Huncke Blog

100 Years & 1 Week—Herbert Huncke Centennial

Poet & musician Leslie Winer is currently recording a series of Huncke stories, notebook entries & letters put to some new music co-written with & produced by Christophe Van Huffel—to be released on vinyl 2015.  The first track ‘Cuba’ will drop at The Huncke Centennial Celebration at The Beat Museum tomorrow night in San Francisco—courtesy of Tate Swindell / Unerequited Records.  Come & have a listen if you’re in the area.  Brilliant list of people paying tribute to Huncke.  100 years young.  Shocking.

 


Please help us here at HunckeTeaCompany to celebrate Huncke’s Centennial Year by possibly thinking about bookmarking & using our Amazon portal for any of your purchases on Amazon.  Books & Otherwise.  Proceeds go toward the archiving & digitisation of Huncke’s notebooks, correspondence & audio recordings—& the publishing of previously unpublished & out-of-print stories in both hard copy & eBook formats.  Let’s keep Huncke’s legacy alive in this, his 100th year.  Thanks in advance.

 

We’ve been busy digitising a series of cassettes, informal conversations with HH from over the years.  Some of these will go up soon over at our Soundcloud account.   We are also preparing a series of podcasts—conversations Now with & about people who knew Huncke.  We're hoping to have a conversation with Stewart Meyer—author of 'The Lotus Crew', chronicler of Burroughs & friend of Huncke's—for our first podcast.  Stay tuned. 

 

Simply click on the image or link (above) to go through our Huncke Amazon Portal & then bookmark us when you are there.  Use this link for all your Amazon purchases & they will give us a micro payment for every purchase made through this link—at no cost to you.  Basically:  free money from Amazon for preserving Huncke archives.  Win / Win.  

 

You can also help by using our Huncke Abe Books affiliate link when you buy rare or out-of-print books from independent booksellers or donate directly with Paypal.  Even 5 bucks helps.  If you make a donation we’ll send you a ‘Huncke Business’ card in the post from Huncke Tea Company headquarters here in France.  Just email us your address etc & we’ll send one out.  ‘Tea they called it.’

 

 

Big donations get one of the new stories.  If you’re good.  Maybe.  Bilingual editions from Les Editions Derrière la Salles de Bains . . .

(email your postal details to huncketeacompany@gmail.com & something will be posted from France, eventually … )

Once upon a time, when I was around 20 or thereabouts & living near Grammercy Park,  Herbert came over for a visit.  It was quite near his methadone pickup at the time so he would drop by twice a week or so.  I had to run out to get some cigarettes & told Herbert I’d be right back.  He started to slowly shake his head in that slow exaggerated sad way that he had: no, no, no.  “Leslie, have I taught you… Nothing?  You can’t leeeeeeeeeaaaave me here.  I’ll steal everything the minute you’re gone.”  I pulled on my new-to-me overcoat which he'd brought over earlier.  “Like a glove!” he said as we descended the staircase.  “That’s merino wool you know.”  

When I first met Herbert in the late '70s I thought of him as old.  Already.  He was just a couple of years older than I find myself here & now.  Across the wounded galaxies we intersect.  —LW January 16, 2015 près de Vigny, France.

 


 


 
 
 

FagRag #42/43 Herbert Huncke, John Wieners

32p. folded tabloid newspaper, photos, art, articles, poetry, services, mildly worn and toned newsprint. Includes an interview with Herbert Huncke, Shively defending prostitution, poetry by John Wieners.


HAPPY 100th BIRTHDAY HERBERT HUNCKE !

Here's a little of what's happening around the web regarding Huncke's Centennial Year.  More as it comes in.

