Monday, August 02, 2010

Hey, Jack Kerouac

CNN.com recently did a story about the photographs of Allen Ginsberg, who captured the Beat Generation with his words and images.

"[T]he beats arrived on the American art scene with an explosion of amphetamine-fueled creativity," says CNN."Their frank explorations of the twin taboos of sexuality and drugs helped to usher in the counterculture of the 1960s and, though their wild antics were the stuff of legend, they paid a heavy price.

"Jack Kerouac killed himself with alcohol, while William Burroughs killed his own wife in a drunken parlor game gone awry."

The first photo that pops up in the slideshow is of Kerouac. His On the Road is one of those seminal works that everyone who has ever been "searching" for anything has read. I first read the book as a college freshman (surprise!) and was shocked, somewhat, to see that Kerouac's main character references both Fayetteville and (here's the really surprising part) my hometown of Dunn.

In reality, Kerouac referencing anywhere in N.C. is not that surprising. After all, the writer lived for some time in Rocky Mount and made numerous treks there to visit family.

Raleigh's John J. Dorfner has written and studied about Kerouac's time in Rocky Mount-- called "Testament, Va., " in On the Road -- "the only time he used a fictitious name for a town in any of his books," wrote Dorfner back in '07 in the News & Observer.

Kerouac described America once as one big backyard, one he loved to wander in, from yard to yard, just seeing what everyone was doing, and to join the party that was going on. And the wild, sad, mystical book describing Kerouac and Neal Cassady -- a cowboy and a football player -- in an automobile cruising the highways, cities and towns of America in search of "it" actually started in Eastern North Carolina, in Rocky Mount. ...

Kerouac roared into Rocky Mount on a roadway of words -- by train, bus or a ride that he bummed along the way. During the late 1940s until 1956, Kerouac made extensive visits to Rocky Mount.

Kerouac visited North Carolina in June 1948 for the birth of his nephew, Paul Blake Jr. He joined his family during Christmas 1948, in a little white house on Tarboro Street, at the end of a dirt road in Edgecombe County, right across the Nash County line, the railroad tracks that separate the town. The city streets weren't paved in those days and Kerouac describes the muddy new Hudson pulling into his brother-in-law's front yard. ...

Cassady and crew pulled up on a snowy Christmas Eve 1948. Neal played jazz records and jumped around and had Kerouac's relatives concerned. But it was all straightened out and Jack and Neal left for their first venture on the road together, taking Kerouac's mother's load of furniture up to Paterson, N.J. Then they came straight back for her and the rest of the gang, Marylou and Ed.

Kerouac's sister moved from their home on Tarboro Street to the crossroads community of Big Easonburg Woods, five miles outside of Rocky Mount. The community is called West Mount now and hasn't changed much from when Kerouac started visiting in 1952. ...

Kerouac describes his life and times in Big Easonburg Woods in his novel "The Dharma Bums," written after the publishers told him that they wanted another "On the Road" type of book. "The Dharma Bums" explores Kerouac's leap into Buddhism; his West Coast mountain climbing with Japhy (Gary Snyder); and poetry adventures with Allen Ginsberg and "HOWL." In it, he devotes five or six chapters to describing his life in Big Easonburg. Kerouac's sister and brother-in-law rented a little cottage that Kerouac used for his retreat. He'd come there from places North, South, East and West and usually walked the three miles to his sister's house after being left off at the intersection of Little Easonburg and Halifax roads. He details this lonely walk, observing the farmhouses and tobacco fields covered in snow. Kerouac would live and sleep out on the back porch. This was his room. He would stay up late writing, either on his back porch or in the little kitchen. He wrote "Visions of Gerard" there, beginning right after Christmas 1955, taking over the little kitchen and writing all night long. He finished up during the first weeks of January 1956.

If you want more about Kerouac and Rocky Mount, be sure to visit Dorfner's article at Empirezine. The town provided Kerouac "with inspiration in-between his cross country journeys in the 1950's. It was a peaceful setting for the hurricane that was to become Jack Kerouac's life and times. Kerouac...if people heard of him at all...they'd associate it with the author of the 1957 novel On the Road, the story of one man's search for a place that, for him anyway, never existed."

(Photos from Empirezine)

5 comments:

Kevin Brewer said...

James Franco plays Allen Ginsberg in the upcoming film about Ginsberg called "Howl."

Jack Kerouac is played by Todd Rotondi.

http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi2072249881/

M. Lail said...

Very good info to learn!

Anonymous said...

My grandparents owned a grocery store in Dunn during the time Kerouac would have passed through, has anybody done any research to determine which grocery store he was referencing?

M. Lail said...

Anon.,
I have not figured it out yet. Hopefully someone will!

SweaterGloves said...

Thanks for the reply. It would be cool to find out it was my grandparent's store, but likely Kerouac did not have a specific store in mind.