WHEN I WAS COOL by Sam Kashner


My Life at the Jack Kerouac School
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Coming-of-age narrative from the first alumnus of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute, the original Buddhist college in America. (It was not the Ivy League.)

A generation ago, young Kashner (The Bad and the Beautiful, 2002, etc.) left home in Merrick, Long Island, to sit at the feet of the Beat masters in Boulder, Colorado. Allen Ginsberg was his mentor, and the core faculty contributing to Sam’s expanding education included Gregory Corso, William Burroughs, Peter Orlovsky, and beautiful poet Anne Waldman. Most of the Rat Pack of Poesy were approaching their geriatric phase, but they were infected still with some things rich and strange. Like Byron before them, they were all mad, bad, and dangerous to know—also, in their way, great teachers. Deconstructing jerrybuilt poetry at the Kerouac School and working with its special faculty was no trust-fund, Buddhist-style caper like the rest of Naropa’s classes. The Beats, brightest of their generation, required close acolyte attention. Enticing vinegary Burroughs out his orgone box to care for his son, keeping rowdy Corso as straight as possible, completing and typing moody Ginsberg’s poems while calculating the sexual permutations would tax the abilities of any apprentice bard, especially one carrying a fond father’s credit card. It was scary, certainly, attending those mythic Olympians, bohemian heroes passing into hipsters or junkies. And it was clearly wonderful. It all started to unravel at a Parents Weekend, during which visiting elders had to post bail for their kids, and after a romp overseen by the Tibetan meditation master of Naropa, it was over. Kashner, who learned to write quite nicely indeed, whether or not at the Kerouac School, blows a kiss to yesteryear.

Witty and warm grace notes to the cool history of the Beats. (8 pp. b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-06-000566-1
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2003


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