Introduction to Charles Plymell by A.D. Winans
I met Charles Plymell at a small press convention back in 1976. We have been corresponding on and off for over thirty years. Plymell is often associated with the Beats, but he can’t be pigeon-holed into any label, be it “Beat or: Hip.” Much has been written about Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, but Plymell was putting his foot to the pedal while Kerouac was still trying out for the football team at Princeton University. He was born on the plains of Kansas, and his family moved a lot, so there was no real long-term place to call home. He didn’t attend high school except for one year in a military school in San Antonio, Texas. By 1950 he was in his own words “driving more miles with four on the floor than Kerouac ever did or could.” I should point out at this time that Plymell does not wish to be identified with Kerouac. He feels they shared nothing in common, unlike Neal Cassady, whom he was able to identify with.
I have known too damn many poets who rail against the system while at the same time living at the public trough. Plymel isn’t one of them. During his travels, he worked at a variety of jobs which includes riding in rodeos, working on a pipeline, working with his mother at daredevil car shows in Oklahoma, working as an extra in Hollywood, working on a dynamite crew on the Columbia River, and later as a longshoreman on the San Francisco docks, a job he took personal pride in.
In 1951 he drove his new Chevy from San Antonio to Blythe, California, where his father had a farm. The family also farmed in South Dakota, during which time Plymell took pride in owning a hot rod. He moved to San Francisco in late 1961 and stayed with friends from Wichita in an apartment on Ashbury, a half-block from the Haight, where I grew up as a child and teenager. In 1962 he shared a flat on Gough Street with Ginsberg and Neal Cassady. He later moved to an apartment on Post Street, where he had a multilith press that printed the first issue of Zap Comics, with artwork by Robert Crumb. He later became friends with poets like Lew Welch and David Meltzer, and early on frequented meetings at the apartment of Kenneth Rexroth who would later be dubbed the father of the Beats. In 1971 City Lights published his book The Last Of The Moccasins, a delightful fast paced novel based on his road trips from Kansas to the West Coast.