At the time in my life when I was young and rebellious and might have been expected to like Kerouac and the other Beat writers, I had no use for them at all. I was a grungy rock-and-roll-loving hippie, yes, but my literary tastes were strictly highbrow: I liked Yeats and Eliot and Hopkins and wasn’t entirely convinced that any American had ever written well. I sampled a bit of Kerouac’s work and thought his prose slack and bland, its self-proclaimed excitement only proclaimed, not produced.
But I’ve been looking at Robert Frank’s famous book of photographs, The Americans, which includes an introduction by Kerouac. And I rather enjoyed it.
Madroad driving men ahead—the mad road, lonely, leading around the bend into the openings of space toward the horizon Wasatch snows promised us in the vision of the west, spine heights at the world’s end, coast of blue Pacific starry night—nobone half-banana moons sloping in the tangled night sky, the torments of great formations in mist, the huddled invisible insect in the car racing onward, illuminate—The raw cut, the drag, the butte, the star, the draw, the sunflower in the grass—orangebutted west lands of Arcadia, forlorn sands of the isolate earth, dewy exposures to infinity in black space, home of the rattlesnake and the gopher—the level of the world, low and flat...
I haven’t entirely changed my opinion—this isn’t really all that good—but I guess I’m more tolerant. If you just sort of sit back and let it roll by without looking at it too closely, it’s evocative, and you can feel Kerouac’s delight and awe in the simple experience of seeing this mad land of ours. Maybe I’ll actually read one of his novels someday.
Here’s an interesting video of Kerouac reading on The Steve Allen Show. Steve Allen was a cool guy.