 

Mirrored from our friends over at The Allen Ginsberg Project:

January 9 1915, the birthday of Herbert Huncke, original Beat - yes, today marks the day, the official day of the Herbert Huncke Centennial. There'll be a film-showing, as we mentioned last week, of Laki Vazakas' extraordinary documentary, Huncke and Louis,  (in Lowell, not so far from his birthplace, in Greenfield, Mass), tonight, to mark the occasion, and, next week, a big gathering in San Francisco at the Beat Museum featuring Laki Vazakas, Hilary HolladayBen SchaferDennis McNally, Brenda Knight, Regina Marler and Tate Swindell 

Meantime, Huncke on the Allen Ginsberg Project -
There's some invaluable resources. Don't miss our four previous birthday postings
  - herehere, here and here 

His memorable 1982 workshop at the Jack Kerouac Conference at Naropa is available (with transcription)  here

Our note on Hilary Holladay's 2013 biography, American Hipster - here
 

    ["Old-timer & survivor, Herbert E Huncke, Beat Literary Pioneer, early decades thief, who introduced Burroughs, Kerouac & me to floating population hustling & drug scene Times Square 1945. From '48 on, he penned remarkable musings, Collected as autobiographical vignettes, anecdotes & storyteller's tales in the classic  The Evening Sun Turned Crimson  (Cherry Valley, 1970) and later  Guilty of Everything . Here age 78 in basement back-yard, his apartment East 7th Street, near Avenue D, New York, May 18, 1993" - (Photograph and Inscription by Allen Ginsberg)]     

 

["Old-timer & survivor, Herbert E Huncke, Beat Literary Pioneer, early decades thief, who introduced Burroughs, Kerouac & me to floating population hustling & drug scene Times Square 1945. From '48 on, he penned remarkable musings, Collected as autobiographical vignettes, anecdotes & storyteller's tales in the classic The Evening Sun Turned Crimson (Cherry Valley, 1970) and later Guilty of Everything. Here age 78 in basement back-yard, his apartment East 7th Street, near Avenue D, New York, May 18, 1993" - (Photograph and Inscription by Allen Ginsberg)]  
 


    Celebrate centennial of Herbert Huncke’s birth with a special screening of Laki Vazakas's     Huncke and Louis   at   The Luna Theater  .   From the 1998 Cucalorus Film Festival Guide:  “Huncke and Louis” is an honest, sometimes harrowing glimpse of Herbert Huncke’s final years, the culmination of a life lived without compromise. Never straying from the life he chose to live, Vazakas’ camera is witness to Huncke bravely keeping on even after his dear friend Louis Cartwright was murdered in 1994, and as his own life slowly winds down. In a society full of growing religious fervor that is evermore vitriolic for it s self-righteous and oft-vindictive moralizing, Huncke seems more and more the anachronism. Herbert Huncke died on August 8, 1996, unrepentant at 81, shown in the film as a man who in his honest non-conformity and gentle repose is, even after death, an anecdote, an antidote, a shot in the arm, so to speak, for anyone who refuses to be bullied into accepting the forced “virtues” of those that feel they need to save us from ourselves.    

 

Celebrate centennial of Herbert Huncke’s birth with a special screening of Laki Vazakas's Huncke and Louis at The Luna Theater.

From the 1998 Cucalorus Film Festival Guide:

“Huncke and Louis” is an honest, sometimes harrowing glimpse of Herbert Huncke’s final years, the culmination of a life lived without compromise. Never straying from the life he chose to live, Vazakas’ camera is witness to Huncke bravely keeping on even after his dear friend Louis Cartwright was murdered in 1994, and as his own life slowly winds down. In a society full of growing religious fervor that is evermore vitriolic for its self-righteous and oft-vindictive moralizing, Huncke seems more and more the anachronism. Herbert Huncke died on August 8, 1996, unrepentant at 81, shown in the film as a man who in his honest non-conformity and gentle repose is, even after death, an anecdote, an antidote, a shot in the arm, so to speak, for anyone who refuses to be bullied into accepting the forced “virtues” of those that feel they need to save us from ourselves.

