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A LOOK BACK AT KEROUAC

August 14th, 2012 by Michael Tabor

Once again a wonderfully written piece by Le Duke de Fromage

I was an aging teenager when I first read On The Road, sitting on a park bench in Boston Common. It was not exactly a high point in my life I was outa school, outa work, and outa money and I was mulling over whether to join the army. When I finished the book, I remember thinking WoW, that’s it. Free, no responsibility, constantly moving, jazz and sex included. It was early spring and a beautiful day something that Boston weather can rarely brag about.I still picture myself sitting there absorbing the book. Always an avid reader, my fault was I read a tremendous amount of what is considered junk.However this was different; this was now. Kerouac made it easy to identify with; he lived in Lowell Mass. only 25 miles from my home.If he could make it out ,well , so could I. As time went on,Kerouac became someone to be taken serious, if not as a significant writer then as an author who was making an impact on future writers.
As his fame grew, he started appearing on mainstream television and not always favorable.Most interviewers were intent on his involvement in what was called “The Beat Generation”. Kerouac hated this tag and always disavowed the title. I remember watching a Steve Allen interview that was embarrassing and awkward. Allen played piano jazz and Kerouac read quotes from his latest book. Uncomfortable,stilted,and staged. However he was never at his best before an audience. Jack appeared to have demons lurking, always a heavy drinker, drugs entered his life. For some, a deadly combination when writing serious prose.
Raised by a mother whose impact weighed heavily all his life,Jack also had a strong religious catholic influence that reflected on his personality. A former girlfriend claimed in many years of friendship he never swore or cursed. He flirted with Buddhism for a period of time but never could embrace it to his liking. Kerouac could be described in melodramatic terms as a tortured soul.
Considered somewhat straight-laced, with his mother’s influence always lurking in the back of his mind, he flirted with both straight and gay sex. A contradiction never fully explained. Alan Ginsburg stated several times that Neil Cassidy who also went both ways influenced Jack and not always to his benefit. Having married three times he also claimed having relations with over 200 women, a claim not seriously taken, and probably made during the later part of his life when boastful alcohol took over.
Kerouac wrote 20 books always in a frenetic jazz hipster style. A way of life that has evolved and is unknown to today’s youth. One would be very challenged to duplicate that lifestyle today, which may be part of the appeal. Recently I reread On The Road and Dharma Bums, two of my earlier favorites and was disappointed to find that the attraction I once had was not there. They seemed dated and less appealing than I remembered. The writing once considered cutting and new , now rather pedestrian. The lifestyle, once shocking and exciting now drab, pointless, and shabby. Truth is there is nothing sadder than an aging hipster.There seemed to be just a little too much of him in his writing,possibly that may have been part of the appeal.
Age changes perception and that may be the answer to why I am no longer drawn to Jack and his aging books. Another possibility is that Kerouac should be read when you are young. Truman Capote said when asked about Kerouac, “That’s not writing, that’s typing”. I am somewhat inclined to agree. Whether fan or not reread Kerouac and judge for yourself.If you have not read him,it is worthwhile just to experience the style and a culture that has passed.
Whadayathink?Still great or fading as time goes on.

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8 Responses to “A LOOK BACK AT KEROUAC”

  1. magdalena tabor Says:

    Great article, Le Duke. I have never read Kerouac but he puts me in mind of Ken Kesey. I recall reading The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test back in the 1970’s while riding on a subway and could not contain my laughter. I’m sure people thought I was nuts, I heard that the two (Kerouac and Kesey) actually met. I wonder if I would find it as funny now…

