I loved my MFA program, but I have one major gripe — the literary treatment of Kerouac, the utter disrespect of his style. And I’m not talking about from the teachers; I’m not talking about even the students.  Well, maybe a little bit, but it is done with a lot of love and respect.  In learning to write, Kerouac is seen as a piranha, a plague set forth on the young by literary Gods. I will smite you if you try to write like Jack Bloody Kerouac!  Fifty years later, he’s still criticized because he wrote too damn fast. Jesus, Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in the basement of a library with a coin-operated typewriter….in nine days.

I can still hear someone saying, “But he didn’t use proper grammar.”

“Well screw your proper propaganda and your literary fascism.”

Ah, I know I’m being a bit over the top here, but there used to be a generation of writers who didn’t pretend like they were too cool to talk and argue about our literary forefathers. Maybe I’m preaching to the choir when I say this, or maybe I’m the madman standing on his soapbox — sounds kind of cool actually — but I started to think about Kerouac earlier today, because of a Facebook conversation I had.  Let me explain.

This is my brother, Jason Lapin, in New Orleans. He’s a great musician. Check him out on you tube. He plays in the subways of New York City. You just might see him on 42nd street.


In December, “On the Road,” will be released as a feature film.  On Facebook, I wrote I was excited.  Some people were, and others just couldn’t envision that the movie would be good — a butchery of a classic and cultural changing novel.

Well, all I know — whether the movie is good or bad or whether Kristen Stewart can or can’t make more than one facial expression — is that I can’t wait to see this movie.  This post isn’t really going anywhere. I’m kind of just free-flowing, writing as if Kerouac would.  Right now, I’m not sure what the next sentence is going to be.  But all I hear is the blip-blopping piano chords from Thelonious Monk.  What a musician!  He was trying to play notes together in a way to approximate the inability of a piano to reach quarter tones.  Usually, it was cacophony given a beauty and releasing it free from contemporary melodic understand.  Whew!

Ah, the song just ended.  It was Blue Monk.  When I was working at the rehab center, over a month ago, there was this great musician who cared a ton about the kids.  He taught me how to play blue monk.  That opening riff was so tough to learn.  But I just kept trying to practice it.  And I don’t think I have figured out yet.  Just thought I would mention this guy. I was happy to have music.

That drive, Long Beach to Woodland Hills, killed me.  I was just talking to Heron about this earlier — I was not happy doing that drive.  I was miserable.  But today, for the first time I can say in an honest way, I’m doing what I love.  That’s what I’ve been trying to find.  That exact idea.  I’m doing what I love.  I’m squeaking by.  But this is where I want to be.

And, so, that’s how Kerouac influenced this post.

6 thoughts

  1. I think writers tend to have a lot of pride in what they do. Not a lot of people are interested in books or writing anymore (unless it’s about vampires or crime), and I think some people really get off on the fact that their grammatical prowess intimidates people, especially in a culture where grammar is more of a suggestion, and eloquence is basically dead and replaced with internet lingo. It’s used as a tool to separate ‘us’ from ‘them’ if you will. How many poems have you read that used all kinds of fancy words to portray something completely useless, redundant, or self-serving? Practically all of them.

    In my opinion, writers who step outside of themselves, their own ego, and their own satisfaction are the ones worth listening to. That’s a big part of what (some of) the beats did- they made poetry and writing accessible to everyone. You don’t have to like it, I don’t even like most of them, but you can’t knock it too hard. They made writing less about ‘being a writer’ and more about being human- something which hadn’t really been done on a wide scale until then.

    1. Scott, couldn’t agree with you more. There are some people who use grammar as a tool to disenfranchise, as a way to feel superior — to intimidate others from not writing or caring or trying. That seems, to me, to be some elitist bullshit. Thank god for writers like Hemingway, William Carlos Williams, and, yes, Kerouac, who brought language back to the people, brought writing back to the people, by making it accessible to the way everyday people spoke. Sure, that’s a blanket statement. But Hemingway’s simple sentences, though he obviously wasn’t the first, was a way to communicate simply and true. I like that. Often, I do hate poetry that seems to be intentionally trying to sound smart. But there are some writers whose control of language is so complicated and beautiful but yet understandable and compelling at the same time. Like I love some of T.S. Eliot’s poetry. The Hollow Men is my favorite.

