on August 18, 2007
Somehow I imagined the scroll to be an incomprehensible mess that editors had to sift through in order to create something that could be published as a novel. I was very far from the truth.
The Original Scroll is an example of excellent writing. Yes, it's missing paragraphs, but the style is sharp like a knife's edge. Kerouac's text has power to concentrate reader's imagination and then send it flying into a thousand of directions at once.
I think I actually prefer the scroll to the classic editions of On the Road. The scroll feels very real and easy to understand.
on August 19, 2007
On the Road - the original road trip. The book that took the Beat movement mainstream and fused literature and the youth culture inextricably in the 50s and 60s - presented here as the legendary scroll manuscript Kerouac initially produced. It's readable and electric. The act of reading this familiar and envigorating story anew makes it fresh again. The differences are small (in the scroll Kerouac uses real names instead of of the pseudonyms used in the published novel; the scroll is sexier and feels a bit edgier and more breathless) - but enough to make me experience it in a raw new way. Kerouac's quest for Cassady is a story that puts me in touch with what life's all about: freedom, friendship, creativity, partying, love - and the wanderlust questing nature of the human soul. It's never been more needed - or more pertinent.
This is a great way to reconnect with this great classic. If you've never read it, I wouldn't hesitate to read this over the published one. This version makes it easier to reconnect the novel's/memoir's action with history. Highly recommended
on August 25, 2007
The 50th anniversary of the publication of Jack Kerouac's "On The Road" is commemorated by the release of three major volumes. They are a designated 50th Anniversary edition; "On The Road: The Original Scroll", the long-awaited controversial release of the uncensored 120-foot alleged "teletype roll" on which Kerouac blazingly blasted out his masterwork in just three weeks, six years before its publication; and a handsome Library of America edition, "Jack Kerouac: Road Novels 1957-1960", edited with textual notes by historian Douglas Brinkley, featuring Road and four other of his best known novels along with selections from his journals. (See separate review).
Whether this literary blitz will lead to a grand revival of interest in Kerouac's work by both old and new generations has yet to be seen. But it secures his reputation as a major American writer because his voice resonates with the great poignant prose of Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, and John Steinbeck, celebrating the wonders and adventures of youthful travels on the open road. In the book's first major favorable review, Gilbert Millstein of The New York Times praised "On The Road" as being to the Beat Generation what Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises" was to its precedent bohemian Lost Generation.
Millions of readers and generations of authors have been influenced by the "On The Road", typically discovered by readers in their adolescence. Almost everyone who has read the book remembers when and where they first encountered it, the way one indelibly recalls the loss of virginity.
Praise for Kerouac's work is far from universal. Many academics, critics and other writers dismiss him as a primitive and pretender, his writings merely ramblings of a drunken bum, and already are expressing displeasure at his being included as an author worthy of the high-brow Library of America collection. Truman Capote, an early inductee into the series, famously scoffed of Kerouac's prose, "It isn't writing. It's typing." But like his detractor, "On The Road" and Kerouac's other books have withstood the great test of time.
It has been known for decades Road was begun in 1948. Rough draft segments of Road are found in Kerouac's journals he kept since a youngster in his hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts, now collected and edited by Brinkley in the recent book "Windblown World".
Before the long-delayed publication of "On The Road" in 1957, what commonly is referred to as the full "first draft" was typed out at 100 words a minute during three weeks in April 1951 on a 120-foot length of paper often called a "teletype roll". It is one long, single-spaced, unbroken paragraph. Some say Kerouac wrote it on a Benzedrine binge; others point to a letter Kerouac wrote to Cassady saying it was just "coffee" that fueled his mind. While there is plenty of circumstantial evidence that speed really was the driving factor, in the end, this is just more pieces of minutiae and trivia permeating the Kerouac mythology, and really doesn't seem to matter.
In 2001, the original scroll was purchased at a Christies' auction in New York by Indianapolis Colts owner James Irsay for $2.43 million, a world record for a manuscript. After his successful bid, the following day Irsay allegedly was offered twice the price for it, and has said that he was prepared to pay as much as $10 million.
