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1000 Black Lines

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How did On the Road change your life?

If it did change your life. When I landed in Asheville, it was one of the first books I read. Howl being the second. From the Guardian Unlimited, by Sean O'Hagan:

In Minor Characters, her illuminating memoir of life among the Beat writers, Joyce Johnson, who was with Kerouac on that day in New York, captures the seismic resonance of that single review. She had gone with Kerouac to buy an early edition of the newspaper from an all-night newsstand in midtown Manhattan. In a nearby bar, she had watched him read Millstein's article, shaking his head 'as if he couldn't figure out why he wasn't happier than he was'.

Afterwards, they had walked back to Johnson's apartment on the Upper West Side where, as she memorably put it: 'Jack lay down obscure for the last time in his life. The ringing phone woke him next morning and he was famous.' Overnight, the Beat generation had gone overground, and the man who did most to define it suddenly found that his book was now defining him. It would continue to do so for the rest of his short life, and for many decades afterwards.

'Challenging the complacency and prosperity of postwar America hadn't been Kerouac's intent when he wrote his novel,' his first biographer, Ann Charters, later wrote, 'but he had created a book that heralded a change of consciousness in the country.' In the few years following its publication, On the Road became a major bestseller. It also, as Kerouac's friend and fellow Beat writer, William Burroughs, witheringly wrote, 'sold a trillion Levi's, a million espresso coffee machines, and also sent countless kids on the road'. Unwittingly, and to his increasing horror, Kerouac had written a zeitgeist book, one that would help determine the course of what would come to be known as youth culture over the following two decades.

'It changed my life like it changed everyone else's,' Bob Dylan would say many years later. Link.

I was drinking espresso and wearing Levi's and traveling the roads of America long before I read On the Road. And somehow, I feel like I'm part of the cultural machinery in the wake of Kerouac's novel. And you?

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  1. Blogger shadmarsh | 10:17 AM, August 15, 2007 |  

    I never liked OTR, Kerouac, or any of the Beats for that matter, so I may be biased already, but for me the book was always about adolescent male immaturity--not to mention rambling unfocused hack-ish writing-- leave your wife and baby at home to fend for themselves whilst you race around the country high on bennies co-opting black culture, and generally acting like a jack-ass...oh and then move back in with mom become a right-wing catholic homophobic nut who does nothing but get drunk and fat until he dies in front of the boob-tube…In some ways it is the prefect American novel, all about the promotion and commodification of the self, hollow and lifeless at its core....but other than that it is entertaining

  2. Blogger 1000 black lines | 7:38 PM, August 20, 2007 |  

    I agree that OTR exhibits 'adolescent male immaturity.' Several people I met upon arrival to Asheville introduced me to Kerouac's OTR as if it were the bible of Asheville. Later I discovered most people who talk about Kerouac's OTR haven't read the book at all. The myth of OTR is bigger than the book itself. Do you think it is relevant as literature as to its historical and social context?

  3. Blogger shadmarsh | 9:52 AM, August 21, 2007 |  

    Yes and no. I personally don’t consider it literature, but that may be splitting hairs (and since I am comfortably outside of the establishment that decides what is and what isn’t I can make that claim based solely on ambiguous personal preferences)…and I think you are onto something about people having actually read the book…I think there is a myth surrounding the book, and the Beats themselves, that is socially and historically relevant, but for reasons that have really nothing to do with OTR or the Beats themselves, and more to do with contemporary myth-making…and the fact that so many people believe in the book and its message without actually having read it (which is not only interesting, but funny---well to me anyway).
    The cult around the book and the Beats has always been trying to sell how revolutionary they were, and perhaps they were in some ways, but I have never gotten it…so I guess I still haven’t answered you question, which is a good one, and I fear that it may be relevant as literature because of its impact and “influence”…but this line of thinking opens up all sorts of cans of worms…

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