Sunday, November 9, 2008

Prelude to Kerouac

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


Rick Dale, author of The Beat Handbook said...

Wow! A fellow Kerouac-obsessed blogger! My entire blog ( is devoted to Kerouac (in that it is devoted to my Kerouac-inspired book). I hope you'll check it out.

Good luck with your quest to read all his books in the order you suggest! I'm envious of your quest!

Rick Dale
Author of The Beat Handbook: 100 Days of Kerouactions

Kristin said...

It is a daunting task, and probably multi-year, but will be well worth it to finally read the works I haven't yte (like Visions of Cody and Big Sur) and to revisit old favorites.

I have actually heard of your book/seen it on amazon. The world needs all the Kerouac-related blogs it can get!

Rick Dale, author of The Beat Handbook said...

We agree - the more Kerouac blogs the better. I took the liberty of putting your blog URL on my blog. Feel free to do the same, but only IF YOU WISH! No pressure.

I read Big Sur but not Visions of Cody yet. Christmas is coming and I'm an EASY person to buy for (until I own ALL of Jack's books and books about him, which should take a while!).

Are you in Pennslvania? That's my home state - lived there 49 years.

Kristin said...

Yeah, I'm in PA. Where abouts were you from?

I'm really looking forward to Visions of Cody...In reading the book of interviewsEmpty Phantoms (which is FANTASTIC), Kerouac always talks it up. I tried to read it a few years ago but didn't get very far. I think it takes a lot of patience.

Rick Dale, author of The Beat Handbook said...

I grew up in Tioga County - Wellsboro to be exact.

Kristin said...

Wellsboro - awesome. I'm from Northumberland Co., but now I live across the river.

Mike B. said...

I first read Kerouac in 1995, when I was a sophomore in high school. My life hasn't been the same since. I've gone so far as to research our genealogies and I can pretty much pinpoint a date and time that our families, My great great grandfather and his grandfather, had shops on the same street in Nashua, NH.

Luckily I live about 30 miles from Lowell, so I've been able to go to the Lowell Celebrates Kerouac Festivals for the past 10 years and I currently collect Kerouac books.

I also completed my master's thesis from Emerson College (print journalism) on the resurgergence of Kerouac (2004)

Keep on reading and keep on writing.