to Lowell for Kerouac Week this year, October 1999, even though I
was told by Hilary Holladay of the U Mass English Department that
I could not participate, and even though a number of Sampas goons
were on the internet weeks in advance, warning me to stay away.
I saw and experienced in Lowell was a disgrace, and a huge dishonor
to the openhearted, compassionate spirit of Jack Kerouac. I
came because I have a lot to say about Jack Kerouac. I spent
six years of my life researching his, interviewing 300 people in the
field - more than any other biographer - back when everyone's memory
was fresh, in the late 1970's. No other biographer has duplicated
that feat. Authorized biographer Ellis Amburn's claim of having
based his book on 500 interviews is a joke. Take a close look
at the list of his interviewees - people like Jackie Kennedy and Paul
Maher, neither of whom ever met Jack Kerouac. Amburn also lists
among his interviewees people like Jack's cousin-in-law Doris Kerouac,
who did know Jack very well. Doris told me she's never been
within a country mile of Amburn. His claim to have interviewed
her is pure b.s. But that's hardly the only b.s. floating around
propaganda machine had put the word out on me long before I got to
Lowell. I was supposed to be interviewed by Paul Sullivan of
WBZ, but when I got to Lowell, Sullivan told me I was 'too angry'
(without even having met me) and wouldn't talk to me. Chris
Wright was assigned to do a story on Kerouac Week for the BOSTON PHOENIX;
he had been warned that I was a mad dog with froth coming out of my
mouth. After talking with me for a few minutes, he decided I
wasn't really a mad dog, and did the story anyway.
record, I'm a Christian pacifist, whose only weapons are my words
and the truth. I'm about to turn fifty years old and have enough
ailments to put away two men half my age. As far as I can see
I'm no threat (at least no physical threat) to anyone. My most
radical activity is spending two hours a day with my stroke-incapacitated,
88-year-old mom Sylvia in a nursing home near my house. Many
Kerouac fans, including those in England, have seen me escorting my
mom around to Kerouac events, in the days when she could still walk.
I don't believe I impressed any of them as a potential Mack the Knife.
I showed up at the 5th Annual Kerouac Conference at the O'Leary Library,
South Campus, U Mass, Lowell, on Friday October 1, 1999, the room
was filled with armed guards and undercover cops, some of whom sloppily
(or on purpose?) had their badges hanging out from under their sweaters.
One such woman cop kept dodging behind a concrete pillar every time
I tried to take her picture. All these cops were following me
around like hound dogs on the scent of David Janssen (TV's former
'fugitive,' for those of you too young to remember).
talked about my coming, you may be sure of that.
Creeley spoke first. I interviewed Creeley at his home in Placitas,
New Mexico, 22 years ago. He evidently didn't think I was a
'mad dog' in those days. But he's steadfastly refused to speak
out against the censorship of Kerouac studies, citing as his reason
his friendship with Ann Charters, who works for John Sampas, and with
Ron Johnson, a Massachusetts poet who plays tennis with Sampas.
After Creeley's talk, a good one, on Jack Kerouac's sincerity and
passion for truth, Creeley asked for questions. I was the first
to raise my hand. I wasn't called on. I kept raising my
hand. At several points, I was the only person with his hand
in the air. I was sitting down front. Creeley may only
have one eye, but his vision isn't THAT poor. Creeley kept asking,
'Are there any OTHER questions?'
came the panel on Kerouac's writing, the one Ms. Holladay had told
me she had been warned to keep me off of. At the start of the
session, Ms. Holladay announced that the University of Massachusetts
was deeply indebted to John Sampas and his family for a 'large bequest.'
