Convoluted Backstory of Beat at the Sweet

 

 

Starring Kristen Stewart as Marylou. Kristen’s “Twilight” fame and desire to play the role helped save this long-awaited movie from development hell. From director Walter Salles and screenwriter Jose Rivera (both of The Motorcycle Diaries). Kerouac originally had asked Marlon Brando to play Dean (Neal Cassady). Producer Francis Ford Coppola held the rights for 30 years, and eight scripts were never green-lighted.

Convoluted Backstory of Beat at the Sweet by J.Macon King

In retrospect, this whole lots of moving parts time, appears to have been a Beat literary convergence.

On the Road, the movie, came out in the U.S. Oct 4, 2012, premiering at the 35th Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF), with co-producer Rebecca Yeldham and an introduction by the movie’s Beat consultant, Gerald Nicosia.

U.S. Premier of On the Road at Mill Valley Film Festival at Rafael Theater, San Rafael, CA. Photo courtesy The Tam News.

I was in the full house attendance and after the show and ran into Jerry Cimino, owner of North Beach’s Beat Museum. I had met him at his recently relocated, expanded museum, where he had the actual 1949 Hudson Commodore from the movie displayed, which director Salles had donated, and Dean Moriarty drove onto the Museum floor. I mean actor Garret Hedlund who played him.

There, Jerry Cimino introduced me to John Allen Cassady, son of notoriously and “tremendously excited with life” Neal Cassady, aka Dean Moriarty in the novel and movie, and of Carolyn Cassady, along with John’s family. I was extremely excited and thought meeting John Cassady was better than seeing the movie. Jerry was more enthusiastic about On the Road than I, but then, I didn’t win a free car. ; )

John Cassady (Neal’s son), King, Jerry Cimino after viewing On The Road premier. Mill Valley Film Festival, San Rafael, 2012.

Mill Valley Plaza and it’s historic The Depot, aka Depot Bookstore, aka Depot Cafe and Bookstore, was where the post movie Festival “Opening Night Gala Party” was centered, which I attended. The vintage Depot building had originally been a Northwestern Pacific train depot and later a Greyhound bus station. Jack Kerouac himself had taken the “Hound” to this very spot, when he would soon live on Gary Snyder’s Mill Valley property. (The Dharma Bums.)

Post transportation, the transformed “The Depot Cafe” under the Turnbull family, became a gathering spot for many writers over the years, such as Don Carpenter. Kind of an Enrico’s North.

All right? So, flash back. Starting in 2006, my good friend, and volunteer for my Rhubarb Revue community theatre productions, Ari Maslow, began working and managing the Depot. Writer Gerald Nicosia regularly used the Depot as his get-away “office.” Nicosia’s standing order being the Sweet Things brownie (“from the middle, no end piece!” and well-sugared coffee.

Ari and Nicosia became friends and Ari pitched him his “Live Poet Society.” With Nicosia’s mentoring, Ari began presenting a number of “Live Poet(s) Society” readings at the Depot in 2006, featuring Gerald Nicosia and other known poets and locals. Including moi in my debut reading July 13, 2007, and participation in Ari’s Depot L.P.S. through 2008. (And again when Ari returned to Depot Management in 2016 and on.)

Nicosia particularly, and the known poets that he brought to these Live Poet Society events, in other words—real poets, helped shape and change my early romantic, song- lyric style poetry to more of a Beat style.

2008. Posters by Ari Maslow and Live Poet Society.

 

Live Poet Society “De-poetry” 0ct. 6 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the meantime, as the On the Road movie was announced and began production in 2010, the excitement was building. The Sundance 2010 opening of Howl, with rising star James Franco, warmed up Beat fans. This semi-doc take on Kerouac’s poet pal, Allen Ginsberg and his famously “obscene”  poem, debuting 1955 in San Francisco’s Cow Hollow neighborhood, and subsequent Ferlinghetti obscenity trial, was a creative hybrid affair.

Rewatching last night, I skipped through, to  combine the interspersed excellent scenes of Franco, as young Ginsberg, passionately presenting “Howl” at Six Gallery, while “Kerouac” and “Ferlinghetti” watch. At the real event poets Michael McClure and Gary Snyder also read. Michael’s ex-wife, Beat poet Joanna McClure, would read at Beat at the Sweet and “The Last Beat Reading” at the Depot.

James Franco as Ginsberg in Howl. Publicity still.

 

Original 1955 posters. Courtesy The Allen Ginsberg Project.

 

 

In 2010, San Francisco’s (now-humungous) Litquake really took off, with co-founders Jane Ganahl and Jack Boulware. Jack told Jane Ciabattari for Literary Hub, “Our tribute to Ferlinghetti and City Lights ranks at or near the top of Litquake highlights. We filled 1,000 seats at the Herbst Theater, and people heard from a Who’s Who of guests…” Originally a poet, turned singer, Patti Smith performed. Tom Waits of Petaluma, CA improvised a song to the poetry of Ferlinghetti’s 1957 “Coney Island of the Mind.”

Kinetic Daniel Yaryan and his “Sparring With Beatnik Ghosts” from Santa Cruz began promoting poetry reading events. They were making an ambitious whirlwind “12 rounds” of events throughout California, revitalizing old poets and with their wisdom and skills while kindling new poets.

