I have been a major Jack Kerouac fan since I was about 15. I found On the Road and became fascinated with his world of jazz, poetry, and intellectualism. I would carry my battered copy around with me throughout high school, highlighting my favorite words and phrases. My friends and I started dressing in black and going to weekly poetry readings at the Enigma coffee-house. (My grandmother was very opposed to this – every week she would accuse me of going to hang out with dope fiends in an opium den. Really. In 1995.)
My high school Kerouac coup de grace (besides having his “burn. burn. burn” speech as my senior quote) was convincing ten or so of my friends to dress up as beatniks with me for Halloween. We went trick or treating, wearing our dark shades and black turtlenecks, calling out “Trick Or Treat, Daddy-O” as doors were opened. I then would start shouting passages from On The Road to them while bebop jazz blared from my boombox. Needless to say, most people were flummoxed. Las Vegas is many things, but a literary hub is not one of them.
After high school I fell out of the obsession, but happily recently found it again – thanks to Walter Salles’ film adaptation of On the Road. I was nervous going in, since the book is practically un-filmable and because the subject matter is so dear, but I was overwhelmingly surprised. It’s a tremendous film. I know it’s been snubbed quite a bit because of Kristen Stewart’s involvement, but she is great in the film, and fought very hard to be part of it. Sam Riley is fantastically gruff and salty as Sal Paradise, Garrett Hedlund does a passable Neal Cassady, and Tom Sturridge shines bright as Allen Ginsberg. It’s beautifully shot, and obviously made with great care. The film captures the feeling and the energy of the book very well – fleshing out the naughtiest bits such as their frequent drug use and promiscuous sex for a modern-day audience . These portions are in the book, alright, just glossed over as would have been necessary in 1957, the year the book was published.
Unfortunately, it played in ONE theater in Los Angeles for two weeks. Seriously. I saw the film in its opening week, and dragged my boyfriend back to see it the second week, since I knew it wouldn’t last long. I don’t know what the studio did with their marketing campaign there, but it was really given a lousy showing. I’m sure it will be on VOD and Netflix and whatnot soon – please check it out, I’d love to know what you think.
As an adult, I’ve seen past the bongos and lingo to see what the Beats were really about – LIVING. Just experiencing everything as it comes and filtering it into language as best as possible. I can’t think of another literary movement so enthralled with just living living living – more, faster, crazier, louder. It’s really inspiring – DO MORE! BE MORE!
The one who has really captured my attention this time around, though, has been Neal Cassady (Dean Moriarty in On the Road and Cody Pomeroy in several others), Kerouac’s buddy and accomplice. Besides inspiring Kerouac to actually go on the road and, in turn, write his novels, he also was a muse to Allen Ginsberg and Ken Kesey – who later admitted to basing Randle McMurphy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest on Cassady. He was the inspiration and spark for two major cultural movements – both the Beats and the crazy Acid Head’s of the 60’s – Neal Cassady was the driver for Further, the bus that took Kesey & the Merry Pranksters across America to blow everyone’s mind.
How could ONE man inspire so much? Everyone who met him declared him god-like, holy, a man with infinite energy and enthusiasm – a man who wanted to live more than anyone they had ever met. I’ve ready several biographies/autobiographies of Neal now, and of course each one reveals the negative side to his incandescence – the constant disappearing and drinking, sex and drugs, leaving behind wives and children without a second thought if it led to KICKS quicker and easier. I’m not condoning such behavior, of course, but it has got me wondering. If Neal inspired so much incredible art – and only lived to be 42, mind you, I have to root for him for living his life the way he wanted to and not ever letting anything get in his way.
So here I sit, listening to bebop jazz (the closest thing you could get to rock n roll in 1950), and dreaming of Neal Cassady. Wanting to meet him and just spend time LIVING myself. Lighting out for the territories myself and see what mad people await me out there in the world – because the only people for me are the mad ones….