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Monday, 27 August 2012

The Only People For Me Are The Mad Ones

I first read On The Road in the summer of 1989, aged 19. I loved it. It didn't get me hitch-hiking across North America but I went on to read loads of other Kerouac novels, biographies, and then onwards into Burroughs, Ginsberg and the rest. Kerouac's work is full of contradictions- some of it is almost unreadable (Dr Sax say), some of it just has to be read for the writing rather than any sense of narrative. He famously typed On The Road in a three week Benzadrine fuelled binge on a non-stop roll of paper. It had to be widely edited to make any narrative sense. For all the wanderlust and adventures and search for kicks, he spent his life with the apron strings to his mother firmly uncut. He tried to balance the booze, partying and excitement with a spiritual quest, settling for Buddhism and his own version of Zen. When fame hit him, ten years after writing the book, he soon found he couldn't cope. Held up by the hippies as the King of the Beats he criticised, even loathed, the 60s counter culture and died an alcoholic in front of the TV in Florida. But the sense of freedom in his best writing, the lyrical nature of the verse, the attempt to 'write jazz', the trip to Mexico in On The Road, The Dharma Bums, parts of Desolation Angels, are all beautiful and romantic and inspiring.

Long considered unfilmable, Walter Salles, has had a go at it (starring Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst and Viggo Mortensen). The trailer below looks right but you just can't tell from a trailer how good a film is going to be. It got mixed reviews at Cannes in the summer. I'm kind of looking forward to it when it gets released this December.

Kerouac recorded several albums, sometimes reading his work alone, sometimes reading it accompanied by jazz musicians.

Jack Kerouac Reading On The Road


drew said...

I first read it at fifteen, the influence of the hippies I hung about with and loved it over the years I must have re-read it about five times but after reading Carolyn Cassidy's Off The Road I came to the conclusion that Kerouac was not the kind of guy I could have had a beer or even a toke with, a bit of an arse is the term that springs to mind.

I gave a friend's 18 year old my battered copy to read, amazed that he had not already read it a couple of years ago, just before he went off to do English at Uni and when I asked what he thought of it he said that he couldn't understand what all the fuss was about and that it was rather tame.

Kerouac did write some pish such as Visions Of Cody. I think my favourite is Desolation Angels.

Swiss Adam said...

Off The Road is a very good version of them and events.

Martyn said...

Re-reading Dharma Bums at the moment. Thing about Kerouac is his flawed character just makes him more human. Reading his stuff always leaves me feeling better and more optimistic even the later works like Vanity of Duluoz, written when he was a chronic alcoholic. The performances he gave on Steve Allen's show, reading from On the Road (they'll be on youtube) highlight his wonderful reading voice and man, he looked good too. One of the heroes undoubtedly.

Anonymous said...

the guy between jack and joyce on the photo, i don't recall him being there before.

anto said...

what a rites of passage book it is. so in awe was i in 1990 on my summer J1 I visited his home town of Lowell Mass. the statue of him was covered in bird-shite. i then went into a book shop where the old geezer who owned the place, told me that he was the single greatest contributor to the corruption of american youth. he'd seen 'em all come and go and this guy was the biggest wastrel etc.

a true poet in my view. that biog by Nicosia, for all the debate around it is a great read and you summed it up Adam when describing how much a hold his mother had on him. devastating. I think one flew over..nest is a better 'Beat' book although it would not be categorised as such

Swiss Adam said...

Yeah anon I thought photo was odd. Dont know if he's
been added or was removed fron earlier versions