 

Mirrored from Reality Studio:

The Writer’s Notebooks of Herbert Huncke

Tags: Herbert Huncke

 

by Marcus D. Niski

 

“Whatever one might say of him [Huncke], he was unmistakably a writer.”
– Raymond Foye

“I want to see what makes the world tick, naturally. God, I’ve spent so many years grinding it out, the least I can do is to try to look for something along the way…”
– Herbert Huncke

” … Is Huncke still in the can? No, last time I saw him on Times Square…”
– Allen Ginsberg

Herbert Edwin Huncke undoubtedly ranks amongst one of the most fascinating yet underestimated figures of the ‘Beat’ world.

Born into a middle class family in Greenfield, Massachusetts, Huncke’s colourful life was shaped early on. A restless child and “chronic runaway,” Huncke hit New York City permanently in 1939 at the age of 24, immediately gravitating to Forty-Second Street where he began hustling for sex.

Widely immortalized in the literature of his confrères — William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and John Clellon Holmes — Huncke served as a model for literary characters such as Elmo Hassel in Kerouac’sOn The Road and Herman in Burroughs’ Junky. As Herman, Huncke’s portrait appeared thus:

Waves of hostility and suspicion flowed out from his large brown eyes like some sort of television broadcast. The effect was almost like a physical impact. The man was small and very thin, his neck loose in the collar of his shirt. His complexion faded from brown to a mottled yellow, and pancake make-up had been heavily applied in an attempt to conceal a skin eruption. His mouth was drawn down at the corners in a grimace of petulant annoyance.

As a “Virgilian guide,” Huncke would skillfully guide Burroughs into the subterranean world of junk as well as provide a great degree of source material for his literary adventures. Yet Huncke’s own creative endeavors have often taken a back seat to those of his contemporaries. Throughout his long and often tumultuous life, Huncke wrote his observations, reflections, and vignettes in a series of notebooks. This stock of tales undoubtedly underpinned the Huncke mythology. As longtime friend and confidant Raymond Foye recollects:

There remains an indelible image of Herbert Huncke the writer, frozen forever in time: homeless and alone, couched in a Times Square pay toilet with notebook on knees, furtively composing his latest tale from the underground.

Huncke’s notebooks are an evocative record of his trials and tribulations as a sage and survivor on New York’s often brutal and unforgiving streets. Indeed, Huncke’s fondness of the notebook as a medium in itself is also directly recorded in a devotional piece on Kerouac. In a rice-paper notebook given to him by a friend, the poet Zachary Wollard, Huncke wrote:

TO BEGIN –
I am pleased to receive this beautiful notebook as a gift … notebooks have always pleased me. This notebook suits Jack’s personality as I saw it … a very serviceable book of an unusual appearance…

In a brilliant essay on the notebooks of Albert Camus, Susan Sontag suggests that a writer’s notebooks “have a very a special function: in them he builds up, piece by piece, the identity of a writer to himself.” Undoubtedly, the notebooks of Huncke — thief, storyteller, junky, street sage, muse, mentor, raconteur and Beat icon — bear this very quality: a writer’s struggle to create a sense of identity amidt the tumult and turmoil of everyday life. Indeed, his notebook writings also serve as an example of what Michel Foucault termed self-writing: a reflective process whereby the writer explores his inner universe in an attempt to mediate the often unsettling nature of the forces around him.

Huncke’s notebook revelations also provide an insight into “a way of life, a vocabulary, references, a whole symbol system” (as Burroughs put it in Junky) that has now largely disappeared. The world of “crash pads, speakeasies, [and] all-night jam sessions with Charlie Parker or Dexter Gordon” was a part of the “carnie” world that informed Huncke’s reflections on an often chaotic, always kaleidoscopic culture.

While eventually Huncke’s collection of notebook writings and stories would be gathered together by friends in The Herbert Huncke Reader (edited by Benjamin Schafer with an introduction by Raymond Foye and biographical note by Jerome Poynton), the notebooks appear to have received little attention from literary scholars.

