Jack Kerouac’s daughter, Ian Kerouac, died last summer in a hospital in New Mexico, a day after surgeons removed her spleen. Jan was 44. Five years earlier, her kidneys, strained by drug use, hard drinking, and a 20-year history of high blood pressure, had failed her. She had been on daily dialysis ever since.
Jack Kerouac. Jack agreed to take a blood test to prove or disprove his paternity.
I was surprised how upset Jan’s death left me. She and I by no means were friends. I lived for many years in the same small town in central Washington State where Jan’s mother lived. Jan visited her mother there off and on during the 1970s, and Jan herself settled in and lived there for many months on several occasions. Although I can't imagine that we did not see each other on the little town’s four-block-long principal thoroughfare, we never met. I cannot recall anyone I knew ever saying, “Jack Kerouac’s ex-wife is living here. His daughter Jan is here too.”
Jan Kerouac. A year earlier she’d read On the Road. “It explained a lot to me about the weird way I thought.”
I not infrequently ate lunch with girlfriends or dinner with my husband and other couples in the restaurant where Jan’s then-husband, John Lash, cooked. Jan occasionally worked there as a waitress. I have rummaged my memory for Jan’s pale face, her long, dark hair and big, brown eyes. I have tried to remember the face that so closely resembled that of On the Road’s author. I do recall that the waitresses wore pale pink. I have tried to locate Jan’s petite frame, dressed in one of those pink uniforms. I have tried to remember her bringing the restaurant’s famous two-inch-thick lamb chops to our table. I don't.
Jan also worked for several summers at Twin City Foods, a two-story structure on the town’s west side. Lights burned around the clock there, from mid-spring until November. People worked 12-hour shifts preparing green peas, carrots cob com, cut corn, and potatoes from nearby farms for canners and freezers. The mother of my younger daughter’s friend Allana worked there 30 years. Chemicals and water ate away at the skin on her hands and wrists. Nights she lay in a recliner in front of the television set. She turned out all the lights and stared at the glowing television screen while she drank bottle after bottle of Olympia beer and chain-smoked Kools. Hot August nights my husband and I used to walk across town toward Twin City. Blocks before we got close enough to smell the sickly sweet odor of thousands of pounds of cooking corn, we heard trucks driving into town from the farms. The trucks were piled high with corn picked that day. Corn season was the plant's busiest time. Housewives, earning extra money to buy their children’s school clothes and pay bills, worked the night shift then, as did teenage boys and girls saving for college or raising cash to buy a first car. I remember that beat-up pickups and older sedans that showed rust along the underbody filled the employees’ parking lot. I remember seeing women walk slowly down the cast-iron stairs. I remember a yellow light above the door that shone down on them as they descended. I recall that the women wore hairnets. They sat in their cars in the dark and played the radio and ate dinner from paper sacks. But I do not remember, not ever, seeing a feminine version of Jack Kerouac’s face in one of those cars.
By the time the restaurant where Jan’s husband cooked and Jan waitressed had opened, I had read Ann Charters’s 1973 Kerouac: A Biography. I knew that Jan’s mother Joan Haverty met Jack in New York City late in 1950. She was 20 and Jack was 28 going on 29. Jack, by then, had already been married and divorced. He had out one book, his first novel, The Town and the City, a semiautobiographical tale of growing up French Canadian and poor in Lowell, Massachusetts. The Town and the City's reviews weren’t bad. But few copies sold.
Two weeks after Jack and Joan met, they married. Allen Ginsberg was best man. Joan went to work as a waitress. Jack typed away on what eventually would become On the Road. Jack paid Joan little attention. He expected her to support them and feed them and keep the apartment clean. By late spring, after six months of marriage, Joan threw Jack out. Then, in early June 1951, Joan got in touch with Jack to tell him she was pregnant. Jack insisted Joan find an abortionist. She refused. She went back to Albany to her mother. February 16, 1952, Janet Michelle, who would be called “Jan,” was born. Jack was in California with Neal and Caroline Cassady.
Jack had nothing to do with Joan or his child. In 1955, Joan filed suit against Jack, asking that he contribute to Jan’s support. He contested the suit. The case was dismissed, the judge ruling that Jack’s phlebitis kept him from working and paying child support. After the hearing, Kerouac wrote to Ginsberg that Joan “showed me pixes of the dotter who I think looks like me...so may be mine.”
