Hey, Jack Kerouac.
March 14, 2009
Happy Belated Birthday, Jack. March 12 marked the 87th anniversary of “Ti Jean”‘s birth. Weird to think that one of my counter-cultural heroes was born a mere two years before my grandparents. I try to think about my grandparents as being of the age of The Beats, which they are, and yet… it’s an entirely different age. My grandparents were on the “straight” path – everything that The Beats were trying to get past. I’m sure that they’ve never even read modern poetry, much less attended a poetry reading. It’s so strange to think of that time period (the 50’s/60’s) and how far apart the revolutionary movements and “normal” life were, even though they were happening concurrently.
So. Yes. Kerouac’s birthday. While I am totally, 100% obsessed with Kerouac, I can’t say as I remembered his birthday all on my own. I was actually reading the preface to The Dharma Bums (The 50th anniversary hardcover edition. Yes. I own more than one copy.) on Thursday, and realized “Hey! March 12! That’s today!” It was a nice moment of serendipity. I really have no excuse for the fact that it took me two days to post about it, but somehow, I think Jack understands. He doesn’t seem like the sort to be really hung up on punctuality.
I started reading Kerouac sometime in high school. I read On the Road first, naturally, and loved it. It was The Dharma Bums though that really got me hooked. I grew up in a Buddhist household as a kid, and The Dharma Bums really brought home (so to speak) the sort of spirit of my childhood. I know that the book has served as a gateway to Buddhism for a lot of Americans (especially late adolescents), and it certainly sent me embarking on my own spiritual journey. It also fueled a flat out obsession with Kerouac, both as a person and as a writer. Since then, I’ve read just about everything he’s written and while I find some of it to be flat out bad, it never fails to inspire me.
I’ve also read all of his letters, his journals, and several biographies and he never fails to fascinate me. He’s just this guy. This very “guy next door” kind of guy who ended up, kind of accidentally, becoming the “spokes writer” for a generation. Before On the Road, he lamented that his work wasn’t published as he knew that it was better than a lot of the crap out there. After On the Road… he shied away from publicity. He wanted to be respected and known for his writing, not his political views or the sort of cultural cachet that he gained by being a “revolutionary.” Part of what led him down the road of alcoholism was his response to sudden fame and the desire to just drown it out… literally.
He’s not an entirely “lovable” guy. He was horrible in his relationships with women, and only met his daughter (whom he didn’t acknowledge until quite late in his life) once. Yet, he was always extremely devoted to his mother, and very loving towards his cats. He was a raging alcoholic and squandered his talent by drinking himself into an early grave. Yet, it was his passion for life that made him such a talented writer in the first place. He speaks of being attracted to the “mad ones, the burning ones” and that’s exactly what he was. Happy Birthday, Jack, you mad saint.
The only ones 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 Roman Candles exploding like spiders across the skies and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes awwwww!…
– On the Road