Michael Carlson
10 min readAug 11, 2022
On The Road, cover art by Franz Kline

(Note: this piece was published originally at the estimable Arc Digital, back in March to mark the anniversary from which I take my starting point. Many thanks to my editor there, Berny Belvedere.)

Saturday marks the centenary of Jack Kerouac’s birth, March 12, 1922. I never forget it, or miss it, because it’s also my birthday. And now, because Ti-Jean is hitting his hundred, I’ve thought about him and me, and just how well I fit into a generation for whom his impact was both removed and diluted. I’ve felt the ebb tide of generational gap pulling me away from the sands on which were drawn his legacy. I’ve gone back to my youth, and questioned my sense he was already a figure from an out-of-date past. And over the years I’ve felt my Kerouac pulled apart by a rip tide: the strongest pull of all, being acclaimed a success by an America celebrating what they saw but could not see. It was a contradiction that killed him. The Beat poet Gregory Corso understood that implicitly; he’d been in the middle of it. Not long after Kerouac drank himself to death, 21 October 1969, Corso published Elegiac Feelings American, whose long title poem adopted an Allen Ginsberg-style line to mourn and celebrate the America which created Kerouac in its dreams and killed him with its reality:

Did it look beautiful to you, did it sound so too, in its cold
electric blue, that America that spewed and
stenched your home, your good brain, that unreal
fake America, that caricature of America, that
plugged in a wall America. . . a gallon of desperate
whiskey a day it took ye to look that America in its
disembodied eye

Kerouac was 28 when his first novel The Town And The City appeared in 1950. It’s very much an apprentice work, and like virtually everything he wrote, anchored in autobiography. The book ends with Peter Martin putting on his leather jacket and leaving to go, on the road as it were. He finished writing the famous typewriter-roll version of On The Road in 1951; though it would be…

Michael Carlson

Yank doing life w/out parole as UK broadcaster & writer. @carlsonsports. Covers arts, books, film, music, politics & uh, sports. Accept no substitutes