Jack Kerouac Wrote Here, Crisscrossing America Chasing Cool, Part Two
January 11, 2008
By David Amram
San Francisco | In the summer of 1948, at the same time that Jack Kerouac was wandering America, I hitchhiked across the country, from Washington D.C. to San Jose, California to visit my girlfriend. On my weekends off from my job as a carpenter's helper, my girlfriend and I would often visit San Francisco. For me, it was a place where you could physically feel a connection to the Pacific Ocean and Asia without consciously realizing it. The rolling hills and the very air itself made me feel as if I was in some exotic place at the end of the Continent.
When I met Jack years later in New York, I found out that we had both been in San Francisco at the same time. While I had been roaming the streets listening to the new styles of West Coast jazz, he was writing the journals, which, almost ten years later, would become On The Road. The Mission District, Fisherman's Wharf and especially the neighborhoods of Chinatown and North Beach were places that had attracted many of us who dreamed of being artists in those days. In San Francisco, we felt accepted for who we were and what we someday hoped to be.
Remarkably, it's still that way. A lot has changed, of course. Few of the jazz clubs I played in as a young musician have survived the sixty years of real estate developers and earthquakes and recessions that have passed through the city since the summer of 1948 and most of the musicians and artists and writers I met there have long passed away. Still, whenever I return to visit my old friends Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Herb Gold or perform at City Lights Books Store, the Purple Onion or Caffé Trieste, I feel as if everything about this "shining Western city," as Jack called it in On The Road, is still very much the way it was, is still very much the same.
Like the ghost of Louis Armstrong and his trumpet that still haunts the clubs of Bourbon Street, Jack Kerouac writing in his notebooks still haunts the cobblestone alleyways of San Francisco's North Beach reminding us to always take the time to be creative and savor everyday. A very simple sentiment I know, but one, which remains the seed of every artist's work and every artistic movement.
This blog is bring written by Audrey Sprenger, Ph.D and David Amram during the third and final run of Sprenger's cross-country sociology and documentary-making course "Jack Kerouac Wrote Here, Crisscrossing America Chasing Cool." The next entries by Sprenger and Amram will appear January 11, 15, 19. 23, 27, and 31, along with an "audio ethnography" produced by students participating in this course on February 4. Readers are also to join Sprenger and Amram for a FREE Retrospective of the 50th Anniversary of Jack Kerouac's "On The Road" in New York on Friday, January 11 at 8pm at the Theater For the New City and Sunday, February 24 at 2 pm in the B2 Conference Center of the Denver Public Library. Audrey Sprenger, Ph.D is an ethnographer, audio producer and professor of sociology. The author of the true-life novel/community study Home Goings, she creates artistic and educational programming for the Denver Public Library. David Amram is an internationally acclaimed composer, conductor, multi-instrumentalist and author. His most recent orchestral work, "Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie" made its world premiere in San Jose, California this past September and his third book, Upbeat: Nine Lives of a Musical Cat was published a month later. Today is the first of a seven-day diary they are collaborating on together about the life, times and 50th anniversary of On the Road, Jack Kerouac's second novel.
Ashley Vaughan is a documentary photographer. Currently a journalism student at the University of Denver, she has received several academic grants for her photographic projects including a Fred McDarrah Grant for Young Photojournalists. An assistant archivist for biographer Bill Morgan, she is also the art director for the David Amram Archive and is currently working with Audrey Sprenger on Jack Kerouac's America, 50 Years Old.