Jack Kerouac


Driving down Melrose on the fringes of Hollywood a couple nights ago I stopped at a light and saw, painted on a wall in big brushed strokes, “Read Kerouac”. I can’t remember if there was an exclamation point or not. It was kind of cool, the idea that 21st century beatniks still hunker down with dog-eared paperbacks of On the Road. They probably don’t, though.They read it on an iPad at a coffee house. This was Larchmont, one of those very nice L.A. neighborhoods with a whiff of the westside. This is an ebook kind of place. Ebooks and iPhones and electronic cigarettes. I suppose you can still be a beatnik that way. I suppose you can still read On the Road on an iPad and fantasize that you, too, could have been a road buddy with Jack Kerouac, drinking in the same bars and banging the same women and doing the same speed. There’d be poets and painters and method actors. Crackers and spades and PR’s. Parties and readings and brawls. Jazz, lots of jazz. And free verse. Not a rhyme in sight.

Maybe some little Walter Mitty of a hipster stares into the screen as he clacks away. Maybe he’s transported by his own vivid imagination to a land where everything is wood or metal or paper and black and white and good or bad or nothing at all. Yeah, baby. The high tech coffee house disappears and he’s playing the bongos and a chick who looks just like Ava Gardner can’t keep her eyes off of him. His fingers ripple across the bongos like he was born in Havana, effortless, African, Left Bank, Harlem, real, baby, real. She purrs that she loves him. She wants to love him right now, anywhere, right there. He doesn’t even look up. The coolest never do. Got no time, baby, no time, he tells her, I’m playing the bongos. She sighs but doesn’t leave. He knew she wouldn’t. They never do. Dames like her are always there. But great moments on the bongos are special.

Me, well, I don’t really read Kerouac. On the Road didn’t send me. Not my thing. I never played the bongos, either.  And sadly, I know it ain’t the 1950’s. Seeing Read Kerouac on that wall was  like seeing a Bird Lives! or Clapton is God on a wall in New York or London. You’d wonder where the scrawler had been. I mean Bird is decidedly not alive. Clapton is not divine. And Kerouac ain’t my idea of somebody you have to read. But some little nostalgic visionary down there in a nice apartment off Larchmont thinks we do need to read Kerouac. He knows what the is is. What the be of the is is. The to be, baby, or the not at all. Dig? The reefer smoke unfurls around our heads. Time to split.  Sirens dog us as we head down the street. But they’ll never find us. We’re invisible. Invisible men. Ultraviolet. You need the right shades to see us and baby, you ain’t got ’em. He and Ava and Cassidy and  Marlon Brando’s gardener disappear into the night. It’s a big city. They’re out there somewhere. Read Kerouac is written on the wall, in letters big and red and glistening.

Of course, Melrose being Melrose my first reaction was that Read Kerouac was a band name. Or maybe some viral marketing for an upcoming film of the same name. Or maybe it was left there by an independent film production crew. Or maybe someone was making a video.

Maybe it’s an art project.

I like the Walter Mitty of a beatnik idea best, though. Some little internet nebbish at a Starbucks stares into his screen which dissolves to black and white and the clatter of a manual typewriter. Words flow, in streams, in torrents, like a Charlie Parker solo. He’s playing the bongos, and making literature with every word he speaks. Oh do the women love him. They cling to him, glom onto him, breathe when he breathes. They can’t help themselves. He’s read Kerouac.

On the road

(Good lord….this is an abandoned draft for a piece I later posted called Mix Tapes. It began as an essay about cassettes. Then apparently I was possessed by Jack Kerouac. Strange, in that I was never a fan. But here I am in the imaginary travelogue of a Good Sam Club beatnik. Apparently at some point I reread this, blanched, and then fearing for my sanity I lopped off these paragraphs. Fun idea, though, you have to admit.)

Part of the problem is that it’s virtually impossible to actually play my old mix tapes anywhere. I still have my ridiculously fancy double cassette deck I bought cheap in the technology’s final throes. It has all these sad features that attempted to match CDs. You can program a cassette and it will play the tunes in any order you want. One tune will end with a loud click, then the machine will whir, click, whir again, click again, and another tune will come out. All these tunes off a cassette played in random sequence. Both sides. Side A track three followed by side B track seven followed by side A track one. Whatever. It seemed so sad and pointless. Like making a really nifty adding machine to compete with calculators or a glow in the dark slide ruler to compete with personal computers. Yet I consider it a tragedy that cars no longer have built in cassette players. Best was a cassette/CD player. Ideal would be cassette/CD/mp3 player. Of course now cars come with a built in computer. So you have CD/mp3 player/infinite variety of web-based music. Which is when you crash the car. So you hire a chauffeur.

Maybe a motor home would be better. You could have live music in a motor home. Can you imagine anything cooler? Hauling ass across the Mojave at three in the morning, the craziest shit happening right behind you. That long sleepy night time stretch between Baker and State Line, all the scenery, the long dead volcanoes to the south, the vast beds of ancient lakes, the desiccated mountains all utterly gone in the darkness, and you’d be ensconced in that driver’s seat, drinking coffee but thinking of whiskey and behind you some handpicked players playing a long, long set, hundreds of miles worth of jazz. Inner Urge? They’d tear into it. The Bridge? Like you’d never heard it. Giant Steps? Need you ask? Then next stop 88 miles and they break into East Broadway Run Down and you’re barreling past all those goddamn trucks. You’re flying. Like this is the most righteous motor home ever. It’s maxed out, tricked out, pumped up, and fully stocked. There’s a bar, a bartender even, and it’s like a 747 lounge but way cooler. I read about a party Jackie Gleason threw on a train from New York City to Los Angeles. A solid week of a rolling righteous jazz party. The partiers got off that train and they died right there in Union Station of shock at the sight of so many sober people. They hadn’t seen somebody uncrocked who wasn’t in a Pullman uniform since Albany. (The city, obviously, not Joe.) Well I’d throw a motor home party and zig zag across the states with live jazz and beautiful scenery and local eateries and picnics full of leftovers and produce from farmer’s roadside produce stands. Stop late at night, sit round a fire and talk and talk. Drinks, marshmallows, the sweet smell of reefer coming from somewhere. Low volume chatter, people are sleeping. Early next morning we’d relaunch with a scatter of gravel and an open road. Put something into the cassette/cd/mp3 player. Something easy to start with. And more coffee. There’d still be a little pink in the eastern sky. No fixed direction, no plan, no nothing. Just moving and looking and breathing all that air. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere the band would start, just jamming on a blues. A long lazy trumpet solo. A river off in the distance. Mountains ahead. A fork in the road. Someone flip a coin. Left or right. East, west, north, south. Whatever. Doesn’t matter. Just keep moving and jamming and living a crazy, beautiful life. Of course there’s the money thing, the reality thing. But if I were a Herb Alpert, say, this is what I would do.

Man, this story got a little off track back there. We were talking about cassettes. Blogging is like a too long saxophone solo, or an acid trip. Or a crazy guy on a bus, talking and talking. But I really have thought these thoughts out there on the road. Alas I have to work like everyone else. All the stories I could be living, but can’t afford to, so I make them up. Reality has never been my strong suit.