Having had the privilege of examining Huncke’s cache of notebooks in the Butler Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University, I was able to engage personally with the handwritten entries that chart the course of Huncke’s extraordinary life journey.
Characterized by such themes as alienation, depression and sometimes-acute despair, the notebook writings delineate Huncke’s constant struggle with a triangle of forces — self, junk, and the law — that he felt were closing in on him. As an undated entry reflects:

I think I am going insane. I almost hope so. Thoughts rush at one. I am beginning to lose the thread of my story. This happens frequently. Mad thoughts keep occurring to me… All happening to me is unnecessary. It is not important to any cause beyond my own and I am unimportant. Of course it is happening and it is what it is as things are. [Undated MS.]

The frustrations of Huncke’s itinerant existence are expressed in this entry:

lost to the streets — lost completely to a life I once knew — stealing — junk– all night wandering– thru the streets — lost completely to a life I once knew – — stealing — junk all night wandering thru the city — no pads– no friends — no way of life– almost convinced prison is a solution — shriveling within at the mere thought — wishing for death — willing death… [Untitled MS Page, Notebook and Diary excerpts, 1959-1960]

Huncke answers in his notebooks the question why he became a junky in the first place:

I have been asked many times as is always asked of users of narcotics what a fix does to me — how it feels etc…it helps me to believe in life again at the same time to accept it calmly and with peace. [1948]

For Huncke, the process of writing offered a cathartic sense of solace. At times he reflected upon the process and what it meant to be a “writer”:

Perhaps I am writing — but I have come to believe — writing is not a matter of diligent application but rather the result of the will left free… also — one cannot write greatly — or should I say actually coherently — at simply any time — one should be almost guided to it… [Thoughts about Writing, 1948]

Huncke’s fondness for writing as a creative medium is captured in the observations of filmmaker Laki Vazakas. His extensive documentary footage of Huncke provides a glimpse into Huncke’s world in the years shortly before his death. As Vazakas vividly recollects of Huncke sitting writing –

I used to visit Herbert at the Chelsea [Hotel] and he would have a yellow legal notepad and he was always writing in longhand as he never learned to type. It was his way of putting down on paper an internal monologue and obviously it was his way of exploring and examining some of the raw emotions that he had experienced…. Herbert’s style of writing was far more influential than has been acknowledged.

In their physical form, Huncke’s notebooks consisted of a number and variety of forms that included gifts from other writers; composition books such as those commonly used by American school and university students; stenographer notebooks; “memo” books; a mix of different diaries used as notebooks; and notepaper gathered spontaneously from sources such as the YMCA.

The notebook entries range from fully composed stories to mundane notes, sketches, observations and doodles, and both hand-drawn and painted embellishments.

Huncke’s style is “confessional,” direct and highly observant in nature. As Raymond Foye suggests in his introduction to the Herbert Huncke Reader, Huncke’s writing, “…is deceptively simple in its plain spoken style” –

To write as one speaks is one ideal of literature and Huncke’s prose accomplishes just that, to such a degree that reading him is akin to sitting across from him in one of those famous all-night sessions, where tales were unraveled and the human condition examined into the early hours of the morn…

While Herbert Huncke’s literary output was modest in comparison with his Beat contemporaries, it is nevertheless a significant fragment of the overall picture of the Beats as a global literary force. Huncke’s “lifestyle” undoubtedly provided the very model of what it meant to be Beat and to struggle against a system that stymied any alternative phenomenon that deviated from the mainstream. To be an outsider was what “being Beat” came to represent.

Huncke Centennial Celebration at The Beat Museum

HERBERT HUNCKE CENTENNIAL

FRI. JAN. 16TH, 7PM

Presented by the Beat Museum and Unrequited Records

Herbert Huncke has long been a marginal figure among marginal figures. A Times Square hustler whose writings shone a naked bulb upon the gritty urban underworld, peopled with dispossessed characters scraping an existence from the fringes of society, Huncke not only inspired the Beat Generation—he gave it a name.

This January would have been Huncke’s 100th birthday. Join us as we celebrate his centennial.

