The Friday Morning Listen: Jack Kerouac – Reads 'On The Road' (1999)

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by Mark Saleski

 Tomorrow would have been Jack Kerouac‘s 89th birthday. I often wonder what the mad & exuberant fool would have been writing today, had he been able to overcome his drinking demons. Would he be distraught at the fact that his beloved jazz has fallen to the very back of America’s attention span? Would today’s more “out” musicians do anything for him? Would he still be writing with a typewriter?


Kerouac was (and continues to be) a huge influence on my writing. By this I don’t mean that I’ve tried to cop his style. Instead, what drew me in was the open-hearted embrace of life’s experiences that radiated from his characters. For years I had the following On The Road quote in my email signature, a quote that perfectly captures Jack’s energy: 

…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 centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

While some of the hijinx that Sal and Dean get themselves into are outside of my comfort zone, I’m always inspired by the energy that results from the way they hurl themselves into situations. Part of me knows that this kind of optimism has not vanished, but it seems hidden behind walls of cynicism, doubt, fear, and anger. Wait, let me rephrase that: sometimes I let that optimism be hidden behind the cynicism, doubt, fear, and anger.

In fact, I’ve been indulging in quite a bit of that recently. Sometimes it just can’t be helped. I often wish I was a “glass half full” kind of person but that’s just not the case. Maybe tomorrow, I’ll take out my copy of the “original scroll” version of On The Road and check it out over coffee.

This morning, in the wind and rain (and on incredibly bumpy springtime roads), I’m going to listen to Jack reading his own words…with a bonus of Tom Waits and Primus. On my way to work, I’ll actually drive through part of Kerouac’s own Lowell, Massachusetts. I’ll have to roll down the window and wave. Thanks Ti Jean.

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