A good friend of Brinkley, Irsay dispatched his private jet to pick him up and accompany him to the auction as an "advisor". Irsay helped organize an extensive tour of the scroll, now encased in a long glass topped and sided table, with the scroll unfurled several feet and connected to two adjacent Torah-like cylinders which curators may occasionally carefully wind to reveal another segment of the text. It has been restored by adding backing and treating the front with a preservative. After a final tour date in 2009, Irsay plans to donate it to Lilly Library at the University of Indiana.
The "scroll" has hundreds of hand-written edits by Kerouac and many sections of lines deleted by cross-outs. John Sampas, Kerouac's literary executor, told MSNBC these would not be included in Viking's "uncensored" release. The original famous opening line of "On The Road" stating Kerouac first met Moriarty soon after Kerouac separated from his wife appears in Scroll recounting he first met Cassady after the death of Kerouac's father. The actual scroll ends abruptly, without the long, haunting Wolfeian paragraph closing the novel, pertaining to unsuccessful searches for Neal Cassady's father in Denver. The scroll was entrusted to his friend Lucien Carr for safekeeping, and Carr's dog chewed up the end. "Original Scroll" appendages a supposition of several pages in an effort to complete the manuscript and show its last words were close to the 1957 first edition. This was written by editor Howard Cunnell and is somewhat a leap of faith.
Sampas has claimed Viking's 1957 "censorship" was due to explicit references to sex and drugs. The "F" word was scratched out by Kerouac on the first page of the scroll text but interestingly does appear in The Original Scroll, although Sampas averred scratch-outs would not be included. The scroll was published despite potential libel problems involving characters' real names. Cassady and Ginsberg signed releases for their pseudonymous inclusion in Road. Neal Cassady's wife, Carolyn, who did not, lives in Great Britain, where libel verdicts are easier to obtain, and angrily denounced as a "travesty" plans to publish the scroll.
Four Kerouac scholars put Original Scroll together. Cunnell filled gaps and made calls on original deletions, corrected spelling, inserted paragraph breaks, and edited it for a more cohesive read. Cunnell, Joshua Kupetz, Penny Vlagopoulus and George Mouratidis wrote superbly insightful introductory background material and analysis, the book's first 97 pages.
An enduring question about the scroll concerns whether it actually was typed onto teletype paper. There are arguments for and against this. Carr, a news editor at New York's United Press International bureau, supplied Kerouac with teletype paper in the early 1950s. Some say the "scroll" was taped together in 12-foot segments.
Scroll examiners including Cunnell say portions of it have a scored line down one side, suggesting it may have been hand-ruled and cut to fit the platen of Kerouac's typewriter, indicating it was not teletype paper. However, Cunnell in Original Scroll also makes some errors, not the least of which is that the Burroughs house in Algiers was located next to a bayou. In fact it is about two blocks from the river and miles from the nearest bayou.
Brinkley in "Windblown World" acknowledges Carr gave Kerouac teletype paper, but refers to the scroll as "Japanese art tracing paper". In a 1979 New York Times article, Cassady biogarhper ("Holy Goof") William Plummer wrote that Kerouac "fed into his typewriter a bulky roll of Chinese art paper". The paper used also has been referred to variously as onion-skin, "nearly translucent", and as architectural drafting paper. Kerouac told fellow beat writer John Clellon Holmes that he planned to write the manuscript on "a roll of shelf paper."
In her bitter "Nobody's Wife", (2000), Kerouac's second wife Joan Haverty quotes him saying "'See what I found in that cabinet over there? This whole big roll of paper the same width as typing paper.'"
Gerald Nicosia's critical biography "Memory Babe" states Kerouac found "20-foot sheets of Japanese art paper" in the same apartment Kerouac shared with Haverty - whose previous tenant was her friend Bill Cannastra, beheaded in a subway accident. The apartment was in the same building as that of Carr. This may be Brinkley's "Japanese art paper" postulation source. Cunnell maintains the roll was taped together from eight pieces of very thin sheets owned by Cannastra.
After Kerouac presented the scroll to publisher Robert Giroux in 1951, unfurled it in his office and exclaimed "Here's my novel!" Giroux was shocked by the one long unbroken single-spaced paragraph and rejected it outright. Startled by the format and complaining printers would not be able to compose from it, Giroux said it "felt rubbery, like Thermo-fax paper."