On the Road was published in 1957 and made Jack famous. But even then, when he began to make money, he offered nothing toward Jan’s support. Father and daughter saw each other only twice. The first time was in 1962, when Jan was 10. Jack agreed to take a blood test to prove or disprove his paternity. The test showed he likely was Jan’s father. The second time Jan saw her father she was 15. A year earlier she’d read On the Road, a reading about which she would later say, “It explained a lot to me about the weird way I thought.” And “The book gave me a picture of what he’d been doing all this time, all over the country. It made more sense he hadn't had time to be fatherly.” On that second visit, Jan was pregnant by a drug-dealer boyfriend and on her way to Mexico.
In 1966, then-44-year-old Jack married 48-year-old Stella Sampas, sister of a friend from his hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts. Jack, by this time, wrote little and drank a lot. In 1969, when he was 47, he died.
What I learned later, reading Jan’s first novel, the autobiographical Baby Driver: A Story About Myself, published in 1981, was that Jan grew up poor on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, that she was experimenting with drugs by the time she was 12, that she lost her virginity that same year to a man who was 22. The baby she was carrying when she saw her father the last time was stillborn in Mexico. From Mexico Jan traveled through Latin America and then returned to the United States. She ended up for a while at her mother’s house in Washington State. She married for the first time. She took off then, without her husband, and went to the Southwest, where she worked in massage parlors and shot heroin and generally led a wild party life.
Trainsong, published in 1988, starts off in the early 1970s, where Baby Driver ended. Jan describes her arrival in the little town in central Washington State. “I hadn’t seen my mother or brother for three years, except for a brief, chaotic visit when I had breezed up from the massage parlors.... Even my own mother had hardly recognized me through the facade of dyed, teased hair, hot pants and spike heels: the whorish cocoon I’d spun around myself.” Jan’s mother lived in what was no more than a shack. Jan, during this first visit, got involved with a married Mexican laborer with an alcohol problem. There were arguments and beatings. She left her mother’s house and moved in with two young men who lived on the wrong side of the tracks in a section of our little town that the locals called “Dogtown.” She worked the night shift at Twin City Foods. Her job was to cut corn off cobs. When Jan got together enough money, she took off. She married again. She and her new husband went to Tangier. They returned to the U.S. and broke up. Jan was still drinking, still using drugs. She fell in love with a cook in Portland. They traveled from city to city in the Pacific Northwest. He taught her to steal. They got arrested. Jan, for a short time, was incarcerated in the little six-cell county jail in the town where we both had lived.
In the late 1970s, Jan began to receive royalties from her father’s books. Federal copyright law mandates that widow or widower and children of the creator of works are entitled to a decedent’s royalties for 75 years after the date of the author’s copyright. Jan, therefore, after her father’s death, was automatically entitled to half the royalties on all books published by her father during his lifetime. (Stella Sampas, Jack’s third and last wife, willed her half of the royalties to her family.) Beginning in 1985, when Kerouac’s books made something of a comeback, royalties added up to between $90,000 and $120,000 per year. Jan traveled. She lived in Boulder for a time in a house she shared with Allen Ginsberg. In 1991, after her kidneys failed, she lived in Key West. Finally, she settled in a small rented house in Albuquerque, near her first husband John Lash’s sister.
In 1994, Jan sued Stella Sampas’s relatives. When Jan’s paternal grandmother, Gabrielle Kerouac, died in 1973, she left all her possessions, including her son’s estate, to Stella Sampas. Included in this estate were Jack’s notebooks, the scrolls on which he typed On the Road, his letters, and other paper memorabilia. Had Gabrielle died intestate, the estate would have become the property of her two grandchildren, Jan and Paul Blake Jr., son of Jack’s sister. Jan’s suit charged that Gabrielle’s will had been forged. The suit, at the time of Jan’s death, remained in limbo, going nowhere.
