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Thursday, 16 September 2010

Jack Delano/Jack Kerouac: Textile Town


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Lowell, Massachusetts street, January 1941


We stride to school... past the YWCA, the canal bridge, the entrance street to the great cotton mills with all up down the morning-rosy cobbles the tight serried Colonial doors of a mid-nineteenth-century housing block for textile workers celebrated in some of Dickens' memoirs, the sad crapulous look of old redbrick sagging doorfronts and almost a century of work in the mills...


Image, Source: digital file from original slide

Railroad cars and factory buildings, Massachusetts, January 1941


I walk along the long sunny concrete rale of the millyards in the booming roar of the windows where my mother's working, I am horrified...


Image, Source: digital file from original slide

Detail of industrial building in Massachusetts, December 1940 or January 1941


...late red Sunday afternoon in Lowell, on the Boott Mills the great silent light shrouded the redbrick in a maze of haze sorrow, something mute about to speak lurked in the sight of these silent glowing mills seen on dumb-Sundays of choked cleanness and odors of flower...



Industrial area in Massachusetts, January 1941


Smoke whipped from clean chimneys of Lowell. Now at Worthen, Prince and other old milltown streets as my feet shot me past I saw the redbrick faded into something cold and rose -- unspeeched -- throat-choking -- ...




Skating, Massachusetts, December 1940


The whole sky unforgettable, heightened by the dry ice of weather's winter glare, air rarefied pure and blue, just as it appears at such hours over the redbrick...


Image, Source: digital file from original slide

Skating, Massachusetts, December 1940


Over the the roofs was that blue, magic Lowell blue, that keen winter northern knifeblade blue of winter dusks so unforgettable and so cold and dry, like dry ice, flint, sparks, like powdery snow that ss'ses under doorsills ---- Perfect for the silhouetting of birds heading darkward down their appointed lane, hushed ---- Perfect for the silhouetting presentations of church steeples and of rooftops and of the whole Lowell general, and always yon poor smoke putting from the human chimneys like prayer...


Image, Source: digital file from original slide

Skating, Massachusetts, December 1940


...Massachusetts Street is dismal, the ground's frozen cold, the ruts and pock holes have ice, thin snow slides over the jagged black cracks. The river is frozen to stolidity, waits; hung on a shore with remnant show-off boughs of June ---- Ice skaters, Swedes, Irish girls, yellers and singers -- they throng on the white ice beneath the crinkly stars that have no altar moon, no voice...




Industrial town in Massachusetts
, January 1941



...hand to eyes, gazing at the white clouds passing on by, those perfect Tao phantoms that materialize and then then travel and then go, dematerialized, in one vast planet emptiness, like souls of people, like substantial fleshy people themselves, like your quite substantial redbrick smokestacks of the Lowell Mills along the river on sad red Sunday afternoons...


Image, Source: digital file from original slide

Detail of industrial building in Massachusetts, December 1940 or January 1941


Everything went on as usual in the city itself -- except that it was always changing, like me -- though the chagrin of the ruddy dusk up on Paddy McGillicuddy's street in the Acre on the hill was mighty the same every time -- and something eternal brooded in the sad red chimneys of the mills, ah these heavenward Empire knobs of a great civilization in a valley. The Kingdom of Lowell was bounded and tended thereto...



Factory buildings, Lowell, Massachusetts, December 1940 or January 1941

...the giant orangebrick smokestack rose to the stars, a little black smoke came out...

Photos by Jack Delano from Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress

Jack Kerouac: "We stride to school...", "Smoke whipped...", "Massachusetts Street...", "Everything went on...": from Maggie Cassidy, 1953 (published 1959)
Jack Kerouac: "I walk along...", "late red Sunday..." "The whole sky...", "the giant orangebrick...": from Doctor Sax, 1952 (published 1959)
Jack Kerouac: "Over the roofs...","hand to eyes...": from Visions of Gerard, 1956 (published 1958)

6 comments:

STEPHEN RATCLIFFE said...

Tom,

Thanks for both of these, Kerouac and Edwin Denby speaking as if to one another -- "great silent light shrouded the redbrick in a maze of haze sorrow" . . . .


9.16

light coming into sky above black plane
of ridge, silver of planet below branch
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

light in which presence only
thinks, word concealing

day by day, in one direction,
looking at picture that

grey-white of fog reflected in channel,
circular green pine on tip of sandspit

TC said...

Perhaps it should be pointed out that these photos record what were the last great days of the Lowell textile mills, which had been in demise all through the Thirties (that is, all through Kerouac's childhood), and would owe a final resurgence only to the demands of war production, before finally closing down for good in the postwar years. So in effect these images comprise a small industrial museum, documenting an industry that would for all intents and purposes become obsolete soon after the photos were made. Heaven knows if the Massachusetts Miracle would have produced a Jack Kerouac... a nerdy, geeky Jack Kerouac, dare one propose such a thought?

In any case... thank you, Steve, for the morning light. Tense times here, we can use all the light we can get. Horror weeks of collapsing-domicile contractor bewilderments, today interrupted by the departure of the genius of the place, to San Leandro, into the unwelcoming arms of the super-tech computer-surgery wizards of the great grey future...

presence only
thinks, word concealing

day by day

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Beautiful, beautiful post ... when Jack soars like that I hear his voice in my ear and just fly with his rhythms - reading it as if hearing him recite ...

In the pictures and the coming demise you describe in the comments one senses the huge romantic sadness of his soul, he, too, ultimately going the way of the mills and the passing of an entire way of life, for worse and for better.

TC said...

I think that's a fair way of looking at it, Don. In fact, reading the books again, I can't help feeling that a substantial involvement with a known community was really the early basis of an ethos for JK; the ethos survived the place and was later filled out by characters perhaps less easily understood. At any rate, yes, I too felt an elegiac element in the materials of this post as I worked to put it together. The lyric voice seems to keen its tunes clearer and deeper when it is about to lose them forever.

curtisroberts said...

Beautiful, beautiful post indeed. I'm stuck on, hung up on the "magic Lowell blue" that Delano captured and the texture and unity of the texts with the photos.

TC said...

Thanks, Curtis. Delano and Kerouac were both children of immigrant parents (one of French-Canadians, the other of Ukrainian Jews), and, as such, I think both were able to see the industrial landscapes of the Northeast in a way perhaps more direct than would have been possible for descendants of the Mayflower. Of course, Kerouac's romanticization of these landscapes is laced with a local boy's nostalgia that Delano obviously did not possess (he had grown up in New York City), but Delano's eye for telling detail more than makes up for any deficit in that quality of naive affection. In any case, in both these artist's views the tangibility of that "redbrick" atmosphere undergoes, I think, a kind of artistic transubstantiation that confers historical meaning. That unity of texture of which you speak -- yes, that was exactly what was sought here.