      But as for the whole ego thing, Kerouac, towards the end of his life, was kind of a jerk. He had a lot of problems, but he would hate on Frank O’Hara publicly at reading events. He became a horrible man. In that initial writing though, he did seem to be giving himself away to something greater than himself.

  2. This is a comment from Joe Clifford — a kick ass novelist and short-story writer in San Francisco. Check out his blog http://www.joeclifford.com. Here’s his comment that didn’t get posted:

    One of the great enduring literary myths is that Kerouac didn’t rewrite and revise. It’s simply not true. Town and the City is a sprawling, very traditional novel, clearly painstakingly revised, and plenty of his contemporaries can attest (or rather had been able to before they died) to Jack’s deep respect for his craft. What Kerouac did, not unlike Picasso, is prove early on to master a form and then set about shattering it to shit. No author, IMO, has better captured the rambling search of nomadic youth than Jack. Drugs were a huge part. Back when I did speed and would speed all night writing, tweaked out of my gourd, I realized that “punctuation” in books like On the Road and Subterraneans are actually breaths; it’s as though Jack were actually talking this to you, and where you need to take a breath, well, there’s your punctuation. But make no mistake: Jack Kerouac was a master. Truman Capote can go fuck himself (which I am sure he did many, many times [I love In Cold Blood, but he’s not a 1/10 the writer]). I think the part that gets missed re: Kerouac’s writing is just how sad he was. Those early efforts, written years before they were published, capture a man searching for meaning as he learns to be a man, the ultimate bildungsroman. That he ultimately failed, died alone with a bad live squawking at his overbearing mother in a crappy little house watching a tiny TV drunk all day only underscores the fleeting window we have before “adulthood” settles in (being a man is good; being an “adult”? Meh). I don’t go back and read Kerouac. I tried. I can appreciate the prose of, say, Subterraneans, but I don’t feel it anymore. Going back just reminds me I’m…an adult. And, Jesus, who wants to be reminded of that?

    (PS That movie is going monkey nuts, Joe. I promise. Kristen Stewart is a dopey girl, with big ear and no chops. And, goddammit: she cheated on R-Patz!!)

    1. Here is my response to Joe from Facebook:

      Awesome stuff, Joe. You’re right about him revising. But I also think that writers and critics failed to see, and even still today, that improvisation, even in writing, is a practice and a craft. The way I see it, he did what many writers do — freewrote wildly and revised while keeping much more of the wild than most. To me, it’s just like the impressionists wanting to make the brush stroke more visible. Shit, the last comment kind of cut me off. But you’re point about being up all night and writing and learning breaths, well, I see that the same way a musician stays up all night, too, listening to Bird and figuring out when to breath or phrasing. Or the singer. It’s a part of learning a craft. I mean, look at Desolation Angels. We read that book in Wakefield’s “New York in the Fifties” class. I loved that book. I remember this one dude who hated on the book, talked about how he liked plot more, and he later told me he didn’t even read the book. It’s almost like Kerouac’s character, his myth, destroys his rep. Imagine if Kerouac came out today and the books were called memoir, would we give him as much shit? Well, in Desolation Angels, I had the same experience as you; I realized the dots, the dashes, was being used as a way to establish precise rhythmic control. Sure, it was different, but it was awesome. When I first read Desolation Angels, I understood that he was doing a lot what James Joyce did in Portrait and Ulysses–broken thoughts, playing with grammar and sentence structure, stream of consciousness (though I hate this term), working with dreams, and Joyce is a literary master, but he has a far different myth than Kerouac; he spend hours and hours on one sentence…bullshit I say. Liar, liar. But Joe, I’m surprised to hear you say you can’t read Kerouac anymore because you’re an “adult.” Would reading “On the Road” still not impact you? To me, it’s almost like saying you couldn’t read Mark Twain or H.G. Wells or Raymond Chandler. I’m going to post your comment to my blog with a link to your blog. Hope that’s cool.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s