Roger Brunelle, “HOWL” and the legendary Jack Kerouac

Kerouac historian Roger Brunelle in front of Lowell's cresting Merrimack River

As a Lowell resident, it’s pretty impossible to escape the mark Jack Kerouac has made on the City. The man is everywhere — the bookstores, in the news, the cafes, restaurants and bars, the diners, the universities, the tourist paraphernalia — you name it. There’s a devoted troupe of Lowellians (and non-Lowellians) who exist solely to celebrate the author and to make certain he is not forgotten. Spearheaded by Nashua resident and Kerouac devotee Reverend Steve Edington, “Lowell Celebrates Kerouac!” (LCK! for short) is commemorating 25 years of paying homage to Jack during their annual Jack Kerouac Literary Festival (through October 3) which has gotten bigger and better for this year’s anniversary. Now I’m not just touting this because I’m doing a bit of work on the event (er, Suzz here). The festivities are remarkable, especially if Jack and The Beats are your thing. If you’re at all curious about the man and his mojo, take in some of this weekend’s activities, which include a couple of first-rate guided tours of Kerouac haunts led by one of MY favorite people, Mr. Roger Brunelle.

Roger is Lowell’s keeper of Kerouac. I truly don’t think a moment goes by when Roger isn’t channeling Jack, and it’s beautiful to see AND hear. Case in point: just a few months ago, Lowell experienced, for lack of a better description, a Great Flood. The Merrimack River rose to breathtaking heights, and like any person out to see nature at its most powerful, I took a stroll along the drowned banks of the river, digital camera in hand. As I recorded the sights, along came Roger and his lovely wife, walking along, doing just the same. As I got into conversation with him about the floods and the City, I turned my camera on Roger and played the inquisitor. The 3-minute video that follows documents the greatest part of our exchange, and of course, completely unscripted, Mr. Brunelle had a wonderful germane story to share. Can you spot his off-the-cuff Kerouac reference? Notice the gleam in his eye, and the wonder in his voice. He is STILL astounded about Jack, even after all his years of Kerouac submersion.

Imagine my surprise when a Google search for Roger resulted in finding my little clip on World News Network. Amazing how great video travels fast! Wish I’d had the foresight to do a bit of editing.

And speaking of The Beats, be sure to take in the newly released Oscilloscope feature HOWL, which hit cinemas this past week. With one of the most infamous Beats at its center, Allen Ginsburg, HOWL (the title of one of Ginsberg’s raciest poems) takes us back to the 1950s to recount the affect of this particular poem and the courtroom drama that unfolded around the banning of the book. If you need one, it’s a marvelous, accessible introduction to the Beat generation and the societal influence they had. Sixty years later, these poets and writers are still going strong, being kept alive in the stories told by those who were there. We’ll soon lose that crazy generation. But the Roger Brunelles and Steve Edingtons of the world will most certainly pass the torch.

Ginsberg and Kerouac as portrayed by James Franco and Todd Rotondi in "HOWL."

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