More on Kerouac

A post I did from last week, that was ostensibly about recent side projects by members of Death Cab for Cutie, referenced Death Cab frontman Ben Gibbard’s work on the soundtrack for an upcoming documentary titled One Fast Move or I’m Gone: Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur.

Well, now a blogger at Wired has opened the door for me to say more about Jack:

Calling all Kerouac fans: How did On the Road and Kerouac’s other writings affect your world view?

Let’s put it this way, Jack Kerouac contributed significantly to this New Jersey native having crossed the country and settled down in the Pacific Northwest.

For me, though I love On The Road, and it was in my heart as I rode Amtrak west from New York, through Denver and westward to the Pacific, The Dharma Bums is the Kerouac book that impacted me the most. When I first read it, I was lost in the wilderness of Los Angeles. I’d moved there to hang out with friends, and decidedly NOT because I was attracted to the city. After a few years there, I was suffering badly from what a friend calls Nature Deficit Disorder, not because there were no natural areas nearby — there is great hiking in the Santa Monicas and San Gabriels — but because I was immersed in the urban L.A. lifestyle.

And then, two things happened right around the same time that changed my life forever: 1.) I read The Dharma Bums, with its wonderful passages of hikes in the Sierras and Cascades; and 2.) the first REI store in Southern California opened. This was 1991, and I was there on opening day, bought my first real pair of hiking boots, and was soon taking off regularly on the weekends to explore the surrounding mountains.

Within a year, after five years total in an urban wilderness, I packed up my belongings, only what I could fit in my Volkswagen Jetta, along with camping gear for two and a good friend, and I headed north, following Kerouac’s footsteps to the state of Washington. Jack landed atop Desolation Peak, and I landed about 90 miles west in Bellingham.

In addition to geographical and lifestyle changes, The Dharma Bums had another huge impact on me. While I had certainly been enthralled by On The Road and its wild stories of, as Thoreau called it, sucking the marrow from the bones of life, The Dharma Bums had more spiritual content than anything I’d read previously, and it was the first time that Buddhism really got through to me. There was something about Kerouac’s wrestling with Zen, particularly his own impressions of his having been a failure as a practitioner, that, ironically, finally helped me understand some key Buddhist concepts.

I could write a  lengthy essay on this topic, but this is blog for crying out loud!

How did On the Road and Kerouac’s other writings affect your world view?

Yeah, I guess you could say he affected me.

3 thoughts on “More on Kerouac

  1. Man, I really need to get around to reading Kerouac, this stuff sounds right up my alley with the crazy adventures and what not. This is some good stuff.

  2. Hi Matthew,

    Thanks for stopping by FIsh & Bicycles!

    Obviously, I can’t recommend Kerouac enough, but here’s what could be a surprising recommendation given what I wrote in this post: Start with On The Road, not The Dharma Bums.

    Basically, I recommend reading Kerouac’s first three books in the order they were published, with The Subterraneans coming between On The Road and The Dharma Bums, because they cover events that occurred roughly in that chronological order. The reason that this is so important, imo, is that Kerouac’s experiences in the first two books are an essential foundation for understand where he’d been and who he’d been leading up to the events in The Dharma Bums.

    Once you are done with the first three, I think it’s fine to skip around, and you might even want to try skipping all the way to a book, Desolation Angels, that was published seven years later. Why? Because, near the end of The Dharma Bums Kerouac takes a job as a fire lookout in the North Cascade Mountains, and Desolation Angeles is what he wrote while he was up there all by himself. It’s a fascinating stream of consciousness piece.

    Happy reading!

  3. Thanks for that recommendation, I wouldn’t have known to read the first three in that order. I think a friend of mine has On The Road, I’ll be sure to borrow it next time I see him.

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