Appearances by:

  • Hilary Holladay
    (author – American Hipster: A Life Of Herbert Huncke)
  • Dennis McNally
    (author – Desolate Angel: Jack Kerouac, The Beats, and America)
  • Tate Swindell
    (record producer – Guilty Of Everything)
  • Ben Schafer
    (editor – The Herbert Huncke Reader)
  • Brenda Knight
    (author – Women of the Beat Generation)
  • Regina Marler
    (author – Queer Beats)
  • Laki Vazakas
    (filmmaker – Huncke and Louis)

This event is free of charge.

 

'I Look Like an Old Dyke.'

'Beat. Beat Dope. That Dope is Beat.'

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Some Photos from Hilary Holladay's recent reading/signing of 'American Hipster: A Life of Herbert Huncke, The Times Square Hustler Who Inspired the Beat Movement' @ The Beat Museum & Alley Cat Bookstore in San Francisco.

This first bio is a great introduction to Huncke, highly recommended for those unfamiliar with his role within & influence on the Beat movement & particularly his relationship with the big three:  Burroughs, Ginsberg & Kerouac.

I'm surprised there hasn't been more buzz about this book - I suspect it might be due more to publisher malaise & distribution shortcomings rather than reflection on the book itself, which is definitely a worthy read.

If an author comes to SF to do a reading you would think that the publisher would at least make sure that City Lights had a copy or two of said author's book !  (They hadn't even heard of it !)  Damn, son !  

 

Has anyone read it yet ?  Interested in your feedback etc.

 

 

American Hipster: The Life of Herbert Huncke

 “Although Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs have a more definitive place in literary history, Huncke’s brief but moving tales deserve to endure. He wrote with grace, candor, and clarity about people and situations unknown to most, and had an intimate, early knowledge of the subcultures that became so important to the more famous Beat authors,” Holladay writes. “His unaffected style and insider’s knowledge give his stories an authenticity that his friends recognized and at times tried to replicate.”

 American Hipster: The Life of Herbert Huncke  @ The Beat Museum on July 26th 2013.

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American Hipster:

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American Hipster: The Life of Herbert Huncke, The Times Square Hustler Who Inspired the Beat Movement tells the tale of a New York sex worker and heroin addict whose unrepentant deviance caught the imagination of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs. Teetering between exhaustion and existential despair, Huncke (rhymes with “junky”) often said, “I’m beat, man.” His line gave Kerouac the label for a down-at-the-heels generation seeking spiritual sustenance as well as “kicks” in post-war America.

Recognizable portraits of Huncke appear in Junky (1953), Burroughs's acerbic account of his own heroin addiction; “Howl” (1956), the long, sexually explicit poem that launched Ginsberg’s career; and On the Road (1957), Kerouac’s best-selling novel that immortalized the Beat Generation. But it wasn’t just Huncke the character that fascinated these writers: they loved his stories. Kerouac called him a “genius” of a storyteller and “a perfect writer.” His famous friends helped Huncke find publishers for his stories.
Biographies of Kerouac and the others pay glancing tribute to Huncke’s role in shaping the Beat Movement, yet no one until now has told his entire life story. American Hipster explores Huncke’s youthful escapades in Chicago; his complicated alliances with the Beat writers and with sex researcher Alfred Kinsey; and his adventures on the road, at sea, and in prison. It also covers his tumultuous relationship with his partner Louis Cartwright, whose 1994 murder remains unsolved, and his idiosyncratic career as an author and pop-culture icon.
Written by Hilary Holladay, a professor of American literature, the book offers a new way of looking at the whole Beat Movement. It draws on Holladay’s interviews with Huncke's friends and associates, including representatives of the literary estates of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, and Huncke; her examination of Huncke’s unpublished correspondence and journals at Columbia University; and her longtime study of the Beat Movement.

Author & Professor of English Literature Hilary Holladay has written us to say that her Huncke bio has finally been released.  If you buy it through our link (or if you buy anything on Amazon through our portal) we get a small kickback which will be used to hasten the re-release of Huncke's writing - both previous released but out-of-print material as well as additional unreleased writings & The Letters.