I interviewed jan and her father’s biographer, Gerald Nicosia, about the suit. I talked twice, for 20 minutes or so, with Jan late at night by telephone. She was at home in Albuquerque. Someone who had seen Jan shortly before we talked had said to me, “She’s a tiny little thing. Barely five feet tall. She looks so young, so pretty...sweet, innocent. You look at her and listen to her and can’t believe she lived through all that hard life she wrote about.” So I was not surprised that her voice, when she answered the phone, was a whispery Marilyn Monroe purr, a small, hesitant but sexy murmur that might have been that of a teenage girl. On both occasions Jan said she couldn’t talk long, because she had to do her dialysis. The first time we talked she raged against what she felt was the ill-treatment given her by her fetters widow's family. When I asked her about the little town in which we both lived, she became less forthcoming. She said she didn’t remember much about it.
“Twice,” she told me, “I saw my dad. The first time my mother and I met him and his lawyer on a street in Brooklyn and then went someplace to a bar to sit down for a while. While they talked, I watched the astronauts on TV [John Glenn beginning his third orbit of the earth, according to Nicosia’s biography] and then we went to a doctor’s office to have a blood test. The whole purpose of the test was to prove he was my father. He knew I was his kid.”
After the blood test, Jan said, they went back to the Lower East Side apartment where Jan, her mother, and twin sisters lived. “As soon as we got to the apartment, he wanted to know where the nearest liquor store was, so I took him to the one on 10th Street, and he bought Harvey's Bristol Cream sherry.” Jack sat on Joan’s couch, drank sherry, and talked. Then he left. Jan saved the cork from the sherry bottle.
“The last time, the second time, was in 1967, up in Lowell, when I was getting ready to go to Mexico. He was sitting in his rocking chair, watching The Beverly Hillbillies, and drinking Southern Comfort. When I got ready to leave, I told him I was going to Mexico and was going to be a writer. He said something like, ‘Yeah, you go to Mexico, write a book. You can use my name.’"
Jan suddenly sounded weary, tired, I thought, of telling strangers like me this old, sad story. “Both the meetings,” she said, her voice flat, “are in Baby Driver. ”
She perked up, saying, “I am about to meet my cousin, Paul Blake Jr., who was Jack’s nephew, his sister Caroline’s son. He told me over the phone the other night that he remembered a time when Jack pulled a little picture out of his pocket in the house down in Florida, and Paul asked, ‘Is that my cousin Jan?’ and Jack put his finger up to his mouth and said, ‘Don’t let anybody hear you say that.’ He, Jack, wanted to keep it a secret from his mother because he didn’t tell her in the beginning the truth about me, and he felt he had to keep the lie up forever. I know he was very attached to his mother and that she was the most important thing in his life.”
Jan said, politely, that she was tired. We said good-bye, and I wished her well.
In March 1996, Jan showed up again in the news. Stella Sampas had Jan’s father buried in Lowell, Massachusetts. Jan wanted her father’s remains moved to Nashua, New Hampshire, to the Kerouac family plot, where her father’s mother, father, and brother were buried. She told reporters who called her home in Albuquerque that she planned to sue the town of Lowell for rights to remove her father’s coffin to Nashua. The city soon after turned down her request. But she remained confident. Jan’s last public words were in response to the city of Lowell’s refusal to permit her to exhume her father. “I know,” she told a reporter, “that I’ll eventually be able to do it. I’m the daughter. I’m blood.”
When I read last June that Jan had died, her death, as I said earlier, left me strangely upset. I thought what a sad story hers was. I thought what a terrible father Jack had been. I thought that Jan had spent much of her 44 years trying to fill the abysmal absence her father left in her life. I thought that in an odd way she had tried to be her father, to live the way he lived, and that in a similarly odd and tragic way, she succeeded.
Another person with whom I talked in 1994 was James T. Jones, an English professor at Southwest Missouri State in Springfield, Missouri. Jones, in 1993, had become Jan’s biographer. Someone had given him a copy of my story about the suit and he called me. We talked several times, Mr. Jones and I, and when he went to the small town in Washington State, I gave him some names and phone numbers of people who might help him find people who had known Jan. I remembered, from our conversation, that Mr. Jones had spoken of a “fatal interview” with Jan, an interview that, effectively, ended their relationship. I was curious about that interview and curious as to whether Jan and Mr. Jones reconciled before Jan’s death. I also just wanted to talk to someone who knew and was interested in Jan.
