Jack Kerouac, Political activist
, Jazz Junkie
, and Beat Generation
Kerouac's biggest qualities early in life are depicted as a never ending zealot of life, a great traveler and poet, and Zen experimenter.
In his later years, he was described as a devout patriot full of Catholic narrow mindedness, struggling not to drown under his alcoholic enslavement.
The process it took to sling in the other direction is a process few can claim to experience. How did this great warrior of word and will allow for his own destruction?
Read on, true believers.
At an early age Jack was devoted closely to his mother, and forged relationships at every corner, his feverish extroversion enabled him to break the usual barrier of what was and wasn't socially acceptable.
He won a football scholarship into the same college that Allen Ginsberg would attend four years later, inevitably dropped out due to quarrels with the coach and personal stress, and embarked on a hastily journey through a couple flavorful jobs, first trying and failing in the military (during the time of World War II), he then took it up with the merchant marines.
Kerouac worked the job for at least 4 years, and still remained in the Columbia University area. When Allen Ginsberg started classes there, they eventually met up. The irony is that Jack's intuition of Homosexual left-wingers was supplied from his parents, and given the relationship with his mother suggests he was more inclined to crucify the young poet than befriend him. (Prehaps we can contribute Kerouac's open-mindedess on the matter to the disappointment and contempt his held toward his father, who failed in his life's business).
"Allen walked into the living room to find Jack sprawling in the armchair, and trying to make an impression, looked at him with shining black eyes and confided in a deep voice, "Discretion is the better part of valor." Instead of finding this funny, Jack replied, "Aw, shut up, you little twitch," turning away to yell at Edie, "Aw, where's my food!" "
Ann Charters, 'Kerouac'
Lucien Carr, a friend and Juxtaposer of the two, also introduced them to William Burroughs, who at the time was already engulfed in his drug splurging.
When Kerouac was introduced to Neal Cassady two years later, it marked the beginning of the epic road trips which, when strung together, create 'On the Road' (in the book 'On The Road', Neal Cassady's character is Dean Moriarty). Hal Chase (Chad King in the novel) is a friend of the two, and Kerouac is introduced to Neal at this point.
It is important to note the chemical reaction between Neal and Jack. Neal is a street bum, thief, and con-artist, heavily enthused with life and always looking for a good time. Though Neal was always willing to con his friends, he never did so for more then a few bucks or a good time together.
For Kerouac, the con was for Jack to teach him how write. At the time, Kerouac's style was a studious display of Thomas Wolfe, his favorite author. However, it would be Neal who did the teaching.
As Kerouac's journeys with Neal increased, so did his literary vision. Kerouac began to for see a way of writing much like how Neal talked and acted- with little need for syntax, or deep thought, just a lot of hustle, action, and life. Most of the credit can be found in Neal's letters to Kerouac through the years.
The 2nd of his three greatest novels (canon wise, to not insult the wonderful taste of our devout Kerouacees) was 'The Dharma Bums', a novel on the great American Zen journey. Like 'On The Road''s Neal Cassady, 'The Dharma Bums' had Gary Snyder, a Zen Buddhist with a more subtle zeal of the world around him. Kerouac would meet the fellow hipser on the night of the Legendary 6 (which appears as the starting of the novel), and from there spend countless times in the mountains before Snyder would head out toward Japan for a grand trip.
At this time Kerouac started to hit his decline. Many media mongers latched to Jack's old vision of the great Beatnik revolution, expecting him to snap into the mind set of an idol, which Jack felt unjust for his peers, and stoic for himself. The spokesperson title prohibited many authors from taking Jack seriously, and rubbed off on him to create a sadder, lonelier man. He began drinking profusely, rejecting his older ideals for a sense of security, and his writing edge for excessive womanizing (to not do him wrong, he was always a sour ladies' man). He failed Buddhism and retreated back to Catholicism.
1961, near the beginning of the Beat-Hippie conversion, Kerouac attempted a recover with the novel Big Sur, his last great (canon) work. The novel traced the pieces of his past in a sordid reality fireball and collapsed in self-destruction. His final bout, though a fiery one, was just that- final.
Jack Kerouac retreated back to his mother in the end, moving back into the home, his father dead (shortly before Neal Cassady and he met for the first time), patriotism painted on his face, and a reverent believe in the Christian God. His political conservation at this time (and the rest) was upsetting to his Beatnik persona and friends, who though would stay his friends, did not always stay dear.
Kerouac still clung to parts of his old self, however. Although he was proudly against the Hippie movement (even confronting Ginsberg at one point), his Buddhist activities were injected into his blood, and his brand of "God". He considered all his old friends still old friends, and though his spirit may seem displaced and dim, chances are it was not fully put out by those around him.
Divorced twice in his life, his final wife, Stella Sampas, and old friend of his, held through to the end, helping around the house as his mother grew old.
He died an alcoholic's death (and a painful one at that) at 47.
1922-1969: Just old enough to create a generation he loved, and to battle one he hated.
Then it's goodbye
Girls arent as good
As they look
Than you think
When it starts in
Hitting your head
In with Buzz
We've been waiting for you
` Since morning, Jack
` -Why were you so long
` Dallying in the sooty room?
` This Transcendental Brilliance
` Is the better part
` (Of Nothingness
` I sing)
Jack Kerouac, taken from "Bowery Blues"