Jack Kerouac (1922-1969) is, along with poet Allen Ginsberg, considered to be one of the major pillars of the Beat Generation, that post-World-War-Two eruption of countercultural creativity:  of geniuses and outcasts uncomfortable in the mainstream, struggling and stretching for life, for realness, for something different and more important than convention.  Kerouac excelled at the novel, turning out Beat classics such as On the Road, Visions of Cody, The Subterraneans, Desolation Angels, The Dharma Bums and Big Sur. The wonderful thing about Kerouac is that he combined real literary knowledge and ability with a fierce craving to know and experience life, the life not only of interesting, struggling artists like himself, but also the life of troublemakers, fringe people, and working class and lumpen people usually unknown to the educated white middle class: the people you could find on the street, on the bus, in the field, in the night.  What Whitman achieved in poetry with his euphoric ravings, Kerouac was able to achieve in prose with his run-on sentences, his enthusiastic flowing passages, his whatever-comes-to-his-mind observations, his street talk and real-people talk.  The energy of his writing and unconventionality of it perfectly suited the soul of the Beat Generation, and served as a vehicle for bringing its hungering essence into the bloodstream of American culture.  Foundations were laid for the vast social upheaval which was to follow in the 1960s...  Kerouac had a huge influence on me just as I got out of college.  The crazy vigor of the writing and the glimpse of worlds I had yet to know, and knew I must, enticed me.  Shortly thereafter I went into New York City to follow in his footsteps:  to get real, to learn, to be a part of the stream of life I was still too far removed from, to write, and to lift my writing to its true purpose by letting the honesty and rawness Kerouac had showed me take over.  In The March of the Eccentrics, the life of the Beatnik (or post-beatnik boho writer) is described in detail; and the narrative style of Freddy Wells in the early chapters, before he seems equally influenced by the neo-Victorian 'Victor Rutherford', is clearly indebted to Kerouac.   Yeah, Kerouac's one of the big influences...



In some ways, it seems that the work which the Beat Generation accomplished through poetry and prose, was carried on during the heart of the 1960s countercultural 'revolution' by musicians and music.  Foremost among these was Bob Dylan, an intense, brilliant musician and lyricist, alert to the social milieu (with his head up like a prairie dog), full of attitude and short on deference to failing institutions and ideologies; a thin, vulnerable-looking kid with the appearance of an orphan who developed a layer of bluster to defend himself, and who, recreating himself as a myth, went poking around everywhere he wasn't supposed to.  His irreverence and tough, challenging spirit latched on to politics, peace, civil rights, and other burning issues of the day, and combined with his heartfelt raw love songs to give him a multiplicity of dimensions which no one else could match.  His songs became the anthems of a generation:  songs like Blowin' in the Wind, The Times They Are A-Changin, Like a Rolling Stone, Maggie's Farm, Mr. Tambourine Man, and Knockin on Heaven's Door.    Somehow, he was able to get away with constructing songs that went on and on with one tiny bridge and five hundred identical verses.  Maybe it was the endless fascination provided by his lyrics or by something charismatic about his presence (which could be sensed even on a record track): something sharp and edged with feeling that could not be buried by the outward monotony.  Whatever it was, Dylan's music and iconoclastic image reached the heart of the restless and the discontented, the searching and the dissatisfied, and played a major role in channeling that stirring towards the vague but powerful goals of the 60s rebels who were somehow seeking a perfect world:  a world of racial equality and peace, a world of freedom from hypocrisy and lies, a world not run by corporations or poisoned by regimens of work which underestimated the worth of the people it chewed up for pocket change.  Like many of my generation, I did my time as a Dylan clone, learning to play the guitar (slightly), getting wires for my harmonica so I could blow away as I strummed (I never really picked), writing my own content-oriented lyrics aimed at transforming the world, and singing away to the horror of my neighbors who couldn't wait for the coming of winter and the closing of my window.  Later, I tried to do the band thing, recognizing the fact that music is just so direct and so there, that it beats literature to the punch in terms of having an impact on others (which is what I wished to have).  The difference between music and literature is the difference between a drug taken in pill form, and one taken as an intravenous injection, shot directly into the veins.  The speed of it, the intensity...  But literature was my forte, and I could do it without worrying whether the rhythm guitar was in a catatonic state, or the lead guitar had mixed his dates up, or the vocalist was in the mood to change the genre of the song on the spur of the moment.  Lots of interesting experiences, not all of this earth... eventually I drifted back to what I could do best.  Dylan's influence will, nonetheless, be seen throughout The March of the Eccentrics. His songs are mentioned and figure in the plot; the 60s spirit, in its tough New York City expression, is prevalent throughout the book, and Dylan was in the middle of that; there are musicians, there is ambition, there is music linked to social change, and music raised high like a flag above the conformist ingestion.  No doubt:  Dylan is everywhere, in the words and between the lines.



