Back Before I Was Famous (Beat Angel)

Facebook note, Saturday March 9, 2013, 3:02 am.

Back before I was famous, I used to work for Stephen Jules Rubin with a basically unpaid job (free movie tickets) as a Santa Fe Film Festival Screener. I think the festival was in the spring, so ’round about early January, Jules started to call the screeners and we would saunter in to grab a good-sized handful of movies, check them out carefully, and take them to our varioushomesteads to watch each and every one. At least once.

I loved that period of my life an awful lot, looking back on it. I had this super cool old adobe house o Agua Fria – the landlord was so fanatical about the garden that she did it all herself – and so other than feed ourselves and and take care of the cat, my girlfriend and I really had noting better to do than watch a Shit-Ton of independent shorts and features and drink beer and make comments about what we were watching. If a feature seemed particularly promising, I’d schedule that with a few shorts and we’d have friends over and make dinner and drink beer and just watch the wonders of independent cinema roll large in our rather sizable television screen.

Most of the stuff we saw fell into three categories – the good, the bad, and the ugly – but occasionally I would bear witness to something really extraordinary and beautiful. Such was the case with “Beat Angel,” where a spoken word artist teamed up with a director to make a fantasitc little picture about Jack Kerouac returning to Earth as an angel and how he transforms lives with his words

I had been reading Jack Kerouac since I was fourteen, but one of the things that always struck was that something must be missing in the reading of Bat poetry that could only be found in the hearing. This idea was later confirmed for me in college when I would find myself under the tutelage of David Meltzer, a Beat poet, Beat historian, and jazz writer, who confirmed for me that the jazz bop prosody that was talked about in the books about Beat criticism. He mimicked the sounds of various wrtiers reading their reads – the differences, for example, between Allen Ginsburg and Gregory Corso, Jck Kerouac and Neal Csasady, and when I began to read those texts again I imagined myself on benzadrine and jazz and I’d put on jazz CDs and read them aloud to myself in my apartment on Haight Street. And there they made a kind of sense and a kind of rhythm that opened up new doors for me as writer of the kind of prose that just flows. (And then I became a journalist and tossed all that under the bus.)

Many different movies have tried to capture the Beat style and feeling, and I am reluctant to say that have not yet seen the new “On the Road” movie, but something about Beat Angel struck me as someone who was trying to execute the Real Deal in Beat poetry and prose. Played by Vincent Balestri, it occurred to me half-way through the film that perhaps the producer or director had just found this incredible poet and spoken word artist who could Jack so well that they just built this crazy movie around it so that they put this guy on film.

I took the film back to Jules and told him we without question had to screen it and that I would resign my wonderful film gig (unpaid, but free tickets) if we did not. Jules could see i was serious and put it in the accepted pile. He may have secretly gone home and watched it just to make sure, but the next thing I knew the film was scheduled and I was asked to write its film capsule for the Film Festival program.

I don’t know what all I said in that piece – it may be in my computer right now, but I’m too lazy too look it up at the moment. I do know that one important thing I said was “the best description of Kerouac’s writing style I’ve ever heard.” Not all that exciting, right? But wait – there’s more. At the screening, I (of course) got to meet the film-makers and I thanked them for making something so wonderful. They, in turn, thanked me for writing such nice things about them, and that was that until a few months later, when I received a package in the mail.

It was a copy of the Beat Angel DVD. I was a little sad, at first, because it probably meant they hadn’t been picked up for distribution And then I turned the box over and there was my quote: “the best description of Kerouac’s writing style I’ve ever heard” – and best of all, it was next to a pull-quote by David Amram, a music composer who had his heyday in the 1950 & 1960s as a Broadway composer but who also helped produce “Pull My Daisy,” a 1959 film that was narrated by Jack Kerouac. Having met Amram once during a vacation in Fire Island, I knew that he actually *knew* Jack Kerouac, and that he seemed, when I met him, to really enjoy fielding my questions about him.

About two years ago, I came back to the States from an extended stay elsewhere, and I looked at everything I owned when I retrieved it from a storage unit in Albuquerque and I decided to get rid of everything and just go back to traveling. I pulled no punches and left no trace, and soon I had a whole lot of nothing and a lot less baggage. But life being what it is, I got off the road after about four months and made my way back home to New Mexico, And then I started to miss things – but mostly, I missed my books. Not mine, per se (I have a lot of copies left over from my self-publishing excursions) but the books of others, particularly friends or strong influences who were unknown to me but who felt like a part of my everyday philosophical lexicon.

Last week, I stepped into a bookstore in downtown Albuquerque to see what tey had for used stuff. I had decided to attempt to re-build my library only this time it would be different. It would be deliberate. Everything had to be GOOD and worthwhile of loaning to a friend and saying “My god, you haven’t read this? You must read this.” or even, perhaps worthy of reading again. And as I searched the stacks, I actually found a few books that had once been in my library, but something strange and out of place caught my eye and I just stared at it.

It was a copy of Beat Angel. New in the box and unopened – it might’ve been MY COPY of Beat Angel, for all I knew (out-pf-towners – New Mexico is huge in land but tiny in population and that kinda thing just happens here.) I flipped it over and looked at the back and saw my quote – and I realized that a part of me had come home again.

March 9th, 2013 by