Dan Allison, the writer, stands before the house of his mentor, Jack Kerouac. In a strange twist, the number on the door is 69, the year Jack died.
Florida Crime Novelist, Dan Allison grew up in the St. Petersburg area, where Kerouac roamed the streets, before computers replaced the pen with the mouse.
Now working on his third novel, Dan is totally enamored of the Florida crime novel, "where the California crime novel meets the bizaar."
According to Dan, the big untold story in St. Pete is the "Kerouac in Florida" story. Jack moved to Florida for apolitical reasons. He losft faith in the left, once he realized they too were into the killing game. He was too good, believed in the goodness of man, refused to take sides on the battlefield of political expediency. He caused a great scene at Ken Keseys' party in New York, busting up the stereo and storming out of the room. He then moved the family to Florida, and proceeded to drown himself in alcoholic remorse. Jack befriended rock artist, Ronnie Lowe, and talked him into driving from dive to dive, until his time ran out in 1969. Three years later, Ronnie died at 59, leaving behind an unfinished "Kerouac in Florida" manuscript.
Almost everyone of a certain age in st. Pete claims to know Kerouac. I was a little young for dives when I lived there, so I missed seeing him. My generation just said "No" to alcohol, and went straight to psychodelics.
Dan Allison Remembers Beaux Arts
Dan Allison is a professed crime novelist who draws heavily from his past lives. Beaux Arts, being one of the more colorful places around, finds its way into his stories. I found Dan on-line, though a google search which turned up one of his characters reminiscing about an evening spent there.
I was very interested in talking to fellow writer inspired by my muse so I arranged to meet Dan for brunch at the 36th Street cafe on 36th Street in downtown St. Pete for brunch and a chat. We ordered the breakfast special and coffee. A sip of java was all it took to take him back to where it all began. His story poured out in a steady stream that would have made Karaoke proud.
Dan was in high school in 1969. "It was right off Park Boulevard but it always seemed difficult to find, even when it was there, I’m sure I couldn’t find it now that it’s not there."
M - I lead with my favorite opener, "What was important about Beaux Arts?"
D - "It wasn't even a coffee house, by today's Starbuck standards. It was a crappy cup of coffee, but Beaux Arts had something. A rambling old house. One room people are watching a movie. One room people are smoking a joint. Yellow zigzags. It was a puzzle of pieces that were constantly shifting. People came for whatever. If you couldn't find it in the mall, it might be at Beaux Arts."
So what did you find there?
"The smell of a blank page sitting in the typewriter, or an empty canvas on an easel, waiting for something to fill in the blanks." (What every artist is looking for.)
"Once we got there, it was strange that it seemed so difficult to find, because it was huge, and seemed put together like the house from the Addams Family. Mainly we went there to see movies you couldn't see in the regular theaters. Stuff like “Z” about the downfall of the Greek government and little films, from NY & California.
St. Pete was a hick town back then. Groups of different people hung out, looking for their scene. I was part of the little group that published the underground paper, with a poster of Che on my bedroom wall.
There were other groups at Beaux Arts, like the gays, who needed the cover back then of a “hippie place” because, believe me, they didn't have any gay bars in St. Pete in 1969, certainly not with a sign out front that said “gay bar.”
And the junkies and other needle types were there too. There were like three, four, five rooms, and patios, and a garden, and different little groups watching a flick in one room, a folksinger in a second, drinking coffee and talking Taoism or Maoism in a third room, at least one group smoking maryjane in those stinky yellow zigzag papers. This was all after Jim Morrison’s time
...I went there with Kerouac’s old buddy, Ronny Lowe who was quite into the politics (that Jack had hated) by then, Ronny introduced me to Tommy. He had my grandmother’s personality and was probably the first openly gay man I ever met, being as I was 15 or 16 and possessed the incumbent sexual awkwardness of a teenager.
I remember once feeling like a doofus telling to someone there, 'I'm not gay, even though there’s nothing wrong with it. It's totally okay by me.' then walking away feeling like a geek, thinking, that didn’t come out quite right.' stuff you’d never even think about today...
So anyway by 71, 72 the hippie thing was passing, the underground paper stuff too. We all sort of drifted apart and by the mid-seventies there really were no hippies and Beaux Arts became a little more overtly gay. But, Tommy had given the community a place to go, back when there was no place to go, and by god that meant something…"
M - What gets the juices flowing?
D - "One scene, one opening sentence, leading into another. The story is in the sub-conscience and I wonder around until it reveals itself to me. I surprised myself with the story as it develops. In fiction, you've got to dream the story, stand inside the scene and look out as the audience would. What is missing from the picture? What should be left out?"
M - In this most political environment, I must ask, how big of a role do politics play in you work?
D - All Florida crime novelists are apolitical, environmentally friendly, anti-corporate/developers, which means anti-Jeb Bush, since the only thing he does and wants to do is help corporations. He doesn't care about anything else. He avoids doing anything unless pressed by his constituency. They (crime novelists) are all middle aged. This genre demands experience. The difference between writing a mystery and a crime novel is you are with the criminal as the perform the act...The story is not a whodunit, but a cat and mouse game between protagonist and antagonist.