A state of being "on tour", or away from home. Also called a Road Trip.

A state of being in which one is never or rarely where one expects him to be.

"On The Road" is the first published novel by Jack Kerouac that really sold in quantity.

Jack was the father of the Beat Generation. It is a semi autobiographical tale of his life with friend Neal Cassady as they criss crossed America. It had enormous impact on me. I did many trips on the west coast and a few across country as a result. For many years I was under the impression this was one long continuous piece of paper. It turns out it is 10 piece of paper, 12 feet long that were taped together with scotch tape which were passed through an old manual typewriter. Rejected by many publishers. It was written in 1951 and not published until 1957. It essentially put Kerouac in the public eye and sold very well. It made him an instant celebrity.

The book is listed as one of Modern Library's 100 Best Books: Fiction for the 20th Century.

Falls under the category of Books that will induce a mindfuck.

Remember: Travel changes your brain!

See:


Sources: Gruen, John, "The New Bohemia", a capella books, Chicago, 1990. Miles, Barry, "Jack Kerouac, King of the Beats", Henry Holt and Co., New York, 1998 Last Updated 05.20.03

Back in 1998, I was working as a freelancer for the first time in my life. I was afraid because I was unsure whether my congenital laziness would allow me to make a life of my work, and on the other hand I felt a nice sensation of freedom. I knew the first months were to be paramount to the success of my new life, so I decided to do something stupid. I had some money in the bank, and I wanted badly to attend E3 and the Computer Games Developer Conference (now Games Developer Conference, CGC). So I invented a project that involved a six week journey across the U.S.A., and a website that I would be constructing "on the road". I had already a website then, www.versvs.com (I am no longer the owner of the domain, some stupid robot from www.webhideout.com bought it this year), so I created VERSVS ON THE ROAD as a one month project inside my deeply intellectual website about videogames.

I had the money, but I had other problems to solve. First of all, Sonia, my significant other, wasn't very happy. Six weeks was a lot of time, and she was a bit jealous, because she loves travelling and it was going to be my first trip to the U.S.A., and what the hell, she wanted to go with me!. This was going to be difficult, as she works in the courts and it wasn't easy for her to get seven consecutive days off. But she did it, she had a week! Then I introduced a week worth of holidays in my trip.

Everything was taking shape... now I just needed a notebook, a digital camera and an Internet account with roaming capabilities in the U.S.A. As I was working for a computer magazine, I used my contacts to get the notebook, the camera, and I signed for a month with Netcom. I had mixed feelings again, I was happy, because everything was looking good, but the trip was going to put me in the red. So I started to sell articles like there was no tomorrow: reports from E3 and CGC, an article about Arizona and the Grand Canyon (Sonia and I were going to spend the first week travelling, doing tourism, then she would return to Barcelona and I would start the work in the CGC), and even an article where I explained how to travel and keep working at the same time. You can see the written results of that journey at http://www.antipasta.org/llocsvells/otr/index.html (Spanish only)

Although I spent much more money than I earn selling my articles, I learned a lot of things from this experience. For the first time in my life, I was alone, in a foreign country, with little money, but connected with my people through the net (for instance, I would send an e-mail to my sister, she would print it and hand it to my mother, or the torrid e-mails between Sonia and I). I defined, more than a year before it was becoming popular in Spain, the role and the equipment of a digital journalist. What was seen as a crazy thing then has put me, two years after, in a position where now I am being interviewed as a pioneer of digital journalism (where I just wanted to attend E3 and CGC).

Maybe some other day I would go into the details of the trip itself...

On the road is a book by Jack Kerouac, it is considered his finest work and he struggled through-out his life to recapture that spark.

The book was written and takes place after the turn of the century and is a semi-factual account of the author’s, in the guise of Sal Paradise, various travels across America. A strange mix of excitement, despair, love and loneliness, of friends passing each other in the night on their lonely pilgrimages across the country.

At other times it describes the simple pleasure of sleeping out or the way in which the pie got lighter and the ice-cream scoop larger the further south he travelled.

The book contains a strange collection of characters, from the party crowds of New York and the shuffling manic philosopher that is Carlo Marx, to the junkie Old Bull Lee happily married with two loving kids. It would probably be true to say that the focus of the novel is Dean Moriarty, described as a American hero-saint and an unholy innocent. We watch as he rushes across America desperate to absorb and take in every detail and experience. Driving at a 100 mph for days at a time, rushing from girl to girl, abandoning his friends in strange cities, and returning days later to pick them up and off they dash to new pastures.

We only see fragments of this unholy pilgrimage as Sal is seldom with Dean for long. You find yourself desperate for Sal to met up with him again so you can glimpse another snapshot of Dean's slow descent into madness and his “rebirth” in a almost angelic form. People view him almost like the local village drunk, a kind of fondness for this strange fixture, his obvious madness is accepted.

The final journey is a mad rush to Mexico city with Dean which ultimately ends in Sal being left behind as Dean U-turns on arrival and heads back to New York. The book is filled with a manic energy but at the same time a fragility as you know it can’t last forever and eventually reality must catch up. The ending leaves you wondering what will become of Dean and whether he can survive in this world.

