Jack Kerouac

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Biography

Jack Kerouac was an American novelist and poet. He was born in 1922 in Lowell, Massachusetts to a Catholic French-Canadian family. French was his first language, and his given name was Jean-Louis. He attended Lowell High School, and then a prep school in New York on a football scholarship. Kerouac attended Columbia University for a few years before dropping out and serving a short stint in the U.S. Navy. After he was discharged on psychiatric grounds, Kerouac began his career as a writer.

Kerouac wrote about youth in post-war America, and much of his work is loosely based on his experiences with his friends. Kerouac began traveling extensively with these friends racking up the material that he would use in his many autobiographical works. Kerouac pronounced he and his friends part of the “Beat Generation.” Beat is an abbreviation of beatitude, and so the title implies, “not only beaten down, but blessed” (Johnson xii). Kerouac’s friends included many well known Beat Generation figures including Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs. Together they were reckless and spontaneous in order to experience life and “know time” (On the Road). Experimentation defined Kerouac’s lifestyle; he and his friends experimented with alcohol, drugs, sex, and religion.

On the Road is Kerouac’s signature novel, and is considered the defining work of young men of his time. Kerouac wrote this novel and many of his others in an uninterrupted, flowing style. He typed quickly and without inhibition, in an improvisational, spontaneous manner; a writer’s interpretation of the Jazz music that Kerouac loved.

Kerouac died in 1969 in St. Petersburg, Florida as a result of heavy drinking over a long period of time. He was only 47 years old, and had lost touch with his Beat counterparts. Almost 20 of his works had been published at the time of his death, and many more were to be published posthumously.

Published Works

The Town and the City, published in 1950
On the Road, published in 1957
-adapted into a film in 2012
The Subterraneans, published in 1958
The Dharma Bums, published in 1958
Doctor Sax, published in 1959
Maggie Cassidy, published in 1959
*Mexico City Blues, published in 1959
Pull My Daisy, released in 1959
-a short film for which Kerouac wrote the screenplay
Book of Dreams, published in 1960
Tristessa, published in 1960
Lonesome Traveler, published in 1960
*The Scripture of the Golden Eternity, published in 1960
Big Sur, published in 1962
Visions of Gerard, published in 1963
Desolation Angels, published in 1965
Satori in Paris, published in 1966
Vanity of Duluoz, published in 1968

Published Posthumously:

Pic, published in 1971
*Scattered Poems, published in 1971
Visions of Cody, written in 1951-52, published in 1972
*Old Angel Midnight, published in 1973
*Trip Trap: Haiku on the Road from SF to NY, published in 1973
-written with Albert Saijo and Lew Welch
*Heaven and Other Poems, published in 1977
*San Francisco Blues, published in 1991
*Pomes All Sizes, published in 1992
*Book of Blues, published in 1995
Orpheus Emerged, published in 2002
*Book of Haikus, published in 2003
*Book of Sketches, published in 2006
And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, published in 2008
-written with William S. Burroughs
The Sea is My Brother, published in 2011
The Haunted Life and Other Writings, published in 2014

*poetry

Selected Works

San Francisco Blues: Excerpt

36TH CHORUS

Falling off in wind.

I got the San Francisco
blues
Bluer than misery
I got the San Francisco blues
Bluer than Eternity
I gotta go on home
Fine me
Another
Sanity

I got the San Francisco
blues
Bluer than heaven’s gate,
mate,
I got the San Francisco blues
Bluer than blue paint,
Saint,—
I better move on home
Sleep in
My golden
Dream again