I called Mr. Jones and asked him what was happening with his work on Jan’s biography. We talked first about the little town in central Washington. He said he’d gone there in the summer of 1994. “It’s pretty bleak. That’s sort of the end of the world. The only thing substantive I found out when I was there was that she actually did spend time in the county jail. I talked to the jailer, and he looked up the jail records and he wouldn’t tell me anything about it, but he did confirm that she was in jail. I took photos, like of the old theater, which has that beautiful old marquee on it, which is an image in one of her books, and of the canning factory, Twin City Foods.”
His book, Mr. Jones told me, “had started as a straight-ahead biography of Jan. The agreement that we had, Jan and I, although it was informal, was that it was going to be a no-holds-barred book. It wasn’t going to be authorized. I was going to be able to ask any questions and peer into any dark corners that I found. Because I knew that Jan had lived a pretty wild life. Much wilder than her father, I think.”
Jones, who has long taught a course on the Beats and who has written a critical book about Kerouac’s poetry (A Map of Mexico City Blues: Jack Kerouac As Poet; Southern Illinois University Press, 1992), said that he conceived the idea of writing Jan’s biography after talking with Gerald Nicosia, Jack Kerouac’s biographer, at the 1994 Beats Conference at New York University. “That was the first time I’d met Nicosia, although I’d been reading his book (Memory Babe: A Critical Biography (1983)) for a long time. I went up to thank him for that, and we chatted a little.
“The conference was in June. I was on leave that year, and so I went off to Ireland after that. I was walking down the street one day in October 1994, and for some reason it just popped into my head, ‘I should write a biography of Jan Kerouac.’ I had done all the background on jack for my book, and I’d been teaching Beats courses for ten years, and I thought, This is perfect. I have all of this background information, no one has really touched her life, and it will provide an interesting perspective on Jack’s life.’
“I rushed back to my flat and wrote Nicosia a letter. Two weeks later I got back a postcard from him saying, 'I think this is a great idea, no one’s touched it, I’ll tell Jan about it the next time I talk to her and see what she says.’
“Then I wrote Nicosia a much more detailed letter about what I had in mind. I didn’t hear anything more. And so I went about my business. I went off to Spain for a month. When I got back to Dublin, I thought perhaps Nicosia would have written, but there was nothing. I thought, ‘I must have over-stepped my bounds. Maybe I was too forward in my letter.’ I came back to Missouri in late 1994. One night in early January 1995, I was out, and when I got home, I found a message on my answering machine. It was Jan Kerouac saying, ‘Gerry Nicosia talked to me about your plan to write a biography. I think it’s a great idea. I’d love to collaborate with you in any way, shape, or form. Please give me a call.’
“Naturally, I was stunned and excited. After that, Jan and I started talking on the phone. She was living in Albuquerque, where she had been, with the exception of some time in Key West, since she came back from Puerto Rico after her kidney failure.”
Mr. Jones stopped in his story and talked about Jan’s time in Key West. “Along, I think, in 1992, she got about $40,000, I think, for the renewal of the film rights for On the Road. She thought that with this money she could move to Key West. She loved the blue water there. She thought, ‘Okay, even though I’ve got this kidney failure, I’ve got this huge sum of money and I can go down to Florida, establish myself, and still kind of live like a party girl.’
“What Jan discovered when she got to Key West was that it was a day-long bus ride to the nearest big hospital Even though she did her dialysis at home, she still had to go to the hospital once a week. Every week she was spending 16 hours on a bus to go have her kidney treatments. Anyway, after six months in Key West, during which time she completely New that $40,000, she came back to Albuquerque.
“But to return to my story. Jan and I, that January, started to talk on the phone. We talked on the phone for five or six hours a week over the next two months. And then toward the end of that time, she said, ‘Why don’t you come out and visit me?’ And I said, ‘Oh, I’d love to, that would be great. And then we could spend some really intense time together, and you could show me your photographs; we could look through documents and get some heavy-duty work done.’ I planned to visit her in the second week of March, so that I would be there on the anniversary of Jack’s birthday. She asked me to stay with her. She said that I could sleep in her spare bedroom.”
