|Burberry as Jack Kerouac|
A lot of the cats at the San Francisco SPCA have had beat lives. Living in backyards, alleys, and abandoned buildings, they have been deserted by their families. Some of the female felines are impregnated and left to care for their litter. And yet these creatures still persevere. They lead dignified lives full of spirit and love. They are open and ready for new relationships at a moment’s notice, much like the Beats. For example, Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, and Allen Ginsberg all fall in love with multiple people in the beloved Beat bible, On the Road. These cats, more importantly, are survivors. They have lived outside of society, looking in, observing, and wanting to be part of it.
In honor of our current exhibition, Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg, the Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM) and the SF SPCA partnered together to reflect on the Beat generation through a feline prism. The connection is natural as Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Burroughs all owned and were photographed with their cats. Kerouac mourned deeply after his cat died. And Burroughs wrote a book solely on cats, titled, The Cat Inside.
Kerouac traveled the United States multiple times, mostly with his friend Neal Cassady. And while Kerouac loved the romance of the road and movement, he was not comfortable with driving, so he was ever the passenger and hitchhiker. Searching for meaning in a world of conformity, Kerouac saw the road as a holy place, one that he often went to for communion.
Kerouac always carried a notebook to record his thoughts and those of his friends. He used those notes and typed On the Road in three weeks.
|Lady Wigglesworth as Neal Cassady|
Poor Carolyn spent a lot of time waiting for Neal, wondering when he would return (he also worked as a brakeman for the railroad).
|Angelique as Carolyn Cassady|
|Dorothy as Allen Ginsberg|
All of these cats have been adopted but there are so many more that need kind and loving homes. There is a cat to fit every personality type, the passionate Kerouacs, the sympathetic Burroughs, the loud and mad Cassadies, the patient Carolyn Cassadies, and the reflective Ginsbergs.
“All you cat lovers, remember all the millions of cats mewling through the world’s rooms lay all their hopes and trust in you, as the little mother cat at the Stone House laid her head in my hand, as Calico Jane put her babies in my suitcase, as Fletch jumped into James’s arms and Ruski rushed towards me chittering with joy.” (Burroughs, 92)
This project would not have been possible without photographer Rod Kilpatrick’s artistic eye and patient compassion. Alison Burek, SF SPCA Volunteer created a warm environment that allowed the cats to trust us and assisted with all aspects of the shoot. Additional thank you to Vince Donovan at Photobooth for lending us his Kodak Retina 1953.
- William S. Burroughs, The Cat Inside (New York: Viking, 1992)
- Carolyn Cassady, Off the Road: My Years with Cassady, Kerouac, and Ginsberg (New York: Penguin, 1990)
- Allen Ginsberg, Howl and other poems (San Francisco: City Lights, 1996).
- Jack Kerouac, Big Sur (New York: Penguin Books, 2011).
- Jack Kerouac, On the Road: The Original Scroll (New York: Viking, 2007).
- Gerald Nicosia and Anne Marie Santos, One and Only: The Untold Story of On the Road (Berkeley: Viva Editions, 2011).
Melanie Samay studied literature at Fordham University in New York and received her Masters in English literature from San Francisco State University. Currently she works in marketing for the Contemporary Jewish Museum. She spends her time reading, walking around the city, sitting in the park with friends, and hanging around dark spaces at night listening to loud music. Read more from Melanie on her blog about books and book-nerdom: http://soifollowjulian.com