“I saw that my life was a vast glowing empty page and I could do anything I wanted.” Jack Kerouac
Reading the book On The Road (published in 1957) by Jack Kerouac reminds me of my own travels, that’s why I love it so much. It was heavily influenced by Jazz music and is considered a defining work of the Beat Generation. The characters in the book find entertainment in almost anything they come across, and if there’s nothing for them to do they just go out and ride, crisscrossing the country several times on a long mystical journey to discover the purpose of life.
Their endless conversations and meditations are fascinating. They pick everything apart and try to find truth along the way, but their way of finding truth is not conventional. Through partying, sexual liberation, meeting tons of bizarre people and living on the edge of society almost as homeless bums, they experiment and grow. Hitchhiking and picking up hitchhikers, hustling, with just a few dollars in their pockets, on a constant search of “IT”.
They always seem to get by and probably had more experiences than most people have had in a lifetime. Jack Kerouac traveled for more than 7 years, taking notes of the people he met, the locations he visited and his incredible adventures. When he finally collected all his thoughts and was ready to write, he wrote it all in 3 weeks, in a mad dash of creative fervor, chain-smoking cigarettes, typing away on an extra-long taped together sheet of paper, known as The Scroll.
His novel is considered one of the best of the 20th century. The essence of America and beauty that he captured in words is entertaining, emotional, powerful, philosophical, and at times absolutely hilarious. The characters find joy in the simplest of things, like the deep dark eyes of a Mexican baby or the tanned breast tops of a lovely young woman. It’s wonderful to read about life in those times before cell phones and the internet were invented, back then all they had were conversations with each other and random strangers that they met along the road.
The character in the story who was the worst influence on the entire group of friends was Dean Moriarty. Sal (the main character) met Dean and they hit it off early on in their relationship. Dean was born on the road. His father was an alcoholic bum and Dean could barely keep a job or a relationship. He was married to three different women and had various ignored children. He wasn’t a responsible person, for him travel, freedom, living in the moment, and the pursuit of pleasure were the only things worth living for.
He always initiated the action, and always took Sal to the best places driving at record fast speeds in his 1949 Hudson. He had a true Joie De Vivre that was unsurpassed. Despite the fact that no one trusted him, Sal loved him and considered him a brother. Without Dean, Sal would have never traveled so far, he wouldn’t have partied until the early morning on countless occasions and he probably never would have written On The Road.
So I ask you today, who is your Dean?
Who is it that challenges you and pushes you past your limits?
Who entertains you and finds pleasure in the simplest and oddest things of life?
Who puts your life at risk and pisses you off, but then through his charm and magnetic personality, you can’t help but forgive him and go out on another adventure?
Who are the Deans among us?
I have met several along the way in different cities and countries. Shit, I may even have been considered a “Dean” at certain times. Maybe, I’ve been a Dean to myself. Pushing myself to travel and meet new strange people and do things that I wouldn’t normally do. In future blog posts, I’ll talk about some of my own wild times On The Road.
Below, I leave an excerpt (page 304-307) of Dean and Sal’s conversation in the backseat of a car about “IT”. After a night out at the Jazz club, they reach an epiphany which has got to be one of the craziest, most beautiful and poetic conversations in literary history. It’s the description of what happens when time momentarily stops.
Here we go!
