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50 Years Later, Jack Still Lives

Posted: Wed Jul 25, 2007 2:06 pm
by timberline
Jack’s Not Dead
(He’s Hiding Out, but He’ll Come Back if We Ever Need Him)

May I invite all older types of readers (and any whippersnappers, too) to take a moment and celebrate the fact that 50 years ago Jack Kerouac’s On the Road was published. It ushered in some fine ideas and some new-fangled stream-of-consciousness writing. But fifty years later, it’s the outward trappings of what has been called one of the most controversial novels of the 20th century that seem to have outlived his ideas. Smiling, jocular TV pundits now talk about his manuscript written on a 120-foot scroll (sheets of paper he taped together so he wouldn’t have to pause in his typing); that the book was one long paragraph; that he was a “one-book author" (although he wrote 20 volumes of prose and poetry); and that he wrote the epic in just three weeks. Writing is not, contrary to TV news readers, a performing art.

This classic novel of freedom and longing identified America’s manifest destiny to go West and to keep hitting the roads until we reach a karmic state of bliss. He said, “I am not ashamed to wear the crucifix of my Lord. It is because I am Beat, that is, I believe in beatitude and that God so loved the world that he gave his own begotten son to it. So you people don’t believe in God. So you're all big smart know-it-all Marxists and Freudians, hey? Why don’t you come back in a million years and tell me all about it, angels?”

It took Kerouac six years to find a publisher. Kerouac knew it was the best writing he had done. Malcolm Cowley at Viking finally took the book, cut the text by a third, edited for literary, orthographic, and printing conventions, and published the thing in 1957—the year I discovered it as a college freshman. Twice a year for four years I’d drive non-stop from Iowa to New Jersey and back again—without the benefit of Interstate highways. I think I thought I was a beatnik, but it might have been dyspepsia at emerging from the Eisenhower years of conformity.

“Hit the road, Jack, and don’t ya come back no more, no more.” Well, I doubt Ray Charles was singing about Kerouac, but On the Road gave lots of people a purpose to run away and find themselves on the Route 66s of America. Me, I only hitched Route 2 from Littleton to Wellesley and on to Boston; the Army didn’t pay me enough for a car. But I identified with this rucksack revolution. He, and Ken Kesey and Allen Ginsberg were making a heavenly connection with me.

I later discovered a marginal thought: Would we have had a generation of beatniks if the term hadn’t been coined (following Russia’s launching of Sputnik)? That was the doing of Herb Caen, columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. For Caen, there were two shots at immortality (in addition to his wonderful columns): he also created the word hippie to describe the generation that followed the beatniks chronologically and in spirit.

So now you know: There’s a deadend when you reach the Pacific. No place to go but up, and the space jockeys did that only to find there’s not much out there. Destination ain't destiny. That means having to turn inward, like the Japanese, all scrunched up in one tiny piece of real estate. Maybe it’s time to go back and re-read On the Road and see if I’ve missed something. Maybe it’s time to stop listening to the politicians when they tell us to be afraid, very afraid of our enemies. Maybe it’s time to hit the road again.

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Posted: Wed Jul 25, 2007 4:54 pm
by TinaS1570

On The Road is one of my all time favorite books. I first discovered this book when reading the biography of Jim Morrison No One Here Gets Out Alive and learned that he loved the character "Dean Moriarity". I found the book at a book sale for like $1 and devoured it. It turned me on to Kesey.
I've read a few others by Kerouac. Last semester sitting in my "Expository Prose" class, my professor mentioned On the Road and everyone but me sat there with blank expressions. Even the two other students who claimed to have "read everything". He brought an excerpt in the next meeting and most of the students opinions were "this is stupid" then there was Joe. Joe, on my advice, checked the book out after the previous class and was nearly finished with it by the next class meeting. He loved the book so much, he was planning a trip across the US that summer.
When I was packing up my bookshelf recently, I found my old tattered copy of On the Road and I told my son "After you read your required reading this summer. I'm going to loan you this book. It changed my life." He stared at me and I told him "trust me, when you read it, you'll understand what I'm talking about."

Posted: Wed Jul 25, 2007 6:06 pm
by Daniel
I borrowed otr from the library some years ago. Was it about the experiences of a hitchhiker? I don't remember anything about it but that I found it boring and returned it to its shelf. What did you find so interesting about it?

Posted: Thu Jul 26, 2007 7:54 am
by TheMudge
The thing is, T--WHERE would we go? When the Planet starts feeling claustrophobic--which it kinda does, to me--where can we run to?

Posted: Thu Jul 26, 2007 8:00 am
by TinaS1570
True Mudge. And the way the world is today, compared to when the book was written. But honestly, I have to believe that there is some "experience" out there.