Excerpt:

 

One summer day in 1927, a rebellious twelve-year-old boy climbed aboard a Chicago trolley car. Although his mother had given him a dime and dispatched him to his father’s apartment, he had no intention of getting off the trolley near there. He wanted to leave both of his troublesome parents behind and see a little bit of the world. After a series of streetcars took him to the outskirts of the city, he continued east. His first destination was his birthplace of Greenfield, Massachusetts; his second was New York City. Decades later, he said of his youthful journey, “I felt so free and light; all my shackles were suddenly dropped. I didn’t want to see anybody I knew ever again.”
Herbert Huncke (pronounced Hunky), who would provide Jack Kerouac with the word “beat” and show up in works by all of the primary Beat authors, was on the road.
With his roving hazel eyes and precocious interest in new acquaintances, the runaway attracted sexual predators. A hundred miles from home, he had oral sex with a stranger. “When that happened, the guy got scared, because he realized that I was very young. He shoved a ten-dollar bill in my hand, stepped on the gas, and took off—leaving me in some little town. Here I was with a whole ten-dollar bill.” The adult Huncke recalled not an assault but a serendipitous intervention. People’s appetites, sexual or otherwise, never surprised him.
* * *
The adolescent boy now knew exactly what it meant to be “beat” in the sense that he later used the word: down and out, exhausted, hopeless. Although he had impetuously defied the social mores that say children don’t travel halfway across the country just because they feel like it, he had also been caught, humiliated, and returned home. Still, the transcendent joy he had experienced when he walked past the onion field was real, and the whole escapade had whetted his appetite for adventure.
Herbert had always dreamed of becoming an artist of one kind or another. “I started out wanting to be a writer as a young boy among other things; at one time I intensely wanted to be a dancer. I wanted to be an actor and I wanted to write and travel all over the world.” At twelve, it all seemed possible, and even after his father brought him back to his divided home in Chicago, he knew that he would not stay there. His relationship with his mother was no less fraught with pain and emotional upheaval than that with his father. “My family background was sort of strange, it was middle-class and bourgeois except that my mother and father were divorced,” he said. “One thing about it is that I broke away from the family as often and as quickly as possible; I just didn’t want to be involved. I fought furiously and angrily with my mother all the time, we screamed at each other, I’d really go out of my mind.”
Two decades later, Huncke seemed to have completely bottomed out at the age of thirty-four. A failed hustler and sickly heroin addict, he scraped by on money he borrowed from friends and possessions he stole from friends and strangers alike. Yet the artistic fires still burned within him. One cold February day in 1949, he sat on a toilet in New York’s Penn Station and propped a notepad on his knee. He wrote, “Herbert E. Huncke.” Below that he began a meandering annotation: “My name; although I’m known generally as Huncke and by a few as Herbert and in the past as Herbie. It’s seldom I’m referred to as Mr. Huncke and when formal introduction is required it is usually—Herbert Huncke.” It was an unusual name, but “any name I might have had by its very utterance creates an almost weary and loathsome feeling in me. When I say it myself and frequently I say it to myself—I am immediately aware of a sense of disgust as though the sounds I make were significant of not only me but of a new and strange disease, and I am sure for at least the instant, I am at last slipping into an insanity from which there is no escape.”
The creative but directionless boy had grown up to be an eloquent writer and tormented man. “Sometimes I feel as though I must force—almost drive myself—to come out from behind a closed door when new people have entered an apartment I am in or I will wait until the last minute before leaving a place because I know I must meet people’s glances on the street.” He believed that his “more intimate acquaintances” regarded him with pity: “I am sure they explain me to their friends slightly apologetically on occasion and always with an air of tolerance. Huncke’s idiosyncrasies, his eccentricities, or perhaps—his mother complex. Sometimes I am sure they even attempt to allow for the unhealthy pallor of my skin. He takes Benzedrine—in fact he lives on it.” 
He saw no reason to dispel bad impressions:
