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