September 3, 2010
On the Road
On the Road by Jack Keroauc
Penguin Audio, Unabridged Edition 2007
Read by Will Patton
Quit on 7/20/10
On the Road chronicles Kerouac's years traveling the North American continent-from East Coast to West Coast to Mexico-with his friend Neal Cassady, "a sideburned hero of the snowy West."
Though Jack Kerouac began thinking about the novel that was to become On the Road as early as 1947, it was not until three weeks in April 1951, in an apartment on West Twentieth Street in Manhattan, that he wrote the first full draft that was satisfactory to him. Typed out as one long, single-spaced paragraph on eight long sheets of tracing paper that he later taped together to form a 120-foot scroll, this document is among the most significant, celebrated, and provocative artifacts in contemporary American literary history. It represents the first full expression of Kerouac's revolutionary aesthetic, the identifiable point at which his thematic vision and narrative voice came together in a sustained burst of creative energy. It was also part of a wider vital experimentation in the American literary, musical, and visual arts in the post-World War II period.
It was not until more than six years later, and several new drafts, that Viking published, in 1957, the novel known to us today. On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of On the Road, Viking will publish the 1951 scroll in a standard book format. The differences between the two versions are principally ones of significant detail and altered emphasis. The scroll is slightly longer and has a heightened linguistic virtuosity and a more sexually frenetic tone. It also uses the real names of Kerouac's friends instead of the fictional names he later invented for them. The transcription of the scroll was done by Howard Cunnell who, along with Joshua Kupetz, George Mouratidis, and Penny Vlagopoulos, provides a critical introduction that explains the fascinating compositional and publication history of On the Road and anchors the text in its historical, political, and social context.
Until last month, I had never read any of Kerouac's works, so I was pleased when my book club chose On the Road for our July selection. Not a huge fan of the "classics," I decided to opt for the audio version. I wish I could say I was pleasantly surprised with this literary classic, but after four discs, I had to call it quits. I found Patton's nonstop reading of Kerouac's prose exhausting (and a bit annoying) to listen to for more than 10-15 minutes at a time.
The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars, and in the middle, you see the blue center-light pop, and everybody goes ahh...
Truman Capote famously said about Kerouac's work, "That's not writing, it's typing".
Final thoughts: If you're looking for a "road-trip" adventure story, read John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley. Excellent book!
About the audio version:
The year 2007 marked the 50th anniversary of this modern classic, and an audio interpretation is a marvelous way to experience Kerouac's free-flowing prose. Will Patton, noted for his performance of books by James Lee Burke, is a fine match for this text. ON THE ROAD is a winding, meandering journey, and Patton's performance as narrator provides the map. His voice brings the vitality of Kerouac's sense of spontaneity into being. Patton creates distinct voices for the two main characters, speaking for Kerouac in the guise of the observant Sal Paradise and for his friend Neal Cassady in the guise of the pleasure-seeking Dean Moriarty. Patton is appropriately quiet or exuberant, optimistic or cautious, and an ideal guide into the experience that is ON THE ROAD.
In other news, Viggo Mortensen will be playing Old Bull Lee in the upcoming re-make of On the Road. Click here for more info.