12 March 2018
It is said that a woman haunts, she sees everything. An observer, a writer, a siren of dreams. In my heart and mind, I am always searching for slivers of paradise while being silently pulled towards some sort of freedom I can’t quite describe, but desire all the time. Again and again I find myself in Liverpool, where everything is nothing and exactly as it seems – collecting memories, I sit in dark caverns, think deep thoughts, stay out all night, be wild, like all the beautiful boys of now and then I see as they parade down Bold Street with their feather bangs and heavy overcoats, the promises of today. I am alone but I like it.
Tonite I sit in Ye Cracke, one of those lonely gloom saloons where I’ve spent so much time searching, searching for something, behind the languid faces I find sitting in the War Office or have invited there. The ones I’ve photographed and the bar stool prophets staring back at me or sometimes not at all, the archetypes and apparitional boys of my life. I am here to toast Ti-Jean, our beautiful Jack, a heartbeat hero-outsider born all those years ago on this day, with honey champagne pouring in my veins, peering through the elixir glass, the way into some glorious moonlight of wonder and river of dreams.
Now, I am also in my Beatle dream (flaming pies in the sky), Courtney Love’s dream (ravishing new wave post-punk hallucinations in ’81 kohl and lip-liner), and Jack’s dream transporting bombs on the George Weems from NYC to this far off land at the tail end of summer ‘43, before the city was inscribed and transcribed with mop tops and Beatle boots, tailored suits and awl that. Beat music emerged here, in the very spot that I sit (Beat-als), perhaps this very booth, where a young John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe sacked off afternoon classes at the art college nearby to get pissed and create a ‘way out’, where John & his sweet Bridget Cyn sipped on cheap ales before making love for the first time round the corner at 3 Gambier Terrace, Stu’s saltwater flat and site of that great beatnik horror (even made the papers). The Dissenters.
Maybe I walked the same cobblestone alleys as they did to get here, walking past the Liverpool, England pawn shops (long before I was born) that Jack might have ducked into when in port, unloading his delusions on holy oceans while ‘type type type’ at sea (he’d meet Allen Ginsberg only a few short months later). I have no true idea, but I do know that Jack wrote a note while here, entitled ’The Romanticist’, a lonesome traveller twenty years young with so much road to go, so much to see, an ordinary seaman, a merchant marine, dated 21 September 1943: “I have walked the streets…I have languished in hospitals and shuffled cards in melancholy abstraction…I have written reams and reams of writings […] And through it all, I have always been restless, unhappy, and seeking new horizons. What shall I do?” (Maher Jr. 118)
I sit in the night and feel the same and imagine a seventeen year old John Winston carrying a weathered, battered copy of On the Road with its watercolour drawing of angel headed hipsters in search of the starry dynamo in his back pocket, hitching from Aunt Mimi’s in Woolton to Bold Street to see what was sappenin’ at the Jacaranda Club on Slater in those precious early Quarry Men/ Silver Beetle days at band praccy in the basement hepped up on coffee only later to get bladdered on bevies at all hours before the Cracke closed its doors until the next twilight. On the search for truth, for kicks, yup, yup, all par for the course in this bright existence of living, travel memoirs at the bottom of a glass, the pushing of limits and suffering of extremes. Sometimes it feels like a cruel punishment from some other place, for having fun then hit by perpetual consequences. I remind myself that the beat of the heart is the beat to keep, as I sit and read another line, another terse verse, comforted in the sorrowjoy of a Kerouac vision in words.
I thumb my battered hand me down Beat reader thrown into my backpack for this very occasion, this celebration, next to the dark mirror next to a glass of champagne on the muddy wooded table with etchings of names from years past illuminated in that increasing late hour, all connected, all part of that path, from port to port, ship to sea, in this bright brilliant moment reflected back at me. Just like Jack, John & Stu sought one gloom saloon for another, leaving Ye Cracke and Liddypool behind for the road by boat, next stop Hamburg, filth & the Bambi Kino, loads of crates of beer at the Indra, chasing rock and roll visions under the sequinned stars. All illusion, all madness, all beauty & grace. John & Paul later hit the road for Paris in 1960, hitchhiking on birthday money prezzie from John’s auntie, dressed in leather, looking for Genet while leaning in the gutter, all before the sonic boom of Beatlemania touched down a few years later. It would be one of their last tastes of freedom and first escapes from pain.
In ’65, John even telephoned Jack (ah, but poetry is so much better!) after The Beatles played Shea Stadium, revealing the name of his now world-famous band as influenced by the sweet Beats: “he said he was sorry he hadn’t come to see me when they played Queens,’ Jack said (van ‘t Hooft). Jack’s ol’ pal Allen also visited Liverpool that same year – he called it, rather infamously “at the present moment the centre of the consciousness of the human universe” (qtd. in Warner 38, van ‘t Hooft). He loved to roam the Beatle streets while tuning into the interconnectedness of bohemia in all far reaching corners of the earth, hanging with Adrian Henri between the condensation of tenement flats in this island San Francisco, fantasizing of great moments past and those about to be discovered on the edges of the soft Mersey air. How beautiful to be part of the same eternity pattern, the same breath, repeating on and on and on.
So there we are – in the spaces between fantasy and reality, daydreams, nightmares – two expats, Jack and I, in a cold bar on a cold night in a cold Liverpool, edge of land sadness and gladness with nothing tethering us to this world except poetry, alcohol, and the prose of the stories of our lives. I sense the presence of John and Stu right round the corner, in the walls and creaky floorboards, carrying canvas on their backs, balancing pints spilling lightly down their paintbrush fingers, shimmering Scouse boys on the verge of greatness, of leaving. I envision a sweet loner Jack, years earlier traipsing through the door unscathed from the storm, a few faint rain drops pour down the front of his naval cap, wondering what the hell to make of this world, this life, crying ’Where are my friends?’ as he’s given strange looks by the elderly grey men drunk as skunks, throwing darts in the corner. And then like the night, turns on his heel to slink off, solemnly, enveloped again into the darkness while following the faint sound of the midnight seagulls up ahead. The legends of flesh and marrow, stripped straight off the bone, the inspiration absorbed and put down again.
Maybe it was the last drips of drink or tuning into some other realm far beyond but also slightly near, but in my haunting, reflection, I could feel that same beautiful flash, the turning of my melancholy into bliss, the framing of intensity into not what we suffer but survive, the beauty of arriving and leaving – a grasp with the soul camera from the darkness to light, in close touch yet forever out of reach, “And for just a moment I had reached the point of ecstasy that I always wanted to reach, which was the complete step across chronological time into timeless shadows” (Kerouac 1957).
Goodnight sweet ghosts,
the glass of tomorrow,
’til then, a strange dream.
Kerouac, Jack. On the Road. Viking Press, 1957.
Maher Jr., Paul. Kerouac: The Definitive Biography, Taylor Trade Publishing, 2007.
van ‘t Hooft, Merel. “The Beats and the Beatles: two sides of the same coin” Beatdom <http://www.beatdom.com/the-beats-and-the-beatles-two-sides-of-the-same-coin/> Accessed 17 March 2018.