Yes, again with the Kerouac. Thing is, I’ve just read the last of his books available in the county library that I haven’t already read. ‘Available’ is an interesting word, as Kerouac is one of those writers, like Hunter Thompson, whose work tends to get stolen. Anyway, I’ve been waiting for a while for this one (actually two) to become available, and yesterday I read the whole thing (things).
I get on these kicks, you know: a Kerouac kick, a Twain kick. It can be terribly instructive to look at a body of work as a whole, and to see the lesser-known stuff. But why Kerouac? Known as a discoverer of America, a good friend of mine feels very strongly that what Kerouac shows is anything but America. He zooms from New York to San Francisco to Mexico City, treating most of the rest of the continent as a vast flyover state, taking snapshots, yes, but also viewing much of it with contempt. My friend picks out, for example, the scene (in On the Road, I believe) in which Jack and his crew cleverly manage to steal a tank of gas while the owner of the gas station and his family are occupied with their dinner. Those people, simple folks going about their lives, don’t matter; it’s okay to steal from them as long as it helps you and your hepcat pals down the road.
Fact is, Jack and Co. were users in the worst way. In one of Jack’s books (sorry – they tend to run together) Neal Cassady is always talking about how the rear end of some car they’re tooling around in will go out some day. When we eventually see Neal without the car, it having finally broken down, Jack is impressed as hell that his hero was so right. Well, why didn’t he get it fixed, then? Certainly would have been cheaper than buying a new one, but then the great Neal Cassady didn’t buy cars; he stole them and wrecked them, or borrowed them and wrecked them.
Which is a small part of why I had to laugh out loud when I read that Jack, in Satori in Paris, stranded in Brittany late at night through his own foolishness, went running to the gendarmes because he was afraid that some of the French hepcats roaming the night might want to lift his wallet. He hadn’t been threatened, mind you, but was simply intimidated by the sight of guys loafing around the sidewalks and zooming around in cars.
He tells us that he doesn’t actually know what his satori in Paris was, though he’s sure he’s had one. I can think of any number of them that he might have had, but now that he can afford jet travel and first-class train tickets he’s – surprise! – even more self-righteous and insufferable than he was when he was a bum.
And sententious? How about this, as an explanation of why he only writes autobiography:
. . . made-up stories and romances about what would happen IF are for children and adult cretins.
The other ‘novel’ included in the volume is a thing called Pic which, to be fair, I should note was only published after his death. It’s a made-up story or romance about what would happen IF certain things happened to an eleven-year-old black boy from North Carolina. It’s pretty bad.
So why do I read so much Kerouac? Well, he succeeded in shaking up the world of literature, which, take it from me, is not an easy thing to do. He gave the rest of a lot of useful tools. He did manage to show us something about America, or at least a part of it. And even though when he was bad he could be horrid, when he was good, he was very, very good.