“Beat at the Sweet” Beat Poetry Tribute 10th plus 1 Anniversary

“Beat at the Sweet” flyer January 8, 2012. Flyer designed by Daniel Yaryan.

Beat at the Sweet Notes by J.Macon King

Presented at Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley, California on January 8th, 2013. The Sweetwater is a relocated, expanded version of the original long-time funky one, and now co-owned by the local Bob Weir. 

“Beat at the Sweet” was hosted and co-organized by Gerald Nicosia. Beat expert Nicosia, poet, author of the seminal Kerouac bio Memory Babe, and many other volumes, put on this show in honor of Jack Kerouac, his On The Road novel, and the long, long awaited movie release. The adapted movie, which I saw at the U.S. premier for the Mill Valley Film Festival, was disappointing on several levels which I won’t criticize here.

MVFF opening night premier On the Road at Rafael Theater, Oct. 4, 2012. Photo courtesy The Tam News.

Jerry Cimino of the Beat Museum loved it, while still expressing succinctly, “The genius of Jack’ Kerouac’s novels is his prose. It’s not the story, it’s not even the relationships, it’s the prose with the language that he uses to sketch the scene to move the story and to describe the relationships.”

The take-away is really, that Kerouac’s ground-breaking book was finally, finally made, it’s what we have, and it’s worth seeing. Most importantly—was and is, the enormous excitement and renewed Kerouac/Beat Generation interest created by the entire movie production. (More of that in my companion article Convoluted Backstory of Beat at the Sweet.) 

Gearld Nicosia had been special Beat service ; ) as consultant to the Walter Salles movie production. Director Salles spent time at Nicosia’s Marin County, CA office researching Nicosia’s enormous collection of Beat notes and tapes. Nicosia was hired as consultant at Salles’ “beat boot camp” in Montreal.

Super Beat fan Rick Dale came out from Maine for the show, and a presentation with Nicosia a couple of days later at the San Francisco Public Library. The panel included Peter Coyote, Merry Prankster Julius Karpen, Joanna McClure and others with 275 people in attendance. Rick’s excellent “The Daily Beat” blog had previously published an exclusive Nicosia interview on the making of the movie with Nicosia’s candid cast photos—*link at bottom of page. 

Co-MC at Beat at the Sweet was Ari Maslow. Mill Valley Literary Review poetry editor Maslow and the magazine’s publisher\poet J.Macon King felt honored, as the younger newcomers, to be reading at the event with famed and established Beat and post-Beat poets. Ari’s anniversary tribute and poetry can be found here.  

On with the Show

Wavy Gravy of Woodstock Festival MC and counter-culture fame, made a grand appearance to the Sweetwater before the show, in some kind of tux over blue-and-designs shirt, with his entourage. Everyone parted in awe.

Nicosia kicked it all off trying to read without his glasses, not finding his amongst his trademark shirt pocket of pens and pencils. He put on a hip rectangular orange pair, offered by guitarist Dana Alberts, I think, which drew chuckles from the filled hall. Perfect.

Through these orange spectacles, Nicosia read his lovely poem “For Jack Kerouac at Northport” with emotion and was applauded with acclaim by the audience. Dana, son of well-known Bay Area jazz musician Don Alberts, (in attendance), accompanied Nicosia’s poem and other poets on acoustic guitar. (Nicosia Youtube link at bottom of page.) The wonderful sax player, Phil Deal, also accompanied readers as in the classic Beat poetry style. (Not to be confused with Mill Valley’s musical “mascot,” oak toilet seat guitar maker Charlie Deal.)

MillValleyLit’s J.Macon King and co-MC poet Ari Maslow “Beat at the Sweet” 2013. Photo: Perry King.

Ari Maslow read with animation and simian ooh-ooh-oohed his crowd-favorite poem “Simian Scribe.”