  2. Michael Tabor Says:

    I’ve just read this essay for the 3rd time now and I must confess you really hit on some deep buttons forever on deck, waiting for someone or something to bring them to consciousness (wow, is that utterly pretentiois..yuck). Anyway, the first thing I want to say is, I, we, always thought our dads were, well – dads, meaning having no idea about what cool was. I know you are a slightly pre-baby boomer (if my math is right) and our thinking was all dads were Jimmy Stewart – like. Not until I read ‘on the Road’ or saw Brando’s “On The Waterfront’ did I realize that our dads were just as ‘sex – crazed’ or wont of being ‘hip’ as we were.
    i’ve read biographies on Jack and have watched many documentaries and I have always been perplexed with his mother-fixation. (what was that all about ?) I know that Kerouac appeared on live TV intoxicated (yay, we can see them now, thanks to YouTube) and I most definitely saw (see) him as a tragic figure. He died way too young, thanks to alcoholism.
    Believe it or not, in the year 2012, the book ‘On The Road’ is taught @ Yale and is considered to be one of the most popular courses on campus.

  3. Sal Paradise Says:

    Neal Cassady arranged for Kerouac and Kesey to meet in 1964, during a Merry Prankster sojourn to New York City. Despite Neal’s hopes for a memorable and rewarding event, Kerouac was by then a bitter and essentially incapacitated alcoholic who thought Kesey and everything he represented a shallow, decadent imitation of Kerouac’s original ‘beat’ crowd. Between then and his death in 1969, Kerouac became more reactionary and ‘square’ by the year, so much so that he once appeared (drunk) on a William F. Buckley program in which he denounced the hippie and anti-war movements while fawning over arch-conservative Buckley.

  4. Sal Paradise Says:

    There’s been a lot of conjecture on the nature of the relationship between Kerouac and his mother. By today’s definition, it was highly dysfunctional, co-dependant, and (at least) psychologically incestuous. Throughout all of his adventures and road trips and relationships (including three marriages), he always went back to his mother. Kerouac often referenced a deathbed promise he’d made to his father (in the 1940’s) to take care of his mother, but the fact is he was never able to sustain a healthy relationship with any woman for long. Emotionally, he never advanced beyond mid-adolescence, and the lure of ‘running out to play’ with Neal and Allen and Lucien and William always trumped a committed, mature partnership with a woman. Ultimately, mom would turn on the proverbial porch light and it would be time for Ti Jean to come home, which he always did.

  5. le duke de fromage Says:

    Sal , as usual an excellent anaylsis of complex relationship

  6. Michael Tabor Says:

    I agree with Le Duke, Sal. you nailed this ! There are so many intersting factoids you were skillfully able to insert in just 2 paragraps. I sohuld blog a about all the people who had abnormal mother fixations: hitler, Jack, Norman Bates (fictional ones 2- lol).

    Oh, Just to mention one more thing about Kerouac’s sexual exploits, though 200 women was probably an exagerration, on the hand Neal Cassidy most certainly had that many women, if not more. What’s ironic, is the coolest, best-looking, and hipest beatster was Cassidy and he was the only one not to publish anything. Interesting. Oh, 2 more things 1. I believe I saw the Buckley interview a long time ago, now thanks again to youTube I can watch it again.2. There’s a nice little movie out there called ‘Howl’ starring James Franco (does a very nice job portaying Ginsburg) and it is definitely worth watching. Geat contributions.

  7. Michael Tabor Says:

    I want to elaborate on a comment I made the other day here. I remember taking a liberal arts class in college called ‘Human Sexuality’ and the way the professor started the course was by first asking the class – can you imagine your parents having sex? We all burst out in laughter, and though we know they of course did (missionary position with the lights out) it was just hard to picture.
    I’m not sure if this is still something about which the last 2 generations would be so shocked, because their parents are us and they can see the Pink Floyd albums in the house, my father listened to big band and marching music (I’m 49 which is @ the tail end of the baby – boomer generation and the very beginning of generation X, but it was definitely pre-personal computer age). The point is we were all young once, and when dad is giving advice, one should take heed because he wasn’t always a square; The odds are he probably was once in the same exact predicament.

  8. Rick Says:

    I must agree with magdalena about Le Dukes article and Mike for the 3rd time as well as Sals deep explanation of the nature of the relationship and Dukes bringing up such a great analysis and Mikes agreement with Duke about Sals analysis and burst in laughter. snore……………………………………snore…………………………………………snore………………………………………….

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