Fifty five years after the publication of Beat Generation bible On The Road, Jack Kerouac continues to inspire. This week, Android introduced its On The Road app tracing the cross-country journey described in Kerouac's mid-century ode to wanderlust.
On the Hollywood front, a movie version of On The Road wrapped production after traversing 50,000 miles of highway cinematography. Director Walter Salles, who proved his road picture mettle by helming The Motorcycle Diaries, now edits footage under the watchful eye of producer Francis Ford Coppola.
This spring, production ramped up on a film version of Big Sur, the 1962 book which finds Kerouac, disillusioned by his overnight celebrity as "King of the Beats," trying to get away from it all by trekking to an isolated cabin in Northern California. Director Michael Polish (The Astronaut Farmer) casts Joshua Lucas as charismatic hustler hero Neal Cassady known in Kerouac's thinly disgusied fictions as Dean Moriarty.
Factor in the 2009 documentary One Wrong Move and I'm Gone: Kerouac's Big Sur, featuring music by Kerouac acolytes Death Cab, and Hammer Museum's new Los Angeles exhibition Ed Ruscha On the Road,which presents novel-inspired drawings, and you're looking at a veritable renaissance festival of all things Kerouac.
Not that he's ever really gone away. Over the course of five decades and dozens of reprints, millions of restless souls have responded to Kerouac's call of the wild, myself included.
At age 15, I first spotted On The Road while waiting in Chicago's Greyhound bus station to begin my first "grown up" trip to Montreal. Something about the title and the lone figure sketched on the cover sold me. I bought the paperback, opened the first page, and spent the night-time trip with the overhead light on inhaling Kerouac's intoxicating narrative.
For the next seven years, in between school and odd jobs, I hitch hiked across the United States, trekked through Morocco and slept alongside European highways. I started out wanting to be like Kerouac but of course, that story had already been told. Instead, I met the guy with one arm who stole my knapsack, crashed under moonlight in the catacombs of Rome's coliseum, shared the backseat of a car with the first Afghan hound I'd ever seen and hitched a ride out of South Carolina with a car thief who gave me five bucks at the exit ramp.
I learned to listen, and through listening, learned to write.
Sadly, the hard-drinking shaman burned out fast -- dead at 47 -- but Kerouac's written word endures as an elixer, a siren song, an hallucination, a road map crumpled by existential wear and tear. Sir Jack: bottoms up!