only magazine

↵ home

Beat Yourself Up

By Adam Thomas

Wednesday August 29, 2007

Strangely, somehow, it’s almost cliche to say you like Jack Kerouac these days. Sure, On The Road is considered one of the great American novels and Kerouac became the voice of the beat generation, but while everyone knows about On The Road, how many people have actually read it? Moreover, how many people actually enjoyed it? I’m one of those who has and did, and its influence is felt every time beautiful words are put next to each other, or when words flow off the tongue or off the page in a way that makes something seen, seem like something new. But it can be hard sometimes to find yourself in the place where you can really get something that’s meant to be gotten. And if you’re not in the right head space, the form and feeling of something can go over your head and into space.

September 5th marks the 50th anniversary of the first publishing of the On the Road, and for the first time Viking Press is releasing the uncut version of the book. The story is that Kerouac spent 7 years on the road and 3 weeks writing the book, penned on a long teletype roll of paper without breaks or paragraphs so as not to break the flow. But while all this type of stuff adds fuel to the fire of his legend, it might do little to convince those who don’t dig his prose that he is actually worth the hype.

In 1959 Kerouac was a guest on the Steve Allen show, a live, weekly night time talk show featuring writers, musicians and other type of guests interviewed by the host, Steve Allen. On this particular occasion, Allen, also a respectable piano player, sat at the piano with a jazz band behind him and after a brief interview had Kerouac read from On the Road. This clip from the show is an amazing piece of television history and a truly beautiful moment that captures the poetry and pulse and renegade vitality of a great writer’s work. There is something magic in those words and in the way he reads them. Like Jack is jazz; free form and improvised. Opening up words across a closing landscape.

FILM SCHOOL: What Happened To Kerouac? (1986). A fascinating documentary by Richard Lerner and Lewis MacAdams that looks at his life, his work and his death at the end of a bottle. Features tons of rare home footage and interviews with all the greats.