For those of you who know me already, I do a lot of commuting between Preston and Liverpool to get to The Reader so I can do my bit for the communications team. And put plainly, commuting is the worst. Sitting on tin-can Northern trains and rattling through Lancashire to Merseyside in a cramped, overcrowded carriage can become quite onerous. If it wasn’t for a Thermos full of steaming coffee, Twitter on my phone, and a good book, I wouldn’t make it past Wigan.
I decided that a book would be my greatest ally in such circumstances, and that I’d reread Jack Kerouac’s On The Road to get me through the first few journeys. I’ve read it once before; I was around 15 -16 years old and I read it to look cool mainly. I’d just started listening to real music with meaningful lyrics and began enjoying proper films, the classics. To my pretentious teen-self I looked very cool indeed on the bus to college, head buried in a definitive American novel. That being said, a lot of the novel escaped me, the plot ran rings around me. I was too concerned with the fashion of the novel to understand fully what it really was about America that Kerouac was presenting the world.
So, on the railroad, whizzing back and forth to The Reader, I have been quietly devouring the book and getting reacquainted with Jack Kerouac’s wild, mad America while traversing the wild, mad pastures of north-west England.
On The Road is a blend of fiction and autobiography. It follows Sal Paradise, a fictional representation of Kerouac himself, as he hurries exuberantly across America during the 40s and 50s in search of the American dream. On his travels he befriends a true madman, Dean Moriarty: a man with few limits; a man that finds awe in everything and everybody. Their unrelenting journey on the road to personal release and fulfilment is peppered with drink, drugs, sex and jazz: the ultimate modern, hedonistic cocktail.
“We fumed and screamed in our mountain nook, mad drunken Americans in the mighty land. We were on the roof of America and all we could do was yell, I guess–across the night…”
The novel reads like an outpouring of thought. Words spew off the page with unstoppable force, like thoughts falling out of Kerouac’s mind. He famously wrote On The Road in three weeks on a continuous, 120ft long manuscript made up of taped-together pieces of tracing paper which he called ‘the scroll.’ However, the published novel is the result of a mammoth creative process, the consolidation of the extensive scribblings and observations in Kerouac’s notebooks, which he used to capture his real-life experiences and the people he encountered on the road.
This type of spontaneous prose is the ideal accompaniment for journeys. Guiding myself through the epic sentence structures, the lengthy descriptions of hitch-hiked car journeys, heavy parties and almost preternaturally long jazz sessions carried me from Preston to Liverpool and back again in no time at all.
Sal’s time on the road – the result of a feeling ‘that everything was dead’ – spans years. He settles sporadically, but can’t resist the free life. The novel catapults him across America as if time is subordinate: something that inevitably passes by, but something that mustn’t get in the way of experience. All the themes explored by the characters’ actions converge throughout the story. Isolation and alienation, detachment, possession and freedom: this is all of America, past and present, in 290 pages.
A reading of On The Road will make you yearn for fresh experiences. Rereading the book on a crowded commuter train, leaving Lancashire in my wake, I longed for the wide-open vistas of America; the expansive black roads stretching beyond the horizon; the blistering seats of an old Cadillac; a mad friend, with whom I could experience all that life has to offer… I don’t mean this literally – because I can’t drive and can be a very car-sick passenger – but in essence. On The Road instils a sense of possibility in the reader, that there are an infinite amount of experiences out there to be experienced. And at this time in my life – degree in hand, internship underway – new and exciting experiences are very much attainable…