There has been much chatter lately regarding the 50th anniversary of the publication of On the Road, Jack Kerouac’s picaresque novel thought by many as the Beat bible (which, I suppose, would make Allen Ginsberg’s Howl the movement’s manifesto and William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch its Book of the Dead). Like many in my generation, I have an outsized infatuation with the Beats that I attribute to deft re-marketing of the canon in the early ‘90s (see “The Jack Kerouac Collection,” a box-set of CDs released by Rhino Records, for example).
The San Francisco Bay Area, of course, was a hotbed of much beat-themed activity and though there are no accounts of the beats staking any claim to Sonoma wine country, local literati do tell tales of Solomon Fregge, the “lone beat of the valley.” “Sol,” as those who close to the poet remember him, conducted his life in letters as something of a shadow beat, for little if any of his work made an impact remotely close to that of his more media-savvy contemporaries. Sol’s epic poem “Spinach!” for example, mounts a similar social critique to that of Ginsberg’s “Howl” and was read publicly weeks prior to the epochal Six Gallery reading in 1956, which short-listed Ginsberg for literary stardom. That Solomon performed his fevered indictment of contemporary mores to the ladies of Nomaville’s long-defunct Sisters of the Sacred Vine charity organization instead of, say, a bearded and sandal-clad enclave of student radicals represents a failure in target marketing of epic proportion.
No doubt, the ladies had no idea what to make of Solomon, whose rant, according to police records, continued for an hour and half and contained several remarks meant to scandalize the daughters of local politicos. That Solomon wasn’t invited to read at the ladies’ monthly consortium in the first place certainly riled witnesses. Others took greater offense over his rude noshing of the appetizers with his mouth open while orating such chestnuts as “Cretinous crouton, habitué of green! My shame in romaine causes such leafy pain – Spinach! I’ve made my atomic salad and now I will sleep in it. Spinach!”
The subsequent publication of “Spinach!” went virtually unnoticed until the public works department filed a formal complaint about the broadside, which Solomon had tacked onto every telephone pole within two miles of the Plaza. The poet was acquitted, however, when later it could not be determined whether his means of publication constituted an act of vandalism or litter – or both.
Like Kerouac’s original teletype scroll of “On The Road,” Solomon’s first work of full-length prose was delivered to publishers in rolled form. Solomon, however, lacking both a typewriter and a roll of teletype paper instead improvised when inspiration struck as he perched in his “writing quarters.” He used what he had closest at hand – a roll of toilet paper and his ex-girlfriend’s eyebrow pencil. The result “On the John,” is an allegedly gripping tale of wanderlust and longing set along Hwy. 12 as the narrator, a hitchhiker trying to get to Santa Rosa to pay a traffic fine before the county court closes, muses about a lost love named mostly Gwendolyn (the character’s name changes several times inexplicably). Solomon slipped “On The John” over the transom of a local publishing concern but discovered later that several chapters had been lost do to some confusion between the janitorial and submissions departments. Heart broken, Solomon resolved never to write again. That is, until he found inspiration in a particularly tepid bowl of soup served at a local brasserie. Having upgraded to napkins (for their “superior blotting capacity” he remarked), the would-be Beat is said to have written an anthem not only for his generation, but for all youth immemorial. “Can I pay you next Wednesday?” is the only line that survived the waitress’s rage, but volumes live in those six words.