Safe In Heaven Dead
by Michael Stutz
I’ve been ripping through lots of books during quarantine, going at a mad pace — faster than I’ve done in years. I haven’t read this many books this fast since I was a kid: 14 in the past month or so, and the count’s rising quickly.
One of my favorites in this batch was the smallest. It’s a book I’d read before, an old friend I’d first discovered many years back, a book that’s exactly the size of a pack of cigarettes sliced in half from the top down – Safe In Heaven Dead by Jack Kerouac, published by Hanuman Books in 1994. I think I first bought it, and read it, not long after it came out.
It’s a great concept and was a great series — the books were all the same quirky size, printed in India and with the exotic feeling you’d expect from a venture like that, the colors on the covers strangely off in their palette and faded, not a Western palette at all, almost like a Warhol silkscreen that had been placed in a slow-baking oven. I bought a lot of them back in the day, as a college kid turned on to the Beats. They were nearly all Beat related, just my cup of tea.
This book was a set of Kerouac interviews. The writing was strong. Of course; Jack is a brother. I’m soothed by all that he says in here. It’s like he’s whispering gently in my ear, like a kind uncle doing his part. He talks about Thomas Wolfe as an influence, that early 20th century behemoth of highrolling unfolding deeply rich American prose, a direction few have dared, and this is the way and the life I feel myself, and I love hearing him speak smartly about it.
I told my old friend about this book, a man pushing 100 and who remains the greatest Thomas Wolfe collector who ever lived — his collection in the library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill weighs more than a ton, has a thick folder of my letters in it, he founded the Thomas Wolfe Society back around the time I was born — and he bought a copy of this book on Amazon for about $30 for his collection.
The editor was Michael White — a hard name for the net age, and the cursory searches found nothing on him. The publishers were easier. Hanuman Books was made and published by Raymond Foye and Francesco Clemente, and in the re-read I understood that I needed to know what these guys were up to now, they’re obviously doers and they make good things happen — I met Clemente briefly as a kid, Ginsberg introduced us back when he was my mentor, and if these guys are putting out books or doing anything in the arts these days, it’s absolutely worth looking into.
These words are alive. That is, when you read them you can feel and sense the flesh that housed the mind that said them. If you’re hip to this you know how uncanny it is — it is — it’s otherworldly — and when I read Kerouac I get that. It’s like my memories of my dead cat Knusper that I feel, and see, when I think of his yangling and mewling. He’s here, in my heart, and my heart is still somewhere enormous, alive.