Saturday, September 1, 2007

"On The Road" Celebrates 50 Years In Print!

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Jack Kerouac’s legendary novel “On the Road.”

Kerouac didn’t write autobiography exactly. But he wrote about people. Places and things that he had experienced, imagined, fantasized, reconstituted, and hallucinated in a new bold style that he called “spontaneous bop prosody.” He wanted his writing to be created using the same thought and feeling that fueled bop jazz musicians.

Be spontaneous.
Do variations on themes.
Explore diverse harmonics
Never edit.
Never rewrite.
Just Go! Go! Go!

Kerouac himself wrote:
“...I was originating (without knowing it, you say?) a new way of writing about life, no fiction, no craft, no revising afterthoughts, the heartbreaking discipline of the veritable fire ordeal where you can't go back but have made the vow of 'speak now or forever hold your tongue' and all of it innocent go-ahead confession, the discipline of making the mind the slave of the tongue with no chance to lie or re elaborate...”

I’ve long thought that much of the 24-hour comic exercise is a variation on the spontaneous bop prosody theme.
Kerouac didn’t even want to pause to change sheets of paper in his typewriter, so he started writing on teletype paper creating his novels in long scrolls. The picture above is the original manuscript of “On the Road” written in 1951. It is 120 feet long spliced together with tape and reportedly contains no paragraph breaks.
I think I read “On the Road” for the first time during my senior year in High School in the late winter of 1969. I liked the book and although it didn’t really blow me away it did make a definite impression on me.
Enough of an impression that the following year, during my freshman year in art school, when I read “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” I understood the significance of the Dean Moriarty character being based on Neal Cassady. I found it intriguing but didn’t explore it any further.
The following year, however, my friends and I started reading Kerouac in earnest. Not just “On the Road” but “The Town and the City,” Big Sur,” “The Subterraneans,” “Maggie Cassidy,” “Desolation Angels and ”Dr Sax.”
I liked some and a few were too complex for me to digest at the time, particularly “Dr Sax.” Kerouac’s prose in that novel was just too dense for my youthful brain power at the time.
Many years later, in the early 1980s, in a book store, I stumbled across a paperback edition of “Jack’s Book.” It was an oral history of Kerouac’s life and work by the people who knew him. These spellbinding first hand accounts rekindled my interest in Kerouac.
An keen interest.
Maybe it was because anecdotes in “Jack’s Book” offered up a sort of decryption key to stories he was telling.
Maybe because I was older and actually was equipped to understand the things he was writing about.

Maybe it was because, at that point in my life, I had learned how to read and appreciate more complex and challenging works than I was capable of at age twenty.
I don’t know for sure.
But I discovered that books like “Dr Sax” that I had previously found almost dense to the point of being incomprehensible now resonated with great clarity inside my imagination.
I’m going to write more about “Dr Sax” sometime in the next few weeks and how it influenced a certain Beanworld story I was working on at the time.

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