Like many Writer-Americans who ambled through late adolescence after 1957, I had my Jack Kerouac phase. I’d spend days drinking cheap port wine straight from the bottle, and nights shuffling stoned around the villages of lower Manhattan (though instead of jazz, my soundtrack was early-2000s garage rock revival & disco-punk). My copy of The Dharma Bums is probably more underlined than not-underlined. I considered Big Sur to be, along with Philip K. Dick’s VALIS and Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP, one of the most fascinating portraits of a man’s mind spinning out of control.
I never got around to criss-crossing the country, but I still hope to, someday.
While I’m not quite as enamored with Kerouac as I was back then, I don’t think he deserves all the bile his haters often spit upon him. Those haters like to toss up that famous Capote quote, how On the Road “isn’t writing, it’s typing,” as if that’s all the proof they need to dismiss Jack’s work. Sure, the guy could’ve used a stronger editor in some spots, to better shape his spontaneous riffage, but that’s more his editor’s fault. And anyway when Jack was on, he wasn’t just hacking shit. He was painting new shades of America’s soul in music and poetry, chill and exuberant and tragic and subversive.