The Rolling Stone Book of the Beats is composed of the writings of many who were, knew, or were influenced by the Beatniks, as they came to known.
The article by Douglas Brinkley titled The American Journey of Jack Kerouac is my best deep dive into Jack, and I am sympathetic to him. If only he exercised more Buddhist admonitions for compassion and self-control over his drinking, who knows, he might have given us a better model to emulate. Allen Ginsberg took that assignment upon himself and helped create a model for seeking youth to follow.
It’s a welcome and timely read for me, as I’ve belatedly begun reading and trying to map out the influence they had on my hippie-yippee generation. Generation is the wrong word. I’m sick of the wholesale labeling of people born into a certain era as good, bad, or indifferent, especially as GREAT in some way or other. The so-called GREATEST GENERATION, meaning my father’s WWII generation, was also the very same Beat generation. Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, et al were all a few years older than my father, who was a gunner on a Fletcher Class Destroyer who splashed a few Japanese planes in some of the big fights. At that same historical moment these still unlabeled Beats began their palling around and writing. Jack even served hazardous duty in the Merchant Marine for a time, from 1942 until he was discharged as a “schizoid personality” in 1943, perhaps because he announced he’d never kill anyone, even in self-defense.
In fact, all these men and a few women, beat or not, were individuals, as different as they were similar. Jack even distanced himself from his fellow Beats in the sixties and rather than advising and mentoring the oncoming Hippie “generation,” again composed of many elder mentors like Tim Leary, et al, he turned into a sour, politically conservative alcoholic mama’s boy, expressing too little of his vaunted Bodhisattva compassion. I’m grieved to note that lack of compassion included his daughter, making him a deadbeat dad as well as an ingrate to so many who’d helped him. We must separate the man from his art and not deify our heroes as any more perfect or moral than mythic Greek Gods.
Mythology can be fun, but it can lead us astray if we take it too seriously. Jack, for one, created a mythic persona to obscure much of how he wrote, even who he really was. His spontaneous prose style of writing was, according to numerous witnesses cited in this book, revised through countless drafts before a final draft was hammered out on his famous “scroll” fed through his typewriter, so he wouldn’t have to break his flow by inserting another page. How many earnest writers have been misled by this aspiration to be ‘spontaneous’ at all costs and got swamped by unedited gibberish? It sure didn’t work for me.