Religious or atheist? Kierkegaard or Sartre? We know after Holmes came home from World War II that he confessed that upon entering his chapel he found he could no longer pray. Holmes had reached the metaphysical-psychological state that Kierkegaard called Dread. But to trace this deep seated feeling of dread, for Kierkegaard, a human being has to be dragged through several phases of the human condition. Kierkegaard tells us that people go will through three stages of life and that each stage ultimately takes one to the dread of metaphysical Angst.
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To many, this is the sum of all Holmes is known for. As evidenced by one of the most popular social networking websites, the cult of celebrity embraces Kerouac. The various tribute pages devoted to Kerouac see traffic from over a quarter of a million people, while the single page dedicated to Holmes draws slightly more than three hundred followers.
Even people who knew him personally seem oblivious to the facts of his life. Both were victims of cancers attributed to their heavy use of tobacco. Brother-Souls gives us a painstakingly accurate account of the intertwined lives of the two men.
In so doing, it also unveils a myriad of previously-unknown facts about peripheral personalities like Hinkle, Allen Ginsberg, William S. If not for the frequently-noted dates and fastidious footnotes, this work of non-fiction would read like a novel — a novel deserving space on the same shelf between Go and On the Road.
The little magazine founded by St. A few months earlier, at age twenty-two, he broke into the publishing world with a book review printed in the March, , issue of Poetry magazine. The following year, he sent the first chapters of his novel to Landesman. Both men met at the party and, after sizing each other up in their perspective journals, soon became fast friends and confidants.
Ironies and similarities such as their same birthdate of March 12, Kerouac was five years older are recounted, as are vivid shared memories of the Flood of , which Kerouac witnessed from the banks of the Merrimack River in Lowell, Massachusetts. Eighty miles upstream, Holmes watched from the side of the Pemagawassett River, in Plymouth, New Hampshire, as it rose and flowed into the Merrimack, carrying the same waters and debris which neither of them would ever forget.
One early question left open is why they both decided to become writers. When she mentioned the project to Holmes, he told her that he had the same idea in Not long before his death, Holmes suggested that he and Charters collaborate on it but as his health deteriorated, he passed it back to her with his blessings and an offer of help if she needed it.
In Brother-Souls, we have two scribes writing about two other writers. Aside from the usual suspects, we meet Landesman and Gershon Legman. Legman would become editor of Neurotica and his influence on Holmes is noted. However, in order to satisfy himself as being a real writer, he felt the novel was the form that he needed to master.
To this end, he kept copious journals of the events of his life and of those around him. These were the source material for the chapters of Go which he sent to Landesman in Always generous with his friends, Holmes tried to help Ginsberg by sending his poems to his editor at Partisan Review.
It is very likely, On the Road, given these circumstances, may never have found a form were it not for the encouragement and example given by the younger Holmes. While Ginsberg is typically seen as the gadfly of the collected group of writers, throwing parties and initiating meetings, it was Holmes who opened the doors to Neurotica for them.
Any writer knows the magnitude of the importance of publishing their first piece of work outside of school, and in a professional publication.
Few things are more encouraging than seeing your own name in print for the first time. By coincidentally meeting Landesman, Legman, Kerouac, and Ginsberg all in that same July weekend, could Holmes have been the spark that was necessary to set off the Beat firecracker?
Neal Cassady is most often seen as the touchstone at the center of the group, although it has been said that they all would have followed Burroughs anywhere he went. The more we unravel Cassady, the less grand of a person he becomes. Holmes mentions the black and blue marks left by Cassady, on LuAnne Henderson. His capacity for mental cruelty and abandoning wives and friends at crucial times most likely stems from his own abandonment by his father in Denver, Colorado.
Shouting matches between he and Holmes kept to an intellectual level. In barrooms, he was severely beaten more than once, thanks to his mouth and temper but especially as his alcoholic deterioration worsened. Holmes became hesitant to tell him about advances he got from publishers, for fear of setting him off.
Reading Go as it was written page by page kept him from duplicating scenes already covered by Holmes — but working around another serious writer could be enervating for anyone.
In all fairness to Kerouac, artists who show genius, often do so to express what they cannot in normal life and interpersonal relationships. As artists, writers may plumb themselves to reach those recesses and depths of feeling which are too painful or impossible to relate in any other way. Nonetheless, about three weeks after Holmes finished the last pages of Go, Kerouac became inspired by a letter from Cassady which turned into a rabid series of letters between them.
The excitement of these exchanges prompted him to pull all of his notes together and unleash the torrent within upon the now-famous scroll he fed through his typewriter. It seems safe to say that while Cassady sparked him to action, Holmes laid the foundation during those daily visits.
The resulting three-week period of speed, coffee, and typing which resulted in On the Road has since snowballed into an oft-told tale, but Brother-Souls reminds the reader that this was not all spontaneous prose. While most of the key players became victims of the fame, Ginsberg used it to his advantage. When City Lights got charged with obscenity for distributing Howl and Other Poems, more fuel was added to the fire — especially when presiding Judge Clayton W.
Horn ruled it to be not obscene. Curiously, Ginsberg slighted Holmes with the omission of his name from the dedication page. Kerouac, Burroughs, and Cassady got a nod from the poet, placing them forever in the highest order of Beats.
The depiction of Ginsberg in the book posits a good theory as to why he was snubbed. Ginsberg for his part, had been disappointed in the account of his Blakean vision but, at the same time admitted to the veracity of the portrayal of himself. Six months after the appearance of On the Road, Kerouac published The Subterraneans to be followed in another six months by The Dharma Bums , heightening his fame but not his luck. With money in his pocket for a change, he traveled out of the United States.
