Los Angeles publisher Silver Birch Press is running a series of “caught reading” pictures, many featuring famous people–Paul Newman, Rosemary Clooney, Ryan Gosling–reading books. One they surfaced is Jacqueline Kennedy engrossed in The Dharma Bums. Kerouac seems an odd match for the glamour of Camelot, though both Jackie and Jack are iconic of that “avant le déluge” moment in America.
[Kerouac’s literary agent, Sterling] Lord represented Kerouac throughout the writer’s career, and said the play featured the same type of “beat” characters you find in “On the Road,” just with different names. He also didn’t think He could sell it.
Set in a city apartment, the race track, and Neal Cassady’s home, “the play doesn’t have much of a plot, per se” but does offer a glimpse into a post-”Road” Cassady: “the once-wandering, drinking dropout, now has four kids and a job as a railroad brakeman.” What it lacks in action it makes up for in talk, according to a WBUR article about a staging of the play in Lowell, Massachusetts, Kerouac’s home town.
Not a masterpiece, perhaps, but another facet of the worry stone that Kerouac constantly returned to: the tension between work and play, between the settled life and life on the road, in the context of friendship.
Flickr user pitoucat has a great collection of Moody Street Irrregulars covers, the Kerouac journal published by the recently-passed Joy Walsh. The covers are very much in the ‘zine collage genre, and reflect the rough-and-ready style of the journal.
pitoucat has collected quite a few Kerouac book covers, both in his Flickr stream and on the site beatbookcovers.com. Take a fascinating tour of how Kerouac has been presented around the world, from stylized Japanese abstracts to lurid drugstore pulp.
It’s with great sadness that we heard of the passing of Joy Walsh on October 9th. Walsh was a poet and editor whose magazine Moody Street Irregulars was one of the first to take Kerouac and the Beats seriously. It was a proving ground for the work of Kerouac biographer Tom Clark, and featured interviews with Carolyn Cassady and William Burroughs.
Walsh’s own Kerouac essays were collected in Statement in Brown, a chapbook that she sent to me back in the late 1980s when I wrote her looking for some insights into Kerouac’s tortured connection to bohemia. Her accompanying letter was equal parts dismissive and encouraging, and the essays were wonderful: smart, quirky, and appreciative, without being hagiographic. Her passing is a loss to the Kerouac community.
The NYT Arts Beat blog has an article this week (linking back to a post at this sadly-neglected site of one of Kerouac’s hand-drawn book cover ideas) about an iPad app version of “On the Road.” It sounds like a humdinger of an “amplified edition”:
It includes the full text of the novel, of course, with expandable marginal notes giving historical and biographical background. An interactive map traces Kerouac’s three real-life cross-country road trips, with links to relevant passages from the novel. There are never-before-seen photos, rare audio clips of Kerouac reading from an early draft, previously unreleased documents from his publisher’s archive, and a slide show of international covers showing how the book has been marketed from Argentina to Ukraine to China.
What Kerouac would have made of it is an interesting question. On the one hand, he was no stranger to experimentation in form: the legendary scroll manuscript of “On the Road” was quite different from the typical manuscript, and there’s an immediacy and intimacy to Kerouac that seems very fitting for a handheld device. On the other hand, there’s something about the gravitational pull of the small screen that draws the reader in and away from the world in a very different way than the traditional text, more hypnotic than meditative, and I wonder if Kerouac would have been uncomfortable about that.
I have to admit to being a bit mixed myself about this “amplified” Kerouac. On the one hand, I’m a very late adopter of the digital text: I got a Nook today for Fathers Day, my very first e-reader, and so far I’ve enjoyed about 50 pages of Embassytown on its little screen, and also added the Project Gutenberg edition of Ulysses (though not, I have to admit, any Kerouac; with all those orange-spined Kerouac paperbacks on my shelves already, it’s hard to justify). The rather staid activity of reading on an e-reader is about my speed.
