The road ended here. Actually, just about four blocks away from where I sit right now at my computer. Jack Kerouac was taken from his home at 5169 10th Avenue North to St Anthony's Hospital here in St Petersburg FL, where he died from an internal hemorrhage caused by cirrhosis of the liver. Alcohol finally gave him his ultimate road trip on Oct 21st 1969, at the age of 47. He always said that St Pete was "a good place to come to die". Some say he was cursed when he said that, cursed to haunt the bars in St Pete, much like Davy Jones haunts the seven seas! So on the 39th Annual Celebration of his final road trip, all you barflies all over St Pete stay alert and when the time is right, raise your glasses to the King of Beats! And say, "-here's to you, Jack!"
Born on March 12th 1922 in Lowell, Massachusetts his French Canadian parents named him Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac. His ancestry would have an influence on him throughout his life. A child of two cultures, he did not learn to speak English until 6 years of age. Jack's early adult years found him be-bopping between wandering America's highways and byways as an itinerant, and staying at home with his mother. The cultural shifts of post-war America were forcing him to define his own place in society, ultimately causing him to refuse the repressive morals and limiting social ethics of the American fifties. These rebellious values led him to drugs, alcohol and the road. Even though Jack's tenacious devotion to these three muses ultimately lead to his death, it also fired the boilers of his creativity and forged the works that are often cited as some of the great literary mechanisms that helped lay the foundation for the counterculture of the sixties, much to Jack's dismay.
Jack's first novel, The Town and the City, published in 1950 was well received but did not bring him fame. Even though he wrote persistently his rebellious philosophy and his experimental writing style did not mesh well with the structured publishing estate, and he struggled to get his next novel into print for six years. Finally, after drawing from a number of earlier drafts, he created what is now the classic beat saga, On the Road.
In one of the many tawdry tales that populate Kerouac's mythic legend, it goes down that he completed the first draft of the novel during a three week period of "-spontaneous confessional prose fueled by Benzedrine and coffee." The reality being that he outlined the work over the course of several years. After many rejections, Viking Press purchased the novel but demanded major changes before going to press. On the Road was published by Viking in 1957.
Jack's writing style was driven by his love of Jazz and had a quick conversational cadence. Some say it was meant to be heard by the ear more then read by the eye, and along with the works of Neal Cassady, William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, John Clellon Holmes and others, formed the literary structure and irreverent and caustic guiding philosophy of the Beat Generation. Kerouac's best known works are On the Road, The Dharma Bums, Big Sur and Visions of Cody.
A few critics wax psychological about his "inability to enjoy personal success"- and his "quest for spiritual cleansing"- and some have said these demons overcame him in his later years revealing hidden prejudices and inflexible conservative ideals. At the end of the road, he was living back at home with mom and his third wife Stella and was buried in his home town of Lowell, MA. which holds a festival each year honoring his memory.
As with a great number of world-altering artists, true recognition of his literary and social contributions would elude him during his life and only really manifest itself years after his death. Today, he is heralded as one of America's most vital and significant authors influencing the work of many of our cultural and literary icons from Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison and the Beatles to Ken Kesey, Lester Bangs, Tom Robbins and Richard Brautigan. He was without doubt a great American novelist and poet, and the leading figure and spokesman of the Beat Generation, which he named.
The 50th Anniversary Edition, an uncensored and unedited version of On the Road was released by Viking Press September 2007. And so, here on the 39th anniversary of when he last beat feet on the street,Here's to you, Jack!