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On the Road: “Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?”

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Jack Kerouac: The Scroll Manuscript of “On The Road”

“I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up. I had just gotten over a serious illness that I won’t bother to talk about, except that it had something to do with the miserably weary split-up and my feeling that everything was dead. With the coming of Dean Moriarty began the part of my life you could call my life on the road. Before that I’d often dreamed of going West to see the country, always vaguely planning and never taking off. Dean is the perfect guy for the road because he actually was born on the road, when his parents were passing through Salt Lake City in 1926, in a jalopy, on their way to Los Angeles. First reports of him came to me through Chad King, who’d shown me a few letters from him written in a New Mexico reform school. I was tremendously interested in the letters because they so naively and sweetly asked Chad to teach him all about Nietzsche and all the wonderful intellectual things that Chad knew. At one point Carlo and I talked about the letters and wondered if we would ever meet the strange Dean Moriarty. This is all far back, when Dean was not the way he is today, when he was a young jailkid shrouded in mystery. Then news came that Dean was out of reform school and was coming to New York for the first time; also there was talk that he had just married a girl called Marylou….”
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“So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.”

– – On the Road, First and Last Paragraphs

“I’ll just sit down and let it flow out of me … It’s the Holy Ghost that comes through you. You don’t have to be a Catholic to know what I mean, and you don’t have to be a Catholic for the Holy Ghost to speak through you.”

{ 14 comments… add one }
  • Hyland May 6, 2022, 9:14 AM

    Of course, Dean Moriarty was actually Neil Cassidy, the cosmic goon who drove Ken Kesey’s hippy bus “Furthur” from one end of America to the other. Here we go again with Allen Ginsberg and the Beats and the crowd of pranksters who inspired me and so many to boldly go forth and push the boundaries of respectable society. I finally gave up hitchhiking when I bought a car. What a convenience… but I sure had fun with my thumb out, not knowing where I’d sleep that night. On The Road was a required station of the cross for dudes like me who escaped the draft. That very long scroll of typed paper was on display in a Santa Fe museum several years back. I’d read that Kerouac typed the whole thing non-stop on coffee and whites during a three day maniacal binge of crazy.

    • Vanderleun May 6, 2022, 12:21 PM

      The original myth was three weeks with non-stop coffee. But the myth need MOOORE DRUGZ! and so it got them. Kerouac was by far the most traditional Catholic hetero with a killer alcohol problem of the Beats

      • Hyland May 6, 2022, 3:13 PM

        Yeah… you’ve got to be more correct on that one, Gerard. There’s no way Kerouac wrote On The Road in three days. But it was certainly within a toxic blur that it came about. There’s a book on my “to read” list here titled “The Trip to Echo Springs… on writers and drinking” by Olivia Laing. She focusses on six major boozers, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Cheever, Tennessee Williams, Berryman and Raymond Carver… but there’s honorable mentions to Capote, Dylan Thomas, Faulkner, Hart Crane, Jack London and probably Kerouac in there, too. There was a real shocker of an interview conducted by William Buckley towards the end o’ Kerouac… he had absolute revulsion for the hippies and all the flower children who loved his books. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oaBnIzY3R00

  • gwbnyc May 6, 2022, 9:17 AM

    full disclosure-

    at 11 years old I delivered “The Willoughby News-Herald” to Ken Babb’s parents in Mentor, Ohio.

    a prankster sojourn to their home (witnessed) is mentioned in “The First Third”. Cassidy was not in attendance. I believe Ken’s brother was. My parents went to visit one evening.

    • gwbnyc May 6, 2022, 9:34 AM
      • Sunny May 6, 2022, 11:12 AM

        This one time, I interviewed Ken Babbs at his home outside Eugene, Oregon. The place smelled of old books and Triscuits and, of course, it didn’t have a normal bathroom. Instead, there were two stalls with multicolored seats sitting right in the living room. If someone had taken a sh*t, you would’ve seen their feet dangling from the dining room table. My hungover photographer, who desperately needed to drop some friends off at the pool, kept his cheeks clenched the whole time we were there. Ha ha, not really, I just plagiarized all of that. But I learned a new euphemistic metaphor! I am enjoying learning about the Beats, maybe next I will learn all about the Gonzos.

        • Vanderleun May 6, 2022, 11:50 AM

          GONZOS? Hunter Thompson? Oh I have stories.

        • gwbnyc May 6, 2022, 2:06 PM

          Babbs mother, and my mother, worked together in the local school system’s and the town’s libraries. All the librarians were women, they were politically involved within the era’s limits, and they drank.

          My father had no idea why the visiting pranksters behaved so …oddly. They camped out in the backyard until the town said they couldn’t so they moved indoors. They had a bus, the smaller kind of schoolbus. A snake was painted along each side. The old man got a ride in it, stuck in second gear as it was.

          Much later Mrs. Babbs moved out west to live with her sons. Note the foto of the house; I believe the Babbs had a daughter who as a child was killed in front of their home by an automobile (that portion of Jackson St was known as “killer curve”). When in elementary school I recall happening upon a book placed in the library in the girl’s memory.

  • James ONeil May 6, 2022, 9:42 AM

    Just went and checked and yep, I still have my 1957 copy of On The Road that prompted me to hitchhike from Gainesville, Florida to NYC to see if the East River flowed wine and if God lived atop the Empire State Building and smoked fifty cent cigars. It took me three more years to get almost to the end of the road, Fairbanks, Alaska and two more years to get to the really, actual, t’weren’t no road beyond at the time, honest to goodness road’s end at Circle, Alaska on the edge of the Yukon River.

    Hum, hadn’t thought about it, but as I’d driven to and from Key West, I pretty much covered the whole road, from as far south and east as it starts, to as far north and west as it went.

  • Jack May 6, 2022, 10:03 AM

    I was never ‘cool’ or ‘hip’ and I never wanted to be. And, I never gave ‘hitting the road’ a single thought. Ever. While some wandered, lost or not, I broke and trained horses, learned to use and love firearms and fly rods. And were it not for the sad fact that I am past 70 and damned sickly, I’d still be doing the former.

  • ThisIsNotNutella May 6, 2022, 4:12 PM

    Does the final para remind anyone of the ending of Joyce’s The Dead?

    • gwbnyc May 7, 2022, 6:42 AM

      had to search it, and yes.

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