I later found out that Neal Cassady (the person represented by Dean), went on to join the Merry Pranksters a major player in the acid movement. The book also contains some of the finest writings about music that I’ve read.

In summery I could call it a “fear and loathing in Las Vegas” with mad people instead of drugs but it doesn’t do it justice. I'd call it a study of friendship and longing, truly a great book.

On The Road (Home I'll Never Be)
performed by Tom Waits & Primus
From the album Jack Kerouac Reads: "On the Road" (Ryko)

Tom Waits and Primus recorded this track for a 1999 release of an album of remastered and remixed spoken word material by Jack Kerouac. Waits and Les Claypool of Primus had collaborated on a number of other tracks and projects, and the two were brought on by Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth (the Kerouac album's producer) to perform a reworked version of the song "On the Road". The song, based on a French Canadian folk song, was written by Kerouac, and performed by him. Waits reworked the lyrics and changed the music, and recorded the vocals, with Claypool providing backup-vocals, and Primus performing the instrumentation.

The song itself makes numerous references to the life of a transient during the heyday of the railroad era. Many of the towns and cities mentioned are Depression-era railroad hubs or crossroads. Others are local corruptions of the Indian (feathers, not dots) or Hispanic names of American cities and sites. The "plot" of the song, regarding a transient finding his father shortly before the old man dies, mirrors stories told by Kerouac about Neal Cassady, the hero of his saga the Myth of Duluoz.

The music is rolling and jangling, and gives every impression of being played around a campfire by a hobo with an out of tune guitar, or from the corner of an empty cross-country boxcar. Waits delivers the lyric with his trademark haggard gruffness, and does an excellent job of capturing the tone and emotion of the song. Think about it: if you were going to write a song about the life of a railroad-hopping drifter, who could you really pick to sing it other than Tom Waits?

Waits has performed the song live a number of times, and live recordings and alternative lyrics exist. A notable (and appropriate) performance of the song was at a memorial benefit for Allen Ginsberg, for instance.

Lyrics

Well, I left New York in nineteen forty-nine
To go across the country, without a dad-blame dime
Montana in the cold cold fall
I found my father in a gamblin’ hall

Father, father, where have you been?
I’ve been out in the world since I was only ten
Father, father, where have you been?
I’ve been out in the world since I was only ten

Don’t worry about me, about to die of pleurisy
Cross the Mississippi, cross the Tennessee
Cross the Niagara, home I’ll never be
Home in ol’ Medora, home in ol’ Truckee
Apalachicola, home I’ll never be
For better or for worse, or thick and thin
I’ve been married to the little woman
God he loves me, like I love him
I want you to do just the same for him
Well, the worms eat away
But don’t worry, watch the wind

So I left Montana on an old freight train
The night my father died in the cold cold rain
Rode to Opelousas, rode to Wounded Knee
Rode to Ogallala, home I’ll never be
Rode to Oklahoma, rode to El Cajon
Rode to old Tehatchapi, rode to San Antone

Hey! Hey!

Rode to Opelousas, rode to Wounded Knee
Rode to Ogallala, home I’ll never be
Rode to Oklahoma, rode to El Cajon
Rode to old Tehatchapi, rode to San Antone

Home I’ll never be
Home I’ll never be
Home I’ll never be
Home I’ll never be
Home I’ll never be
Home I’ll never be

The experience of reading Kerouac's On the Road was a familiar one. To begin with, everything about the book was interesting: the language, the characters, the setting. But as it went, you got the increasingly powerful sense that everything described was pointless. The desperation of it is captured by a line from the end of part three:

All the cigarette butts, the bottles, the matchbooks, the come and the gone were swept up in this pile. Had they taken me with it, Dean would never have seen me again. He would have had to roam the entire United States and look in every garbage pail from coast to coast before he found me embryonically convoluted among the rubbishes of my life, his life, and the life of everybody concerned and not concerned.
Nobody was really doing anything, and it wouldn't have mattered at all if everything described just hadn't happened - disconnected stories and disconnected lives. The constant hyperbole on the part of the narrator contributes to that sense that nothing fits together, that everything is the superlative form of its genre, and that every statement has no real relevance beyond the moment in which it is made.

Perhaps the most interesting thing was the sort of communal madness described between the characters: when they seemed to understand one another while exchanging stories and meanings that were opaque to everyone else. You have to wonder if there's anything to it, or whether both speakers and listeners are deluded about the content of their exchange. Whether they're just talking to themselves in insane tongues, prompted by the noises around them. It makes you wonder if whatever mechanism that clicks to one side or another in the brain, separating the plausible from the inaccessibly strange, actually operates according to some comprehensible logic, or just based on strings of obscure past cues and approximations.

I probably came to the book looking for the wrong thing, not a glimpse into a previous and mad generation but some kind of message for the present. I suppose most such messages end up being cautionary ones, about how lives can just whiz around infatuated with destructive madness. By the end, I was reading it much too quickly. I was sick of the road long before the characters were ever able to be.


This node is also a post on my blog, at: http://www.sindark.com/2006/05/11/on-the-road/

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