Hassan, C-Squat Sufi-hipster, 77, moves on to the next realm

BY SARAH FERGUSON | Last Saturday, a small crowd gathered at C-Squat — the former punk squat turned H.D.F.C. on Avenue C at E. 10th St. — to celebrate the life of Hassan, a.k.a. Jerry Heiserman, the former Beatnik-turned-Sufi mystic who resided in the squat’s basement on and off for the past two decades.

Hassan, who died on Jan. 3 at a senior home for former addicts at age 77, was a much-loved fixture at C-Squat.

Perched on the front steps, “Papa Smurf” — as he was  known — was like an unofficial doorman for the squat, quietly entreating all those passing by, “Hey man, you wouldn’t happen to have a dollar, would you?”

A photo of Hassan, center, and Bill Cashman of C-Squat, right, that was on the wall at Hassan’s memorial. Photo by Sarah Ferguson


Yet beneath that grizzled exterior and grifting persona lay a man with no shortage of words or wisdom. Despite a penchant for tallboys and the occasional opiate, Hassan had been a sought-after mystic and traveling companion to Jack Kerouac, who cast him as a kind of Beat Jesus of Zen-like purity in his novel “Big Sur.”

(“He has faith in any direction he may take, just like Christ I guess,” says the narrator in “Big Sur.” “Anyone who looks into those eyes is instantly converted.”)

He was reportedly a roadie for the Byrds, a cook for Timothy Leary during his Harvard acid-drop days, and was termed “one of the great dandies of his generation,” by poet Kirby Doyle — due to Hassan’s habit back then of dressing in ragged ’30s and ’40s attire.

At the memorial, zine artist Fly screened a video she did with Hassan, in which he described growing up in a foster home in Idaho for a time because his mother was too poor to raise him. He lived in Portland and then San Francisco’s North Beach, during the heyday of the Beat scene, then skipped to New York City, where he hung with degenerates like Herbert Huncke. He later traveled to Turkey and deep into the jungles of Java in Indonesia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Istanbul and Afghanistan.

“New Deli was a very important part of my life because I met my Sufi master there,” he said in an interview with C-Squatter Bill Cashman. “In Turkey, I became involved with the Mevlevi and Baktashi brotherhoods, and in India, I met the Qadri-Chishti masters, who had extraordinary powers, which I witnessed in many instances.”

Allen Ginsberg met him on his first pilgrimage to India and was reportedly wowed by his knowledge of esoterica.

Hassan was also a jazz drummer who worked with music producer Bill Laswell to recruit obscure musicians for recordings, including some of the players from the Master Musicians of Jajouka.

But for some reason, he foundered later in life on the front steps of C-Squat, where he became a mentor of sorts to the odd cast of rebel misfits, teen runaways and crusty punks who hung there.

Former C-Squatter Seth Rosko recalled meeting Hassan at age 16, back when the place’s basement was still full of rubble.

“He knew a lot about very obscure things. We’d stay up talking all night about alchemy in France and magnetic propulsion, UFO’s, everything,” laughed Rosko. “I think he was always hanging with whoever were the weirdest people of the time, and back then maybe we were it.”

Rosko and other current and ex-C-Squatters raised funds online to rescue Hassan’s remains from an anonymous grave at the potter’s field on Hart Island. Instead, they had him cremated. They plan to spread some of his ashes at C-Squat, then send the rest along to his sister Rebekah in Portland.

“No matter what kind of spiritual journey he’s already on now, we know that he would think this plan was a little more groovy than what was in store for him,” wrote former C-Squatter Brett Pants on the GoFundMe page they created.

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