for every sweet lump of baby born that women croon over, is one vast rotten meat burning slow worms in graves of this earth
— from Desolation Angels, by Jack Kerouac.
How I came to know Jack
I've never read any Kerouac. That is about to change.
The celebration of the 50th anniversary of On the Road (published in 1957), while I recognize it as an important landmark of American literature, blah, blah, blah, did not inspire me to read it. Nothing about it captured my interest, honestly; which is kind of weird actually, in light of those things that generally do capture my interest. But there you have it: I haven't read Jack.
Then last week, I had to go to New York City, for meetings for work. And it so happens that our New York office is across the street from the New York Public Library. And it so happens that there's an exhibition running there till March 16: Beatific Soul: Jack Kerouac on the Road. Featuring the scroll on which On the Road was written (or a reasonable facsimile thereof).
I had a few spare minutes at lunch, and it seemed the library would be a worthwhile destination. And it was.
I had time enough to walk through quickly, and be astounded. A notice on Jack's view of sex and celibacy caught my attention, in which I read the above quotation ("every sweet lump of baby born that women croon over"! — isn't it beautiful?! (the idea being that the procreative act is the original source of all our misery on earth, all sweet babies die)) and I was lost, found, swept away, in love, and wanting to know everything about Jack.
What I now know about Jack
He loved Beethoven.
He loved cats.
He loved baseball, and managed fantasy leagues obsessively.
He loved his mother.
Not only did he author a classic — give voice to a generation — with On the Road, he supplied the titles for both Allen Ginsberg's Howl and William S Burroughs' Naked Lunch.
He kept a list of other artists' transgressions against the beat gospel (as it was in his view).
He put the beat in beatitude.
Beethoven and cats. That's all I needed to know.
I went to New York City, and all I got for my boyfriend was this lousy t-shirt. From the library.
I looked for Jack Kerouac at the bookstore on my return to Montreal. I didn't have much success at first. By accident, I stumbled across a locked glass case up against a column and not noticeably related to any one section. I had to ask for access to browse, and had to ask why it was under lock and key. Those titles identified as high potential for theft, the clerk told me. Bukowski, Burroughs, Camus, Philip K Dick, and Kerouac.