But at the same time, I have an “augmented edition” out myself, an app version of Dad's Eye View. It’s generated a tiny bit of buzz (not nearly as much as Kerouac and Eliot, of course, but it did rate a mention from Inside Higher Ed in a piece about how regional and academic presses are moving into apps), and promoting it and the book are a big part of why this and my other sites have been so sadly neglected. So I certainly have a dog in this fight, though mine is a scrappy little terrier rather than the hulking mastiffs of “On the Road” and “The Wasteland.”
I’m slowly coming around to the usefulness of highly interactive versions of some works. “The Wasteland” is, after all, footnoted by its author, much less by the generations of scholars who have come after: some deeper links within the text can’t but help unpack some of the density. And “On the Road” is a sprawling roman-a-clef that can certainly be unlocked by biographically and geographically in an “amplified” app.
At the same time, though, it does seem to cut out some of the legwork that used to be required in reading allusive literature. Having recourse to a digital dictionary from the same device that holds your text is one thing; having a video pop up that explains ’50s jazz in the middle of the Chicago section of “On the Road” is something else altogether. I worry that an app could very easily drift from the merely explanatory to the fully interpretive, drowning out alternative readings the way movie versions of books often do.
But app as art–that’s something I can get behind 100%. I think of the National Mall app from Bluebrain, which uses the listener’s geolocation around Washington DC to tailor the soundscape. Perhaps the next soundscape step ought to be the road trip edition of “On the Road,” a guided tour through the places on Sal and Dean’s odyssey with the text and sounds shaped by the listener-reader’s place on the road. Amplified indeed!
In the run up to the forthcoming “On the Road” movie, the Guardian has a profile of Neal Cassady that’s really a profile of Carolyn Cassady, Neal’s not-so-long-suffering wife:
< blockquote>She’s 87, but looks a decade younger, dressed neatly in a lavender fleece with matching moccasins. The second wife of Beat muse Neal Cassady – the man immortalised as Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac’s 1957 classic On the Road – Carolyn moved to London in 1983, and relocated here 10 years later. “I was brought up English,” she says. “My parents were anglophiles and we had a whole lot of English customs at home. I made the break and I much prefer it.”
Those interested in an alternative take on the Beat mystique might enjoy Carlolyn’s Heart Beat, which explores her relationships with both Cassady and Kerouac. Women were, of course, a great mystery to Kerouac and his peers: they tend to fall into the categories of long-suffering mother like Mamère (best displayed in Visons of Gerard) or alluring but doomed femme fatale (like Tristessa). Surrounded as they were by women like Carolyn Cassady, it’s a bit surprising they never managed to escape this duality.
In this letter to Marlon Brando, Kerouac imagines a film version of “On the Road” with a few twists:
- Compressing the peripatetic travels of Dean and Sal into a single glorious round-trip journey
- A method-acting session between Brando and Neal Cassady in San Francisco (and who wouldn’t want to sit in on that?)
- A loose and wild vision of the new American cinema, where “people rave on as they do in real life”
There is, of course, a film version in the works for the coming year, but it lacks Brando and Kerouac in the lead roles. Ah, if only …
Yesterday we looked at Jack Kerouac’s hand-drawn cover for “On the Road”. Of course, unless you’re William Blake or Chip Kidd, authors don’t typically get the design their own book covers. Here are some of the covers that have graced the many editions of “On the Road” since it was first published in 1957, as collected by the LibraryThing community.
The once-ubiquitous Signet edition; this is the one on my shelf, dog-eared and underlined (and meriting a brief mention in my story Pieces).
The pensive Beatnik version.
Jazzy and somewhat alluring Pan Giant version.
I’m not sure I quite understand the cover on this Dutch edition of “Op weg”.
Another Dutch edition (my Dutch isn’t very good; is “Op weg” a dialect difference, or maybe Afrikaans?), this one making a political statement that isn’t wholly in keeping with the contents of the book.
The French edition of “Sur la route” (not translated by Ti Jean himself, of course), with a fanciful feel.
I think I like this Swedish cover the best; it captures the carefree spirit of the best parts of the novel.