Tag Archives: Jack Kerouac

Cool, Ya Dig.

16 Sep
The Cool School by Glenn O 'Brien

The Cool School by Glenn O’ Brien

As attribution is a fetish (or a strong habit)of mine I feel compelled to credit Martin Amis with the astute observation that one of the few bits of vernacular that resists obsolescence is the word/notion “cool” It was operative 50 or 60 years ago when the Prince of Coolness, Miles Davis, began making music and remains functional to this day. There are,I suppose, some deep philological explorations to be made to unpack this happenstance —the more riveting focus, though is on the nature of the things, people and concepts that fall under the rubric, cool.

Now comes a Library of America volume, edited by a man of many seasons, the inestimable Glenn O’Brien,The Cool School Writings from America’s Hip Underground(LOA) which anthologizes a wide array of texts from hipsters the likes of Miles Davis, Henry Miller, Neal Cassady, Jack Kerouac, Lester Young, Norman Mailer, Frank O’Hara, Amiri Baraka, Lenny Bruce, Rudolph Wurlizter, Nick Tosches, George Carlin and,oh yeah, Glenn O’Brien.(see the complete list here).

Here’s O’Brien’s view:

In a away this volume is a compendium of orphans.

Its not really an anthology as a much as a sampler. A few tasty morsels from the bebop scene, some ancient history of the pre-wiggers, the Beats both beatific and and some downtrodden. some gonzo and gonzoesque journalism, even a bit of punk picaresque. Its really a louche amuse bouche and a possible textbook for Outlier Lit 101

My guiding principle in selecting was filtered randomness> My only agenda was to provide a primer and inspiration for future thought crime and written rebellion.This volume is by no means definitive in terms of the writers selected or example chosen.It could have been entirely composed of different authors except for a few prime mover usual suspects…What is collected here is just a little taste to whet cool appetites

This disclaimer aside, as cultural surveys go, Glenn O’Brien has assembled a vivid picture of what was happening in America on the fringes the main stream and beneath the surfaces of normalcy.Academics might quibble about various omissions or inclusions but O’Brien has that intangible grasp of the cool to have collected snapshots of roiling cultural climate of the 20th century.

Of course being cool , you will already sense that.


Currently reading The Tilted World by Beth Ann Fennelly and Tom Franklin (Wm Morrow)

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People Who Died

3 Dec

Jim Carroll who may be known to most people as the protagonist of The Basketball Diaries (played on what used to be called the silver screen version by Leonardo DiCaprio) and to others as the composer of a necrologic ditty People Who Died has had his final novel The Petting Zoo (Viking)completed and published posthumously (he died in Sept 2009). I would not have noticed had I not come across Thomas Mallon’s paean to Carroll in the latest New Yorker

Having viewed Carroll as a creation and denizen of Manhattan (and therefore not taken him seriously as a writer) all I knew of him were the two references cited above. Mallon quotes Jack Kerouac as offering that” at the age of 13 Carroll was a better writer than 89 % of the writers working today.” He also offers praise from Carroll’s one time girl friend Patti Smith in his nimble tribute and provides a creditable and vivid picture of Carroll’s life and the kind of lost angel he appeared to be. Smith in the Petting Zoo’s brief preface refers to Carroll as a man without guile,disdainful of his beauty, red-gold hair,lanky body,abstract, bare-headed, empty handed.”

The Carroll piece leads me to refresh my regard for Thomas Mallon (Henry and Clara is one of my favorite novels) as a wonderful novelist, thoughtful and original essayist and dependable literary commentator. Mallon concludes with this :

One imagines him at the end…back near all the altar rails and gymnasiums and boiled Irish verities from which he had never fled very far. Friends would soon enough be telling his family that they were “sorry for your troubles.” But in the meantime Carroll was at his desk ransacking the exhausted imagination inside his vanishing body, surely knowing that its very real gifts had long since been spent.