This book's influence on me can't be overstated. I took a class on the Beat Generation in tenth grade, which is right when all the kicks seem most dazzling, and I thought yes! This is the crazy bohemian life! And I spent the next ten years trying to be a Beatnik. I hitchhiked from Atlanta to Philadelphia just because according to this book that's the sort of thing one does. No one really hitchhiked, already, in those days; old hippies would pick me up looking bewildered. Well, and racist truckers, too, so some things never change. I would have given my left nut for some benzedrine, or barring that for someone at least to explain to me what the fuck it was. (I still don't know.) I even replayed Dean Moriarty's shoplifting scene note-for-note. That's how seriously I took this book.
So you can understand that, as a 38-year-old dude who says things like "Man, it's 11, I'm beat" and means "tired," I was not at all keen to revisit this. It's a young man's book. Oh God, getting drunk and talking about the snake of the world...remember when that felt dangerous?
But it's not totally silly, actually - I mean, it is, but not all silly things are pointless and there's nothing wrong with a snake of the world, intrinsically.
I see it now as a warning. Kerouac was hitting 30 when he wrote it, and you sense a desperation: "Where is my story?" You sense some manipulation, too. Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady) is a mentally unstable man, and I think the Beats used him for stories. I was inspired by him when I was young; now I feel a deep sadness for him. I see that filthy-bandaged thumb. Neither Kerouac nor Cassady lived to 50. I had a good time when I was young; I'm glad I've graduated to different kinds of good times now.
But either way. All you beatniks out there, go out and hitchhike and be broke and desperate in the vastness of the world. It's a kick.