May of 2012, I launched, along with wife Perry King, Mill Valley Literary Review, soon nicknamed MillValleyLit. Ari became our first poetry editor. One of my early interview subjects was Gerald Nicosia (brilliant and a real “Memory Babe” himself) which was so long, I published it in two parts. The fascinating interview took place, naturally, at Nicosia’s favorite corner table in the Depot. With the publicity MiliValleyLit launched, and my new literary connections, other reading events and venues invited my participation.

“OntheRoad4Kerouac,” promoting the “Reinvented Scroll” of Jack Kerouac. This was initiated, reportedly, by young female fan in France to honor Kerouac’s original 1951 legendary 120- foot-long scroll manuscript of the book. Hundreds of participants submitted writings from around the globe. It was an ingenious way for people to express what Kerouac and On the Road mean to them, timed in conjunction with the movie release in the United States.

I submitted my Kerouac-inspired true story of continental road-tripping and misadventures of my truly Cassady-esque friend Dick, and my Kerouacian sensitive writer self. (We are both J.K.s after all. My memoir made the Reinvented Scroll with live readings, and a call-in by Al Hinkel, Oct. 2013 at Jerry Cimino’s Beat Museum, where it was on display for a time.)

King plots his getaway in the Hudson from On the Road movie. Beat Museum, June, 2012.

Then, suddenly, without warning, but with perfect timing, in 2012, the fabled, long-lost “Joan Anderson Letter” mysteriously turned up in an Oakland home—an 18 page, single-spaced typewritten letter that was mailed from Cassady to Kerouac in 1950.

Jerry Cimino told NPR, “In the Beat world we’ve always referred to the Joan Anderson letter as the holy grail of the Beat Generation.” He went on to remark, that this letter led Kerouac to completely change his writing style for the “spontaneous and confessional” style in On the Road.

In retrospect, this whole lots of moving parts time, appears to have been a Beat literary convergence.

Nicosia was “on fire” (Ari’s words) with his new book publications (such as 2011’s One and Only: the Untold Story of On the Road) and then the consulting gig on the movie, shot in Canada. I was still garnering some press and acclaim for MillValleyLit and my poetry. Ari encouraged Nicosia to put together a Kerouac/On the Road tribute, possibly at the Depot.

Nicosia is well-known for his poetry, Beat books and interviews. With his reputation and contacts, and the event promotional skills of poet Daniel Yaryan and his Santa Cruz based “Sparring with Beatnik Ghosts,” already doing numerous Beat events, Nicosia proceeded to make invitations. Beat interest and enthusiasm was at a new high, buoyed by the publicity surrounding the IFC On the Road movie release. The event size and scope grew and the newly opened the previous year, the Sweetwater Music Hall, owned by Bob Weir and partners, was booked. Voilà. The Beat at the Sweet.

Daniel Yaryan told me, “Gerry Nicosia and I plastered San Francisco with the poster. I was proud to have the owner of (famed old North Beach Beat hangout) Vesuvio’s (Janet Clyde) place the poster in her front window, who said that’s not something she usually did.”

Ari was invited to co-MC with Nicosia, and Ari and I were invited and honored to read at the amazing Beat at the Sweet. The Sweetwater (Saloon under Jeanie Patterson and after 2012, Music Hall) over the years have hosted, in intimate casual atmospheres, top-name performers including Elvis Costello, Jerry Garcia, Huey Lewis, Hot Tuna, Sammy Hagar, Craig Chaquico. So, yes, we were honored. And we helped blow the roof off.

Live Poet Society “Last Beat Reading” at the Depot, organized by Nicosia.

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

Beat at the Sweet reader/performer sign-in autographs collected by co-MC and poet reader Ari Maslow. Courtesy Ari Maslow.

Al Hinkle, Kerouac’s “Last Man Standing” with King.

 

 

Gerald Nicosia introduces Al Hinkle, Kerouac inspiration and book character, to a standing ovation. 

J.Macon King reads his poem “Genie in a Bottle” from the Sweetwater bar, instead of the expected stage. Far right is late jazz keyboardist and poet Don Alberts, whom would become good friends with King and collaborate at more jazz poetry readings. Such as historic 7 Mile House on the SF Peninsula, with Don Alberts’ band, and M.C. Jeff Kaliss, who later became MillValleyLit’s poetry editor in 2020. 

7 Mile House April 19, 2016. 

 

 

Quick Links:

The 10th plus 1 Anniversary of “Beat at the Sweet.” A Beat Poetry Reading (and music) in Tribute to Jack Kerouac & movie release of On the Road at Mill Valley CA. Sweetwater Music Hall Jan. 8, 2013:

Remembering “Literary Outlaw” Jerry Kamstra by Wallace Baine. 

Jerry Kamstra Obituary by Daniel Yaryan.

Reflections on Jerry Kamstra by J.Macon King.

THE LAST BOHEMIAN WIZARD (in honor of novelist Jerry Kamstra) by Daniel Yaryan. 

 

And then there was this time…

Poems and kind words by Ari M. Maslow upon the occasion of 10th plus 1 Anniversary of “Beat at the Sweet.”

 

 

Beat at the Sweet photos by poet and “Sparring Artists” founder Daniel Yaryan.

The Convoluted Background of Beat at the Sweet.

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