Ever so on Kerouac’s ever cultured road
Beats idolized too far
Published: Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 02:02
In the 1950s a group of American writers reacted to post-war culture and lived on the fringes of stuffy American values, pushing boundaries through literature, religion, drinking, drugs, and sexuality. The beat generation has since been a significant part of American culture, particularly in places like Denver that were frequented by beat icons like Jack Kerouac and Neil Cassady.
With unsure economic prospects and the stress and isolation of a technological society, the wandering, carefree mentality of the beatnicks has become increasingly appealing.
The most obvious reflection of this beat fixation is in the number of movies that have been made about the beat generation in the past few years.
James Franco played Allen Ginsberg in the 2010 film Howl, named after Ginsberg’s famous work by the same title. In 2011 the documentary Love Always, Carolyn explored the role of Neil Cassady’s wife and her relationship with Kerouac.
Kerouac’s iconic novel On The Road was adapted into a film late last year, and an adaptation of his book Big Sur is set for release later this year. Kill Your Darlings, starring Daniel Radcliffe, explores the beginnings of the relationship between Kerouac, Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs and is also set for release in 2013.
Older businesses of Denver often boast their histories as hangouts of Kerouac and brag of their shout outs in On The Road. Paris On The Platte and My Brother’s Bar in River Front neighborhood, and the Colburn Hotel in Cap Hill all garner some of their popularity because of their association with Cassady and Kerouac.
In 2007, the downtown branch of the Denver Public Library featured an exhibit of Kerouac’s legendary 120-page scroll, on which he is said to have written On The Road, pounding furiously at a typewriter and composing the entire book in 20 days.
There is no denying that beat writers and poets like Kerouac and Ginsberg added immense works of imagination and emotion to the American literary canon and did a lot to break the boundaries between literary intellectuals and laymen. But, the beats have also taken on a role of idolization in American culture, holding a cult status that has little relation to who they were as artists or as human beings.
A browsing of Tumblr reveals pages of out-of-context Kerouac quotes and isolated Ginsberg lines. The irony of the quoting of these writers is that an admiration for their writing tends to trivialize and deny the darkness of what they were actually writing about.
Kerouac’s struggle with
severe alcoholism and depression becomes cute inspiration for a life of passion and true living. Ginsberg’s struggles with his sexuality are mostly ignored, as is Cassady’s tendency toward domestic abuse, drug addiction, infidelity, and semi-pedophilia.
Regardless of the darker sides of the beat movement and the undeniable hypocrisy in its idolization, the group of writers plays an important role in the character of America—both its culture and its literature—and in the landscape and history of Denver itself, and that is a pretty neat thing to preserve.