Whenever my life starts to get chaotic, I turn to Keroauc. I don’t know why. It started in ’97 when my best friend died. I had purchased On the Road a few years prior…probably ’95. I had read an article about R.E.M. where they asked each band member what their favorite books were. Both Michael Stipe and Peter Buck answered On the Road. Peter Buck said he read it every year between the ages of 14 and 27. Michael Stipe said it was the only book he had ever read twice. This was when I was in love with Michael Stipe. Obviously I had to read it. When I really like someone, I want to immerse myself in their influences – music, books, art, whatever. I guess that I know I can find myself in the books I read, the movies I watch, the music I listen to…so why can’t I find other people in their books and movies and music as well? Anyway, I’m getting off track.
I tried to read On the Road a few times, and didn’t get very far. Sometimes a book needs to hit at the right moment or it’s just not going to work. I picked it up again in ’97. And that was the right place, right time. I was 16 years old, and what better book to read when you’re 16? It was perfect. I was completely blown away by everything about it. And in some way, I probably fell in love with Kerouac because I started to do the stuff that I do when I like somebody – I follow their influences. Kerouac referenced a Billie Holiday song…I had to track down the song. I had to track down Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk. I was reading the books he read, listening to the music he listened to (and raiding my grandfather's record collection in the mean time), watching the movies he saw, etc. It’s become almost a life-long project, because 11 years later, I’m still doing the same thing. I had always been a strange kid, but now I was the 16-year-old listening to jazz and reading Thomas Wolf and William S. Burroughs. On the Road, for me, became THE BOOK. It still is.
And then Amy died. We met when we were 6 or 7 and had been inseparable ever since. We were the weird kids together. We sometimes even dressed alike…yeah, even when we were 14, 15, 16 we were still coordinating outfits. "Let’s both wear the same t-shirt on the same day and paint our fingernails black…" At one point in time this might have been what everybody did, but not then. This was when Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys were popular. We dated guys who were also best friends, and “cruised” around town blasting White Zombie, hanging out in cemeteries after dark, driving over the railroad tracks too fast in Jeremy’s Geo…sometimes with his younger brother in the trunk section (it was a hatchback) because there wasn’t enough room for us all.
She died, and my first impulse was to go back to On the Road. I had read it for the first time only maybe 2 months before, and already it had taken on that role in my life. It has served that role ever since.
As I started out saying, whenever there’s chaos, that’s where I go to. When things don't seem right, when things aren't going right, I always find my way back to Kerouac. When there is frustration, sadness, upheaval, there is Jack.
I started last Friday night by going to the “Kerouac” shelf – he has his own shelf – and pretty much pulling everything off…his biographies, letters, journals, books of photographs, books of essays about him, in addition to his novels. I finally have the motivation to work on a project I have been planning for a long time: read all Kerouac’s novels in chronological order of the time period in his life he was writing about - not in the order they were published, which would be a different way to look at them…the development of his life versus the development of his writing style (for better or worse).
First up: Visions of Gerard