On The Road - Revisited
On The Road - by Jack Kerouac - The Original Scroll
In this era of "director's cuts", sequels, mash-ups and deconstructions, there seem to be no end the the number of versions of art, performance and literary works. When the original manuscript of Kerouac's breakthrough novel was published this summer, it seemed a logical choice for my summer reading list. This is the legendary 120 foot-long scroll that Jack produced in three weeks in 1951. It is, with the real names of its characters restored, a non-fiction novel chronicling the road adventures of Kerouac and his "lost brother" Neal Cassady, with appearances by William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. It is a book of poetry and evil.
It seems that each new generation discovers this book, and a significant segment of them (the young men at least) emulate it. The whole "hippie" movement was kickstarted by this ethos-deprived saga; the idea of a search as an end in itself, without goals or consequences (which Kerouac lived to see and despise) would, at the minimum distract or, at the worst, destroy, the lives of millions. (Not that I'm not guilty of that!)
The writing, in a "stream of consciousness" style has been often copied (I'm guilty of that as well!) but seldom equaled. This version really rolls, just like Cassady's '49 Hudson, with neither chapters nor paragraphs to slow the momentum. The story is one of sadness, a tale of Jacks's longing for Neal, and the illusion of freedom Neal espouses.
It is almost a handbook on how to disconnect from humanity- furtive sex, drinking, drugs (guilty, guilty, guilty!) and because the road is main idea, there is no connection, no growth, only the next ride out of town.
Jack never grew up. He died at 47, of complications of alcoholism, still living with his mother.