"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!"."

1922-69 American Poet, author and philosopher of the Beat Generation

Perhaps the most significant thing about Jack is not the books, not the man himself, but the ideas, the memes that he set loose. It was a meme that launched a million trips. At times it seemed his life was one extended Road Trip. This was a time when cars first became affordable to the average person. "We bought a used car for $200, and set out for the west coast..."

He was born in the blue collar town of Lowell, Massachusetts.

He enrolled in Columbia University in Greenwich Village during World War II. He dropped out, but stayed in the neighborhood nearby where he met (through friend Lucian Carr); William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady. This constituted what became known as the Beat Generation which began in that nucleus of friends in New York City. They spent a lot of time listening to Jazz music. Jack was particularly fond of the music of Lester Young and Charlie Parker. They all spent a lot of time in the Jazz clubs in the Village, in those days you could see people like Parker for a small cover charge.

He spent some time as a merchant marine working on commercial vessels.

In 1947, he took his first trip he hitch-hiked to Denver to meet Neal Cassady, who would become the protagonist in two of Jack's books, Visions of Cody and On The Road.

He spent the early 50's writing one unpublished novel after another, carrying them around in a pack as he roamed back and forth across America.

He followed Ginsberg to San Francisco. There he met Lawrence Ferlinghetti and later, Gary Snyder. It was Snyder who introduced Jack to Buddhism. This became the basis for The Dharma Bums which had Snyder as the central character.

He went to Europe and also to visit Burroughs in Tangiers. There he found his old friend abusing heroin with abandon, and a huge pile of handwritten pages swirling on the floor. Jack gathered up all the pages, put them in order, gave the book the name Naked Lunch and strongly urged him to finish it. It later became a best seller.

He wrote (dates of publication):

He also wrote several books of poetry, the most famous of which is probably Mexico City Blues. He certainly did nothing to dispel the American alcoholic writer stereotype.

Related nodes:

Falls under the categories of Books that will induce a mindfuck and Books you loan out to expand friends' minds.

Remember, "Travel Changes your Brain"...

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 Waldman, Anne (ed.), "The BEAT BOOK: Poems and Fiction from the beat generation", Shambhala, Boston, 1996 Kerouac, Jack, "[The Dharma Bums|Dharma Bums, The, New American Library, New York, 1959 Last updated 05.14.04

Why Jack Kerouac never intended to spark anti-establishment fame...

I kind of liked him; not because he was a good sort, as he later proved to be, but because he was enthusiastic about things. - On the Road, Ch. 2.

Jack Kerouac is often confused with a wildly erotic, anarchic, aimless poet whose progeny became the Beat Generation.

Other E2 nodes (and write-ups in this node) may provide more in-depth history:

But I believe to actually credit the formation of the Beats, or the Generation, to Kerouac is unjust.

Kerouac Scholar Douglas Brinkley:
"If you read On the Road, it's a valentine to the United States," he says. "All this is pure poetry for almost a boy's love for his country that's just gushing in its adjectives and descriptions. You know, Kerouac used to say, 'Anybody can make Paris holy, but I can make Topeka holy.'"

And that's it. The essence of Kerouac is a love of life, existence, and the people who are mad to live:

"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!"."On The Road

"...I want to speak for things, for the crucifix I speak out, for the Star of Israel I speak out, for the divinist man who ever lived who was a German (Bach) I speak out, for sweet Mohammed I speak out, for Buddha I speak out, for Lao-tse and Chuang-tse I speak out, for D.T Suzuki I speak out...why should I attack what I love out of life. This is Beat. Live your lives out? Naw, love your lives out."Good Blonde and Others

But Kerouac kindled something much different from his fame. The Beat Generation followed, and he was credited as the Alpha Male. Kerouac disdained his inclusion with such authors as William S. Burroughs, and later distanced himself from the Beat political movement.

Kerouac was a devoted Roman Catholic despite his foray into Buddhism, and he found a role model in Boston's famous Ted Williams. He was a man who championed the average Joe; he never would have imagined his writings would become part of the foundation for political critique. Kerouac rebuked Ginsberg's claim that he wrote On The Road while motivated by Benzedrine, and accounts from close friends claimed he downed cup after cup of coffee instead. He did write in almost explosive outbursts, but his meticulous note-taking and cataloguing while traveling produced massive quantities of journals and passages he would compile into a text when he slowed for a week or two to pull his thoughts, and notes, together into products like On The Road. Kerouac's myth has become his legend. There is much more, or maybe you could say less, to the man we think started the Beat.

If true credit is to be conferred, the Cassady's, the Ginsberg's, and the Burroughs' of the world deserve the fame. They carried a torch they lit from their Muse: Kerouac, and in turn Kerouac's Muses: Charlie Parker and the American open-road.

Claiming Kerouac as the father of a generation, or maybe even to consider him a Beat, is to do his legacy injustice. What he did was contagiously describe the feeling of free-movement through a world that has so much more to offer than can be photographed in a lifetime. Kerouac knew this, and it drove him to wanderlust. He couldn't sit still for long enough to claim anywhere "home." Maybe that's really what killed him?


  • NPR's "Present at the Creation: Jack Kerouac," http://www.npr.org/programs/morning/features/patc/ontheroad/
  • Jack Kerouac's On The Road. Published 1957.
  • CNN.com Book Review: Douglas Brinkley. http://www.cnn.com/books/news/9811/09/kerouac/
  • Ken Layne Online Journal: http://www.kenlayne.com/2000/2001_05_06_logarc.html

One major overlooked aspect of Jack Kerouac was his fantasy baseball league, which he adopted at the age of 12 and maintained until his death in 1969.

Born in Massachusetts to French Canadians, Kerouac elected early on to participate in one of the great American immigrant experiences of the 1930s: that of baseball.

Yet Kerouac was no ordinary fan. Years before his famous novels inspired an entire generation, Kerouac delved into a world so vivid, so holistic, and so engulfing, that the fact that so little remains of it on paper - most of it disappearing with its creator - is heartbreaking.

Recruiting real baseball players (Lou Gehrig), notables of the day (Pancho Villa), and plenty of fictional players, Kerouac filled up his league, and then set about with the most remarkable game.

Throwing marbles, toothpicks, and homemade dice against a wall 40 feet away, Kerouac would dutifully record the results, and then analyze a collection of 25 handwritten cards to see the result - of each pitch. Everything was accounted for, from foul tips to passed balls to sinking liners in shallow right field.

He diligently produced game after game, and occasionally wrote newsletters for the result (which he gave to his mother) which explained the day's or week's games in an exaggerated Ring Lardner style, the custom writing ideal of the day.

It is said that after Kerouac moved to Mexico City, he would play the game every day, never writing down the results. He would just sit and roll the dice and grunt and peer at his cards and nod or smile, keeping track of an imaginary team playing an imaginary game for the ages.

Tolkien had his Silmarillion; Lewis Carroll his Wonderland; and Kerouac had his Summer League.

All of Mr. Kerouac's fantasy baseball literature (including several of the newsletters, his handwritten cards, and some of his childhood baseball cards) can be found at the New York Public Library, along with many of Mr. Kerouac's correspondence, manuscripts, and other memorabilia.

Jack Kerouac, Political activist, Jazz Junkie, and Beat Generation friend.

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 Sangsara
For me
Girls arent as good
As they look
And Samadhi
Is better
Than you think
When it starts in
Hitting your head
In with Buzz
Of glittergold
Heaven's Angles
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"

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.