I.e., the University of Massachusetts had sold itself like a cheap
prostitute to become a front for Sampas Enterprises, Inc. Or
perhaps I shouldn't condemn the entire university; perhaps Ms. Holladay
alone bears the responsibility. In that case, let the other
people at this university open their eyes to what is being done, and
how scholarship is being degraded there in the name of money, jack
with a small j, the Almighty greenback dollar, of which Mr. Sampas
has an endless supply thanks to the genius of Jack Kerouac.
supposedly scholarly panel of five individuals, there was not one
person who was not making money off of John Sampas. Coincidence,
you suppose? There was Douglas Brinkley, the hotshot young historian
who has climbed to prominence on the back of World War II scholar
Stephen Ambrose, and who got his face all over the news when JFK,
Jr. died, claiming to be JFK, Jr.'s best friend, which earned Brinkley
the moniker of 'necropublicist' in SLATE magazine. Brinkley
is Sampas's next 'great white hope,' the latest 'authorized biographer'
sent to knock out MEMORY BABE, after Amburn's book stunk so bad they
had to fumigate the bookstores that carried it. Brinkley reputedly
signed a deal cutting Sampas in for a big percentage of the profits.
Sampas once phoned me, and told me the biggest thing he had against
me was that I didn't pay him a percentage of the royalties - paltry
as they are - from MEMORY BABE.
on the panel was Sterling Lord, Sampas's agent. He gets ten
percent of every book, tape, CD-rom, etc., sold with Jack Kerouac's
name on it. Enough said.
Paul Slovak, Vice President of Penguin Putnam books, which is reaping
the financial harvest of all the new Kerouac books hitting the stands.
David Stanford, the editor who convinced Penguin to buy anything Sampas
put up for sale (anything with words on it, they haven't bid for his
jockey shorts yet).
And finally, Paul Marion, who may be the
biggest joke of a 'poet' in Massachusetts, but who earned the plum
of editing Kerouac's early short stories, ATOP AN UNDERWOOD, by his
undying fealty to his Lord John Sampas. In Lowell, Marion is
known as 'Apples and Oranges,' after the title of his first book of
poetry. 'Apples and Oranges' arrived in a deep blue, very serious
Brooks Brothers suit with a leather briefcase almost as portly as
he is, to tell us how he saved Jack Kerouac's early works from oblivion.
the objective, scholarly panel that was going to tell us how Jack
Kerouac is moving into the next millennium.
When they got done talking, I again raised my hand.
And kept it up. This time, however, the panelists were protected
from the 'mad dog' (myself) by a female intermediary, who alone was
empowered with calling on questioners. This was Ronna Johnson
from Tufts University. Ronna knows very well who I am; we've
been published in the same Kerouac scholarly collections for years.
She knew all too well. She too ignored my hand, even when no
one else's hand was up in the entire room. Just like Creeley,
she refused to make eye contact with me, looking over and around me
to ask, 'Are there any MORE questions?'
all knew damn well what I wanted to ask. Sampas's lawyer George
Tobia had promised six years ago that all the Kerouac paintings and
drawings were on their way to museums, and all the papers on their
way to the New York Public Library. Sampas himself promised,
through his mouthpieces James Grauerholz (Burroughs' executor) and
Bob Rosenthal (Ginsberg's executor) that when the lawsuit was over,
the entire Kerouac archive would find its way to the proper public
repositories. Now, the lawsuit is over (I lost in my attempt
to carry out Jan's wish, of recovering the papers to place them in
the Bancroft Library). But instead of hastening to a museum
or the New York Public Library, Sampas hastened to Sotheby's to hold
the first public auction of Kerouac materials, paintings, annotated
books, even his old conga drum, as part of the so-called Beat Auction
of the Century. It occurred on October 7, and prices soared
through the roof. Grauerholz told one of the bidders that Sampas
had intended to auction off Kerouac's papers at this first auction
as well, but that he got cold feet because of the public spotlight
I was shining on the auction, pointing out the hypocrisy of it every
chance I got. In fact, Sampas pulled back a large number of
items before the catalogue went to print. This can be verified
wanted to talk about this - why, 30 years after Kerouac's death, after
the lawsuit is over, after we've all waited long enough, after years
of Sampas' promises to the contrary, are materials from the Kerouac
archive going to the auction block instead of to a public institution?
