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Jack Kerouac

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Jack Kerouac (March 12, 1922October 21, 1969) was an American novelist, writer, poet, artist, and one of the most prominent members of the Beat Generation. His writings, most of which were autobiographical, revolved most of the time around his own adventures throughout the world, and also around some of his own ponderings and reflections that ensued during the course of his life.

Most of his life was spent in the vast landscapes of America and with the people that live among them. Faced with a fast-changing America, Kerouac sought to find his place in this climate and tried to effect a change, bringing him to reject the values of the fifties that celebrated growing consumerism and the new suburban lifestyle, among many other things. His writings actually often reflect a profound desire to break free from society's mold and to try to find a deeper meaning to life, which is perhaps what caused him eventually to start experimenting with drugs (e.g. he once tried psilocybin with Timothy Leary), to study spiritual teachings such as those offered by Buddhism, and to embark on numerous trips throughout the world. His books are also sometimes credited as having contributed in sparking the counterculture of the 1960s.

Contents

Biography

Early years

Born Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac, in Lowell, Massachusetts, to a family of Franco-Americans. His parents, Leo-Alcide Kerouac and Gabrielle-Ange Lvesque, were natives of the province of Quebec in Canada. Like many other Quebecers of their generation, the Lvesques and Kerouacs emigrated to New England to find employment. Jack didn't start to learn English until the age of six. At home, he and his family spoke Quebec French. At an early age, he was profoundly marked by the death of his elder brother Grard, later prompting him to write the book Visions of Gerard.

Later, his athletic prowess led him to become a star on his local football team, and this achievement earned him scholarships to Boston College and Columbia University in New York. He entered Columbia after spending the scholarships required year at Horace Mann School. It was in New York that Kerouac met the people whom he was to journey around the world with, and return to write about: the so-called Beat Generation, which included people like Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady and William S. Burroughs. After breaking his leg and arguing with his coach, his football scholarship did not pan out, so Kerouac left to join the Merchant Marine in 1942. In 1943, he joined the United States Navy but discharged during World War II on psychiatric grounds.

Later years

In between his sea voyages, Kerouac stayed in New York with his friends from Columbia. He started writing his first novel, called The Town and the City, which was published in 1950 and earned him some respect as a writer.

Kerouac wrote constantly, despite not publishing another novel until 1957 when On the Road, published by Viking Press, finally appeared in print. From the point of view of the character Sal Paradise, this mostly autobiographical work of fiction dealt with his roadtrip adventures across the United States and into Mexico with Neal Cassady (represented as Dean Moriarty). In a way, the story is an offspring of Mark Twain's classic Huckleberry Finn, though in On the Road the narrator (Sal Paradise) is twice Huck's age, and Kerouac's story is set in the America of about a hundred years after. The novel is often described as the defining work of the post-World War II jazz-, poetry-, and drug-affected Beat Generation and earned him the right to be noted as the stereotypical king of the beat generation. Allegedly using Benzedrine and coffee, Kerouac wrote the entire novel in only two weeks in an extended session of spontaneous prose, or stream of consciousness. This style of writing was heavily influenced by Kerouac's appreciation for the improvisational nature of American Jazz music. Kerouac was hailed as a major American writer, and reluctantly as the voice of the Beat Generation.

His friendship with Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and George Whitman, among others, defined a generation. Kerouac also wrote and narrated a "Beat" movie titled Pull My Daisy in 1958.

In 1954, Kerouac discovered Dwight Goddard's A Buddhist Bible at the San Jose Library, which then marked the beginning of his studies of Buddhism and his own personal quest for enlightenment. He chronicled parts of this, as well as some of his adventures with Gary Snyder, in the book "The Dharma Bums", set in Northern California and published in 1958. Kerouac developed something of a friendship with the scholar Alan Watts (cryptically named Arthur Wayne in Kerouac's novel Big Sur, and Alex Aums in Desolation Angels). He also met and had discussions with the famous Japanese Zen Buddhist authority D.T. Suzuki. At some point in his life Kerouac wrote Wake Up, a biography of Siddhartha Gautama (better known as the Buddha) that remains unpublished.

Kerouac died prior to finishing his "Duluoz Legend" project, which exists only as an incomplete autobiographical manuscript.

Death and afterwards

House in , where Jack Kerouac lived with his mother in his last years.
Enlarge
House in Winter Park, Florida, where Jack Kerouac lived with his mother in his last years.

He died on October 21, 1969 at St. Anthony's Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida from an internal hemorrhage at the age of 47, the unfortunate result of a life of heavy drinking, seen by some as a way to overcome his shyness. He was living at the time with his third wife Stella, and his mother Gabrielle. He is buried in his home town of Lowell.

A DVD entitled "Kerouac: King of the Beats" features several minutes of his appearance on Firing Line, William F. Buckley's television show, during Kerouac's later years when alcoholism had taken control. He is seen often incoherent and very drunk.

Books also continue to be published that were written by Kerouac, many unfinished by him. A book of his haikus and dreams also were published, giving interesting insight into how his mind worked.

In August 2001, most of his letters, journals, notebooks and manuscripts were sold to the New York Public Library for an undisclosed sum. Presently, Douglas Brinkley has exclusive access to parts of this archive until 2005. The first collection of edited journals, Wind Blown World, was published in 2004.

