It’s a requirement, isn’t it, that all unhappy teenagers read Kerouac at one time or another? Just to make it through the ordeal. If it isn’t, it should be. Fortunately, Mr. Kimedowski was my freshman English teacher, and aside from riding a motorcycle and letting us bring in our favorite music for a class project (Joni Mitchell all the way), he loaned me tapes of Kerouac’s live readings and so I felt less bad about being fourteen. I was an intrepid fan by then, so Mr. K’s encouragement made me feel cooler about having read the books. Whether I understood them or not was irrelevant. Dharma Bums, On the Road: they made me blush intensely and I didn’t understand much of what went on in the stories, but I felt something in the words, their fluidity and rhythm. I wanted desperately to be able to create a style as musical and defiant as Kerouac’s. One day.
I stopped impressing people with my love of Kerouac when I met a boy at a beach bonfire doing the same thing. He wore hole-chewed corduroys and a stripped wool poncho that he kept on for most of the month that we were together at a pre-university summer studies program in Scotland. That sounds awfully posh. It was. I didn’t know it at the time and, turns out, I was the only scholarship kid there. For the rest, including Mr. Poncho, it was rich kid summer camp. Poncho rarely came to class, was often high and always left a good two inches of his tattered writing notebook peeking out from his back pants pocket for all the world to see and wonder about: “What did he write in that notebook?” He didn’t just read Kerouac; he was trying his best to become him. I stopped reading Kerouac altogether after that.
Even now I look down my nose at the hipster-pandering Hollywood resurgence of Kerouac fan-dome. I’m not the least bit tempted to watch a movie with Kristen Stewart sandwiched for much of it between two pretty boy actors in a ’49 Hudson. But to look down my nose is surely the most hipster reaction possible. Clearly I must still feel some claim on the author and the words and those first feelings that literature could be rebellious, dangerous, ironic.
The trailer for Big Sur has two things in its favor: it’s heavy on scenery from the California coastal park and it’s narrated with dialogue from the book, Kerouac’s final novel by the same name. In spite of my best efforts to resist it, I’m mesmerized by those words. Totally and complete caught of guard.
Okay, confession time. I want some support here. Were you a jaded, misunderstood Kerouac-quoting teen, too? If so or if not, what was the book that made you feel cool and rebellious at that age? I’d love to hear that I wasn’t alone. :)