muchly belated but recently taped back together answer for pelerine
why do i care about the beats.
let me count the ways.
i'm going to start with a story. it's about a caterpillar and a racecar. the caterpillar was inching -- wait...that's an inch worm... -- the caterpillar was, i don't know, inching along, and this was a very happy caterpillar. he had just come from the trees, from the forest (i'm going to tell you where he is now in a minute). in the forest there were trees, like i said, and bushes, and other things to chew on. this caterpillar pillaged everything in his sight. inch by inch, over the course of this caterpillar's existence, let's call him harold. harold the purple caterpillar. inch by inch, harold the purple caterpillar (let's just call him harold) pillaged the entire forest. it didn't happen all at once, it happened over time. nobody really noticed until one day, somebody looked out their window and said "holy shit harold the purple caterpillar just ate everything."
the desert winds blew. rains came, but nothing grew.
then there was a crash of mechanical lightning. everything shook. the caterpillar was flung far from home. which, for all intents and purposes anyway, was completely decimated by his old teeth.
away he flew, it seemed for days. when he landed, everything looked different. first of all, there weren't that many leaves around anymore. there were a few trees, but you could tell that there already a few other caterpillars hanging out over there and their names weren't harold, that's for sure. who even knows if they were purple or not. nobody, that's who.
harold gathered himself. he heard a rumbling, but he didn't really pay any attention. what's the worst that could happen, harold thought, another fucking lightning bolt? big deal. been through those before, haven't i. yes i have.
that's what he was thinking.
the rumbling seemed to be getting closer. harold got up on his millions of tiny legs and started to inch around, looking for at least some grass or something. then, as he started inching along, he noticed that he was scraping the bottom of his belly with something rough and hot. he looked down.
that's exactly when the racecar ran over poor harold.
i didn't even start reading the beats until about 3 or 4 years ago. it's true. in fact, my world-famous novel, which now i look at and think about how much i owe to kerouac for it, was started and at one point half finished before i even picked up "on the road". kerouac had always represented something to me that meant this invisible period during the 50s that there were no movies about and no one really talked about but, that meant independence and hitchhiking. my dad had mentioned him a few times when i was a kid. the context i can't remember. my uncle hitched across the country when he was in his 20s and i was but a lad. i envied that. i wanted to do that.
i spent my high school years reading high school books and my college years not finished college books. i spent the first few years after college reading them all. everything from every era from "the decameron" to "les liaisons dangereuses" to "going after cacciato". i learned about the elizabethans and the victorians and the lost generation and all that.
i don't know what finally made me buy "on the road." i think i was going thru my self-made list of books i had to read. i finished hemingway's short stories, had just gotten thru "raise the roofbeam, carpenters" and "on the road" was just next. i knew nothing. it was on my list.
still, to this day (yeah...like it's been a long time), i get inspired by reading kerouac. it doesnt matter if i read "doctor sax" again or just thumb through "mexico city blues". it gets to me. his words make so much immediate sense to me, and they seem so free, so easy, and then i write and it just comes. and i dont think that i imitate him...i wouldn't want to. i mean, i borrow things...but by "inspire" i dont mean that i just feel like writing like that. it's something more.
"on the road" was bothering me for a while as i read it because there was no plot. they were just going on these trips. and then i realized, i think about the time where he's describing a jazz show at a small club, that it's not about the plot, it's about the fact that life is plot. each third of that book, as it goes in different directions, is just embracing each one because that's what's happening RIGHT NOW. and he put so much emotion into RIGHT NOW. living in the moment.
i read another, then another. now i have them all. read them all. i've read a little ginsberg, a bit of burroughs, and i'm still finding their place for me. for me, it's all about jack (so far). and this is why i care so much and why i hold it so near:
freedom. any word, if it described the scene or the girl or the sky or the note, any word counted. all words counted. it didn't matter if you looked them up in a thesaurus or repeated yourself or anything. it was all about that word, RIGHT NOW. it was all about that sentence, built like it was or built like it wasn't. total freedom. it was all about that road because it was right, that note because it was right, that word because it was right. it was all about this:
jack made it cool (for me) to allow yourself to feel like i'm feeling, to write like i'm feeling and to just blow, baby blow. i mean, where else can you get such freedom than from within? there is no nation, no law, no constitution, no island paradise that can bring the freedom that comes with being able to express yourself powerfully and accurately by using whatever YOUR method is, not the methods of the teachers who never even told me about this cat.
and: not only having the freedom but knowing it.
i've since become much more appreciative of modern art, for one thing, especially jackson pollack.
i might say that in a way i live a little vicariously thru these crazy artists, these anything-goes personalities who had no responsibilities (or perceived to have none). i'm a reg'lar guy. married at 27, happily. got a kid. happily. got a normal job. maddeningly. but there is something about that ontheroad ideal that is appealing just to witness thru words. i feel, though, that instead of wanting to live that way, that i'm able to feel that way by writing the way my heart tells me to. and i'm able to express so many emotions by just feeling it, by freeing the internal structure of my learning and mixing it out and coming up with something that is accessible and beautiful but unique to someone who might read it.
that's all inspired by the beat generation. and not only reading kerouac's books, but studying the legend, studying the biographies of them all. how they got along, how they didn't. how they found themselves where they were.
it's exciting to me that an entire generation is defined by this: experimentation. not by the world around them so much, or what was happening, but rather by the method they used to approach their craft. they changed the way that fiction is read and written in modern society.
cept for poor harold, of course. freedom's just another word for nothin left to squish.