A quick word re: Jack Kerouac
I found Jack just like you did. Someone, much cooler than me I’m sure, recommended I read On the Road. The literature equivalent to Natalie’s “It’ll change your life.” (yes, I did just do that). It was a day in 2003 when I cracked the spine and dog-eared my first Kerouac page, taking the journey across America with Neal.
But I don’t mind admitting, I was underwhelmed. What was I missing? Why was this such a classic piece, but to me, just the continuation of holy page after holy page? (A few years later, I would do the same thing with wine. All of my friends, or at least the people I wanted to be my friends, sat and drank their Pino Noir, and while I could barely take the smell, I choked down my glasses in a forced attempt to love that deep, red nectar.)
And eventually, I did.
And so the man Kerouac. I was determined to crack the code. And after a night of research, quickly learned of the Dulouz Legend. For On the Road was only book 7 of a long, autobiographical-come-fictionalized version of Jack’s life. Maybe if I started at the chronological beginning, it would all make sense. Which is what I did.
That’s when I found Visions of Gerard. And that’s when I fell in love with the words of Ti Jean. The poetry of those opening moments in Lowell, Massachusetts, Jack barely a kid and in the shadow of an older brother who was doing his best to navigate his last few months of life. Gerard was beatified quickly, but it was the way that Kerouac painted the landscape, the cold Northeast nights, and the townspeople that played the supporting act that proved what everyone else already knew; Jack Kerouac was unlike anything else before or after.
That’s what I thought at that moment.
You see, Jack was a failure. He wanted to be Hemingway – and tried hard – but never hit the same nerve. Of course, in his failure, he created something entirely original, which was something he spent his life resenting, and ultimately would be a source for his demise. Jack hated the hippies. He denounced the aimless wanderers. And once Allen and Bill began to embrace their fandom, Jack pulled ever further away.
Jack the Republican. Jack the ashamed. Jack the drunk. Jack the drunk-to-death.
Jack the hate-the-rocknroll. Jack the no-more-Dharma. Re-embrace the Pope. Jack the damn-kids-get-off-my-lawn.
Jack, my hero, dead-to-me.
Why did he run? Why he so mad? What would have changed had he lived? Why was I so let down?
The words still existed and with a little Forgetting (I was good at that), we could transport back to Dr. Sax. Maggie Cassidy. Hell, we could go back to Satori in Paris, that was fine. But I was disillusioned.
Tonight, I’m not.
Tonight, Ti Jean is rapping over Steve Allen’s timeless piano, defining the Beat, and everything seems ok. Jack seems ok. The world, on a day that they said would end, it seems ok, too. Heck, On the Road, the unmakeable movie, is about to be released. As a movie! We’ll see, but I’m optimistic. I’m sure it’ll, at least, be ok.
And maybe that’s what this is. Maybe I’m trying to make amends before the hype really digs in. Maybe I’m tired of dodging the good moments, all of those stream-of-conscience rhythms that preceded the man he became, and not-so-secretly always was.
And I grew up, too. That Adbusters version of youth has mellowed, spending my days in conversation with all types. Loving them regardless of beliefs. Because we never know when this whole, big rock is going to explode in fire, or pudding, or 21st century overdose. And whether it does or doesn’t, I may as well forgive and enjoy what he left.
The words. The cadence. The long story with no written ending. The moon, her majesty.