That was the question they dare not let me ask, in fact, had to fill
the auditorium with armed guards to keep me from asking.
did they pay Ronna Johnson to keep her from calling on me? Or
did they just offer to let her edit the next Kerouac collection?
I was disappointed in many people there, people whom I have known
for twenty years or more, who would not open their mouths to say,
simply, 'This is wrong. Let Nicosia speak. He has something
was Regina Weinreich. She came up to me when I was on stage
in Boulder, 1982, at the ON THE ROAD 25 year anniversary conference.
I was already well known as a Kerouac scholar; she was unknown.
She asked if I would introduce her to the audience, and tell people
she was writing about 'Kerouac's spontaneous poetics.' I did
this for her. Later, when MEMORY BABE came out, and I came to
New York to do some radio shows, she asked if she could get on the
shows with me. I agreed, and I still have the tape of her on
WBAI with me. But Regina didn't open her mouth, not one inch.
Then we heard the announcement that she would be editing a book of
Kerouac haiku (thanks to Mr. Sampas). What about Joyce Johnson,
who claimed to love Jan Kerouac? She refused to support Jan's
right to speak in 1995, when Jan got pulled out of NYU by police,
at the behest of NYU's Helen Kelly, who owed her whole conference
to the permissions granted by Mr. Sampas. Joyce has spent time
with me at numerous Kerouac conferences, from Quebec City on down.
She knows about my work with the Vietnam vets, and about the years
I worked with Ron Kovic, whose first book she edited. Joyce
didn't open her mouth either. Joyce, it was announced, had just
received permission from Mr. Sampas to publish her letters from Jack
slice of the pie for everyone, and everyone shuts up.
was Dave Amram, whose whole musical career now depends on issuing
'Amram Plays with Kerouac' CD's and playing at every Kerouac/Beat
event from here to Timbuktu. He not only won't speak out against
the way they're shutting my mouth; he goes even further in groveling
to Sampas, by lying to everyone that I 'murdered Jan Kerouac.'
I have over 100 letters from Jan, over an 18-year period, most of
them signed 'Love.' Amram hasn't got one. Moreover, Amram
remembers damn well that I brought Jan to his cottage on Fire Island
(Watch Hill) in 1978, so that Jan could cook him dinner and he could
ogle her on the beach in his girlfriend's bathing suit. He knows
damn well that I didn't 'murder' her. But if it revives a flagging
musical career, hey, why not jump on the lying bandwagon just like
it's wrong, Dave. Because some people still believe in some
kind of basic morality. Jack Kerouac certainly believed in it.
A place for everyone at the table. Everything belongs to me
because I am poor. Those were Kerouac's mottos. What happened,
Dave, Joyce, Regina, all of you? Have you all forgotten what
this man stood for, in the name of making money off of John Sampas?
Johnson looked over my head and called on the handsome Irishman behind
me. Michael Lally, one of America's greatest living poets, with
20 books out. Unfortunately, she didn't know that Michael is
a friend of mine, that he came up all the way from New York to support
my right to speak. Michael asked, 'Why aren't the Kerouac papers
available yet for study?' He addressed his question to David
Stanford, who had just gotten done promising that 'someday' the archive
would be seen by the public. Stanford, in Lally's phrase, 'screwed
up his face as if he were in pain,' and did his best to defend his
master, John Sampas, sitting about ten feet from him down in the front
row. Sampas was surrounded protectively by the other members
of his team, Diane DeRooy, Paul Maher, and Dave Amram.
talked about the 'huge burden' on John Sampas of running the multi-million-dollar
Kerouac Estate, and how if we were all patient, he would someday get
around to placing everything safely in a library. (If a lie
works once, hey, why not try it again for the zillionth time?)
I yelled out, 'But how can it all end up in a library, if it's already
being auctioned off?' It was four fifteen - the symposium was
supposed to go till four thirty. But Johnson lunged for the
microphone and announced, 'The session is now over! Why don't
we all meet outside in the lobby for further discussion?' Instantly,
the Sampas panelists jumped to their feet. Members of the audience
looked at each other in wonder, and many actually asked aloud, 'What
is censorship in action,' I explained. 'Welcome to the world
of Kerouac studies as we enter the 21st Century.'
