To my shame the other day I found out that my education has been sadly lacking. I had never heard of Jack Kerouac. Words such as pioneer, iconoclast, quintessential, spontaneous prose, stream of consciousness are some of the words that drip off the pages I have looked at when researching just who this man was.
Jack, born in 1922, it seems, was a man ahead of his time. Raised a Catholic, he bucked against the systems in which he grew up.
After years of rejection, his iconic novel On The Road was finally published. Jack was one of several starving counter culture writers of what is now known as the Beat Generation.
Kerouac is generally considered to be the father of the Beat movement, although he actively disliked such labels. Kerouac’s method was heavily influenced by the prolific explosion of Jazz, especially the Bebop genre established by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and others. Later, Kerouac included ideas he developed from his Buddhist studies that began with Gary Snyder. He often referred to his style as “spontaneous prose.”
Jack Kerouac and his literary works had a major impact on the popular rock music of the 1960s. Artists including Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Patti Smith, Tom Waits, the Grateful Dead, and The Doors all credit Kerouac as a significant influence on their music and lifestyles. This is especially so with members of the band The Doors, Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek who quote Jack Kerouac and his novel On the Road as one of the band’s greatest influences. In his book Light My Fire: My Life with The Doors, Ray Manzarek(keyboard player of The Doors) wrote “I suppose if Jack Kerouac had never written On the Road, The Doors would never have existed.” The alternative rock band 10,000 Maniacs wrote a song bearing his name, “Hey Jack Kerouac” on their 1987 album In My Tribe.
Largely autobiographical the book describes his road-trip adventures across the United States and Mexico with Neal Cassady in the late 40s and early 50s, as well as his relationships with other Beat writers and friends. He completed the first version of the novel during a three-week extended session of spontaneous confessional prose. The final draft was written in 20 days, with Joan, his wife, supplying him with benzedrine, cigarettes, bowls of pea soup and mugs of coffee to keep him going. Before beginning, Kerouac cut sheets of tracing paper into long strips, wide enough for a typewriter, and taped them together into a 120-foot long roll which he then fed into the machine. This allowed him to type continuously without the interruption of reloading pages. The resulting manuscript contained no chapter or paragraph breaks and was much more explicit than the published version. .
Though the work was completed quickly, he had a long and difficult time before Viking Press eventually published it. Publishers rejected On the Road because of its experimental writing style and its sexual content. Many editors were also uncomfortable with the idea of publishing a book that contained what were, for the era, graphic descriptions of drug use and homosexual behavior—a move that could result in obscenity charges being filed.
According to Kerouac, On the Road “was really a story about two Catholic buddies roaming the country in search of God. And we found him. I found him in the sky, in Market Street San Francisco, and Dean (Neal) had God sweating out of his forehead all the way. THERE IS NO OTHER WAY OUT FOR THE HOLY MAN: HE MUST SWEAT FOR GOD. And once he has found Him, the Godhood of God is forever Established and really must not be spoken about.”
His sudden celebrity was probably the worst thing that could have happened to him, because his moral and spiritual decline in the next few years was shocking. Trying to live up to the wild image he’d presented in ‘On The Road,’ he developed a severe drinking habit that dimmed his natural brightness and aged him prematurely….His health was destroyed by drinking. He died at home in 1969 from an abdominal hemorrhage caused by a lifetime of heavy drinking. He was 47 years old.
Since his death, Jack’s literary prestige has grown, and several previously unseen works have been published. All of his books are in print today, including The Town and the City, On the Road, Doctor Sax, The Dharma Bums, Mexico City Blues, The Subterraneans, Desolation Angels, Visions of Cody, The Sea Is My Brother, and Big Sur.
I have now met Jack Kerouac. What a sad life for a man with such talent.
Jack Kerouac Quotes –
- I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.
- Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.
- Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion.
- My witness is the empty sky.
- My fault, my failure, is not in the passions I have, but in my lack of control of them.
- A pain stabbed my heart, as it did every time I saw a girl I loved who was going the opposite direction in this too-big world.
- Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?
- Maybe that’s what life is… a wink of the eye and winking stars.
- Write in recollection and amazement for yourself.