The back dust jacket photo of "Scroll" shows Kerouac holding long, unfurled footage of a paper roll, connected to a large roll of paper, clearly not taped together. The book speculates that Kerouac used this particular roll for his second novel, The Dharma Bums.
The Road scroll now is yellowed with age the way foolscap or newsprint-type teletype paper degrades quickly due to acid content. While this continuing literary mystery deserves proper forensic examination, in the end, it too, really doesn't matter.
"On The Road: The Original Scroll" is well worth buying and reading, and ultimately, may appear to some (as initially it did to me) to be a better, more contextually significant book than "On The Road" as published that fateful day of September 5, 1957. The astute introductions alone are worth the price of admission and provide a rich history of the several drafts of the book ultimately published as Road. Reading the actual scroll text is a revelation worthy of the long wait and lends great insight into the factual material of the evolution of the subsequent drafts.
But after reading "Scroll", more than 35 years after I first encountered "Road", in re-reading the text of the common edition as we know it today, my feelings remain quite mixed. True died-in-the wool fans will undoubtedly at some point place both books next to each other so they can plainly see the differences. In some ways, the 1957 version is more easily readable, with its paragraph breaks, tighter more grammatical sentences, and the indisputable polish of a much-revised text more likely at that time to have garnered the public acclaim (and disdain) for its content. My penultimate feeling is the two books should not be compared for quality, and that each can stand on their own feet for what they are: Writings of a genius who is less significant for his description of "kicks" compared to the deep themes of the loss of his father and brother he sought to find in Neal Cassady, and, in later books, his pantheistic interwining of Catholic and Buddhist spirituality. The works of Jack Kerouac, like a grand old cypress tree refusing to break in a hurricane, have withstood ravages of the ages, and placed him amongst the immortals.
Published in 1957, this autobiographical novel by Jack Kerouac captured the spirit that was seething underneath 1950s conformity. Myth has it that he typed it non-stop for three weeks, using one long continuous sheet of paper. I understand it went through several drafts after that but it still holds the immediacy of that marathon typing session, the staccato rhythm of the words creating improvised rhythm across the page with little, if any punctuation.
The narrator, Sal Paradise, is on an epic quest, one that takes him back and forth across the country with Dean Moriarity who is based on the real-life Neal Cassady. Dean, the reform school escapee who specializes in stealing cars, is Sal's mentor. And it is the automobile that is their chariot, which keeps them constantly in motion. Dean's madness is glorified, as is his ability to do whatever he pleases. There are a lot of drugs in the book, but liquor seems to be their drug of choice. They leave the heroin for a character loosely based on the real William Burroughs. Women drift in and out of the story, usually as one of Dean's lovers who he treats terribly. Dean treats everyone terribly though, abandoning Sal on several occasions, once while Sal was suffering from dysentery while they were in Mexico. Sal, however, always forgives Dean, seeing him as a god-like hero, no matter what he does.
There's more to the book than the story though. The book is a trip, in every sense of the word. With the simple force of his writing, Kerouac took me on an adventure. With him I crisscrossed America, hitchhiking, walking, taking buses. With him I sat in a car driven by Dean Moriarity, speeding for hours at 110 miles an hour and not even thinking about a seatbelt. I met the pathetic women who loved Dean and didn't feel a bit sorry for them. I felt the quest in Dean's heart for his hobo father who he constantly searches for. And, I experienced the jazz, felt the heat and smelled the sweat in the many small bars, felt my head reel from the whisky and the sound all around me, stayed awake all night listening to sounds and being alone with the music in a room full of people. Yes, I felt I was there with the travelers, enjoying vicariously the thrills and the chills and knowing this would be my only entry into that world. Jack Kerouac eventually became an alcoholic and died an early death, but I'm personally grateful for this book he left behind and the experience of reading it. Highly recommended.
Just a note this time. I will not try to repeat what others have so clearly stated. This version of the work with Matt Dillon is amazing. I really enjoyed his vocal version of Dean. The reading of the work is clear and precise and studio perfect.