By the time Mr. Jones arrived in Albuquerque, he knew quite a bit about Jan. “I had done all of the library work, looked up all that I could find on her. I found a quite lurid People magazine piece that came out when Baby Driver was published There was the weirdest photograph. The People photographer climbed up into the bathroom window and took a picture of Jan from above, taking a bath. There she is, in a bubble bath, and her boyfriend is sitting by the side of the tub taking her blood pressure. It’s just the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.
“However, the photograph does illustrate the fact that her blood pressure problems were long-standing. She told me during one of our telephone conversations that she had blood pressure problems when she was 19 or 20 and living in Santa Fe and that because of the reckless life she lived, many times she didn’t have money for the medicine, or if she had money, she was too stoned to remember to take it.”
I asked Mr. Jones to tell me about his arrival at Jan’s house in Albuquerque.
“It was incredible. As I said, we had talked and talked and talked, and so I felt like we knew each other fairly well. And I had Gerry Nicosia’s recommendation. I don’t know if she would have taken me into her confidence without that; Gerry had read my book and knew I was a reputable Kerouac scholar. I wasn’t somebody diving in there to take advantage of publicity.
“To walk into her house was very strange. I said to her at some point, ‘Sometimes I pinch myself and say, “I’m Jan Kerouac’s biographer.” She said, ‘Sometimes I pinch myself and say, “I’m Jan Kerouac.” ’
“It was startling to see her. Anybody who had ever seen Jan Kerouac knew she was Jack’s daughter. Her resemblance to him was uncanny. She had this wild publicity photograph made in Albuquerque; her hair is piled on top of her head, and she has on diamond earrings. It’s completely unlike any photograph I’ve ever seen of her. She’s usually pretty casual looking. Basically, she was a hippie.
“I had one of those photographs and asked Jan, ‘Would you mind autographing it for me?’ She said, ‘Oh, no.’ She looked at it. She had trouble seeing, which is another story that most people don’t know about. But she kind of held it back away from her and looked at it and said, ‘God, doesn’t this look just like Jack in drag?’ I said, ‘You know, it kind of does.’
“The way her schedule worked, we ended up doing interviews late at night, from eleven o’clock or midnight until three or four o’clock in the morning. She would do one of her home dialysis exchanges then and sleep for a while. I’d get up early and go off and Xerox.”
I asked Mr. Jones how Jan paid for all this. She was, he said, on Medicare. “End-stage renal failure is what they call what she had. It’s an absolute entitlement. If your kidneys go out, the government will pay for it. You can have money, which she did, as long as you don’t work for it. So as long as Jan didn’t lift a finger, she could keep her federal entitlement. So she could make $140,000, $150,000 dollars a year, which she did a couple of years. I’ve got the statements; $140,000 was her top income one year. And still she was getting all of her medical supplies, the whole shot, paid for by the federal government I kept telling her, ‘By God, you’d better hope Newt Gingrich doesn’t find out about this one.’
“Jan, by my standards, was making a lot of money. The first time I talked to her she said, ‘Wow, I just got a $10,000 check from Francis Ford Coppola for signing on as creative advisor for the film.’ She’d always worked restaurant jobs. She’d always been a wage slave. So she didn’t have any concept that people weren’t taking taxes out of her royalties. She ended up owing the IRS about 80,000 bucks when she died. She had no clue. She would take this money and not keep records of it. Put it in the bank, take money out. I don’t think she ever knew how much money she had in the bank.
“Jan, all along, was a lot sicker than people thought she was. My first impression of her was that she was either drunk or stoned out of her gourd. Because she kept forgetting things and had all these weird mannerisms. But then while I stayed with her, it all became perfectly clear. Holy cow, this woman is really sick.
“What I saw was somebody who could look like she was really together and who could also look on the verge of death. Within the course of 24 hours. She had to do dialysis every six hours. She had a catheter implanted in her stomach. She put this big gallon jug of sterile solution up on an IV pole. She had to flush this liquid into her body cavity and then drain it out, 4 times every 24 hours.
“Basically, what that fluid was doing was substituting for her kidneys. Because her kidneys were totally not functioning for the last five years. So this fluid that she flushed into her body four times a day was serving to take out all of the impurities from her blood. But it also caused all sorts of chemical reactions. It caused potassium deficiency, which caused her skin to be incredibly sensitive. So she was always scratching and fussing with herself. It was really horrible. It created a cycle: right after she did it, she would become drowsy. And then in a couple of hours she'd perk up again.
