Random Thoughts

A few notes on Jack Kerouac

... who was Jack Kerouac?

by Ed Boyd


While browsing in the Melrose Library I stumbled on a recent biography (2012) of Jack Kerouac. It has been some years since I became aware of Kerouac so I thumbed through a few pages. I was immediately impressed by Joyce Johnson, the very fluent biographer of her, The Voice Is All.  This is a 14 day book and I finished it, of and on in 7 days because of my fascination with Johnson’s book. Joyce Johnson lived with Kerouac for a couple of years and has taken great pains through her research to paint “The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac”.

It was rumored by a lot people that knew Jack the feeling that he was homosexual. Says Johnson, “In my own experience with Jack he never gave me any reason to think he was attracted to men, though I realized he had his deepest relationships with his intimate circle of male friends. Our relationship ended because of his uncontrollable drinking and his womanizing, which went on very openly after he became famous, though he did not try to hurt me. His inability to make a commitment to any woman other than his mother took me a while to understand, because it seemed so bizarre.”

Johnson does a fantastic job in portraying Kerouac’s voice that matched his vision. The Voice Is All is the title of her important book that gives us this idea. What I want to discuss is how Kerouac came to be an uncontrollable drunk and womanizer. Johnson seems ready to accept the idea that Jack’s only commitment was to his mother.  Maybe that is so, let’s see.

Jack grew up in Lowell, MA to Gabriel and Leo Kerouac in a French Canadian family. The family was strict Catholic so the idea of no sex without marriage was commonplace. Johnson gives us details about Jack’s chasteness which was accepted by him in his early years. Somehow, this all changed with the coming of adulthood. My theory is that it seemed easy to slip into drinking and all kinds of other drugs that erased his conscience which allowed him to do whatever he wanted.     

“Jack soon learned that Ginger Bailey had finally confessed to Hal Chase that she and Jack had slept together. Outraged by this breach of trust, Hal continued to take measures to out Jack out of his life. Jack was genuinely stunned by this outcome. It was difficult for Jack to accept a trifling thing like a little fling with Hal’s woman could possible cause a breach in their friendship…it was ‘nothing but Pepsi-Cola’, Jack said.” This is from Johnson midway in her biography on P.286. In my imaginings Jack’s priorities are eaten away by drink and drugs.

Consider another example:
“Jack hitched as far south as Bakersfield, and then decided to take a bus down the San Joaquin Valley the rest of the way. Just across the aisle sat one of those small, soulful-looking Mexican girls whose bodies reminded him of grapes…they hit it off so well that it was not long before they were holding hands and saying they were in love. Jack had a habit of ‘falling in love’ all at once captivated by the look of this woman or that one-certain types of women were vessels for his dreams” Jack stays with Bea Franco for some months but begins to have the itch to head back east. “It had been a perfect little marriage, but sadness at ending it passed almost immediately. Jack was joyful at the thought of returning to his real life in the East.” When Bea tries to join Jack in the East, he says he is going to take a three year voyage. Bea lets Jack off the hook by saying she will stay at home as it is too cold in the East. “Jackie”, she asked him, “why do you feel the way you do?” This starts on Page 252-256.  Another example of how drinking and drugs can eat away at a person’s sensibilities.

It is true that Jack remained steadfast to Gabe, his mother, sending her money when he could. I think this strains the imagination to think that Jack was attached to his mother, yes, bizarre! What is much more likely that drugs and drink undermined him?

June 7, 2013

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