Today Jack Kerouac would have been a whopping ninety years young. It's funny to picture him old. He was typical of brilliant writers. He drank too much, smoked too much, and dreamed too much. But he also gave a voice for the Beatnik generation that ended up having an impact on the hippies as well. He wrote a book you may have heard of called On the Road and not only was it akin to the bible for the Beats, it also changed the life of a young guy you might have also heard of named James Douglas Morrison. That's right, folks, our beloved Jim, by his own account, read that book and he wanted to be Dean Moriarty. He even went so far as to hitch to some of the spots Jack talked about in the book and he was almost killed a couple of times during that little trip but he loved every moment of it. It was through all of this talk of Jim's that I was introduced to Kerouac's book (let me rephrase that...it was from reading about Jim's words in a bio, one of the few I found accurate, that I heard about the book. I do not, as of right now, have a direct link with Morrison. lmao) I bought it at Half Priced Books when I was about 18 and I read it all in about a day and a half. To me, Jack was the F. Scott Fitzgerald of the Beats. What Fitzgerald observed and recorded in his novels about the Flappers, the way that he immortalized that generation, was much like what Kerouac did not only in On the Road but also in novels like Big Sur and The Dharma Bums. (I recommend both books, by the way...The only one I do not recommend of those I have read so far is Tristessa. I personally hated it. The Subterraneans wasn't on par with the three greats but it wasn't as bad as Tristessa.) He combined what he knew of his life with what he knew about that part of his generation, the Beatnik culture, and in my opinion, more often than not, he made greatness out of it. The friends he immortalized on the page in many cases ended up like dust on the wind. Neil Cassidy, who was again immortalized but this time in the footage and the stories about Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, was the real Dean Moriarty. He was also one of Kerouac's best friends. He ended up going crazy sometime during the Merry Pranksters trip across the country (or so it said in the Acid Koolaid Test by Tom Wolfe). Kesey, who also had a role in the made up people of On the Road, fared alright until his death in the '90's, though. And of course, Jack himself passed away in 1969 at 47 after he got into a fight (while he was drunk) and was beaten pretty badly. The internal injuries took his life a week later.
Did he write like Shakespeare? No. Is he read as often as Poe? Probably not. But in my opinion, he did have his own kind of genius with the pen. His books were real, people could relate to them, and inside them there were moments of literary brilliance with the words he wrote. An example?
“The only people for me are 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 in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!”
That, in its entirety, is my favorite Kerouac quote. As soon as I read it in the book I wrote it down in my little book of quotes I keep (because I am that big a fucking dork...haha) and I thought that it so completely summed up the man who once became a rock star after his life was changed by On the Road and the chance meeting he had with a character named Dean Moriarty. Jack summed up a lot in life like that...in his own simple inspired way. And like Jim Morrison, many were changed in some way by his words. And isn't that what we are here to do, us crazy writer types? We want to change something, someone, with what we have to say because in that way our characters will live on no matter how short our own time here on earth may be. I think Kerouac succeeded. So happy birthday, Jack.