Henry’s influence on the Beats is well-documented.
As our pal James Decker notes in “Henry Miller and the Narrative Form: Constructing the Self, Rejecting Modernity,”
“[Jack] Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, among others, admired Miller greatly, no doubt recognizing in spiral form’s figure-like flights like jazzy improvisation that marked their own compositions.”
Jack Kerouac was no exception.
As our the Cosmodemonic Telegraph Company vividly illustrates, the two writers began to gravitate towards each other in 1958 with the publication of Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums.
Miller loved it.
He went so far so to write its publisher and express how he was “intoxicated” “from the moment I began reading.” “No man can write with that delicious freedom and abandonment who has not practiced severe discipline …. Kerouac could and probably will exert tremendous influence upon our contemporary writers young and old … we’re had all kinds of bums heretofore but never a Dharma bum, like this Kerouac.”
Jack was stoked, calling Miller’s letter “a real breakthrough for us,” in a letter to Allen Ginsberg (above).
Soon after Miller wrote the introduction to Kerouac’s The Subterraneans, noting:
“Let the poets speak. They may be ‘beat,’ but they’re not riding the atom-powered Juggernaut. Believe me, there’s nothing clean, nothing healthy, nothing promising about this age of wonders—except the telling. And the Kerouacs will probably have the last word.”
Jack and Henry also exchanged letters during this period.
Kerouac arrived in Big Sur in 1960 with plans to detox at Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s cabin. And so the stage was set for a great, historic sit-down, with Ferlinghetti sitting in as well.
“Miller was going to drive up the coast from where he lived on Partington Ridge, to Carmel Highlands, to the house of a friend named Effron Doner. We were going to drive down the coast and meet there for supper,” remembers Ferlinghetti. But Kerouac snuck into San Francisco without first notifying his sponor, and was found in the early-afternoon drinking next door to City Lights Books at Versuvio’s bar.
CTC takes it from there:
“As time passed, and Kerouac drank and socialized with “old buddies,” Ferlinghetti did the math and realized they had to leave for the three-hour drive if they were going to make it in time for dinner. Kerouac kept putting off the departure, beginning a series of courtesy phone calls to Miller with apologies and assurances like, ‘‘I’ll tell you what, we’re leaving now, we’ll be there by eight o’clock, for sure.’
[H]is voice on the phone just like on his records,” wrote Kerouac of Miller in Big Sur, “nasal, Brooklyn, goodguy voice.” At 10 PM, Kerouac made his final appeal to Henry, of which he would write, “we’re all drunk at ten calling long distance and poor Henry just said, ‘Well I’m sorry I dont get to meet you Jack but I’m an old man and at ten o’clock it’s time for me to go to bed, you’d never make it here until after midnight now.”
Ferlinghetti “gave up on the whole scene” and drove back home without Kerouac, to his cabin at Bixby Canyon in Big Sur. Kerouac would later feel “awful guilt” about standing Miller up, “because he’s gone to the trouble of writing the preface to one of my books.”
But, he admits that what he was really thinking at the time was, “Ah the hell with it he was only getting in on the act like all these guys write prefaces so that you dont even get to read the author first,” a perspective of thought that Kerouac defines as a “remorseful paranoia” and “an example of how really psychotically suspicious and loco I was getting.”
Kerouac remained at the bar until late, took a taxi into Big Sur, stumbled through the Pacific darkness with a lantern to find Ferlinghetti’s cabin, and was found sleeping in a nearby meadow the next morning.
In 1961, Kerouac wrote of plans to return to the coast and “See Henry Miller this time” but, as far as anyone knows, a meeting between the two writers never happened.
(Once again, a massive hat-tip to the Cosmodemonic Telegraph Company.)