It’s that day of the year again. That guy’s birthday. The burly one with sad eyes.
You don’t know him? Well, he finds artistic inspiration in following around a homeless, unstoppable man, loves his mother more than any other woman, and loves alcohol even more.
And he writes like a maniac. His hands will lose all sense of feeling and paper will extend to the length of feet and he won’t stop writing.
His words. Oh my god, his words. Every sentence will hit you and change everything. He’ll get you out of your bubble of a life and make you more aware and take you with him on his journey of learning and discovering.
He’s the quiet one, the one that just follows the show-makers. So he’s comfortable.
Even as a grown man, he exhibits childlike excitement. He’s capable of feeling awe at the small things in life. He doesn’t stop to think. He just feels. Shamelessly. Fully. To the absolute extent of his human capacity. He just feels.
But along this ride that you take with him, amidst all the juvenile behavior and perception, you’ll see the occasional flashes of this old, sad, defeated man. A man who has seen so much and lived through so much pain and suffering and struggle.
He’s a deeply unhappy man, and he has every reason to be so, but he lives each moment absolutely present, in the moment, enjoying and taking it in to its full extent.
He’s everything you are and everything you strive to be. He’s so familiar and a complete stranger.
He’s that feeling you get when you find words tailored especially for you, words that are actively moving past self-doubt and fear and focusing on a better life. He’s that feeling you get when you’re out and about and you find words that understand exactly what you feel. He’s that feeling you get when you find words that are so raw, so real, hit home so hard, it doesn’t even hurt - it’s surprising, because it’s straight from the heart. Straight from his heart to yours.
“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. I wasn’t scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost.” ― Jack Kerouac, On the Road
LUCIEN CARR (March 1, 1925 – January 28, 2005) “Lucien came to my house one night, sneaking in the door like my old Paw’s buddies used to do… We drank in my lil room and Lucien took your big letter, your 2nd smaller letter and all the pictures he could find and stuffed them in his pocket … Generally Lucien seems fine and the same as ever, which means, he is Lucien and indefatigably manly.” — Jack Kerouac to Allen Ginsberg, July 1954
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.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY JACK KEROUAC! (March 12, 1922 - October 21, 1969)
“Realize, Allen, that if all the world were green, there would be no such thing as the color green. Similarly, men cannot know what it is to be together without otherwise knowing what it is to be apart. If all the world were love, then, how could love exist? This is why we turn away from each other on moments of great happiness and closeness. How can we know happiness and closeness without contrasting them, like lights?” — Kerouac to Ginsberg, September, 1948
While the men of the Beat Generation are often guilty of perpetuating the same misogyny of the larger culture, both in their lives and their writing, in challenging traditional expectations of masculinity, and likewise gender, they opened up a space for women to do the same. Kerouac’s “On the Road” may have driven many young men to emulate his movement across the country, but is also inspired many young women to challenge what was expected of them.
As Joyce Johnson writes in Minor Characters: “It was a time when books were still taken seriously, when writers could actually change things. In 1957, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac seemed to come from nowhere… They gave voice to the restlessness and spiritual discontent so many felt but had been unable to articulate. Powerful desires for a freer life were suddenly set loose by words with compelling irresistible rhythms. The Beat movement lasted five years and caused many young men to go on the road in emulation of Jack Kerouac. Young women found the pursuit of freedom much more complicated. Nonetheless, it was my revolution.”