what i watched last week
1968: december 9

i'm beat

I've had a fascination with the Beats for at least 40 years now. I just had one of Those Moments ... in this case, it's a lot like a Moment I had back around 1980.

Our son is named Neal. It isn't accurate or fair to say he is named after anyone, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that Neal Cassady was in my mind, if not my wife's, when we were choosing names. I've often said that I fluctuate between seeing myself as Jack Kerouac and seeing myself as Neal Cassady ... whenever I get around to re-reading On the Road, which is fairly often, I identify with one or the other, depending on where I am in my own life. When we were living in Antioch for that short and awful period almost 30 years ago, I was reading an oral history about Kerouac ... I read a lot of Kerouac biographical stuff in those days. This one was co-written by Barry Gifford and Lawrence Lee. Gifford has gone on to some fame as a writer whose work has been adapted for movies by David Lynch, among others. I was reading this book, and I can't recall exactly how the conversation went, but Robin started thinking about the name "Barry Gifford," and one thing led to another, and I mentioned that he had dedicated the book to someone named Mary Lou, and it clicked for Robin ... back when we lived in Berkeley before that move to Antioch, when Neal was a toddler, he was in one of those baby groups with, among other kids, Barry and Mary Lou's son Asa. I found this to be quite astonishing ... that I had such a close connection to someone who had a close connection to the Beats, and I hadn't even realized it! Being the starstruck type to begin with, I imagine I was shaking in my boots at this realization.

Well, tonight I was looking up Richard Brautigan on Wikipedia ... I forget why. I clicked on the link for Trout Fishing in America, which was the real point of my search in the first place. I saw that a reissue had been released a few years ago, with a preface by Ron Loewinsohn. Well, I know Ron Loewinsohn ... he's emeritus now, but he was a professor in the English Department at Cal when I was there. Good guy, I must say. I can remember that he taught a course on the Beats, but I didn't make any real connection at the time ... I mean, somebody had to teach the course, and while I might have done a decent job myself, had in fact given a lecture on On the Road that was my first such speaking engagement at Cal, it wasn't my specialty, it was more a personal interest ... perhaps even an obsession, given that I have a son named Neal. Anyway, I was glad to know the course was being taught, and since Ron, as I say, was one of the good guys, I was glad to know he was teaching it. And with that, I continued on with whatever I was doing and pretty much forgot all about that course.

So now I see that Ron worked on the reissue of Trout Fishing in America, and that seems pretty cool to me ... it didn't strike me with quite the same headsmack as the earlier thing re: Barry Gifford, because when that one happened I was still just a steelworker who had no connection to literature or academics, whereas now, I'm an academic myself who was, for a short while, a colleague of Loewinsohn's.

And I figured, what the heck, I think I'll Google around a bit, see what Ron's been up to, blah blah blah. And that's when I found something that I suppose I always knew but most certainly never thought about ... I mean, really, how often do you remember this kind of thing until it hits you upside your head, like when Robin said "dedicated to Mary Lou? That must be Asa's mom, Barry's his dad."

You see, when Trout Fishing in America was first published, it was dedicated to Jack Spicer and ...

Ron Loewinsohn.