Cheryl's Reviews > When I Was Cool: My Life at the Jack Kerouac School

When I Was Cool by Sam Kashner
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's review
Jul 25, 2007

it was amazing
bookshelves: autobiography

WHEN I WAS COOL: My Life at the Jack Kerouac School.
A Memoir by Sam Kashner. HarperCollins 0060005661 336pps $25.95

A memoir of a then skinny, naive teenage boy, from a liberal, fairly well-off Jewish family, who goes from thinking Walt Whitman had something to do with food - Maybe the Whitman Sampler box of chocolates. to being the author of 3 nonfiction books and a novel. Kashner convinces his parent to allow him to enroll in the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodies Poetics, (of which he was the very first and, at the time, only one to do so), in lieu of conventional college. Hanging out with Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Peter Orlovsky and Anne Waldman, as well as cameos by the remaining Beat and non-Beat writers and muscians of the era, Kashner interweaves Beatlore with his own innocent reflections in a frank, humorous and extremely entertaining and informative platitude. A free-spirited Kiss & Tell theme runs through the pages as openly as the heroin in Burroughs veins. Hailed as a hero with his father's Diner's Club card, Kashner is called upon repeatedly to aid and abet the shenanigans of this anti-normal group of word artists. Between editing Ginsberg & Corso's manuscripts, baby-sitting Billy Burroughs the JR., backing way too many monetary expenses, one wonders who is actually benefiting from his enrollment. Intimacies of thwarting sexual advances from Ginsberg to succumbing to di Prima, are embarrassingly shared in all their sordid, ribald and untimely bodacious glory. A he loves him but he loves her floats through this stew in chunks while Kashner ponders the directed aloofness of Walkman, while impregnating one of her troup. Marijuana fields, whores, drug houses, theft and mayhem.. all the elements of prime-time are just casual actualities of extra curriculum. Kashner also stands by, silently, as Ginsberg and his ilk follow the teachings of their oft drunk Tibetan Buddhist meditation teacher Chogyam Trungpa, Rinoche - who pounds on Ginsberg to lose your ego as he pads his own pockets and libido with admiration and servitude. Reflections from the Beats are also placed abundantly within as all give their good, bad or indifferent memories of Kerouac and Cassady an ear. One of the best Beat books I've read. Used and abused, we go from day one to graduation with his zany encounters and events, all the while hoping the school gets it's accreditation before he graduates. Reminiscent of Tom Wolfe's days of entrenchment with Ken Kesey & the Merry Pranksters, it's a fun, fast paced-read that shows us what happens when literary renegades become our teachers.


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