So yesterday I read this album review and then this morning I used Spotify to listen to the actual album by Jay Farrar and Benjamin Gibbard. It should surprise no one who knows me that I liked it for a variety of reasons.
- Songs based on a Kerouac novel? Yes, please!
- Folksy countryish songs based on a Kerouac novel? With a cherry on top!
- Folksy countryish songs sung by Jay Farrar and Benjamin Gibbard based on a Kerouac novel? And some chocolate sauce.
This kind of beeswax is right up my alley. Then I started hunting through my bookshelf for my copy of Big Sur (a much more productive way to spend my morning hour than editing a short story for a contest, obviously) and realised that I couldn’t find it because I don’t own a copy of Big Sur, horrors! I was thinking of Dharma Bums and oh look right there, it is my beloved copy of On the Road! So On the Road came off the shelf and I started thinking about my history as a fan of Jack Kerouac and that book in particular.
Back in 1994 my friend J loaned me his copy of On the Road. J would also go on to loan me a copy of The Basketball Diaries, make me the best birthday card ever in the history of the world, and introduce me to such bands as Nation of Ulysses, Cub, Tsunami, Pavement, Scrawl, and Bikini Kill. J asked me to be the co-editor of the high school paper with him after knowing me for a grand total of two days (“It’s not hard, you just have to yell at people and make them do stuff.” Little did he know he was describing my future in to world of work for the rest of my life). J was my prom date. J was my friend. J opened up my world and much of that started with the simple act of handing me a battered copy of On the Road.
I fell in love with that book from the first dizzying paragraph. I gave it back and bought my own copy. I underlined and highlighted the important and beautiful bits. I was enraptured. I was, maybe, something of a cliche’.
Jeremy has actually asked me, after trying to read the book himself, what it was about On the Road that made me love it so very much. Let me try to explain. Imagine you are a young kid, about 16, who has grown up in the same small town your whole life. Imagine you’ve traveled a little bit around the country, seen some cows, had your picture taken in front of the occasional Paul Bunyan statue, but really your life has centered around one house, one town, one place. Then you read this book about people who have dropped everything and just driven off to have these mad adventures. They aren’t just staring out at the lake and thinking about the adventures just over the horizon, they are full on tackling those adventures. And sure that was 50 years ago, but still! Still! It’s possible, it can be done and seen and lived.
And that, dear reader(s), is hope. So I kept my book with me, I loaned it to a boy once and then berated him on the community college radio station and brought a girl he hated to his house party in order to get it back, I took it to Detroit, and Las Vegas (2 road trips, one following route 66), and then Chicago, and now London. The pages are limp, the spine is cracked, there are dog ears that would make any librarian weep. I still love it. I love the exuberance in the prose. I love the pace, I love the myth, I love the whole stupid thing. I’m reading it again this week and just having it in my bag feels like a homecoming of sorts. I’m looking forward to falling in love with new parts and finding exasperation in others. I know it will make me homesick and make my fingers itch for car keys and open roads. It’s okay. It’s worth it.
And of course it will also make me miss the greatest cat in the world, the great sissified monster, Jean Louis Kerouac, he of the fluffy black fur, the 22 pound girth and the tiniest meow in the world. He was not a smart cat or a tough cat, but he was an awesome cat and I miss him all the time. I think he lives in Portland, Oregon now, so at least he’s kept moving. Just like the original Jack he was something of a mama’s boy. I don’t know how he felt about Buddhism though.