Jack Kerouac (1922-1969)
ü Jack Kerouac was an American writer of the "beat generation". His work was a major inspiration for the hippie movement of the 1960's and 70's.
ü You might think the term "beat generation" had to do with the music of the time, but according to Jack, it referred to poor people with few opportunities - people who feel, "beat to their socks."
ü Jack was never comfortable as "king of the beat generation". He told an interviewer, "I'm not a beatnik, I'm a Catholic."
ü He wrote about Christianity, Bhuddism, poverty, and sex, drugs, and rock n' roll.
ü Jack is most famous today for his novel On The Road, an autobiographical work detailing his adventures, as he traveled across America and Mexico with his friend Neal Cassady. As Jack later explained, it was "really a story about two Catholic buddies roaming the country in search of God."
ü The story made him famous, almost over night, and eventually led to his downfall - he and his friend Neal were targeted by conservatives and police. Jack was badly beaten outside a bar, and Neal was arrested for marijuana possession. His following books were also attacked by critics.
ü In 1959, Jack wrote and narrated a short, beat film, Pull My Daisy. It tells of a train brakeman and his wife, having dinner with a bishop, when his crazy friends arrive uninvited.
Jean Louis Kerouac was born in Lowell, Massachusetts. His parents were French Canadians, and he grew up speaking French. Jack had an older brother, Gerard, who died when he was nine (Jack was four) from a fever. Before dying, Gerard claimed to see the virgin Mary. Their mother mourned and went to church, making Jack a devout Catholic, while their father turned to alcohol and gambling.
In high school, Jack became a star football player, earning a scholarship to study at Columbia University, an ivy-league school. But, he dropped out after suffering a leg injury his sophomore year. While at Columbia, he made friends with the major figures of the beat generation: Allen Ginsbert, Neal Cassady, John Clellon Holmes, Herbert Huncke, and William S. Burroughs.
Next, Jack Became a sailor in 1942, and wrote his first novel, The Sea Is My Brother. He considered it a failure and didn't try to publish it. It was first published in 2011.
Jack's Navy photo
Jack then joined the US Navy in 1943, but he only served eight days before medical examiners determined he should be honorably discharged for psychiatric reasons. They said he had a schizoid personality. According to Jack, all he'd asked for was some aspirin.
Jack married twice around this time, first to his college girl friend, and then to Joan Haverty. Both marriages were short-lived. Joan divorced Jack in 1951, while pregnant with his daughter, Jan.
In 1950, Jack wrote On the Road, and spent a long time looking for a publisher. It was controversial for its detailed descriptions of drug use and homosexuality. He wrote the first draft in three weeks, and took another three weeks to type it up, with no chapter or paragraph breaks. The first draft contains many prayers and drawn crosses. A revised edition was eventually published in 1957.
During this time, he began a job as a train brakesman, travelling from the east to west coasts, and meeting various homeless men, who would be big influences on "beat" authors. He spent the next decade travelling, writing, drinking, and experimenting with drugs.
Jack suffered a string of tragedies shortly before his death. First his sister died of a heart attack. His mother suffered a stroke shortly after. His friend Neal Cassady died in Mexico. And, a year lager, age 47 Jack died from internal bleeding, due to years of drug and alcohol abuse. The death of his mother soon after led to legal battles between Jan Kerouac and Jack's third wife Stella, over who deserved his money and copyrights.