many greatly affluent persons throughout history whose stories never made it to our ears. I don't think, in most cases, the individuals themselves have very much to do with the thoughts they represent. Poets, philosophers, and leaders are just voices for ongoing discourse carried out throughout society, and the fastest ones with the ideas that click best with public sensibility are the ones that survive. This is what makes Jack so interesting. He immortalizes the *opposite*: a person whose ideas never saw full development, a person who certainly didn't have enough time in society to develop ideals consistent with its sensibilities. Jack Kerouac truly loves a *person* above all. We never knew Gerard, so it makes little sense for us to go visit his grave. Gerard is Jack Kerouac's personal saint, for him alone. Better we follow Jack's example and find our own personal saint, in my opinion, than blindly worship the beautified saint of another.