While Jack Kerouac’s adventures as a beatnik youth are no secret thanks to his classic book, On the Road, the author’s personal life is another story all together. The Voice Is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac, by Joyce Johnson, sheds some light on the elusive writer’s childhood, influences, and relationships and, unlike her other book on Kerouac, Minor Characters, this is the first biography of Kerouac to draw from his own journals and abandoned manuscripts. Hear Johnson, a close friend of Kerouac’s for 50 years, discuss the book with New York Times journalist and Kerouac expert John Leland at the Strand.

Wed., Sept. 26, 7 p.m., 2012


Off the Road

Hey, Jack! Hey, you old dharma bum! Guess what? A picture of you is hanging in the window of the fancy Hogan store in Soho! Don’t know Hogan? Buy all your clothes at the Army-Navy store? Well, that’s a shame, because Hogan, a chic Italian leather company, is celebrating the 50th anniversary of your
On the Road with what it calls the Jack Kerouac Project: a $1,290 travel bag from which to fish out a few bucks for a Greyhound ticket, a pair of $475 black work boots with taupe snap-down cuffs to keep your feet warm as you contemplate the cream puffs at Hector’s cafeteria, and a $1,590 leather bomber jacket to use as a blanket while you sleep it off in an all-night movie theater.

It’s a big year for you, buddy. In addition to the Hogan stuff, which the company describes in charmingly fractured English as providing “a clear reference to Jack Kerouac’s mood and sensibility to which Hogan strongly relates, captured in the rugged and original preppy nomad appeal,” On the Road’s birthday is being feted with a tome titled Why Kerouac Matters: The Lessons of “On the Road”
by John Leland; a reissue of On the Road; and even a reproduction of the original scroll you crammed into your typewriter so you wouldn’t have to interrupt what you called your “spontaneous prose.” (Did Truman Capote hurt your feelings when he took one look at your opus and sniffed, “That’s not writing, that’s typing”?)

Ever wonder what happened to that old scroll? It was sold at auction in 2001 for—you won’t believe this—over two million dollars, and now it’s going to be on display at the New York Public Library from November 9 to March 16, the shining star of the exhibit all about you entitled “Beatific Soul: Jack Kerouac on the Road.”

Oh, Jack, Jack—just when I thought we would always be fellow beatific souls, you had to ruin it all by coming out with that rabid, right-wing, bigoted, Jew-hating, America-first stuff. This made me hate you, but actually it has a logical explanation—anyone who lived with his mom decade after decade is bound to go a little nuts.

So maybe, given your late-in-life embrace of capitalism, you’d actually endorse that Hogan merch (especially if you got a cut of the profits). In any case, as so often happens, you’re worth far more dead than alive. Want to really spin in your grave? Check this out: Johnny Depp once paid $15,000 for an old raincoat of yours, and $10,000 for a tweed overcoat.

So you see, it’s all relative—by those standards, the Hogan goods are really, really cheap. And they would certainly make a nice change from the gear you actually took with you when you first went on the road. “My shoes,” you admitted in the book, “damn fool that I am, were Mexican huaraches, plantlike sieves not fit for the rainy night of America and the raw road night.” What else did you bring? We know there was a plaid shirt, since much is made in the book of this being loaned to a fellow hitchhiker named Eddie and, amazingly, returned weeks later in Denver. You also tell us that when you got back to what you claim in the book was your aunt’s house in Paterson, New Jersey (bet it was really your mom’s . . . ), the contents of your knapsack were as follows: two sweaters and two shirts (all of which you were wearing); a pair of cotton-field pants and the “tattered remnants of my huarache shoes.” The typical Hogan customer may not realize this, but it’s actually extremely easy to reproduce that exact wardrobe today. A quick visit to the Internet (how you would have loved the Internet! All those hours of spontaneously Googling!) turns up and a Moose Creek buffalo plaid shirt from for $18.95.

And you know what? Fifty years on, bohemian clothing hasn’t changed all that much. You could easily wear your On the Road ensemble to the upcoming Howl festival in Tompkins Square Park (September 8-9) and not look a bit out of place. You heard right—this event is named after the epic poem by your BFF Allen Ginsberg and promises, among other enticements, a Carl Solomon Book Mart in honor of Allen’s buddy Carl, whom the poet first encountered at the Columbia Presbyterian Psychiatric Institute. (Solomon, returning from shock treatment, purportedly took one look at Ginsberg and said, “I’m Kirilov,” referring to the character in Dostoyevsky’s The Possessed. Ginsberg, sitting in the waiting room—he was at the hospital to visit his mother—replied, “I’m Myshkin.” Thus was an enduring friendship formed.)

Does the neighborhood around Tompkins Square look at all familiar? Guess not. To help you get your bearings, here’s a clue: The building at 437 East 12th Street, where Allen lived for over 20 years, now has a business called LMD Floral Events Interiors at street level, and the restaurant on the corner recommends braised veal cheeks for $32.

Unfortunately, you’ll have to hitchhike down to Soho to buy your new Hogan clothes. The company hasn’t announced any plans to set up an outdoor table at the Howl festival, which doesn’t mean there’ll be nothing to buy—a $25 Howl festival T-shirt, decorated with a pic of Allen wearing his Uncle Sam top hat, will be on sale for $25.

It’s just too bad that Neal Cassady, the real hero of On the Road (you named him Dean Moriarty in the book, but everybody knows it was Neal), isn’t around any more. He was the original T-shirt guy, eons before the rest of America took up the style. Remember how you described him as he parked cars at breakneck
speed during one of his brief periods of employment? “As ever he rushed around in his ragged shoes and T-shirt and belly-hanging pants . . .”

Which leads me to think—maybe Allen really meant to write, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry . . . $1,290 travel bag and a $25 Howl festival tee.”