“It was terribly sad. I took a photographer with me when I went to Albuquerque, so I have a lot of photographs, not only the ones he took but snapshots that I took. The photographer was even more disturbed than I was because I knew a little bit about what to expect. But he didn’t know who Jan was and had never met her before, and he said, ‘My gosh, this woman is really in bad shape.’
“In effect, she caused her own demise. Jan lived a wild life, and she paid for it. She knew that she was sick and wasn’t taking care of herself for many years.”
I asked Mr. Jones about the “fatal interview.”
“The interview that really sort of ruined our relationship occurred,” he said, “on the last day I was there, the 12th of March, her father's birthday. I’ve accused myself about this for so long that I’ve pretty well gone over it in minute detail. Several things happened. One, I stayed too long — seven days. We worked pretty much nonstop. Jan was a loner. I think it was just too much. I was too enthusiastic to realize that I was going overboard.
“We also delved deeply into her life, and I don’t think that she had ever done that with a stranger before. She was an alcoholic and a drug addict. She, like her dad, was a great storyteller. She had a phenomenal memory. She was a very intelligent woman. But she was the kind of person that you meet in a bar, who’s used to getting attention by telling outrageous stories, but it always remains superficial. It always remains hyped up. It’s always done for effect.
“When we started these conversations, I did this on the understanding that there wasn’t anything I couldn’t ask. I started asking probing questions about how she felt about being abandoned by her father. I asked her also about her mom, who was really close to Jan but was also a total flake. Jan found Joan very admirable and described them as ‘soul mates.’ Jan said that she only had two soul mates in life; one was her mom and the other one was John Lash, her first husband.
“We also got into Jan’s brief stint as a prostitute, which happened when she was very young, 19 and 20. John Lash and Jan were living in Ellensburg. A friend of John’s had some connections in Santa Fe, and so Jan followed this guy down there. John stayed in Ellensburg and Jan moved to Santa Fe. To support herself she did restaurant work most of her life and had trained herself to be a really good cook. She was actually kind of a gourmet cook.
“But at first when she went to Santa Fe, she worked at the racetrack. I think she was already drinking heavily by then and doing a lot of drugs. And of course, you’re talking 1970, 1971, so the whole hippie drug craze was just coming on, LSD was everywhere. She was extremely good looking. Plus, her dad was a kind of icon, and I’m sure that in Santa Fe, a lot of people knew who her dad was and so on.
“I tape-recorded our interviews, and I tape-recorded the whole discussion about prostitution, which I think really puts her in a good light. She explains how she got into it, what she did, she gives examples of johns and how they related and the different places she worked. She also worked in Phoenix as well as in Santa Fe and Albuquerque.
“In Santa Fe, the place she started hooking was a bar right across the street from the state capitol. So her first clients were politicians. One of them, a guy she told me about in great detail, turned out to be an important official in the state of New Mexico. In this interview she tells me how she worked her way out of being a prostitute. At the very end, I asked, 'Why did you quit? You were nuking 300 bucks a day. You’re feeling pretty much in control of yourself. Why did you quit? It seems like you had conquered the biggest obstacle, which was the moral revulsion.’ She said, ‘I was afraid I’d ruin myself for a future romantic love.’ I thought, ‘For somebody who’s already gone overboard, who’s been having sex since she was 12 years old and been doing drugs, that’s a pretty remarkable act of self-control.’
“But anyway, the very next morning, which was the day that I was ready to leave, she woke up very early and came out to see me. She said, ‘I think I spilled the beans last night.’ I said, ‘What do you mean, spilled the beans?’ She said, I don’t think I should have told you that stuff.’ I said, ‘But you already wrote about it in Baby Driver and talked about it in interviews.’ But I think that she thought she had given away information that would jeopardize her chances to win the lawsuit.
“We sat and talked I thought we had worked it out because it was really a crisis — she suddenly completely lost confidence in me, suddenly decided that I was a suspicious character. I thought we had straightened it out, and we parted on good terms.
“Then, about a week after I got home, she called me one night and said, “I want you to return everything that I gave you.’ What she was referring to were copies of the stuff she let me make. She went on and said, ‘I think you’re a thief and a criminal, and I don’t want to work with you anymore.’ She hung up on me.
