Tuesday, October 22, 2013

I still miss Kerouac

I am often surprised that there is little interest among the younger set in the life and work of Jack Kerouac, who died on this date in 1969.  Kerouac was an American poet and author from Lowell, MA, most well known for writing "On The Road," the account of his travels across the country, often in the company of Neal Cassady and other progenitors of the "Beat" movement.  To write that book, Kerouac taped together long sheets of paper into a 120-foot scroll, and began typing from his notes and rough sketches.  Having the continuous sheet of paper freed Jack, a noted speed typist, from having to change paper every five minutes.

Among the critics, Truman Capote said that Jack's writing "wasn't writing, but typing."  Capote missed the point.  Kerouac led the movement that saw writing as a free-form exercise, and his works reflect a stream of consciousness that sounds
more like someone is talking with you than writing at you.  And, several years ago, the word-for-word version of the original scroll was published, and comparing that to the published editions shows pruning and editing done by his publishers, people who had no experience with a writer of his magnitude.  They just didn't understand what he was doing, and that is often the price of genius.

I was a college freshman the year Kerouac died, and his death marked one of the first times that I dealt with the passing of a hero.  He was 47 when he died, and of course, at 18, I thought, well, he had a rich and full life, living that long.  I was soon to learn that he had become rather dissolute in later years, a querulous, somewhat cranky old man, actually rather conservative in his outlook.

Of course, now that I have zoomed past the "47" mile marker on Life's Highway (and am desperately searching for a rest stop) I realize that Jack left all too soon.  And of course, I have come to respect that he was the first to go out and among “the only people for me... the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars” and then write about it.

As opposed to writers such as J. K. Rowling, unless there really is a Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry somewhere.

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