Thursday, September 11, 2014

On the Road Again

I have just found this fascinating discussion on hippies, from a 1968 television programme called Firing Line. It features a drunken Jack Kerouac.

Around this time, Kerouac decided to have another go at hitchhiking around America and walked to the nearest highway intersection to thumb a lift. Perhaps the sight of a raddled-looking man in his 40s was less appealing than the handsome young man who wrote On the Road, as nobody slowed down to pick him up.

After two hours, it started to rain and Kerouac walked back to his apartment, where I expect he had a drink.

A year later, Kerouac's liver finally gave up the ghost.


George said...

Kerouac was a college football player, even if the college was Columbia. A big strong guy who looks troubled will not find it easy to get rides.

The 1940s were probably the heyday of hitchhiking in the US. A lot of men had been in the service and accustomed to hitch rides while on leave; once back in civilian life, they had the money to buy cars and they remembered that they had needed rides once. An uncle, who had served in the Navy then (and for years after), pulled over for a hitchhiker back about 1981 when we were driving to Pennsylvania.

I have hitchhiked, but not in many years. Then I probably had Kerouac's frame but not his wait, and may possibly have looked saner. I think that my longest hitch was from Wheaton, Maryland, to Bedford, Pennsylvania.

George said...

For "wait" read "weight", though the sentence is true as it stands. I don't know what Jack Kerouac weighed, but he waited for hours. I weighed about 170 lb., and waited about ten minutes.

Brett said...

Interesting, Steerforth. Yablonsky only died this year at 89, so Ed Sanders has outlived them all.

I think now that the Hippies really were all about LSD. You couldn't understand it if you hadn't taken the magic carpet ride. Yablonsky got it right, pointing out that Kerouac was still doing alcohol.

MikeP said...

Couldn't bear to watch much of it...I'd forgotten how pompous William F Buckley was. They used to call him Mr FBuckley on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-in.

Steerforth said...

George - It must have been wonderful hitchhiking across the US in the 40s and early 50s. I didn't see many hitchhikers when I was there in the 1990s - I supposed car ownership is ubiquitous and only those on the margins of society now try to hitch a ride. Wheaton to Bedford is a good stretch - at least 100 miles, isn't it?

Brett - Yes, I think you're right about the LSD. Huxley's book was their Bible. I tried it once, as a student, to see what all the fuss was about. I can't say that it was one of my most enjoyable experiences. There were no mystical moments and I remember being aware that I was simply experiencing synasthesia, which became rather tedious after an hour. Never again.

Mike - He's unbearably pompous isn't he. I agree that it's painful to watch. Kerouac's embarrassing performance is enough to make anyone take the pledge.

Martin Hodges said...

I watched the movie, On the Road, a few weeks back. It was hard to see through to the end, rather like Kerouac's done-to-death book.

Steerforth said...

Martin - I'm not a huge fan of the book either; perhaps because I read it at 29 instead of 19.

Ian Wolcott said...

Fascinating and weird. Kerouac is just an embarrassing wreck. Agreed on the age necessary to appreciate his work. I thought it was genius at twenty but knew it was junk before I was thirty. If I ever find my son wanting to read Kerouac I’ll give him a copy of Leigh-Fermor’s “Time of Gifts” instead. Buckley is just a glorious ass in front of the camera.

George said...

Washington (actually, the Washington Beltway) to Bedford is about 120 miles. And then, after a walk of maybe 200 yards, I hitched a ride another 40 miles or so to the driveway of relatives in Altoona. Now I think of it, I had a beard then, for the next time I was there (beardless) my cousins referred to me as "Charlie", as in Manson.

The 1940s and 1950s were probably the prime years for automotive travel in general. By the 1960s, the interstates were making things faster but also more uniform and less interesting. In the 1970s, the price of gasoline started climbing.

What struck me, the last time I tried to read On the Road, in the new (less edited) edition, was Kerouac's way of treating absolutely everything de novo, as if nobody had ever done anything before, and as if water might just run uphill this time or birch trees leaf out in dollar bills. The novel Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar had (as I recall), a protagonists trying to live that way; and in some essay or other T.S. Eliot said that he was arguing against the substantial unity of the soul. But Eliot would hardly have envisioned a character whose memories did not seem to relate to one another.

Canadian Chickadee said...

I think the whole thing is rather sordid and sad, and shows a horrible waste of human potential. If you really want to screw up a life, just take drugs. Hopefully the poor man is now enjoying the peace he never found in life.

Steerforth said...

Ian - I couldn't agree more. 'A Time of Gifts' is far more inspiring than the Kerouac.

George - I'd forgotten about that aspect of the book, but looking back, Sal Paradise is an emminently forgettable, two-dimensional character.

Carol - In Kerouac's case, as with many writers, alcohol was the culprit rather than drugs. I wouldn't mitigate the terrible effects of drugs, but I've seen more lives ruined by heavy drinking.

My wife's only cousin died underneath a railway arch at the age of 16, from a combination of drugs and alcohol, so his example has had a big impact on our family.