Saturday, November 15, 2014
Jack Kerouac -- King of the Beats
I watched Kerouac: the King of the Beats, a documentary on Kerouac and 10 minutes of a movie based on K's novel Big Sur this morning, on Netflix. In the 60s I was a big Kerouac fan, read my first Kerouac novel as I was walking home from finding it in a second hand store. Got hooked instantly.
Loved the sense of the road--endless driving, looking for kicks. Drinking, smoking, talking beat, jazz, lonely geniuses looking to connect with lonely genuises.
This stayed with me for a long time. All the way to grad school until I got interested in Postmodernism and that put the nail to Kerouac's coffin.
But I loved Kerouac -- so after watching the film I went looking for my Kerouac novels and books. I had the full boat of books, but I couldn't find them. Not a one. Not On the Road. Not Subterraneans. Not Mexico City Blues. Nothing.
I even lookded through a bunch of boxes in the basement and found nothing.
I'm especially surprised by the disappearance of On the Road.
I taught it a bunch of times in the late 90s and early 00s, and it wasn't on the shelves with all the other books I've taught out of.
Teaching Kerouac was an interesting experience. It gave me a different sort of sense of him. When I was just reading him for kicks, I was taken with all the wild ride of Kerouac.
But teaching him I had to slow that down and think analytically/critically about him and what I found was that he appeared more troubled and more complex. His sense of the blues and jazz and connections with black and brown people came to seem more patronizing. And his sense of Dean Moriarty less accepting, more complex. Moriarty came across as more of an asshole. A guy you couldn't trust. I left the novel On the Road with a sense that Kerouac was hoping he was done with all of that beat stuff, that bohemian stuff.
By the way, most of the students didn't much go for Kerouac. A couple of guys in each class would like him but that was it. The whole possibility of the road didn't speak to most of the folks.
And that was true pretty much of the 60s as a whole. I thought a course on the rebellious lit of the 60s a couple of times, and the students kept saying that the rebellion felt flat, old, unimportant.
Anyway, I'm still looking for the Kerouac books.
They have to be hear somewhere.
I wouldn't mind reading On the Road again and seeing what a 66 year old would make of it that a 16 year old didn't.