Despite the ‘beatnik’ stereotype, Kerouac was a political conservative. He supported the Vietnam War and became friendly with William F. Buckley.
Levi Asher, beatmuseum.org
It’s Republican Party caucus night across Massachusetts and I’m picking up Jack Kerouac for a talk on “Supply Side Themes in the Poetry of Gregory Corso.”
I pull up to his home in Lowell and ring the doorbell. His mother comes out and says “He’s in his room. Ti Jean!” she yells, a boyhood term of endearment.
“We won’t be late ma,” Jack says as he emerges.
Corso: “Jack really knowns his fiscal stuff!”
“You better not be drunk when you come home,” she says, trying to impose some discipline on her boy.
“I’m drunk now, so that would be an improvement,” he cracks; his mother doesn’t find this funny.
“Make sure he eats,” she says to me. “Otherwise the tokay“–the cheap wine he favors–”goes straight to his head.”
Jack is in the car trying to find some jazz on the radio.
“There’s nothing on the air these days,” he says, but I point out something new.
“You can play records in your car now–these little thingies.” I put some Charlie Parker in the CD player.
“Blow, man, blow!” Jack says as Bird launches into “Ornithology.” “Where we going again?”
“MetroWest Republican Caucus.”
“We can’t get enough people for a quorum in just one town, so three committees merged.”
“I miss Bill Buckley!” he says in disgust as he looks out his window.
“I never really warmed up to him.”
“He was ARTICULATE!” Jack shouts with a wild look in his eye. He stares out the window and says quietly “I feel so old.”
“You won’t tonight,” I say. “Every time I walk into one of these soirees I lower the average age two decades.”
Buckley and Kerouac
We turn off 128 to Route 30. The houses are few and the streets are dark.
“Nice neighborhood,” Jack says. “You know what I hate? The hippies who camp out on my lawn.”
“The price of fame.”
“It’s not fair to mom. She never wrote any wild and crazy novels.”
We park the car and enter an old Yankee home with a roaring fire inside. Thankfully the house has a fireplace, otherwise things could get dicey.
“We’ve got some nice elephant-accented clothing and accessories!”
“Hello Polly,” I say, greeting an older woman who has–as usual–messed up the rouge on her cheeks; maybe “testing” the martinis before guests arrived.
“Hello!” our hostess says. “Is this our distinguished speaker?” she asks; I’m guessing she missed the Beat Generation the first time around.
I introduce Jack and he diplomatically admires the furnishings; ”Great Eisenhower commemorative plate!” he gushes when he gets close to the mantel. “I’ve got the Hoover and the Coolidge.”
“We should get started,” Polly says. “This crowd goes to bed right after Wheel of Fortune.”
She taps her glass and introduces Jack from a cheat sheet I give her. “He wrote ‘On the Road’ and he’s the foremost writer of the ‘beats’ to embrace conservatism. Let’s give a warm welcome to Jack Kerouac!”
The crowd applauds and Jack blushes.
“Thanks, Polly” Jack says, and suddenly he’s the shy football scholarship boy of seventy years ago.
“The press portray conservatives as cold and cruel,” he begins, “but nothing could be further from the truth.” He clears his throat. “No way, baby,” and I detect an antic note in his voice.
“We are the mad ones, the crazy ones. We’re the ones who know that extending unemployment benefits kills people’s incentive to work!’”
“Yeah, man!” a guy in a bow tie shouts.
“The business of the federal government is NATIONAL DEFENSE! Not a bunch of do-gooder stuff!”
“Go, man, go!” someone shouts–Jack is riffing like a bebopper at a jam session. Someone begins to play bongo drums, and a woman writhes seductively to the rhythm.
I go out to the kitchen and Polly pinches me in the arm. “He’s great!” she says.
“Want to come up to my place and see my Henry Cabot Lodge button collection?”
The man in the bow tie comes in. “Do you have a tape recorder?” he says breathlessly. “We’ve got to preserve this for posterity!”
“I don’t think that will be necessary,” Polly says reassuringly. “Seventy years from now, who would ever think for a minute that Jack Kerouac was a liberal?”