I'm very happy that this has finally been put out unabridged. David Carridine put out a version through Penguin in the mid-eighties on cassette, that was really fantastic as well, but was, unfortunately, abridged. Carridine's Sal Paradise was truer to the vocal spirit of Jack Kerouac, almost imitating him it seemed, which you won't find Dillon trying to repeat. Nevertheless it's entirely absorbing.
Some people have complained about Matt Dillon's "sluggish" reading in places with the material. I disagree with this sentiment vehemently. I believe the emotional honesty which you can hear from Matt Dillon's voice, shows that not only does he know the material, has listened to Kerouac's and Burroughs's past voice recordings but grasps the larger meaning of the words themselves, which is the true point of the book. He intonates like Jack without trying to imitate him ... which would really be a sin.
Well worth the money and the time spent listening.
Thank you, Matt Dillon.
Thank you, Jack Kerouac.
on December 27, 2005
I first read this book when I was 17 yrs old in Austin, Texas. I promptly left on a 5 yr adventure back and forth across the country with a stay of no more than 3 months in any one home and no more than 6 months in any one city.
Obviously this one made an impression with its story of criss- crossing the nation. It's set in a time that I didn't really know that much about when I read it (late 40's , early 50's). I really knew nothing of the Beats and their ultimate influence on the counterculture of the 60s. This is a great story from the perspective of seeing the country in this era through the eyes of people influenced by the Great Depression and a World War. It is written in a language almost musical in nature.
One thing I noticed- I have read this book at least 10 times over the years. I re-read it last year, at age 30, and finally realized that these groups of characters are not good people for the most part. These guys I looked up to as a kid are really a bunch of misogynistic con men who lie, cheat and steal their way through life. I am puzzled how I could have missed this before other than due to Jack Kerouac's ability to make you understand and care for his characters and paint them in a very sympathetic light.
All in all essential reading for anyone interested in 20th century American Literature
I suppose it was only a matter of time before the original scroll found its way into print. Jim Irsay paid a cool $2.4 million for the scroll back in 2001. Fortunately, he was generous enough to send the scroll on the road for a 13-stop tour which will be completed next year at Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center in Austin, Texas.
It is important to have the scroll now in print as it differs significantly from the 1957 edited version we have all come to know over the past 50 years. Regarded as the seminal work of the Beat Generation, On the Road recounts Jack Kerouac's journeys across America in the late 40's and early 50's, where he met up with Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and many others who formed an underground literary movement, that took its beat to some extent from the Be-bop jazz of the era.
In Neal Cassady, known as Dean Moriarty in the 1957 version, Kerouac found his alter ego, a person who lived in the here and now, seemingly oblvious to the world around him. The two covered a lot of ground together, assuming the lives of hobos at times, hopping trains as they criss-crossed the country in search of soulmates. To many influential figures of the era, Cassady appeared to embody the perpetual state of being found in Buddhism. He would have as strong an influence on Ginsberg as he had on Kerouac.
Kerouac went onto write Dharma Bums, Desolation Angels, and many other accounts of his travels and relations with the Beat generation. Some of these stories are captured in a new Library of America edition of Jack Kerouac. But, it is On the Road that captured the imagination of a new generation, which treated this book like a Bible for the open road in the 60s, including Francis Ford Coppola, who bought the screen rights to the book in 1968, and is finally making it into a movie with Walter Salles directing.