Among a large percentage of those who know me casually or only know of me it is commonly understood I am completely saturated with narcotics. It is also believed I am unscrupulous and a completely rotten sort. I believe I am rotten in my entire being. My skin is unhealthy and serves merely as an excellent breeding territory for all the fungus and parasitical creatures in contacts. It itches constantly and I can sit for long periods scratching and picking odd-shaped black and sometimes white and frequently very darkened (like specks of dried blood) specks or flakes from my arms and legs and above my penis. The palms of my hands and also my fingers produce hairs some fully an inch in length. I have become conscious of this condition to so great an extent I am frequently sure it is evident to people I pass on the street.
Huncke’s problems went deeper than his infected flesh. Covered in sores and subject to hallucinations, he believed he was a plague on all right-thinking men and women: “I think I should remain away from everyone because perchance I may infect people, pollute them with my corruption and leave them with a diseased soul as mine is diseased. Leave them—weary—listless—horrified of themselves and longing to escape the world—to die.”
With these notes recorded in his looping, rather childlike script, Huncke left the Penn Station men’s room and forced himself to face the world. At some point—probably fairly soon—he ran into Jack Kerouac, an energetic young writer who had recently finished his first novel, The Town and the City, which Harcourt Brace would publish in 1950. Kerouac had met Huncke through their mutual friend William S. Burroughs, a Harvard graduate of dazzling intellect and completely amoral sensibilities. Although Kerouac, unlike Burroughs, was not looking to immerse himself in Huncke’s world of drugs and crime, he was intrigued by the ghostly specter he often encountered on Times Square. In a letter to the young poet Allen Ginsberg, another mutual friend, Kerouac had written, “Incidentally, Huncke is brooding again, and it seems that Huncke is never so great as when he’s beat down and brooding and bitter.”
After Kerouac had a look at what Huncke had written that day in Penn Station, he took it upon himself to make his own copy. Printing neatly, he filled up three and a quarter pages and inserted quotation marks at the beginning of each paragraph to indicate that these were Huncke’s words, not his own. At the top of the first page, in parentheses after Huncke’s name, he wrote “Junkey” in quotation marks; this was the none-too-subtle name he used for the Huncke character in The Town and the City. Below that, he wrote “Huncke’s Famous Penn Station Notes,’” and in the right margin he added, “Written in Pennsylvania Station, ‘Killing Time’ Feb.—1949.”
On the final page, below a line drawn to signal the end of Huncke’s notes, he appended a quote from a letter Ginsberg had written when Ginsberg was sharing his apartment with Huncke: “The most depressing thing is to get up to go to school and wake him, and see him lift up his head, staring blankly, dumb, biting his lips, for half an hour at a time.” Little did Ginsberg, then a Columbia University undergraduate, know that he would soon be arrested, thanks to his not entirely unwilling entanglement with Huncke and his criminal friends.
Yet Herbert was more than a crook and a depressed addict. Somehow he found the energy and resolve to write a good deal, and his Penn Station notes show that he did so with grace and conviction, despite a complete lack of formal tutelage. Kerouac was quick to pick up on this. Not only did he see Huncke as a ready-made character he could insert into The Town and the City; he believed his actual words might come in handy as well. Like many a writer before and after him, Kerouac was in the habit of copying down conversations that might animate his fiction, and he saved his friends’ letters in hopes that those, too, might be useful source material. He knew that Huncke’s lyrical musings could instill authenticity in his writings about the truly beat.
The future author of On the Road (1957) saw things in Huncke’s writing that he wanted to emulate. Much has been made of Huncke as “a Virgilian guide to the lower depths” introducing Burroughs and company to the Angler Bar, the Pokerino arcade, and other Times Square joints that they might not have explored on their own, but his friends also recognized him as a storyteller par excellence. Kerouac called Huncke “the greatest storyteller I know, an actual genius at it, in my mind.” Several years after he had copied down Huncke’s pages, he began using a long dash in his “spontaneous prose” novels. All of Huncke’s handwritten stories and sketches, including the notes Kerouac copied, make frequent use of a long dash (appearing twice the length of a regular dash). The long dash allows for ...