Tag Archives: Beat Generation

In the Rearview: The Road Back to Jack

Editor’s Note: The following review contains a quote from Jack Kerouac that may be offensive to some. However, it is used by the reviewer to capture a certain point of view from a certain place and time, not for shock value.

“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” ― Jack KerouacOn the Road

JACK KEROUAC published his most famous book in 1957. He had been working on it off and on for a few years, when he sat down and typed it all out in 3 weeks in 1951 on a 120-foot-long scroll. It would take him over 6 years to find a publisher. When he did find a publisher, they cut it, changed it, and cleaned it up for the Puritanical society of 1950’s America. On September 5, 1957, The New York Times published a glowing review and Kerouac became famous overnight.  Jack was a shy man and serious writer, and couldn’t handle the pressures of fame and drank himself to death in 12 years.

In 2007, this uncut version was published as it looked when Jack typed it out. No paragraphs or spaces between lines. I started reading this when it came out, but the print threw me off and I only made it through about 30 pages. How can a person who worships Kerouac as the greatest American Writer since Wolfe wait almost a decade to read this?  So now, with GLASSES and a will to move…FAST THIS TIME (the words Jack used to describe how he was going to tell his new novel.), I read this as fast as possible to get the feel of how Jack spewed it out onto paper.

I first read ON THE ROAD in my late 20’s around the same age as Jack was when he wrote it. It became my bible. So, I re-read it several times and through the years every year or two to get different perspectives as I age. Most people that I know who read it, have no desire to read it again. It is considered, much like Thomas Wolfe’s books (Jack’s favorite writer) to be a book for the youth. It is a book of youthful promise and WILD adventure that is sometimes criminal. But the way Jack tells it, it all seems to make sense. So, I’m almost 55, what am I doing reading this book now?

VISIONS AND GIRLS…and more?

“Somewhere along the line I knew there’d be girls, visions, everything; somewhere along the line the pearl would be handed to me.”

When my Great Aunt read OTR about 10 years ago, in her late 70’s, she gave me the one-line review, “it’s nothing but a lot of cross-country drinking, drugging, and screwing.”  On the surface yes. Isn’t that want most guys in their early twenties are seeking? But, Jack’s ramblings have a deeper aim. He knows he is a writer and for him that is a religious duty.

The Scroll version has vulgar language and uses the names of the actual persons instead of a pseudonym. Some of the Characters would go on to become very famous, such as Allen Ginsberg, Williams S. Burroughs, and Alfred Kinsey. Also, this version has a lot about homosexuals that 1950’s America was not ready for, even though Kinsey’s report in 1948 told us that over 1/3 of males had had at least one sexual experience with another male. That stuff, along with anything sexual, was supposed to stay in the closet or at least behind closed doors. Jack and his gang blow those doors off of their hinges.

But The Scroll is a purer text than the cleaned up version. It is what you tell your friend directly, but not the whole world. But because Jack had felt that God wanted him to “Go moan for man,” he is tell us all. The most controversial section of OTR wasn’t in the Scroll at all:

“At lilac evening I walked with every muscle aching among the lights of 27th and Welton in the Denver colored section, wishing I were a Negro, feeling that the best the white world had offered was not enough ecstasy for me, not enough life, joy, kicks, darkness, music, not enough night. I stopped at a little shack where a man sold hot red chili in paper containers; I bought some and ate it, strolling in the dark mysterious streets. I wished I were a Denver Mexican, or even a poor overworked Jap, anything but what I was so drearily, a “white man” disillusioned. All my life I’d had white ambitions.”

And this sums up what Jack is. He is looking for something on the road. Neal’s father? Religious Enlightenment? Girls? It is all there. And being a young, White, healthy male in 1950’s America it was his pearl to find.

But those fun kicks come with a weary price. And in this book you will find Joy and Sadness are but one taste.

MODERN LIBRARY rated On the Road as #55 in its 100 Best Novels. I would rate the Scroll even higher and as great as anything written at that time. It is a book (even more so than OTR) that preaches and practices NON-CONFORMITY, and as I age the more I get outside of society. It is also a book that preaches poverty for art’s sake or adventure’s sake. For better or for worse, this book in both versions, has had the most influence upon my life. I am not disillusioned and have no white ambitions at all.

Reviewed by Tom, Main Library

Bop Apocalypse by Martin Torgoff

 

 “HighI’m telling youhighWhat’s the law against being highWhat’s the use of not being highYou gonna be low?” — JACK KEROUAC, VISIONS OF CODY

This book, published in 2017, grew from the seeds of an earlier, and very good, book that Torgoff wrote titled Can’t Find My Way Home (2004). The title of the second chapter is the title of the current work.  It deals with his and America’s drug use after WWII to the end of the 20th century. But his current book is even better than that.

This is a book that I think everyone should read. From the subtitle one could think that Jazz and The Beats are ancient history, if they even know who the Beats were. Even a concise history of these for subjects could take up a few thousand pages, but Torgoff cooks it up boils it down to less than 350 remarkable pages. I’m a fan of modest chapters and he divides the 347 pages into 30 Chapters.

Each chapter bleeds into the next much like my remembrance of reading Grapes of Wrath. Both are books I didn’t want to put down.  These four subjects are intertwined so gracefully they seem like one couldn’t exist without the other and perhaps the apex of each couldn’t.  With race and drugs so much in the news and fabric of current everyday life, this was a perfect time for this book to appear.  Both the issues and conflicts of race and drugs have been around for centuries but it is the invention of Jazz that really brought both to the forefront in both.  Black musicians found a new freedom in Jazz and marijuana. But people of all colors and social strata were doing drugs, although race and position always played a part in how the legal apparatus handled the drug user.

What is great about this book is that you will meet all kinds of REAL CHARACTERS. Many are famous, but some you may not have heard of before. Members of the Underclass don’t get much notice unless it is a small article for an arrest or they get notoriety later for being a poet, musician, etc. With my background in The Beats and other outsiders, I had heard of most of the people, but even with the ones I knew, I learned many new things.

You get to meet:

And then there are the Jazz Geniuses:

You will find things about them you probably didn’t know unless you read tell all bios. Some of the things that are included in here about Billie Holliday are still messing with my mind. But I came away with a deeper love for her and Lester Young.

And the unknowns too:

  • Ruby Rosano is my favorite chick whose chapter 19 title is Blues for a Junkie Whore. When asked what was heroin like, she replied, “Like being back in your mother’s womb.  Like being in this place where nothing could ever touch you.”

My favorite (unknown, then known) hipster is in here too:

  • Herbert Huncke, the Original Beat who used the word Beat to mean down and out, tired, which he was. Kerouac picked up on that use of the word and added the Christian Beatific to it and coined the phrase BEAT GENERATION. It began as a small group of friends who were writers, and later became a sort of literary movement that had worldwide social significance.

All of the original Beats were drug users and most were Jazz lovers and they are here too.

And then there is the Greatest Enemy of them all:

Anyway, Just READ IT! You will thank me.

Reviewed by Tom, Main Library