The play, "Beat Generation," was reportedly written by Kerouac in 1957, the same year that "On The Road" was published to wide acclaim. The play was found about six months ago among papers stored in a Jersey City warehouse by Kerouac's longtime agent, Sterling Lord.
Last week, Lord's office said that he had been sick with bronchitis, and Lord was unable to return calls about the story by press time. But John Sampas, who is Kerouac's brother in law and the executor of his estate in his birthplace of Lowell, Mass., shed some light on how the play ended up in the warehouse.
Sampas said that the warehouse is where Lord keeps his archives.
"It just laid there in Sterling Lord's archives. It had never been lost, just stored there and forgotten," said Sampas. "Sterling Lord stumbled across the manuscript a few years ago when he was working on his own memoirs."
Will be produced
It was reported that Lord retrieved the manuscript seven months ago from the warehouse, and that Stephen Perrine, the editor-in-chief of the men's magazine Best Life, asked Lord for any unpublished manuscripts that would be of interest.
"Beat Generation" chronicles a drug and alcohol filled day in the life of Kerouac's alter ego, Jack Duluoz - a name that Kerouac would employ in a number of his other works.
Sterling Lord said in various interviews last month that when the play was completed, Kerouac sent it to producers and even tried to interest Marlon Brando, but all turned him down. Lord said that Kerouac then requested that the play be stored away.
Sampras offered an opinion about that last week.
"I think the play was too avant-garde for the particular time it was written," he said.
Born Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac on March 12, 1922 in Lowell, Mass., "Jack" as he would become known, died in 1969 at the age of 47 from an internal hemorrhage brought on by years of alcoholism.
But his life will live on a little more when excerpts of the "Beat Generation" will be published in the July edition of Best Life. That will be followed by the entire play being published by Thunder's Mouth Press and possibly produced for the stage in January, 2006.
"Beat Generation" refers not just to Kerouac's play but a group of New York-based writers during the 1950s who took an experimental approach to writing that revolutionized literature by incorporating their explorations of spirituality, sexual freedom, and everyday existence.
Among the many writers of the "beat generation" included Kerouac, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsburg, and Gregory Corso. They would go on to produce such classics as the novels "Junky" and "Naked Lunch" by Burroughs, poems "Howl" and "Kaddish" by Ginsberg, and the book of poems The Vestal Lady on Brattle by Corso.
The term "beat" derives from a term used by jazz musicians during the 1940's that meant weary or downtrodden, and among drug dealers. Kerouac and his fellow "Beat" writers first heard the term from a hustler friend of William Burroughs, Herbert Huncke. But it was Kerouac who explained "beat" in 1948 to writer John Clennon Holmes to describe the group of writers that he was associating with.
Kerouac would go on to attribute positive connotations to the word "beat" such as "beatific" and "upbeat," and even gave this definition for a 1960s Random House dictionary quoted in the book The Birth of the Beat Generation by Steven Watson:
"Members of the generation that came of age after World War II, who, supposedly as a result of disillusionment stemming from the Cold War, espouse mystical detachment and relaxation of social and sexual tensions."
But where is the warehouse located, and how and why did the play end up there?
Attempts to find out were unsuccessful. Lord's office said only Lord could reveal the location. But Lord was unavailable.
No matter where the warehouse actually was, it is clear that the beats had some association with North Jersey. A group of them planted themselves around Paterson in the early days.
Bayonne-based writer and friend-of-the-beats Herschel Silverman waxed nostalgic about the "Beat Generation" when contacted last week about the rediscovery of the play. Silverman ran a candy store, Hersch's Bee Hive, for 33 years.
"I knew mostly Allen Ginsberg, and I published some of Ginsberg's work on a homemade press," Silverman said. "But I remember seeing Kerouac during a famous appearance at the Village Vanguard." The Village Vanguard is a famous jazz club located in New York City's Greenwich Village. "[The owner] Max Gordon paid him $500 to read 'On the Road. Most of the people in the audience did not seem enamored, although I was in awe of Kerouac and Ginsberg. Kerouac also wasn't really at his best the night I saw him, full of alcohol." For Silverman, Kerouac was a man ahead of his time.
"He touched on this new phenomenon when he started romanticizing about going on the road," said Silverman. "This was a yearning for freedom, and he really touched a certain nerve."
Jersey City resident Sharon Lynn Griffiths, published author of a recent book of poems, "Paper Salvation," is a Kerouac aficionado. She said that she read about the play being rediscovered in the Jersey City warehouse and had been already familiar with the play from reading a bio on Kerouac, "Memory Babe" by Gerald Nicosia. "I don't put a lot of faith in it as a lost masterpiece. I am not crazy about his non-linear stuff, which is what I gather is how the play is structured," said Griffiths. "But I would love to see it acted, because when you read a play, you don't really feel what is on the written page."
Griffiths said reading Kerouac came at a time when she trying to "find herself," but lamented that "Kerouac never was able to find himself."
James Francis Waddleton is a Jersey City native and published author most recently of "A Heart In Hell: Poetry From A Jersey City Boy." Waddleton joked that he would like to "play the lead part" if the play was ever produced. He also said that the play getting attention is because it touches a nerve among the populous. "Everybody wants to go out and be like Kerouac....like him traveling from the East Coast to the West Coast and south of the border," said Waddleton.
Christine Goodman is the director of Art House Productions, which organizes performances by writers and performers in Jersey City and in the tri-state area. Goodman, a poet as well as actress, is working on a multi-media project, "The Heist Project" with musician David Amram, a friend and creative collaborator of many of the "Beat Generation."
"I hope the play does get produced. Just that it was found in a Jersey City warehouse is reminder to me of the kind of artistic spirit that the Beats embodied that I see in the Jersey City art scene," said Goodman. What would Kerouac think of being famous one more time? In his immortal words, "I would rather be thin than famous."