Friday, December 10, 2010

On the Road: The Original Scroll

The following is not a review of On the Road: The Original Scroll. After 50 years, such a review would be pointless. Instead, this is simply my reaction to the book.
In 1947, Jack Kerouac embarked on the first of a series of journeys, which would take him back and forth across the U.S., and eventually deep into Mexico. Four years later, Jack chronicled his trek in one incredibly long paragraph, typed on eight sheets of tracing paper. The eight sheets were then taped together to form a 120 foot long scroll. After editing and rewriting multiple drafts, On the Road was finally published in 1957.

I’ve heard many people remark that On the Road is a life changing book which “opened the eyes” of many readers. Lately, I’ve had a desire to read “more serious fiction,” so I decided to begin by finally reading the book I’ve heard so much about.

When I bought it, I was given a choice between an abridged version or a printing of the original scroll. I had no idea that the original scroll used the real names of Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, and other characters, as opposed to the fictional names found within the 1957 printing. Nor, was I aware that the scroll contained erotic scenes and an ending which were cut from the traditionally read version. I simply chose the original scroll version, because I don’t like abridged works.

Gee, maybe the life changing part is in the traditionally printed ending, or perhaps you need to be in a particular frame of mind to see it. I don’t know. I mean, I understand the concept of traveling to find yourself. However, such journeys of self discovery usually involve the embracing of some meaningful philosophy or truth. However, it seemed to me that Jack, Neal, and Allen weren’t embracing a solid philosophy as much as they were fleeing from responsibility. Whether it was steady employment, a sexual relationship, or parental duty, such trappings had to eventually be shed to make way for their next kick, lay, or high.

It’s hard for me to respect on ongoing quest for kicks at the expense of conscientiousness and common sense. Kerouac would have ten dollars to his name, spend eight of them on booze, then fret about where he was going to sleep that night because he couldn’t afford a room. He’d hitchhike broke and be mad when the guy who picked him up wouldn’t pop for a meal. Personally, I’d be ashamed to harbor such attitudes, let alone print them for the world to read.

Nevertheless, On the Road: The Original Scroll is a great example of descriptive, if undisciplined, writing. Via his words, readers can vividly picture a truck bed full of hobos traveling down the highway, a mean harbor cop roughing up prisoners, a limousine careening out of control, and Jack getting stoned silly off a huge marijuana cigar made from a paper bag. Whether one approves of the depicted activities, or not, the depictions themselves skillfully paint a detailed portrait settings, characters, and events. Plus, since it’s written as a single stream of consciousness, events flow effortlessly from one to another.

Besides being a writer who digs jazz, I don’t have much in common with Kerouac, as he depicts himself in the book. Still, I recognize On the Road: The Original Scroll as being a passionately written piece of literature, which vibrantly illustrates a particular attitude during a specific time in our history.

"I realized these were all the snapshots which our children would look at someday with wonder, thinking their parents had lived smooth, well-ordered lives and got up in the morning to walk proudly on the sidewalks of life, never dreaming the raggedy madness and riot of our actual lives, our actual night, the hell of it, the senseless emptiness." ~ Jack Kerouac, On the Road: The Original Scroll

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad our standards have elevated somewhat on who cultural heroes are.