Today is the birthday of Jack Kerouac (1922-1969)
Kerouac is one of the few things that the Mad Marchioness and I disagree on, and pretty radically. We’re kind of polar on the subject. I understand and sympathize with her position. There’s no one more sexist than Kerouac. He’s not just a “love ’em and leave ’em” kind of guy…he’s a “love ’em, knock ’em up, leave the women and kids both, and also smack them around” kind of guy. And not just in his private life, away from his art: some of his writing, as in On the Road, is an expression, even a celebration, of whatever motivates that kind of disregard for others. The attitude is heinous, immature, and even unforgivable.
But God I love his writing. Apart from say, Shakespeare or the King James Bible, I can think of no one I try to emulate more as a writer, especially when writing a theatrical monologue (but also definitely in sections of No Applause) — open the throttle, hit the gas, and (here comes the mixed metaphor) blow a solo, letting images and ideas flow out and smash and clash with zero self-censorship or inhibition. His writing is so good at the level of raw talent it makes me giddy. It’s like he’s tapped into something cosmic and even (this will make some snicker) pre-verbal. He doesn’t always succeed, and sometimes it’s “pure effect” — but what an effect.
He is also an interesting model, a pathbreaker for how to be a writer in the age of media (actually very few people have followed him down the promising trail he blazed.) Here he is on one of those record albums he made in the late ’50s with Steve Allen at the piano:
Kerouac’s celebration of America (a downbeat underground anti-establishment version of America) still exhilarates me. An aesthetic of freedom in the tradition of Whitman, and of America’s indigenous musical form, jazz.
And my appreciation of him is cemented to something I can’t possibly defend but must own anyway: he’s one of my own people, a working class stiff from industrial New England (listen to the accent in that clip! sounds like home to me). And look at that picture up top. That’s what my football coach looked like when I was kid. To have all this crazy art coming out of somebody like that, there’s no way he’s not going to be some kind of hero of mine. (Hippies were startled to meet him, those who got to meet him during his last years — they were horrified at how conservative he was in many ways. I don’t defend that side, but I do think it adds to his complexity). If he was nicer to women, he’d be perfect.