Happy Birthday to Jack Kerouac, (featured on the right) who would have been 93 years old had he been alive today. Kerouac was one of the finest novelists of the 20th Century and the man who, in 1948, coined the phrase Beat Generation and put the Beat literary movement on the map.
Like many a Midwestern kid, I first read On The Road with starry eyes and an eager enthusiasm to hit the highway and meet the "mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, delirious 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."
I gave my mom no small degree of heartache at age 17 when, with Kerouac book in hand, I skipped my high school exams and took off with a juvenile delinquent for Denver, where I went to Larimer Street and joked with a tourist that I was looking for Dean Moriarty's dad. (The tourist gave me $5 to go get a meal and a nearby guitar busker scowled, sure that $5 should have gone to him.)
Over the years, I met my fair share of "mad to live" characters. And some who, unfortunately, were even madder to die.
I was also fortunate enough to get my Master of Fine Arts degree from Naropa's Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics and study with many from the Beat poetry scene.
And last year, I was with a small group traveling with Furthur on the 50th Anniversary of Ken Kesey's legendary cross-country voyage and and had a fine time wandering around the Kerouac memorial site.
Kerouac will be remembered most as a cultural icon, but at the heart of it, he was a novelist who was eager to be remembered for his writing. He changed American prose with his "spontaneous bop prosody" and the prose lives on beyond caricatures of "beatniks".