There are many things I don’t understand. Physics, how the average person can tolerate seeing or hearing Gwen Stefani without wanting to punch someone in the neck, and the weird, fanatical love lavished on Jack Kerouac’s On The Road.
Since this year marks the 50th anniversary of the book’s publication there’s been much ballyhoo about Kerouac and On the Road.
Let me get this out of the way, the book sucks. If you haven’t read it and feel like you’re missing out on some sort of cultural zeitgeisty, classic book, you’re not. The book really does suck. It’s a rambling stream-of-consciousness blow job Kerouac wrote for his friends (Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, etc.).
There’s an odd, romantic glow that surrounds the Beats and their fuck you, peyote, pinko-commie attitudes that defied the uptight vibe of the fifties. I can dig that. In fact I do dig that. I even have somewhat of a Ginsberg fetish, and when I was in college I could recite the first bits of “Howl” from memory:
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
connection to the starry dynamo in the machin-
ery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat
up smoking in the supernatural darkness of
cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities
And let me tell you, nothing impresses 22-year-old boys like a 6’5″ drunk girl spewing Allen Ginsberg lines. Oh yeah, baby. You want to hear me do “America“?
Sorry, I got sidetracked there which is apropos because, well, the topic is On the Road.
This is one of those books that so many people claim as one of their all-time favorites (along with The fucking Bell Jar, zzzzzzzz), that I often doubt myself. Maybe I am wrong? Maybe Jack Kerouac does know where it’s at.
But I’ve read the book three times, and I still can’t tell you what it’s about besides crazy, drug fueled road trips, and I think he said the prettiest girls in the world are from Iowa. That’s it. That’s how memorable it is. And, if I recall correctly, it’s not even a stunning writing achievement — I don’t often see it lauded for the beauty of its language.
I’ve struggled for years to understand the influence and enduring popularity of this book, and I think I might have figured it out.
It’s one of those books you read in college either for class or on your own because you’ve heard of it and seen that romantic Beat glow. And when you’re 22 what’s not to love about a book that’s all fuck-you we’re gonna go on wacky roadtrips and smoke pot? It’s rock and roll man.
Eventually all those 22-year-olds graduate, get grown-up jobs and kids and mortgages and a majority of them stop reading books that aren’t about boy wizards, but oh they always remember how much they connected with On the Road. So whenever anyone asks them what their favorite book is they turn to trusty On the Road, because it sounds way better then saying “I just don’t have time to read.”
And that, my friends is my theory on why On the Road has not waltzed off into the oblivion like it should. And if anyone tells me I really should give The Dharma Bums a shot, I will eviscerate them.