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His tidily rhyming names perhaps destined him for fame.
While Jack Kerouac’s work and popularity were before my time, his cultural and literary restlessness assure him permanent occupancy in the American culture pantheon. Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg were the original Beat Generationists. Kerouac was an avid progenitor of peaceable, loving hippie sentimentality though he could be as gratuitously contrarian as Christopher Hitchens and even supported Senator Joseph McCarthy. I’ve never met a reader more obsessed with travel writing than I am, and I respect Kerouac the writer and his Gordon Lightfoot “Carefree Highway” sensibility. He casts so tall a shadow over this genre as to create a need for subsequent travel writers making sure they are not merely channeling Kerouac. As with James Dean, the brilliance of his star forebode a short life.
During some of his most productive years as a writer and in-between jaunts depicted in On The Road, Kerouac hung out in Rocky Mount, NC, where I once moonlighted in an emergency room, a town unstructured, sleepy and lonely enough that Kerouac found it companionable. Rocky Mount is sufficiently simple, disinclined to set expectations for behavior, that there was no one for Kerouac to disappoint and no one to imbue him with the burden of cult figureheadedness.
In 1968, Jack Kerouac was a guest on William F. Buckley’s Firing Line. Watch the brief video clip in the embedded link.
Notice Kerouac’s behavior? Buckley thought he was drunk, and other commentators have chimed in as such. As a hepatologist, and from watching longer full-length versions of the clip elsewhere on the internet, I’m not so sure. Kerouac’s protuberant belly suggests ascites. The emotional flux, what appear to be oculomotor saccades, the occasional flapping of his wrists, and the timespans when he moves little (“psychomotor retardation”) and seems to have a thousand-yard stare: these make me think of something else.
On the morning of 20 October 1969, Kerouac, merely 47, was sitting in a comfy stuffed chair at home in Florida. He was deep in thought and writing notes for a manuscript. It was a little before noon, and ...