John Lennon (1940-1980) was another of the great musical icons of the 1960s, bringing a somewhat different feel, spirit, and history to the world stage.  Of course he began as one of the Beatles and along with Paul McCartney, with whom he pooled his vocal and songwriting abilities, he powered that amazing group to international and perhaps eternal stardom.  The interesting thing about Lennon is that the world got to watch him grow from that "charming, irreverent, cheeky, and loveable lad" (all his faults were at that time delightful) - he was a nonconformist but still very much a mainstream character - into the bearded, drug-saturated, temporarily guru-influenced prophet of a great cultural tipping-over.  The huge fan base he had built up before he dove deep into the transformative vibes was still attached to him as he did so, and in that way a great number of 'normal' youths from the center of society were drawn with him into the new realm of countercultural living and aspirations which was to be the peaceful core of a momentous revolution that would change the earth forever.  There would be peace, love, fairness, no war - there would be justice, there would be freedom, there would be people dancing in the fields of their talents and passions, no longer chained to radioactive jobs or slaving for the corporations.  During these days, Lennon, who seemed to slip in and out of takes - to bounce back and forth between utopian hazes and rough Liverpoolian working-class cynicism - to hover back and forth between his own genius/sensibilities and a lifelong competition with Dylan - captured the imagination of millions.  More than any other song, Imagine (recorded after he had gone solo), put its stamp on the psyche of the 60s tribe, defining its most cherished values, at least on the emotional level.  Lennon became a kind of God, revered as the bard of the coming utopia, and the keeper of hope.  His outwardly magical relationship with Yoko Ono added to the mystique - the lack of prejudice displayed in the interracial marriage; the irrelevance of the size difference (equality remained, and in a world where the large dominate the small, that seemed special); the power of the soul connection (everyone wanted that kind of partnership, to be that tight with someone); the beautiful way they came together to sing Happy Christmas (War is Over), emerging as the First Couple of Peace.  And then, after several years of retirement, Lennon's reemergence as a major artist, and his stunning assassination outside the Dakota apartment building (Dec. 8, 1980), a dreadful blow to millions who had never let him go.  It was like a death in the family and like the collapsing of a world.  Some lost their faith at that moment, while others found their faith.  In The March of the Eccentrics, that faith remains, and the legacy of John Lennon, which altered my brain, clings to it like an invisible vapor that is both nowhere and everywhere.  



Finally in this list of influences we have the former heavyweight boxing champion of the world, Smokin' Joe Frazier (1944-2011).  What???????!!!!!!!  I know many will be shocked by that, but let me break it down.  Boxing is a brutal sport which should probably be abolished; and yet, at the same time, it is a kind of ritual or drama played in front of the people, in which the conflict and struggle that fills life is represented physically by two men attempting to subdue the other, within the confines of rules meant to preserve their lives.  (We are not quite as ruthless as the Romans.)  Life IS a struggle, of that there is no doubt; and the harder your life is, the more you will discern its resemblance to a boxing match, or a war.  The reenactment of this war in the boxing ring allows us - the embattled warriors of everyday life - to see at work the forces of skill, determination, patience, courage, endurance and will, which we need to survive our own battles.  In the presence of Joe Frazier I saw, more clearly and in their rawest and most impressive forms displayed, the virtues of the heroic heart, unbreakable willpower, tremendous endurance, and pride that was stronger than physical hurt.   On March 8, 1971, in particular, all politics and social expectations aside (for we were supposed to choose favorites according to our political niches), I saw a man who should have been beaten a hundred times persevere to win;  I saw him gouge out of history the respect that he had till then been denied, living in the shadow of others; I saw his love for his family, his homage to his ancestors, his desire to have his moment in the sun, to carve his name on the rock of the ages, to know he had had an effect and been more than a speck of dust in the balance.  I saw a man fighting for his life, fighting to beat extinction, fighting to live in the most authentic sense, which is to rise to your level. Smokin' Joe Frazier that night was my teacher.  He put a lesson in my mind that I never forgot, which is that, yes, Life is filled with hardship - you are going to get hit and hurt by it - but if you have something you really believe in, something that matters more than anything else, something that is your calling, something that you must do in order to be able to say that you lived, maybe you won't be broken by those blows  - maybe you will take those punches, and keep on coming - maybe you won't quit.  Many times while I was working on The March of the Eccentrics, I reached points where I felt I could not go on, I felt washed-up, burned-out, spent.  Losses, loneliness, opposition, terrible blows, grinding mediocrities battered me, wore me down.  I felt, at times, like the only man on a planet no one even knew existed -  what is all this for?  For whom is it for?  I could hear my footsteps crunching down on the empty plain, each one proof of my solitude.  Sometimes, I felt like dropping, like letting go.  At those moments, I would go to the video of March 8, 1971, the Fight of the Century between Smokin' Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali (bless him also, a mighty warrior).  And I would watch Joe do it all over again:  take it all, bring it all, leave nothing behind.  And as I watched him, traces of his energy, his courage, his nearly divine determination, would flow from his example into the cracks in my will, keeping me on my feet, keeping me from being overwhelmed by the volume of my work, keeping me from being overwhelmed by the time it was taking, keeping me from being overwhelmed by the loneliness I was working under, keeping me at it, believing in it, fighting for it.  I honestly believe that without Joe Frazier and what he taught me through his own tremendous sacrifice, there would be no March of the Eccentrics, it would have been swallowed up by the years, lost somewhere in the abyss of all the hardship, doubt, blows to the self-esteem, invisibility, weights on my back.  And I would be just another man who had once dreamt of being a writer; another man who had dreamt a dream that was too much for him.