As the years roll by, I’ve begun to notice the legends I outlive. It’s become an annual habit. Last year, I wrote about Albert Camus. A writer that rubber-stamped my religious resistance and showed me a better way to live. So, this year. As I escape the clutches of the 47 club, I’m thinking about one of its members. Jack Kerouac (1922-1969).
Probably best known for his book On The Road (1957), Kerouac opened mainstream eyes to a different way of life. An alternative to the white picket fence, consumer society and the traditional values of the time. I share that perspective. New town velocity keeps life interesting. But I only picked up the book and watched the film this year when I was on the road myself and wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
I first found Jack Kerouac through his introduction to Robert Frank’s The Americans (1958). Another masterpiece that broke the mould and showed America for what it was. It may be the most influential photobook of all time, and Kerouac’s intro is the perfect compliment.
Both men were outsiders and disrupters of the status quo. And it’s that nonconformist spirit that spawned the Beat Generation. I’m too young to be influenced directly. But when I saw this quote from Kerouac at the Beat Museum in San Francisco a few years ago, I had to agree.
“…the only people that interest me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing.. but burn, burn, burn like Roman candles across the night.”On The Road: The Original Scroll by Jack Kerouac
Legends come in strange disguises. We take what we want from the people we admire. Often because they offer us things that are missing from our own personality. But imitation is not the goal because we have our own row to hoe.
Jack struggled in his quest to live a good life. He was the first celebrity writer of the TV age. But his shyness, self-doubt and insecurity did not mix well with fame. The talking heads of the time accused Kerouac of encouraging vice and anti-Americanism. It all weighed heavy. And after 14 books, 3 wives and who knows how many tequila slammers, he drank himself to an early grave.
So, as I raise a glass to the legend of Jack Kerouac. I will also toast his mate. But my reflection on Robert Frank will have to wait another 47 years. He left us in 2019 at the ripe old age of 94. Here’s hoping I make it. 🍻