As usual, he quickly returned to New York to stay close to his mother. One night, while trying to reach the proper degree of stupor in a local bar, he sustained a broken nose and arm from a beating by a homosexual professional boxer, who claimed he had slurred an insult at him.
Later, the depiction of Cassady as pothead led to his arrest and imprisonment. The whole Beat scene, which thrived in the underground, exploded across the media in , meeting curiosity, admiration, and derision. Nothing linked to Russia could be good in those days. To word irked both men, as they saw it as a symbol of the manipulation, commercialization, and degradation of their once-pure vision. Every critic, pundit, journalist, and magazine writer had something to say about the phenomenon, ranging from suspicions of dangerous revolutions and proliferation of juvenile delinquents to dismissals of idle young hipsters with nothing important to do in life.
The second chapter appeared in Nugget, in October Although relations between he and Kerouac were deteriorating, Kerouac kept a promise and wrote a letter praising the novel to Hiram Hayden at Random House two months after the release of On the Road. Accepted immediately and published in July , it sported a recommendation from Kerouac on the cover. Selling well enough to require a second printing, mainstream reviews failed to reach the depth of it but it was warmly embraced by the cognoscente, including Studs Terkel and Ralph Gleason.
Landesman read it on radio in St. Louis for half an hour, showing how taken he was with it. Perhaps the most ambitious and meticulously-constructed of all the Beat novels, The Horn fascinates, not just by intricacy, but in the marvel of a writer dreaming up such a concept. The novel as it evolved, then, was to be about the American-as-artist.
I wanted each of these characters to represent an American writer, which is the only reason why I put those two little epigraphs in front of each chapter. But I also wanted him to represent a particular kind of jazz musician, and I had to create a fictional character doing these things, so that Edgar Pool, for instance, is Edgar Allen Poe. Holmes structured it: As a kind of dual narrative, each of the narrative streams illustrating and complementing the other.
With the quotations he was suggesting an identification in each chapter between the jazz musician and the individual writer, and he tied the substance of the quotation as closely as he could to the chapter itself… The quotation for the first Chorus is from Thoreau, and the name of the musician is Walden Blue.
The recognition of its brilliance only grows with time, as will the brilliance of Brother-Souls. In , while Kerouac felt his first anxiety over waiting for royalties from the movie version of On the Road a state of anxiety similarly affected Kerouac fans that waited impatiently until for its release , Holmes grew increasingly frustrated with the media attention and his realization that the movement they had created ultimately distanced the once close-knit pair.
He also bristled at being used as a substitute spokesman for the Beat Generation and the perception of himself as a replacement for Kerouac when the latter could not be found.
In spite of this they still kept in touch via letters, proving the true durability of their friendship. Holmes would face his own problems later that year, in the bleak state of his finances and the emotional turmoil that engulfed him when his father suffered a heart attack in October, forcing an end to years of estrangement.
At their home in Old Saybrook, he and Shirley were just about to run out of firewood as the toughest part of the cruel New England winter fell upon them. Luckily, relief came when friends going on vacation asked them to sit their house. In early February, Landesman sent a hundred dollars in a letter after hearing about their difficulties. These acts of kindness helped them through the winter, and in May, they were able to return to visit New York when Landesman staged the first and only Beat musical, The Nervous Set, and all performances sold-out.
Kerouac showed up at the theater drunk and promptly fell asleep in his seat, vanishing during the intermission. The trip gave them some respite but in July a rush-hour accident on the New Jersey Turnpike put his father back in the hospital in Camden and one of his hands had to be amputated as a result.
Weeks spent keeping vigil at the bedside, trying to help nurse his father back to health led to exhaustion and near the end of August, John McClellan Holmes Sr. Old friend Alan Harrington, novelist and On the Road character, helped him with the hospital expenses. The chronic emotional devastation left him unable to write much outside of his journals and he slipped into one of the most unproductive periods of his life.
Days spent drinking and arguing with Shirley exacerbated the situation. An unpaid electric bill for eight dollars forced him to hide upstairs when the electric company worker came to shut off his power in September of and the following month he was arrested for shoplifting a few dollars worth of groceries at a local market. The local press used the story to lampoon him with an embarrassing, supposedly-funny headline. At this point something snapped inside him.
As is often the case, a great man finds his true measure at the worst of times, not the best. It is also worth noting that through it all, Shirley stayed with him, working where she could to support them both. His turn back to the positive side spurred an equally positive reaction from magazines he submitted his work to, after braving it through a short period of rejected stories.
During this period of regeneration, she introduced the pair. Once again, he enjoyed the luxury of intellectual stimulation that is peculiar to like-minded writers. For his part, Algren equally valued conversation with a mind sharp enough to write a book like The Horn. In his case, the violence turned inward and bespeaks the result of not being able to fully love a woman in a true manner. Sex is more than just a function of the genitalia.
It is an outward expression of love and tenderness. He loved his mother, there is no doubting that, but his inability to correlate love and sex the Cassadian logic of all people being apples and we just need to pick them and eat them as we will may have been his undoing.
John Clellon Holmes
To many, this is the sum of all Holmes is known for. As evidenced by one of the most popular social networking websites, the cult of celebrity embraces Kerouac. The various tribute pages devoted to Kerouac see traffic from over a quarter of a million people, while the single page dedicated to Holmes draws slightly more than three hundred followers. Even people who knew him personally seem oblivious to the facts of his life.
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