Literary Tourism: Jack Kerouac’s New York

In this Oct. 21, 1969, photo is author Jack Kerouac who only lived in St. Petersburg, Fla., a handful of years before he died there in 1969. But the Sunshine City still claims him as its own. One hundred years ago on March 12, Kerouac was born in Lowell, Mass.

“In this silent five minutes of 16mm film, Jack Kerouac is considering Lower Manhattan. He’s on 3rd Avenue and 6th Street with Ginsberg, Lucien Carr and the Carr family, appearing to be partaking in the hippest meal of the day, brunch, in all his casual glory. While Ginsberg takes care of pleasantries and corrals all in attendance, he makes special check-ins with his notoriously moody friend, coming up to him here and there to speak quietly and closely. Maybe it’s my imagination, but Kerouac seems to be appeasing Ginsberg with this midday family outing. It seems he might feel uncomfortable with the camera on him. We see something rumbling and threatening to surface as he smokes pensively, surveys the landscape of the city — a longtime friend and muse — and examines small details, like the peephole of a door. They enter a long-gone diner called Harmony. If you stumble after Kerouac’s footsteps in New York, you’ll find that so many of his old haunts are long-gone. So close but so far away now are the Cedar Tavern, closed in 2008, and the Holiday Club on St. Marks, closed just a few years ago. The seedy Automats and smoke filled Hector’s cafeteria are so distant it’s hard to visualize their Bohemian scene at all. Even in this film reel on 3rd Ave, Kerouac must be a little annoyed by the urban landscape in flux — a big, imposing construction going up where something undoubtedly full of history has been razed, right behind him. The city he loved was dying then, in 1958, as it’s dying today, dying all the time. We bemoan that all the coolest parts of our city are turning to ash and wistful memory, probably much like Kerouac did. We shake our fists (okay, discreetly roll our eyes and snidely comment) at the condos, chain drug stores and franchises that rise from that ash. But this is how an enormous city like New York functions: mostly blind to its own romance. The city sure can be a cruel mistress to its struggling artists, who writhe in anguish every time a classical institution is ripped from our New York fantasy. …”

Caffe Reggio, 1961

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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