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NW6 4SH
United Kingdom

+44 7855 742 633

London based professional interior and architectural photographer.

Travel Blog

Kerouac and The Beat Museum Review

james tarry

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Two years ago I met my girlfriend, shortly after that she introduced me to Charles Bukowski. I am somewhat ashamed to say my American literature was, at best "limited", at school we were fed copious amounts of Shakespeare and the likes of Pride and Prejudice until we were all utterly sick of reading, my only escape from that was my love of a good Stephen King novel! The only American "classic" I remember reading in that class and unsurprisingly loving was "To Kill a Mockingbird", of which large preportion of the time was dedicated to watching the film adaptation then discussing it till we were blue in the face. So when I read Bukowski's "Ham on Rye" two years ago it was as if a whole new world had opened up to me.

The recommendations kept coming and I kept reading, the old drunk Bukowski led me to Fante, who in turn led me to Faulkner, who led me to the French writers Camu and Sarte. All of these fantastic writers were all influenced by each other in some capacity (mostly in writing styes and honesty) and along the way I read Kerouac's "On the Road" which meant I was then hooked on the "Beat Generation" and especially Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs which brings us up to San Francisco's The Beat Museum:

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My interest in Kerouac only increased more when we went to see the original 120 ft scroll of his "On the Road" book and exhibition around it at the British Library, so 2013 and with us on the road, travelling across country and visiting San Francisco we sought out the Kerouac hot spots.

"The Beat Museum" is located in the North Beach district of San Francisco which is also a moments walk from Telegraph Hill and hosts a large Italian contingent, Jack never actually lived in this district as such or San Francisco apart from crashing on various couches and the odd hotel however arguably North Beach is to the "Beats" as Liverpool is to The Beatles and It is here that you will find the "Beat museum" founded by Jerry Cimino, it is a beautiful bookshop full of the delights of The Beats, posters, early editions, new editions, bathtubs full of bargains and out the back sits the museum itself.

Jerry will sell you a ticket ($8) and send you on your way through the turnstiles, where you will read the history of how the Beat Generation started, the importance of Neal Cassady, or take a load off in the cinema and watch a film about Kerouac and his sad self destruction. The first floor houses a collection of first editions, photo memorabilia, Jacks jacket and segments on other prominent writers such as Burroughs and Ginsberg and his infamous "Howl". It's a delightful museum set up by people who clearly adore this part of literature history, I hope that it long continues and more donations are submitted over time. Back downstairs and the pièce de résistance, a '49 Hudson car, not actually Jacks car for as Jerry says on the website "there is no tangible record of it, it could be in a car collection or rusting away in some junkyard in Mexico". However here is the Hudson that featured in the "On the Road" movie, kindly donated by Walter Salles with dirt and all from the making of. It's a wonderful story of how the Museum was presented with it read it here, or ask Jerry to tell you all about it while he's showing you photos of him at the premiere! Guaranteed he will also end up showing you and selling you early editions you can't resist too, like us as we ended up with a 1958 first edition of Kerouac's "the Subterraneans" and a few other books, and budget allowing, at the end of this trip I have my eye on an first edition of a British "On the Road"....Jerry is a charmer and clearly can spot fans a mile off!

I cannot recommend a trip to the Beat Museum enough, if not just for Jerry, but because you will be stepping in the footsteps of the authors and poets that shaped and changed a generation, created history, wrote their experiences through their eyes and well, who can't fall in love with a museum that's set up like that.

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Across the road from the Beat Museum is the City Lights bookshop/publisher, this was founded in 1953 and was a key part in the "Beats" history, it published Ginsberg's "Howl" which caused national controversy and led to a court case about the poem/book and it's depictions of drug use and homosexuality. You can read all about this in The Beat Museum and see early editions or walk the floors of the bookshop in the store itself and is well worth doing so. 

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