Kerouac Was Klutzy Fatalist, Tragic Goofball

For On the Road 's 50th, friends remember the real Jack
By Jonas Oransky,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 5, 2007 12:19 PM CDT
Kerouac Was Klutzy Fatalist, Tragic Goofball
USA. New York City. 1953. American writer Jack KEROUAC. (NYC23573)   (Magnum Photos)

For today’s 50th anniversary of On the Road’s publication, Slate canvassed some of Jack Kerouac’s associates, creating a dramatic and nostalgic picture. The poet’s agent remembers he was thrown for a loop by the “demon” of “public reaction, celebrity,” and Carolyn Cassady recalls him as “a hunk, a football star, and a klutz.”

Kerouac was dismayed that hippies thought “he was giving them carte blanche to be selfish,” says Cassady, and that cultural turn inspired his vow to drink himself to death. Lawrence Ferlinghetti says Kerouac channels nostalgia for the road, which “doesn’t exist anymore.” The writer knew that open spirit was fading, Ferlinghetti suspects, and it drove home his personal tragedy. (Read more literature stories.)

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