Sunday, April 18, 2010


Hit the road, Jack. Don't you come back no more. These days, Kerouac is out of fashion, but back in the fifties and sixties he inspired a generation to hit the road and find themselves on the Great American Highway. Times have changed. His beat classic, "On The Road," is met with befuddlement in college classrooms. Why follow the trail of these bums, these hobos high on wine and pot and jazz and Eastern philosophical hoo-ha?

These sensible moderns have a point. Why leave town "looking for yourself" when the world is at your fingertips on the Internet and cable TV, in the comfy confines of your home? The world is a scary place. Home is cozy. If we must leave it, let's leave in home-like SUVS, comfy couches on wheels replete with phones and drink holders. And if we leave town, let's sip drinks poolside--no romance with the rough and rowdy road. Why sleep under a filthy bridge when you can play video games or cruise Facebook in relative safety under a booming sun and behind a high wall?

West Point cadets reading "Howl." Will this be on the test, sir?

Maybe Jack Kerouac doesn't matter anymore. He's hopelessly dated, an anachronism, a punchline. Beyond baby boomer nostalgia, can the modern reader get anything from Jack's old book?

New York Times reporter John Leland thinks so. Leland, author of "Hip: The History," an analysis of the American anti-establishment position known as "hip," discusses the Beat classic "On The Road." His new book, "Why Kerouac Matters," has been released for the 50th anniversary of the novel.

"I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn't know who I was — I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I'd never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn't know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds."
- Jack Kerouac, On the Road,

"Mexico City Blues-Charlie Parker," read by Jack Kerouac, Steve Allen on piano. Click play button:

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