Dean and I sat alone in the backseat and left it up to them and talked. “Now man that alto man last night had IT—he held it once he found—I’ve never seen a guy who could hold so long.” I wanted to know what “IT” meant. “Ah well” laughed Dean “now you’re asking me im-pon-de-rables– ahem! Here’s a guy and everybody’s there, right? Up to him to put down what’s on everybody’s mind. He starts the first chorus, he lines up his ideas, people yeah, yeah but get it, and then he rises to his fate and has to blow equal to it. All of a sudden somewhere in the middle of the chorus he GETS IT—everybody looks up and knows; they listen; he picks it up and carries. Time stops. He’s filling empty spaces with the substance of our lives. He has to blow across bridges and come back and do it with such infinite feeling for the tune of the moment that everybody knows it’s not the tune that counts but IT—“ Dean could go no further; he was sweating telling about it. Then I began talking; I never talked so much in all my life. I told Dean that when I was a kid and rode in cars I used to imagine I held a big scythe in my hand and cut down all the trees and posts and even sliced every hill that zoomed past the window. “Yes! yes!” Yelled Dean. “I used to do it too only different scythe – tell you why. Driving across the west with the long stretches my scythe had to be immeasurably longer and it had to curve over distant mountains slicing off the tops and reach another level to get at further mountains and at the same time clip off every post along the road, regular throbbing poles. For this reason—O man I have to tell you, NOW, I have IT, I have to tell you the time my father and I and a raggedy bum from Larimer street took a trip to Nebraska in the middle of the depression to sell flyswatters. And how we made them, we bought pieces of ordinary regular old screen and pieces of wire that we twisted double and little pieces of blue and red cloth to sew around the edges and all of it for a matter of cents in a Five and Ten and made thousands of flyswatters and got in the old bum’s jaloppy and went clear around Nebraska to every farmhouse and sold them for a nickel apiece—mostly for charity the nickels were given us, two bums and a boy, apple pies in the sky and my old man in those days was always singing Hallejuh I’m a Bum, Bum Again. And man now listen to this after two whole weeks of incredible hardship and bouncing around and hustling in the heat to sell these awful makeshift flyswatters they started to argue about the division of the proceeds and had a big fight on the side of the road and then made up and bought wine and began drinking wine and didn’t stop for five days and five nights while I huddle and cry in the background and when they were finished every last cent was spent and we were right back where we started from, Larimer street. And my old man was arrested and I had to plead at court to the judge to let him go ‘cause he was my Pa and I had no mother, Sal I made great mature speeches at the age of eight in front of interested lawyers and that’s when Justin Brierly first heard of me because then he was just beginning to take interest in founding a special juvenile court with particular humane emphasis on the problems of beat children in and around Denver and the Rocky Mountain district…” We were hot; we were going east; we were excited. “Let me tell you more” I said “and only as a parenthesis within what you’re saying and to conclude my last thought…As a child lying back in my father’s car in the back seat I also had a vision of myself on a white horse riding alongside over every possible obstacle that presented itself: this included dodging posts, hurling around houses, sometimes jumping over when I looked too late, running over hills, across sudden squares with traffic that I had to dodge thru incredibly…” “Yes! yes! yes!” breathed Dean ecstatically “only difference with me was, I myself ran, I had no horse, you were a eastern kid and dreamed of horses, of course we won’t assume such things as we both know they are really dross and literary ideas, but merely, that I in my perhaps wilder schizophrenia actually RAN on foot along the car and at incredible speeds sometimes ninety making it over every bush and fence and farmhouse and sometimes taking quick dashes to the hills and back without losing a moment’s ground..” We were telling these things and both sweating. We had completely forgotten the people up front who had begun to wonder what was going on in the backseat. At one point the driver said “For God’s sakes you’re rocking the boat back there.” Actually we were, the car was swaying as Dean and I both swayed to the rhythm and the IT of our final excited joy in talking and living to the blank tranced end of all particulars that had been lurking in our souls all our lives. “Oh man! man! man!” moaned Dean “And it’s not even the beginning of it…and now here we are at last going East together, we’ve never gone East together Sal, think of it, we’ll dig Denver together and see what everybody’s doing altho that matters little to us the point being that we know what IT is and we know TIME and we know that everything is really fine.” Then he whispered, clutching my sleeve, sweating: “Now you just dig them in front.. They have worries, they’re counting the miles, they’re thinking about where to sleep tonight, how much money for gas, the weather, how they’ll get there…and all the time they’ll get there anyway you see. But they need to worry, their souls really won’t be at peace unless they can latch on to an established and proven worry and having once found it they assume facial expressions to fit and go with it, which is, you see, unhappiness, a false really false expression of concern and even dignity and all the time it all flies by them and they know it and that TOO worries them NO End. Listen! listen! ‘Well now’ he mimicked ‘I don’t knaow—maybe we shouldn’t get gas in that station, I read recently in a Petroleum magazine that this kind of gas has a great deal of GOOK in it and someone once told me it even had LOON in it and I don’t knaow, well I just don’t feel like it anyway…’ Man you dig all this”…he was poking me furiously in the ribs to understand. I tried my wildest best. Bing, bang, it was all Yes Yes Yes in the backseat and the people up front were mopping their brows with fright and wishing theyd never picked us up at the Travel Bureau. It was only the beginning too…
Would you of liked to have been sitting beside them joining in with some additional commentary?
I hope you find your “Dean” somewhere along The Road and have similar conversations filled with profound revelations on life and its great mysteries!
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