He couldn’t drive. Never learned. That’s what I call a fun fact!
*On the Road
was the inspiring story of two bopcat blood-brother hipsters searching for the high mystic NOW of the thousand-petaled American holy night, armed only with vows of innocence, poverty, fast cars, benzedrine, booze and hookers, and not letting a gaggle of clingy females like wives and their babies or anybody’s mother stop them for a single second. Well, okay, sometimes the old ball and chain did put a chill on the proceedings with another outburst of possessiveness and just not getting IT and not understanding the wild holiness of the ROAD and the ultimate necessary need to drive two thousand miles NOW in order to have inane conversations with very similar people to the ones at the other end but without that drive how could you find Buddha on the road and how could you drive right over him and kill the fat old bastard while scatting a Charlie Parker solo and feeling up a fifteen year old hitchhiker? You couldn’t, is all. So drive, he said. Into the amoral forgiving violent American night. And when you’ve run out of gas, type. Type like a madman. Type like Satan is at the door.
His life had a peculiar shape : born 1922, high school football star, went to Columbia, dropped out, bummed around, wrote The Town and the City
which took about 8 years to get published, he was 28. But then – nothing
for another seven years, during which time he did all the hectic running around and typing and retyping and writing many unpublished novels and finally On the Road
, 1957 when he was 35.
After which, the deluge : 15 more books published in the next seven years, sometimes three a year.
After that, the classic drunkard’s death at the age of 47.
God Loves a Drunk: by Richard Thompson
Will there be any bartenders up there in heaven?
Will the pubs never close? Will the glass never drain?
No more DTs and no shakes and no horrors
The very next morning, you feel right as rain
'Cause God loves a drunk, lowest of men
Like the dogs in the street and the pigs in the pen
But a drunk's only trying to get free of his body
And soar like an eagle high up there in heaven
His shouts and his curses they are just hymns and praises
To kick-start his mind now and then
O God loves a drunk, come raise up your glasses, amen
Does God really care for your life in the suburbs?
Your dull little life full of dull little things
And bring up the babies to be just like daddy
And maybe I'll be there when he gives out the wings
But God loves a drunk, although he's a fool
Oh he wets in his pants and he falls off his stool
And he can't hear the insults, and whispers go by him
As he leans in the doorway and he sings sally racket
He can't feel the cold rain beat down on his body
And soak through his clothes to the skin
O God loves a drunk, come raise up your glasses, amen
Will there be any pen-pushers up there in heaven?
Does crawling and wage-slaving win you God's love?
I pity you worms with your semis and pensions
If you think that'll get you to the kingdom above
Oh God loves a drunk, although he's a clown
Oh you can't help but laugh as he gags and falls down
But he don't give a curse for what people think of him
He screams at his demons alone in the darkness
He's staying alive for just one more pint bottle
Won't you throw him a few pennies, friend?
Ah God loves a drunk, for ever and ever, amen
This was Kerouac, 1965-1969
Our biographer has two overwhelming qualities. Firstly, a scrupulous non-judgemental non-editorialising attitude towards his hipster boys. This is probably a good thing. But sometimes, I – uh, well – er…. See what you think:
The letter told of the unimaginable series of misfortunes Neal had endured since early frebruary, when he had broken his thumb attempting to punch LuAnn. Permanently in love with her, he had been tortured watching her pass from man to man, and finally he had attempted to beat her into submission, but his fist missed her forehead and struck the wall instead. P286
A Mexican boy named Gregorio rolled them huge “bombers” of potent marijuana and led them to a whorehouse full of twelve-year old girls. All afternoon Jack, Neal and Frank danced the mambo and took turns with the girls. P323
Although Carolyn was pregnant with their third child, Neal assured Jack that this time she would welcome him and might even – after giving birth – participate in a few orgies. P354
He gave up his pretensions to asceticism as he returned gaily to his fifteen-year-old prostitutes p 533
Irritated that Neal owed him $10, Jack chased him down in San Francisco but retrieved only $2, though Neal offered one of his spare women for the night. P553
Finding a beautiful girl in a bikini on the beach reading On the Road he asked “Is the book any good?”. But she wouldn’t believe he’d written it, and when he kept bothering her she called for the police who arrested him p654
Secondly, an inability to tell the wood from the trees - but JK may have said the wood IS the trees and discrimination is the lower western disassembled self speaking - so that most of this book is an avalanche of crabbed and sclerotic and interminable detail of conversations and what he thought about him her and it and what him her and it thought back or rather what he thought they thought and who went where and who didn’t and who shagged who and who couldn’t get it up and who got married to who and who left who two weeks later all this being done in a haze of marijuana and a blaze of bennies so not all that coherent but if it’s coherence you’re after Jack Kerouac is really really not your guy. Never was, never would be. For the holy mystic bopping NOW of the wild American hobo night, he’s your guy. For anything else, could be he was a stoner with a typewriter.
Here’s an incomprehensible zinger from page 28:He himself often spoke about his ideal of male beauty, which was embodied in Lucien Carr. Moreover, Jack’s bitterness towards women was something with which homosexuals could sympathise.
You like that one? How about this:Although the complexity of his behaviour in later years defies simple solutions, at least part of his reversion to his parents’ prejudice against blacks may have been due to his obsession with the idea that black men have larger penises. P589
Kerouac almost always got bad reviews. The critics hated him. Kenneth Rexroth, for instance, reviewing The Subterraneans
, said “it is not a bad book.. but it has all the essential ingredients of a bad book. The story is all about jazz and negroes. Now there are two things Jack knows nothing about – jazz and negroes.”
(Note - when they filmed it the black woman the white guy is having a romance with mysteriously or not so mysteriously changed into Leslie Caron, who may be many things but she was never black.)
I guess Gerald Nicosia had access to all of Kerouac’s journals in which he must have recorded every inane conversation, plus a zillion interviews with all his surviving cronies and exes, all of whom had perfect recall, and he then made a principled decision to believe everything and include everything because it was all true. This produces a bone-wearying sameness to all of Jack’s years from 1957 onwards. There’s a painful base of pure melancholia and depression from which Jack tries to escape by booze and fleeting relationships and a lot of pointless peregrination. Exhaustive and exhausting, gruelling and debilitating, after Memory Babe
you will never want to read another word about Jack Kerouac. He was a hillbilly scholar and a hokey saint… he was determined to blast out from his very heart all the garbage of the age, the processed shit with which fifties America was stuffed like a Christmas turkey – even if much of the time he was flipping or weeping, really weeping – to give his tortured andd grappling nation a voice, even though the job would kill him – he had taken it on anyway, and there was no reforming him now.