on August 5, 1997
Clearly, the place of Kerouac's On the Road as one of America's greatest novels of the twentieth century no longer needs to be justified. To acknowledge that this text defined Kerouac's generation and informed each successive generation goes without saying. When, however, a reader begins to strip away the thin veneer (Michel Foucault would call this "archaeology") of Kerouac's "autobiographical" novel what one finds is something more resonating and universal than simply two guys getting their "kicks" while traveling the roads of America. The common, albeit fallacious, belief that Kerouac wrote this novel in three days undermines the numerous revisions and deletions that make up the final published book that we know as On the Road. Kerouac carefully constructed his texts around a vast personal knowledge of literature and the myths of his country. In fact Kerouac hadn't even written his dictum on "Spontaneous Prose" when this novel was published (read Visions of Cody for the spontaneous rendering of On the Road). When the book is read slowly, with a critical eye, what one finds is a broad picaresque tapestry loaded with symbolism and American folklore that develops and unfolds in a clearly developmental way. Each trip across the country is for a different reason and has its own agenda--this is the true, though often unrealized, beauty of the book. The inability of Sal and Dean to find satisfaction at any given point in their travels not only attests to their personal restlessness but, in Kerouac's hands, becomes a human restlessness that crosses all ages and continents. Of course, by inextricably tying human restlessness to the "American dream" Kerouac presents a view of life where the "ideal" and the "real" can never exist cohesively. More importantly, the book is about our own mortality as a country and as individuals. If you've read this book once, read it again
on October 25, 2000
In a time reverse way, I felt dated, reading this very modern piece of writing with my postmodern consciousness. At first I felt like I was in the ejector seat of a convertible without seatbelts doing 110 MPG with a drugged or drunk driver commandeering the steering wheel. Well, we the readers, not to mention the characters, are. But all the boozing, drugs, women, and breaking of various Commandments don't have the consequences we'd expect in a more recent novel. Instead, we learn about the holy pursuit of getting high on life, especially as it is lived on the edge. A gang of characters is wrapped like a hurricane's winds around Dean Moriarty whose bipolar (postmodern judgment there) energy flows inspire antic cross country road trips across several years. In a book that's fueled by organic movement, there comes the day when the characters have to move on and away after they have achieved the highest (literally) point in their travels, and that's the ultimate consequence, that the momentum dissipates.
I had put off reading this book, thinking I couldn't handle one long abstract rant, which it isn't, though I'd picked up that impression somewhere. Kerouac sings like Whitman in a voice that is at once poetic and yet concretely journalistic. It is urgent, thus propelling its content, peeling away the past and future. There is artistic skill and knowledge at work in every sentence.
I read the critical introduction last, so it would not color my experience. It is an excellent introduction, one addressing more autobiographical detail than text, but all the same, read it as an afterward; I think Kerouac would want you to live the book unfettered by context.
on April 29, 2001
The discovery of 'On The Road' has (excuse the cliché) changed my life irreversibly. I found it to be the most riveting, energetic, powerful and inspirational work I have ever had the fortune to read. My poor friends, and just about anyone else who has cared to listen, have had to endure my crazed ramblings of passion and attempts to describe the sheer genius and delightful brilliance of Kerouac and his work. I cannot begin to describe how much this book has affected my entire perception of the World and everything within it. Kerouac feeds the itch within anyone who has a rambling soul, leaving the reader craving for their dreams, ultimately, anyone who gets this, anyone who truly appreciates it, I am confident will never be quite the same. Every scene, every pure, brilliant landscape, every character is crafted with such skill and subtle, tactical brilliance; you fall in love with each one. Sparkling, pulsing dialogue, evocative simple depiction, passion, craving; this book is so powerful; combining enigmatic and isolated reflection with irresistible freedom that reflects the ultimate lifestyle of anyone who just cannot stop moving. It is so modest and subtle...Kerouac is a literary God. Please read this. Buy it. Buy a copy for everyone you know! I can't imagine that I could ever have lived without knowing, without ever realising.... This book should be handed out in schools and workplaces and universities and streets all over the world. Please, just read it!!
So, in response to other reviewers, who I can almost believe have never felt the want of freedom, have never felt the exhilarating magic of the road: Can you not see the pure and simple LIFE of this story? I cannot believe anyone could dismiss this. I was devastated to reach the final page; it is so rare to find such a gift. So please, show me a more faultless achievement of a novel, for I would love to read it. But I believe you'll have difficulties- this is as close to perfection as it gets.
And to those who have the soul and the insight into the heart of a real angel of a man, to share in my breathless admiration, there is a poem by William Burroughs that may interest you:
Remembering Jack Kerouac
Writers are, in a way, very powerful indeed. They write the script for the reality film. Kerouac opened a million coffee bars and sold a million pairs of Levis to both sexes. Woodstock rises from his pages. Now if writers could get together into a real tight union, we'd have the world right by the words. We could write our own universes, and they would all be as real as a coffee bar or a pair of Levis, or a prom in the Jazz Age. Writers could take over the reality studio. So they must not be allowed to find out that they can make it happen. Keroac understood this long before I did. Life is a dream, he said.