Desolation Angels: Excerpt

“Let’s go to the Cellar and hear the jazz,” so we cut around the corner and just as we walk in the street door I hear them baying down there, a full group of tenors and altos and trumpets riding in for the first chorus— Boom, we walk in just in time for the break, bang, a tenor is taking the solo, the tune is simply “Georgia Brown”— the tenor rides it big and heavy with a big tone— They’ve come from Fillmore in cars, with their girls or without, the cool colored cats of Sunday San Fran in incredibly beautiful neat sports attire, to knock your eyes out, shoes, lapels, ties, no-ties, studs— They’ve brought their horns in taxis and in their own cars, pouring down into the Cellar to really give it some class and jazz now, the Negro people who will be the salvation of America— I can see it because the last time I was in the Cellar it was full of surly whites waiting around a desultory jam session to start a fight and finally they did, with my boy Rainey who was knocked out when he wasn’t looking by a big mean brutal 250-pound seaman who was famous for getting drunk with Dylan Thomas and Jimmy the Greek in New York— Now everything is too cool for a fight, now it’s jazz, the place is roaring, all beautiful girls in there, one mad brunette at the bar drunk with her boys— One strange chick I remember from somewhere, wearing a simple skirt with pockets, her hands in there, short haircut, slouched, talking to everybody— Up and down the stairs they come— The bartenders are the regular band of Jack, and the heavenly drummer who looks up in the sky with blue eyes, with a beard, is wailing beer-caps of bottles and hamming on the cash register and everything is going to the beat— It’s the beat generation, it’s béat, it’s the beat to keep, it’s the beat of the heart, it’s being beat and down in the world and like old-time lowdown and like in ancient civilizations the slave boatmen rowing galleys to a beat and servants spinning pottery to a beat— The faces! There’s no face to compare with Jack Minger’s who’s up on the bandstand now with a colored trumpeter who outflows him wild and Dizzy but Jack’s face overlooking all the heads and smoke— He has a face that looks like everybody you’ve ever known and seen on the street in your generation, a sweet face— Hard to describe— sad eyes, cruel lips, expectant gleam, swaying to the beat, tall, majestical— waiting in front of the drugstore— A face like Huck’s in New York (Huck whom you’ll see on Times Square, somnolent and alert, sad-sweet, dark, beat, just out of jail, martyred, tortured by sidewalks, starving for sex and companionship, open to anything, ready to introduce new worlds with a shrug)— The colored big tenor with the big tone would like to be blowing Sunny Stitts clear out of Kansas City roadhouses, clear, heavy, somewhat dull and unmusical in dears which nevertheless never leave the music, albums (of music-understanding) in there—but the musicians hear— The drummer is a sensational 12-year-old Negro boy who’s not allowed to drink but can play, tremendous, a little lithe childlike Miles Davis kid, like early Fats Navarro fans you used to see in Espan Harlem, hep, small— he thunders at the drums with a beat which is described to me by a near-standing Negro connoisseur with a beret as a “fabulous beat”— On piano is Blondey Bill, good enough to drive any group—Jack Minger blows out and over his head with these angels from Fillmore, I dig him— It’s terrific—

Reviews

Kerouac’s work has inspired a mix of critical response throughout the years:

Concerning On the Road:

“The fact is that “On the Road” is the most beautifully executed, the clearest and the most important utterance yet made by the generation Kerouac himself named years ago as “beat,” and whose principal avatar he is.” Millstein, 1957

“It is not so much a novel as a long affectionate lark inspired by the so-called “beat” generation, and an example of the degree to which some of the most original work being done in this country has come to depend upon the bizarre and the offbeat for its creative stimulus.” Dempsey, 1957

Interview Excerpts 

On Kerouac’s writing process:

“By not revising what you’ve already written you simply give the reader the actual workings of your mind during the writing itself: you confess your thoughts about events in your own unchangeable way … Well, look, did you ever hear a guy telling a long wild tale to a bunch of men in a bar and all are listening and smiling, did you ever hear that guy stop to revise himself, go back to a previous sentence to improve it, to defray its rhythmic thought impact. … If he pauses to blow his nose, isn’t he planning his next sentence? And when he lets that next sentence loose, isn’t it once and for all the way he wanted to say it? Doesn’t he depart from the thought of that sentence and, as Shakespeare says, “forever holds his tongue” on the subject, since he’s passed over it like a part of a river that flows over a rock once and for all and never returns and can never flow any other way in time? Incidentally, as for my bug against periods, that was for the prose in October in the Railroad Earth, very experimental, intended to clack along all the way like a steam engine pulling a one-hundred-car freight with a talky caboose at the end, that was my way at the time and it still can be done if the thinking during the swift writing is confessional and pure and all excited with the life of it. And be sure of this, I spent my entire youth writing slowly with revisions and endless rehashing speculation and deleting and got so I was writing one sentence a day and the sentence had no FEELING. Goddamn it, FEELING is what I like in art, not CRAFTINESS and the hiding of feelings.” -Kerouac

On his poetry:

“But as for my regular English verse, I knocked it off fast like the prose, using, get this, the size of the notebook page for the form and length of the poem, just as a musician has to get out, a jazz musician, his statement within a certain number of bars, within one chorus, which spills over into the next, but he has to stop where the chorus page stops. And finally, too, in poetry you can be completely free to say anything you want, you don’t have to tell a story, you can use secret puns, that’s why I always say, when writing prose, “No time for poetry now, get your plain tale.” -Kerouac

 

Works Cited

Johnson, Joyce. “Introduction.” Introduction. Desolation Angels. New York, NY:         Riverhead, 1995. Viii-Xvii. Print.

Lelyveld, Joseph. “Jack Kerouac, Novelist, Dead; Father of the Beat Generation; Author    of ‘On the Road’ Was Hero to Youth-Rejected Middle-Class Values.” New York Times 22  Oct. 1969: Web.

 

 

 
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