I have moments, where I just want to hop in the car and drive. Not take the interstate, just drive and see where I end up.

Posted: Thu Jul 26, 2007 10:22 am
by timberline
Another thought, Mudge. William Least Heat Moon left his teaching job, got in his truck and hit the road a decade ago. The result was Blue Highways, a warm un-ironic look at America's small towns and residents.

There are real people out there, and it's a mistake to call those places "flyover states," or to say that after New York every city is Bridgeport. My personal belief is that there's a spiritual truth of some kind hiding in a small town in Iowa I knew once. No madness there. Just bake sales in the town park on Saturdays.

Posted: Thu Jul 26, 2007 10:50 am
by TheMudge
Which of course raises the eternal question: Are you naive, or am I cynical?

That's a legitimate, question, BTW: not saying either position is right or wrong, but even if we went to the same town in Iowa, would I see your magic or my reality?

There's this great new show on AMC called "Mad Men", about Madison Avenue advertising agencies in the 60's. One guy (a Creative Director, same as I am) asks this girl why she has never married, and she says she's never been in love. He replies that love as she is thinking about it doesn't exist: it was INVENTED by guys like him--and me--to sell nylons.

I think he is right. Am I cynical or pragmatic? Have I just been in this business too long?

Posted: Thu Jul 26, 2007 4:50 pm
by timberline
The "road" novels are as much a genre as "quest" novels. (Get on the road, J.K. Rowling!)

"In July, with fifty dollars, having written half of a novel, Sal heads west. Consulting many maps and books, he plans to take Route 6 the whole way--a winding red line from Cape Cod through to Los Angeles. To do this, he has to go to Bear Mountain, forty miles north. He hitchhikes there and ends up on a winding mountain road in pouring rain, with few cars passing, cursing himself for being a fool. Finally a couple picks him up, and the man suggests a more sensible route; Sal knows he is right. He has to go back to the city--where he started from 24 hours ago. Anxious to get west as fast as possible now, he spends most of his money and takes a bus to Chicago the next day." (Sparknotes.)

Local newspaper columnist where I recently lived in Connecticut did this, trekking thousands of miles on Route 6. It's a fulfilling wanderjahr, like doing the Appalachian Trail. The destination is to find oneself. I found it in Iowa, but didn't appreciate it (like most places) until I returned. You'd find your own reality there. Experiences can be related; sensations can't.

Posted: Thu Jul 26, 2007 5:24 pm
by TinaS1570
THAT paragraph right there is what grabbed me when i read the book. I live at the base of Bear Mountain. I grew up running around the trails and riding the roads with my Dad.

Posted: Fri Jul 27, 2007 7:59 am
by TheMudge
Didn't answer the question, though.

Posted: Fri Jul 27, 2007 8:06 am
by TinaS1570
What if you're cynical or I'm naive? The answer is yes. We are.

Posted: Fri Jul 27, 2007 8:16 am
by timberline
Mudge, for heaven's sake!! Are we talking about Kerouac or my nostalgia for the good old days and corn chowder?!

Posted: Fri Jul 27, 2007 8:25 am
by TheMudge
"In the twenties hundreds of miles of concrete highway had been laid down in California, and people had sat back and said: “There, that’s permanent. That will last as long as the Roman roads and longer, because no grass can grow up through the concrete to break it.” But it wasn’t so. The rubber-shod trucks, the pounding automobiles, beat the concrete, and after a while the life went out of it and it began to crumble. Then a side broke off and a hole crushed through and a crack developed and a little ice in the winter spread the crack, so the resisting concrete could not stand the beating of rubber and broke down. Then the county maintenance crews poured tar in the cracks to keep the water out, and that didn’t work, and finally they capped the roads with an asphalt and gravel mixture. That did survive, because it offered no stern face to the pounding tires. It gave a little and came back a little. It softened in the summer and hardened in the winter. And gradually all the roads were capped with shining black that looked silver in the distance."

John Steinbeck
The Wayward Bus

See, that's my idea of a road story . . .

Posted: Fri Jul 27, 2007 8:42 am
by TheMudge
Oh, and in response to Timberline's "flyover" comment:

Posted: Fri Jul 27, 2007 9:15 am
by TinaS1570
LOL that's funny. I like the whole "comicon" too. *sigh* i wish I was there.

BUT this is a thread about road stories. so I'll shush about nerdy conventions.

I've always toyed with the idea of my own road story. I travelled with the Dead back toward the end of their run. That last Summer. You KNEW something was going down. At least us "seasoned" folks did. I've started and stopped my own road story several times....maybe, now that I have all this time on my hands again, I should try again. *shrug*