September, 29

Happy (Belated) Birthday, Jack Kerouac

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March 12 would have been Jack Kerouac’s 91st birthday, had he not died in 1969 at 47 due to complications resulting from his epic alcoholism. It’s ironic that Vesuvio Cafe, on the corner of Jack Kerouac and Columbus, serves a drink with his name on it. As I wrote in Writers With Drinks Named After Them:

San Francisco’s historic Northbeach hangout, Vesuvio, apparently serves a “Jack Keroauc,” which strikes me less as an homage to the erstwhile Beat writer than a cynical means of extracting cash from naive 20-somethings who crave “authentic” experiences to fail at writing about. The drink is comprised of rum, tequila and orange juice over ice, though I personally think they should throw in a Benzedrine inhaler. In fact, they should do away with the drink entirely and just serve the inhaler with a typewriter and Teletype roll so the kids can get all “Kerowhacky” before getting busted on narcotics charges.

Apparently, I was in a mood. If you’re in the mood for some rarely read Keroauc, check out this selection I found in an interview conducted by Ted Berrigan for the Paris Review, Summer 1968. Entitled, Jack Kerouac, The Art of Fiction, No. 41, the interview is rife with candid and awkward moments, buttressed by the occasional glimpse into the author’s process. It’s interesting how Keroauc purports to mull and incubate a project before purging it into a typewriter in a single “fantastic athletic feat.”

INTERVIEWER: You typed out On the Road in three weeks, The Subterraneans in three days and nights. Do you still produce at this fantastic rate? Can you say something of the genesis of a work before you sit down and begin that terrific typing—how much of it is set in your mind, for example?

KEROUAC: You think out what actually happened, you tell friends long stories about it, you mull it over in your mind, you connect it together at leisure, then when the time comes to pay the rent again you force yourself to sit at the typewriter, or at the writing notebook, and get it over with as fast as you can . . . and there’s no harm in that because you’ve got the whole story lined up. Now how that’s done depends on what kind of steel trap you’ve got up in that little old head.

And later, in the same passage:

KEROUAC: Writing The Subs in three nights was really a fantastic athletic feat as well as mental, you shoulda seen me after I was done . . .. I was pale as a sheet and had lost fifteen pounds and looked strange in the mirror. What I do now is write something like an average of eight thousand words a sitting, in the middle of the night, and another about a week later, resting and sighing in between. I really hate to write. I get no fun out of it because I can’t get up and say I’m working, close my door, have coffee brought to me, and sit there camping like a “man of letters” “doing his eight hour day of work” and thereby incidentally filling the printing world with a lot of dreary self-imposed cant and bombast, bombast being Scottish for pillow stuffing. Haven’t you heard a politician use fifteen hundred words to say something he could have said in exactly three words? So I get it out of the way so as not to bore myself either.

Given his rate of output, Keroauc would have cleaned up during National Novel Writing Month. Why no one has produced a meme with Keroauc’s jaundiced mug and the line “I really hate to write” is beyond me. Let me fix that right now:

Jack Kerouac


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