If he was still alive, Jack Kerouac would have turned 88 today. I’m saluting one of my favorite writers by dedicating most of today’s post to the man who despised being called “The King of the Beats.”
dharma [dahr-muh, duhr-] n. 1. essential quality or character, as of the cosmos or one’s own nature 2. conformity to religious law, custom, duty, or one’s own quality or character 3. virtue 4. religion 5. law, esp. religious law 6. the doctrine or teaching of the Buddha
Clement Studebaker (1831), Simon Newcomb (1835), Julia Lennon (1914), Elaine de Kooning (1918), Gordon MacRae (1921), Jack Kerouac (1922), Billie “Buckwheat” Thomas (1931), Al Jarreau (1940), Sammy “The Bull” Gravano (1945), Liza Minnelli (1946), Mitt Romney (1947), James Taylor (1948), Rob Cohen (1949), Jon Provost (1950), Ron Jeremy (1953), Marlon Jackson (1957), Courtney B. Vance (1960), Darryl Strawberry (1962), Steve Levy (1965), Aaron Eckhart (1968), Graham Coxon (1969), Dave Eggers (1970), Pete Doherty (1979), Samm Levine (1982)
Often, I get the feeling knowledgeable people think a little less of me when I tell them Jack Kerouac is one of my favorite writers. That’s fine with me. I don’t back down from my love for the guy.
My initial exposure to Kerouac was probably similar to many others. I used to ditch gym class in high school. By my sophomore year, I figured out the teacher wasn’t entirely vigilant with his attendance records and so many of us didn’t show up that the dude would give everyone at least a C, most likely so that no one ever got wise. That was fine with me. I found other ways to occupy my time which usually resulted in getting caught for ditching, garnering numerous detentions.
During my senior year, I discovered it was easier to go to the library due to the fact it was a place where the faculty didn’t look for troublemakers like myself . The second floor stacks were mainly occupied by those underclassmen who felt more at home in the library than the cafeteria where their classmates, especially the bullies, weren’t going to bother them. It was in the back of one of those stacks where I would take off my suit jacket, roll it up into a ball and try to sleep for a half an hour. But, even as seldom traveled as the second floor was, inevitably someone I knew would come by and ask, “LeJeune, what the fuck are you doing up here?” No matter what stage of my life I’ve been in, people disrupting my sleep has always been something I can count on. And so it was on the second floor of that library.
But in one corner of that floor, there was an area where the library staff stored items it used for seasonal displays. Among the props were some large cardboard constructions made to look like gigantic books. After my first few failed attempts at a midday siesta, I dragged two of the “books” over to the stacks and, with me inside, piled them on top of each other, creating a wall. The younger students must have assumed the wall was there for a reason and didn’t bother with it. I’d finally created a restful little nook.
One day while I was preparing for my nap, I noticed a book resting on top of the others. It was On the Road by Jack Kerouac. It didn’t belong there. I guessed I wasn’t the only student who figured out my second floor nook was a good place for some solitude. I picked it up and started reading, thinking it would put me to sleep after a few pages.
It didn’t. For the next few days, I didn’t sleep. I read. For me, On the Road was special. I’d read others like it. My high school’s English curriculum was pretty progressive. But it was the first novel of its kind that I’d read by my own accord, on my own terms. The notion of discovering and reading On the Road all by myself was more important than the actual text.
But what I read was far from useless. I experienced On the Road at the exact right time in my life. Still young enough to make an indelible impression. Old enough to begin realizing there was a ton of bullshit in the world.
I’ve read hundreds of books since On the Road, and I’m not so naive to think, in the scope of all literature, it’s as grand an accomplishment as some proffer. But for many of us, it’s symbolic of the American youth’s rite of passage. And, for that reason alone, it’s a book that rises above the multitude of critics who try to dismiss. For that reason alone, it’ll never go away.
I like too many things and get all confused and hung-up running from one falling star to another till I drop. This is the night, what it does to you. I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion. ↔ Jack Kerouac
A few months back, I made a big stir about the newest Kerouac documentary, One Fast Move Or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur. And rightfully so. It was a good, albeit completely depressing, watch. Plus, the soundtrack by Jay Farrar and Ben Gibbard was even better once I saw it in the context of the film. Here’s Farrar and Gibbard performing “These Roads Don’t Move.”
→ In a world that seems to be fixated on pointing all the shortcomings of us males, it’s nice to see someone say something nice about men for a change. Especially those of us with above-average intelligence.
→ A good friend of mine, who I’m uncertain wants his name dropped yet in connection with this, is one of the creators of Popularity Contest: The Anodyne to Your Pop-Culture Blues. Bookmark it. Once it’s big, you’ll be able to tell all your friends, “I know how great it is, man, I’ve been reading it since it started.” At the very least, you’ll discover the meaning of anodyne.
→ While I was writing this, The Marriage Ref was on my television. Not sure if the show’s going to make it. But it did make me think of a reality show I might, in fact, watch. It would be on Bravo or maybe E! and it would feature Madonna and Oprah Winfrey pitted against one another in a contest. Every episode would comprise of each woman being analyzed by one of the world’s foremost psychologists to help them resolve their issues with men. The series finale would have both women presenting their cases to a panel of judges, made up of equal parts mental health professionals and regular folks. The prize for the winner would be to keep on living her exceptionally wonderful life. The loser would be allowed to say her goodbyes to fans, friends and family before being launched into space in a dumpster. It doesn’t matter to me which one loses. Either way, we all win. Sorry, that was a bit long-winded but how many of you disagree? Yeah. Didn’t think so.