Happy 50th Sal

50 years ago this month On The Road was published. This is a novel close to my heart. There is a certain romanticism of being on the road, between destinations. It’s a mixture of feelings of freedom and emptiness that is hard to explain.

But On The Road is much more than that. A review of this classic, by Louis Menand, is published in this week’s New Yorker that helped me see deeper into the book and why I love it. If you are at all interested in this book or Jack Kerouac or the Beats, I encourage you to take the time to read this article. The author explains that the term “Beat” came to describe a certain generation. It is traced back to a conversation between Kerouac and John Clellon Holmes in which Jack stated, “You know, this is really a beat generation.” In this description he meant beaten down, poor, exhausted, at the bottom of the world. The review goes on to underscore the significance of On The Road and the influence this work had on American Litterature.

Menand writes, “The sadness that soaks through Kerouac’s story comes from the certainty that this world of hoboes and migrant workers and cowboys and crazy joyriders—the world of Neal Cassady and his derelict father—is dying. But the sadness is not sentimentality, because many of the people in the book who inhabit that world would be happy to see it go or else are too drunk or forlorn to care.”

Menand calls Jack, “a poet and a failed mystic.” He also states the Beats were not rebels, but misfits.

But what Menand ultimately identifies as the genius of Kerouac’s work is his ability to convey a sensitive masculinity. He writes, “It is sensitive and it is earnest, a performance of one of the most difficult emotions to express, male vulnerability.”

This might be the real reason I love this book. I feel my friends and I can identify with these same characters as we ramble across the weird American outback.

7 Responses to “Happy 50th Sal”

  1. Megan Says:

    Shankar-
    You stole my New Yorker. I want it back.

  2. Loblo Says:

    The Beats loved each other, at the expense of their wives and girlfriends.

  3. shankarwolf Says:

    Loblo, could it have been any other way?

    PS: Megan; I’ll trade your New Yorker for my National Geographic

  4. shankarwolf Says:

    Just got this in an e-mail from my brother.

    “Just read the Menand piece, which I’m about 90% on board with, though he
    deliberately downplays the profound misogyny of all those guys, and the
    basic regressive pathology of living with your mother your whole life.
    As for the book itself, I have to admit I’ve stopped rereading it after
    teaching it almost every year, though I do remain astonished at its
    staying power amongst young males–it’s one of the only novels I teach
    which is frequently read by kids outside of school.”

  5. hannah the bird Says:

    Thought you might be interested in the recent radio analysis of On the Road…

  6. David Samnga-Lastri Says:

    On The Road never meant anything to me, and those guys were about my own age. What I remember is the opposite of “beat,” beaten down and all that shallow self-pity, losers searching for “something different.” They inspire pity, at best. I remember the Movement of the 60s. The anti-war movement, the civil rights movement, Cuba, Fidel and Che, and rock ‘n roll. All that positive life-affirming energy, responsible engagement, guerrilla theatre, the Mime Troup, thinking about communiam and socialism and democracy, the deep sense of involvement with history and making a better world. What I remember actually happened. The beats were all about a book. A literary contribution, of acknowledged significance, that inspired other books.

  7. shankarwolf Says:

    Mr. Samga-Lastri, I find it quite funny that you often refer to everything you were involved in during the 60’s as “Bullshit” and yet when opportunity arises to praise this time you jump at it. Maybe the Beats knew that all that “life-affirming energy” was bullshit. When we look at the world today it is even more fucked up than during the 60s. Capitalism still dominates the human condition and continues to insult our Beings. Don’t forget that the Beats discussed Dharma and Budhism when Eastern thought was still very much on the fringes. The Beats knew political movements were just playing The Man’s game and the only true freedom you will find is climbing a mountain in the Sierras or somewhere out there On The Road!

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