Saturday, January 26, 2008

Jack Kerouac: "To Harpo Marx"

In preparation for this Beat retrospective tomorrow night, I met Tucker Booth and Colin Campbell down at the Hermosa Beach Historical Society. They've got a great facility down there, and the show should be engaging. Hermosa Beach has a good sense of its own cultural identity, and that makes a place desirable, to know where it's been and where it's going. That identity includes a good deal of Beat culture. Colin told me he used to visit the old bums playing chess in the park out here, one reading Marx while the other moved, and the other reading Sartre while the first moved. Resulting in very long games.

The interesting artifacts in their collection include a full lifeguard station, a variety of significant antique signage, and all kinds of historical Hermosa tchochkes. But what caught my eye was an item by Jack Kerouac in an old Playboy magazine from the 1960s, entitled "To Harpo Marx":
O Harpo! When did you seem like an angel
    the last time?
    and played the gray harp of gold?

When did you steal the silverware
    and bug-spray the guests?

When did your brother find rain
    in you sunny courtyard?

When did you chase your last blonde
    across the Millionaires' lawn
    with a bait hook on a line
    protruding from your bicycle?

Or when last you powderpuffed
    your white flour face
    with fishbarrel cover?

Harpo! Who was that Lion
    I saw you with?

How did you treat the midget
    and Konk the Giant?

Harpo, in your recent nightclub appearance
    in New Orleans were you old?
    were you still chiding with your horn
    in the cane at your golden belt?

Did you still emerge from your pockets
    another Harpo, or screw on
    new wrists?

Was your vow of silence an Indian Harp?

I'm sure I'm not unique in holding Harpo Marx as a personal hero, but to see him celebrated by the king of the Beats is a kind of thrill. Two nights ago around 2 am, I remembered the New Yorker was holding a contest to interpret their foppish dandy mascott, Eustice Tilly. The deadline was 9 am (EST) yesterday. Cursing myself that I had neglected to contribute, I took a few hours and whipped this up before grabbing a few hours' sleep for work. It's not perfect, but that's the story of my bachelor's in studio art. I'm happy with having cast Harpo as an inversion of Tilly. I think there's some nice symmetry to it.

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