Maybe it’s because I never studied him in high school in my formative years when the natural instinct to go on the road yearns in the adolescent soul — to leave all responsibility behind — when it is a comfort to read affirmations of self-centeredness. I’m not sure I EVER would have identified with his relentless pursuit of women, but I can see how many an adolescent male has. Instead, I was introduced to Kerouac in a modern literature class in college during the decomposition of my parents marriage due to the anguish of my mother’s alcoholism and drug abuse and in the midst of my own struggles to shed that pain and become a responsible adult. When the professor popped the top on ol’ Jack’s writing, I took one whiff and fled. Rendering humor out of drinking, drugging, and ridiculing the ones left behind to clean up the puke and keep the lights on was not my idea of a good read.
So, my rejection of Kerouac is personal. I know he influenced a generation, that his writing style spoke for a literary time period and went on to influence the next. And let’s face it, literary icons are often people you would never want to ask to dinner — Hemingway would have torn the place up and insulted everyone before using the table cloth as a bull fighter’s cape, Dorothy Parker would have passed out in the powder room, and Byron slept with his sister — I’ve read and enjoyed all of them. I was in a bad place when Kerouac and I were introduced, like meeting someone when you are a little cranky — we just made a bad impression on one another.
Which is all to say, I went to two events this weekend commemorating the 50th anniversary of the publication of On the Road expecting to be, well not really expecting to be anything. So many people spoke of how Kerouac had touched their lives. Cavana said he read him in HS and asked himself, “could poetry be like this?” Ray has spent residency time at the Kerouac house and spoke in jazz rhythms of the vibe. Kisha never read the man before and gave an appropriately sardonic interpretation. Nina Gibbons lived in San Fransisco in the 50s and was THERE for readings at the City Lights Bookstore. Salinger alternately growled and blasted through 35 sentences from the text that contained the word “window” in his very best Burroughs impersonation. I was thoroughly entertained. And maybe (maybe) a little tempted to see if perhaps time has enabled me to acquire a taste for vintage Kerouac.