September 22, 2014 Leave a comment
Now we can see Jack Kerouac in a context that evokes memories of Florida’s past: sleeping in a moonlit yard with sweet aroma of orange trees all around, straining to hear the velvet whisper of the wind and his brother Gerard in the piney Orlando night, embarking on a sunrise hitchhiking journey along Orange Blossom Trail, returning with his rucksack full of manuscripts and dreams…No one can say Kerouac only came to Florida to die.
It wasn’t until 2006 that I discovered who the hell this Jack Kerouac character was. I was 21 years old, naive to a culture that would soon become one of the most fascinating movements in history. At the behest of a dear friend, I remember picking up a copy of The Dharma Bums and On The Road at a little book store in Rapid City, South Dakota. I was prepping myself for my first trip to Iraq, and vowed that I would begin reading in the same manner I had years before when I was a lonely high school kid, digesting Tom Wolfe, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald. And suddenly there were these “beat” characters who I recognized by name, but knew nothing about. That would soon change. Before setting off on my own journey, I completed The Dharma Bums. I was instantly hooked. Later in an old World War II era barracks in Nowhere, Wisconsin I banged through On The Road. From then on there really was no stopping me. Once in the desert, my free time was spent in the mountains of Washington in Desolation Angels, in 1920’s Massachusetts with Visions of Gerard, and so on and so on. Kerouac’s work grew on me like nothing I had ever experienced before. Soon, there was Burroughs, Ginsberg, Corso, etc. But, in my one mind, it was always about Jack. And this was only the beginning.
Jack Kerouac proved to be the model figure for a theory that I have continuously believed to be absolutely true: Some writers were brilliant, but it is their life story that is more fascinating than their work. This theory works oh so well for so many artists. Of course, Kerouac’s stories are more or less entirely autobiographical, but it’s not quite the same as it is when reading about him through the hands of those who were around him. The folks who experienced his eccentricity first hand, and were only more than willing to spill all the juicy details they can about the legendary Mr. Dulouz. The same can be said for the folks who became so obsessed with this man and his work without even meeting him, that they can literally call themselves scholars of not only Kerouac, but the beat movement that swept the country. Basically, in the years since first discovering Jack, I have found that it is far more entertaining to read about his benzedrine fueled life than it is to read his benzedrine fueled works.
Bob Kealing may not exactly be one of the aforementioned “Beat Scholars”, but he is indeed a damn fine journalist, and he happen to have the ability to zone in on one aspect of Kerouac’s life that people tend to ignore. That aspect is more of a place really, and that place is the state of Florida. Ignorant and ill-advised Kerouac enthusiasts such as myself are under the impression that Florida was simply where Kerouac went to die at the ripe old age of 47. The only tales I had heard from Florida were meek and saddening. But one thorough reading of Kealing’s excellent expose Kerouac In Florida: Where the Road Ends will all but squash these thoughts. Sure it would eventually be the place where his soul descended from his body forever, before having his physical self shipped back to Lowell, Massachusetts, but Florida meant so much more to him.
Kealing writes with such passion for the land in which he also calls home, but not in an overly biased sense. Through tales of former neighbors, and an obviously great amount of research, Bob manages to document and describe wonderfully every trip, home, and activity Kerouac managed live in or become involved with during his stay all over Northern Cuba. Right down to his relationship with legendary actor Paul Gleason when he was simply a minor league baseball player who didn’t stand a chance in that line of work. Apparently Kerouac took him to see Splendor in the Grass one fine day, which lead to Gleason to look up at the actor’s on the screen and say, “Ah, hell I can do that.” And years later he would be raiding Barry Manilow’s wardrobe and insulting an intolerable Judd Nelson. This is simply one fascinating tale with the pages of Kerouac In Florida. There is oh so much more to be discovered, and I certainly hope that you do.
It would be a bit much to throw Kerouac In Florida out there as a “must read” for all Kerouac enthusiasts. I don’t claim to be a scholar in any way shape or form, but there are books out there that I would consider required reading for anyone looking to indulge themselves into the live of the King of the Beats, which you will soon he down right fucking loathed being called. Ann Charter’s seminal biography, Kerouac, is a must read. His former flame Joyce (Glassman) Johnson wrote a very nice book as well as published a plethora of letters of her time with Jack. And his forgotten daughter, Jan Kerouac, turned out to be almost as talented as her father with her books Trainsong and Baby Driver. Her story was also brilliantly told, along with others, in Jim Jones’s wonderful book Use My name: Jack Kerouac’s Forgotten Families. These are just a few of the “must read books” I would recommend to everyone. That being said, I do recommend Kerouac In Florida to everyone….but, only after you have developed a baseline to truly understand the characters brought up in this wonderful expose.
Kerouac In Florida: Where the Road Ends is without a doubt a book I am very happy to have read. It is no secret that ole Jack might not have been considered a man worthy of adoration beyond his writing. But this is subjective in nature to say the least. The truly great writers out there marched to their own drum, and to put it in modern terms that the younger audiences might understand: They just didn’t give a fuck. This is not entirely true, but is at the same time. Kerouac tended to care too much. He cared what was happening to his soul, not his liver. He worried over the welfare of his cats, but maybe not the hidden children he managed to bear. His relationship with his mother would have baffled Freudian thinkers everywhere. He was a complex individual who happened to have a great talent in writing, but had a terrible time living. But, isn’t this comparable to the womanizing of Hemingway, the self-righteousness of Fitzgerald, the tyrannical self-destructive and misogynistic ways of Bukowski, a myriad of classic novels that Stephen King can’t even remember writing, or the fact that old Fyodor only wrote books to support a gambling addiction? True art rarely comes from a sane mind. Perhaps this is why the likes of Kerouac will always be honored and respected in so many ways, and Mr. John Grisham will soon be worm food and leave only an expansive trust fund for the little Grishams, but no real worth in the history of American literature.
In conclusion, Kerouac In Florida is a very nice work that details many little known facts about a legendary writer that is both entertaining and enthralling….but, only if you know a thing or two about the man first. And I guarantee that once you get sucked into the Kerouac world, this is a book that will leave you grinning like an idiot on a bus in the middle of nowhere. That’s what it did for me, and I hope the same for you..