Another highlight was sitting next to Big Ed Dunkel, or Slim Buckle, or Ed Buckle. I mean Al Hinkle, the man of the names Jack Kerouac gave him in his novels. Known as the “Last Man Standing,” referring to his distinction as the only male character remaining alive from On the Road, long after the others had passed. People listened with rapt attention during his time on stage. (Al moved on to meet his Beat brothers about six years later, December 26, 2018 at age 92.)


Al Hinkle, Kerouac’s “Last Man Standing” and King.Kamstra performed a fine reading, from the beginning of The Frisco Kid.

At show midpoint, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, whom I had seen perform at West Marin’s Rancho Nicasio, played a long set. At one point he became irritated at flash photographers aiming at him, and sternly told them to stop, and later threw a tirade about it. Jack played his long tune about running around with Jack Kerouac, “The 9-12 Greens.” Unfortunately, Ramblin’ Jack lived up to his name and reputation and played so long, the remaining performers were running out of time. Including me.

Jerry Kamstra performed a fine reading, from the beginning of The Frisco Kid.

The rest of the show’s lineup did great readings for a pretty full and enthusiastic house. As I did not attend as a journalist, and now write this up 10 + 1 years later, pardons for not covering the other pro poet readers. (The aforementioned Rick Dale’s “Daily Beat” blog on the night has chronology and other detail.)

At the end of the show, Ari introduced me to come on stage but I had other plans, that I had confided in only Ari. I stood in front of the back bar. As a former theatre director I wanted to perform, not just read. There  read my “Genie in a Bottle” poem, a cautionary ode to alcohol, deconstructed from my then upcoming novel, Circus of the Sun. As I was the only performer not to read onstage at the opposite end, this elicited some surprise. Especially to the sound and lights man, who earlier had told me he couldn’t help me and that I should’t do it. For my performance, mid-poem, on the line “swallow it Burning down” I downed a (free) shot of whiskey. I almost choked which the audience thought was an act.

The applause was barely over when Gerald Nicosia, also feeling the pressure to end the show at the allotted time, 11 PM, rushed me to stop me from reading my agreed upon second poem. I side-stepped Gerald, ran to the stage, hopped up and sat on a folding chair. Mimicking I was driving a car, I hurriedly recited another poem, before “the hook” could come out. A short Beat-infused tribute to Kerouac, Cassady, and fast cars, titled “Muscle Memory.” To his credit, Gerald never yelled at me about my off-book act.

My drinking performance made me some fans, particularly those at the bar. A young man and his friends started buying me drinks. After the show, I was invited to this young Beat fan’s home, a brisk walk up a Mill Valley hill for a little after-party of attendees. While we walked through January-chilly-damp night, the man complained to me about Kamstra’s book title,The Frisco Kid.

“I can’t believe Kamstra used that title. I don’t like it. Don’t call it Frisco!” he kept repeating.

I explained to him that was just an old line from Herb Caen (famed and beloved late San Francisco Chronicle columnist). A term that natives may not like, or pretend to not like, but transplanted non-natives, like me and almost everybody I had met in the City, didn’t care, and used it if they wanted. And Jerry Kamstra is from Riverside, for god’s sake, and second generation American. He can be The Frisco Kid if he wants.

The admonishing line is actually the title of Caen’s 1953 book, which he continued to sprinkle in in his three-dot-columns. Herb Caen wrote, “Caress each Spanish syllable, salute our Italian saint. Don’t say Frisco…” (The Italian saint of course is St. Francis of Assisi.)

Really, I was thinking, sixty years later it’s still a thing? 

The friendly, accommodating young man’s second-floor apartment party had a view overlooking downtown Mill Valley.

And a view of Kristen Stewart!



Quick links:

*The Making of On The Road: Exclusive Interview with Gerald Nicosia by Rick Dale and his The Daily Beat. With candid cast photos.

Convoluted Background of Beat at the Sweet by J.Macon King see here.

More of King’s Beat at the Sweet reflections on Jerry Kamstra here. 

The Making of On The Road: Exclusive Interview with Gerald Nicosia

Nicosia reads at Beat at the Sweet. External Youtube link.

The Beat Museum and Jerry Cimino essays here.