Two paragraphs from my upcoming piece on the Jack Kerouac scroll currently on exhibit in Indianapolis, and Jim Canary, the library curator who is the keeper of the scroll:
I was born in 1954, so in that sense I am contemporary with the Beats, who of course came of age in a mad post-war period of travel, friendship, escapades, and boozing. They are associated with dope, at least, and “harder” drugs as well I guess, though for Jack Kerouac, the unfortunately anointed “King of the Beats” (as if they ever had a king) the drug of choice was usually simply alcohol. And, like a good French Catholic, and he was a good French Catholic, frequently a red wine. How much did alcohol have to do with the image of the mad Beats criss-crossing the country or zipping around in a Jeep or bus? Alcohol fueled the journey, and the exuberance behind the journey, and the pressing loneliness that gave rise to the need for the journey. Let’s recognize right away the loneliness of being on the road. And Kerouac, who of course tended to idolize his companions, and they of course him, wrote about the times when he was together with them, together with Neal-Dean in the “seminal” Beat novel On the Road, and together with poet Gary Snyder in The Dharma Bums, which I guess might be his two best-known titles.
But really I’m not contemporary with any of it, because I was small in 1957 when that book was published that kind of splashed across the consciousness of America in a strange and changing way. I imagine, like when you spill something out onto a floor and it runs along all the little cracks and gets into and onto and under everything, and even though you try to clean it up you really aren’t surprised when you keep finding, days or weeks onward, more places where you never thought to clean up. But in 1969 he died in St. Petersburg, Florida, just across from Highway 41, living again with his mother, Gabrielle. She was, he said, the only woman he ever loved, though he called out first to his wife, Stella, when he saw the blood.