"Hey Jack Kerouac" in America's Loneliest City
Someone very dear to me has recently developed the theory that the music we listened to at 17 is the music that stays with us all our lives, and has the most profound influence on us. When I was 17 I listened to 10,000 Maniacs virtually without pause; this was when their MTV Unplugged album was released, which, as part of the popular televised series, features live acoustic renditions of many of their most popular songs, including "Hey Jack Kerouac" from their 1987 release In My Tribe. As many adolescents are inclined to do, I was eager to latch on to any offered strand of cultural definition in the hopes of locating the essence of identity (read: "find myself") I took Natalie Merchant's eloquent bait and purchased a copy of On the Road.
I may not have readily admitted this then, but I can now: Kerouac's spiraling prose and THC-laced musings about life, liberty, and women swirled over my naive head. This kind of writing was a far cry from the Shakespeare, Bronte, Steinbeck, and Hawthorne my high school English teachers were pressing upon me, and even farther from the pocket book trash I devoured in my free time. But doggedly I took the literary journey with him, posturing, as those in my age category are wont to do, as someone cool, bohemian, intellectual. Very Dylan McKay of me. For all that escaped me in my self-enrolled "Intro to Beat Lit" course's first text, I am thankful that what On the Road did do was to turn me on to more of the great Jack's other--and better--works, and then, in retrospect, I can see that Road was like my user-friendly gateway drug to the work of Kerouac's contemporaries, like Burroughs and Ferlinghetti, and his successors, such as Bukowski, whom we here at LAist are also feting this week (see another LAist take on Jack here). And now, many years after my first reading, I can still connect to the text, although it's in a very different manner, and for different reasons.