I recount here was witnessed by many people, who will certainly verify
it - among them Jim Keefe, a wonderful actor and raconteur who returned
to Lowell from a successful TV and movie career, to be with his family
- and who has no axe to grind, except to see Jack Kerouac properly
honored in his hometown. 'These people are acting like a bunch
of 12 year olds,' Keefe told me. 'And they're running the Kerouac
Estate the way they used to run the family bar.'
Brian Foye. He's Sampas's right-hand man on the Lowell Celebrates
Kerouac Committee. But he also knows Jim Keefe from the Irish
community in Lowell. Brian once dated Jim's brother's old girlfriend.
Jim kept trying to catch Brian's eye in the auditorium, and Brian
kept running the other way, because it was clear that Jim Keefe was
on 'my side' - at least, Keefe was operating a video camera for me,
which put him squarely on the enemies' list. 'The poor bastard
couldn't even say hello to me,' Keefe told me later, 'because Sampas
would have cut him off.'
to Kerouac Studies at the end of the 20th century. You can't
even say hello to somebody you've known for 20 years, because Sampas
will 'cut you off.' You can't support someone's right to speak,
even if that person put you on your first radio show, because Sampas
will 'cut you off.'
really what we want to see more of in the 21st century?
the poet John Pirolli, who loved Jan, was there with his friends too.
He got the same police bodyguard as I.
opened their mouth, either, about the fact that the MEMORY BABE archive,
99% of it, is still under seal at the University of Lowell, because
Mr. Sampas threatened the library. Bancroft Library offered
to buy the archive and make it available in Berkeley, but the University
of Massachusetts refused. They won't show it to anyone, they
won't sell it to anyone who will show it, and they won't take care
of it properly. The library still hasn't copied the tapes -
interviews with 300 people who knew Kerouac, half of them now dead
- which are in a very serious state of deterioration. Playing
one of the tapes for five minutes - which it took my lawyer's presence
even to make happen - clogged up the recorder's head with brown magnetic
dust. But the librarian assures me that 'in 70 years the tapes
will be made available.' I told her there will be nothing left
on the tapes in 70 years.
the Kerouac archive is being auctioned off, the MEMORY BABE archive
is the last substantial archive that future scholars and writers can
go to to gather a wealth of material on the great writer's life.
But the MEMORY BABE archive will also be lost, thanks to the oppressive
hand of 'Literary Executor' John Sampas, unless the University of
Massachusetts has the guts to reopen the archive or let another library
take it over.
word about that from Music Man Dave Amram, whose interview is among
the 300 censored tapes. Not a word about that from Joyce Johnson,
whose interview is also among the censored tapes. Of course
Dave and Joyce can still speak for themselves, even if their memory
isn't what it was 22 years ago, when I recorded them. But what
about the 150 or so Kerouac friends and relatives who are now dead
and can no longer speak for themselves? Don't they have a right
to be heard? Didn't they expect to be heard when I placed my
tape recorder in front of them, and told them everything they said
might be used in the book I was writing, MEMORY BABE?
on those who care about Jack Kerouac, and who don't care if John Sampas
'cuts them off,' to speak up now, before it is too late.
is one archive we can still save, the MEMORY BABE archive.
there are even two archives we can save, if John Sampas reverses his
decision to auction off Jack Kerouac's papers. Would he even
consider doing such a thing if the 'big names,' Creeley, Johnson,
Ferlinghetti (whose CD was just produced by none other than Sampas'
nephew), et al., said 'Fuck it!' to making money off John Sampas and
just told the truth - that Jack wanted his papers saved for posterity,
made accessible to the public, and that that is where they should
be RIGHT NOW???
know the answer to that question.
Sampas would buckle in a minute, if the people he has to deal with
every day just had the guts to stand up to him.
is everybody waiting for?
carried this load long enough.