My Problem With Jack Kerouac

Jack KerouacOn this day in 1922, the great Beat Generation writer Jack Kerouac was born. I am not a fan. In fact, I absolutely can’t stand to read him. Yet he was an extremely important writer. And (unfortunately) he inspired generations of bad writers. When I was young and foolish and went to poetry readings, half the writers (almost always men) wrote nothing more than bad Jack Kerouac.

I understand the appeal of this. Kerouac’s work seems real and filled with simple truth. And to some extent, I suppose it is. But it is Kerouac’s voice and it speaks of his experiences. If it is true of anyone since, then they are very boring people who have nothing to say that is worth listening to.

Wikipedia was kind enough to provide an excerpt from On the Road that pretty much sums up why I can’t read him:

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars, and in the middle, you see the blue center-light pop, and everybody goes ahh…

It’s probably the 1960s that destroyed Kerouac as a going artistic concern. I don’t doubt that future generations will be able to transcend this connection. But for me, I can’t read it without thinking of every idiot hippy I’ve ever seen.

Kerouac is more important in how he inspired Burroughs and Ginsberg, both of whom totally out distanced him. We will have to wait a hundred years to know for sure. But they are the Holy Trinity of the Beat Generation, and I admire them all.

Happy birthday Jack Kerouac!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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