His Influence on the World

  • He is considered by some as the "Father of the Hippies".
  • The progressive rock group King Crimson paid tribute to Jack Kerouac and his works with their album "Beat", which contained songs "Neal and Jack and me" and "Satori in Tangier". A couple of other musicians also have songs talking about Kerouac, such as 10,000 Maniacs with "Hey Jack Kerouac", Allan Taylor with "Kerouac's Dream", Subincision with "(I Want to Be Jack) Kerouac", as well as Hot Sauce Johnson and Rusted Root with "Jack Kerouac". His book On the Road is also referenced by the rock group Our Lady Peace in their song "All for You" and by the emo band Spitalfield in their song "I Loved The Way She Said L.A.". Musicians from Quebec also dedicated songs to him, such as Sylvain Lelivre with "Kerouac", and Richard Sguin with "L'Ange Vagabond" (Vagabond Angel).
  • In an episode of the TV show 3rd Rock from the Sun, now that high school's over for him, Tommy wants to follow the lead of Jack Kerouac and hit the road. Later, he actually decides he's ready to go to college, and Harry suggests maybe he can study Kerouac.
  • In episode 040 "Rebel Without a Clue" of the TV show Quantum Leap, Sam visits Kerouac in Big Sur during his time travels, in order to prevent a motorcycle gang leader's girlfriend from being killed.
  • In one episode of the short-lived television show Freaks and Geeks, Lindsay's class has to write an essay on "On the Road", and Lindsay disagrees with the teacher about the best interpretation of the work.
  • In the Jawbreaker song "Boxcar" singer Blake Schwartzenbach sings the lines "You don't know what I'm all about / like killing cops and reading Kerouac". The songtitle could also be seen as a reference to "On The Road".
  • Actor Johnny Depp supposedly paid US$15,000 for a raincoat that Kerouac owned.

Published works

Kerouac's most familiar work is On the Road. During his years of rejection by publishers, he wrote a number of mostly autobiographical books, some of which he carried around in manuscript form in his rucksack. His body of work includes:

Kerouac's writings maintain a sense of urgency while embarking on a journey during which he explores the society surrounding him by mystifying those experiences. Kerouac's writings contained a social and sexual recklessness (and descriptions of quasi-criminal activities) that surprised and upset readers at the time they were published.

There is a book featuring much of Jack's early writings when he was first beginning as a writer, entitled Atop an Underwood. A journal of some his dreams was also published after his death, in a book called Book of Dreams.


Quotes

  • "I want to work in revelations, not just spin silly tales for money. I want to fish as deep down as possible into my own subconscious in the belief that once that far down, everyone will understand because they are the same that far down."
-- Jack Kerouac
  • "If you're working with words, it's got to be poetry. I grew up with [the books of Jack] Kerouac. If he hadn't wrote On The Road, the Doors would have never existed. Morrison read On The Road down in Florida, and I read it in Chicago. That sense of freedom, spirituality, and intellectuality in On The Road — that's what I wanted in my own work."
-- Ray Manzarek, The Doors' keyboard player
  • "I read On the Road in maybe 1959. It changed my life like it changed everyone else's."
-- Bob Dylan
  • "Once when Kerouac was high on psychedelics with Timothy Leary, he looked out the window and said, 'Walking on water wasn't built in a day.' Our goal was to save the planet and alter human consciousness. That will take a long time, if it happens at all."
-- Allen Ginsberg
  • "The world that [Kerouac] trembling stepped out into in that decade was a bitter, gray one".
-- Michael McClure, San Francisco poet
  • Kerouac was "locked in the Cold War and the first Asian debacle" in "the gray, chill, militaristic silence, [...] the intellective void [...] the spiritual drabness".
-- Michael McClure, San Francisco poet
-- more (http://www.quotationsbook.com/authors/4010/Kerouac_Jack)

Further readings

  • Amburm, Ellis. "Subterranean Kerouac: The Hidden Life of Jack Kerouac". St. Martin's Press, 1999. ISBN 0312206771
  • Amram, David. "Offbeat: Collaborating with Kerouac". Thunder's Mouth Press, 2002.ISBN 1560253622
  • Bartlett, Lee, (ed.) "The Beats: Essays in Criticism". London: McFarland, 1981.
  • Charters, Ann, "Kerouac". San Francisco: Straight Arrow Books, 1973.
  • Charters, Ann, (ed.) "The Portable Beat Reader". New York: Penguin, 1992.
  • Charters, Ann, (ed.) "The Portable Jack Kerouac". New York: Penguin, 1995.
  • French, Warren, "Jack Kerouac". Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1986.
  • Goldstein, N.W., "Kerouac's On the Road." Explicator 50.1. 1991.
  • Hunt, Tim, "Kerouac's Crooked Road". Hamden: Archon Books, 1981.
  • Johnson, Joyce. "Minor Characters: A Young Woman's Coming-Of-Age in the Beat Orbit of Jack Kerouac". Penguin Books, 1999.
  • Johnson, Ronna C., "You're Putting Me On: Jack Kerouac and the Postmodern Emergence". College Literature. 27.1 2000.
  • Jones, James T., "Jack Kerouac's Duluoz Legend". Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1999.
  • Maher Jr., Paul. "Kerouac: The Definitive Biography". Lanham: Taylor Trade P, July 2004 ISBN 0878333053
  • McNally, Dennis. "Desolate Angel: Jack Kerouac, the Beat Generation, and America". Da Capo Press, 2003. ISBN 0306812223
  • Mortenson, Erik R., "Beating Time: Configurations of Temporality in Jack Kerouac's On the Road". College Literature 28.3. 2001.
  • Nicosia, Gerald. "Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac". Berkely: U of Cal P, 1994. ISBN 0520085698
  • Theado, Matt. "Understanding Jack Kerouac". Columbia: University of South Carolina, 2000.
  • Turner, Steve, "Angelheaded Hipster". Viking Books, 1996. ISBN 0670870382

External links

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