“I felt like I had been kicked in the gut. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought, ‘Well, it’s kind of understandable.’ I felt betrayed. I had put months of work into this project, and I kicked myself for not having made a formal arrangement beforehand. Because I think if we had had some kind of written understanding about what we were doing, it would have been clearer. But we were working on good faith. I think Jan was a little paranoid. I think the lawsuit made her nervous.
“I worked for months after that through Gerry Nicosia, trying to reestablish some kind of relationship with her, but nothing came of it. Once she made a decision, that was it.”
Jan never called Mr. Jones again, nor did he call her. I asked him why he didn’t call.
“I have a kind of weird hang-up about that. Where I come from, if somebody hangs up on you, it’s not your move to apologize, it’s their move. And so as far as I was concerned, maybe I got a little carried away, and several other people here told me, well, look, she wants a reconciliation, she wants you to come begging, and she wants you to — you know, she wants some drama about the whole deal, you know? And I thought, well, maybe she does, but in my book there’s still such a thing as rudeness. And hanging upon somebody is like terminal rudeness for me.
“For a while, after she broke off with me, I was devastated, because I thought I had wasted a huge amount of time. I was really interested in it. I thought it was a story worth telling. And then I realized that, you know, like so many things that look bad, it was a blessing in disguise.” Mr. Jones said that this "blessing in disguise” was his decision to interview many other people about Jan and Jan’s mother, which is what he subsequently had done.
I asked Mr. Jones what he made of Jan's attempt, only months before her death, to get her father’s body moved.
“My intuition,” he said, “is that when she was trying to move Jack’s body, she must have had some sense that her own end was drawing near and that she thought in some weird way that they could all be together there, if she could just get her father’s body moved.”
When I asked Mr. Jones his assessment of Jan as a writer, he said without hesitation, “I think she’s the quintessential second-generation Beat writer. She took all of her dad’s lessons about honesty and confession and telling things like they really are and put them to use in her own life. I don’t think Jack Kerouac is a novelist of the first order, The annoying thing to me about Kerouac is that I feel trapped by the contrary myths that have been created. It’s like Kerouac is either a saint or a demon. My whole point was he was just another human being like you or me, you know. And it just so happened he stepped on a lot of people, including his daughter, to get where he was, where he wanted to be.
“And so I don’t see how somebody as derivative of Jack as Jan is could be anything more than a second- or third-rate novelist. But having said that, I think there’s a lot to be said for her writing. For one thing, there haven’t been that many women who have written these kind of ‘on the road’ narratives.
“But what I see in her novels is a strange disparity. She’s doing all of these self-destructive things. And one thing that her novel reveals is that she really didn’t have much self-esteem. She was continually putting herself in the hands of less-than-admirable men and then doing whatever they told her to do. She gave me a draft of her third novel, which she called Parrot Fever, so I’ve read that too. Parrot Fever picks her life up through the late 1980s, about the time that Trainsong was published. In this last book, you see that she’s still doing the same things. She goes to Hawaii and hooks up with this guy who’s just an absolute drunken maniac, and they get into all kinds of scrapes together. But the funny thing about Jan’s books is they’re all so upbeat. I mean, here she is, destroying her body and soul, and she’s so blithe about it all.
“I find her in a lot of ways really admirable, not that I agree with the way she lived or anything, but she lived the way she wanted to. And that’s not something that a lot of people have the courage to do. But Jan Kerouac is not the kind of girl you want your son to be going out with. Or you want for a daughter. It’s everybody’s worst nightmare.”
Mr. Jones said that when the telephone rang, he had been copyediting a section of his biography of Jan. “It’s the section,” he said, “where I write that her problem was she was both too close — she was too much like her father — and too far away, to see the negative consequences of his behavior. So she actually suffered doubly from being his daughter.”
I said that I understood that a New York publishing house was getting ready to publish Jan’s third and last book. Parrot Fever, and I wondered if Jan’s other two books might now come back into print.
He paused a moment, then said, “I think so. I always think of John Milton's Areopagitica. When he was trying to defend free speech. One of Milton’s arguments there is one I would use for reprinting Jan’s books.”
And what was that argument?
“That it’s better for people to read about these things than to actually do them.”