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Visions of Cody Paperback – August 1, 1993
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Incidentally, Kerouac did not intend for this to be a companion to On the Road. If the author had had it his way, this would have been the definitive version of On the Road.
Most readers agree that the first 150 pages is by far the best writing in this book. Read this section, even if you put the book down for good afterward. These 150 pages are pure, loose, and brilliant. Kerouac sketching unequaled by any other part of his oeuvre.
As with all Kerouac books, this one has its faults. The middle 200 pages are overwrought and self-indulgent. But that can be said of most of Kerouac's work. The tape transcripts are important reading if you want a first-hand account of the dynamic that existed between Jack and Neal. But this section could have been shortened substantially. Also, for every perfect sentence, there are ten that fall flat--examples of how the spontaneous prose technique had its drawbacks. But no writer is great all the time. And Kerouac's sporadic greatness more than makes up for the notes he doesn't quite hit.
For those new to Kerouac's work, you would be better off reading The Subterraneans first just to get acclamated to the spontaneous prose style. Even then, it will be tough going. But you read Kerouac for more than the storytelling. Faithful Kerouac readers cite the author's inventiveness, his fearlessness, and his unwavering devotion to the written word. Most writers go their entire lives without a sentence as good as, "So pull that skull cover back and smile." And that one is buried in a heep of perfectly constructed, evocative sentences.
For a more critical look at this book, try reading Kerouac's Crooked Road by Tim Hunt (with help from Ann Charters). It offers a thorough breakdown of Kerouac's techniques, while providing an insightful comparison between Visions of Cody and On the Road (two versions of the same idea).
1. Get a couple of Charley Parker albums (Bird and Diz will do nicely.)
2. Procure a jug of red wine and a joint.
3. Put on Bird, pour a glass of wine, and just relax with the music for a while.
4. Take a few tokes. Drink more wine. Get a nice mellow buzz.
5. NOW, begin reading the tape transcripts, and voila! You are invited to the party!
You will be sitting there with Cassidy and Kerouac, digging the flow of music and conversation and experiencing a new comprehension of their friends, wives and lovers. The gossip, the stories, the subtle oneupmanship between them is a delicious fly-on-the wall experience. By recreating the set and setting of these long ago conversations, you will experience an intimacy that is uncanny. I've done this a few times and was amazed at the greater understanding I had of these two complicated men. I read and re-read the transcripts with delight and was sorry there wasn't more of them.
This is surely what Kerouac intended. It's like the modern day extras and behind the scenes specials you get on movie DVDs. I mourn their passing more than ever and the fact that there doesn't appear to be anyone out there to take their place.
Ever wonder why Hollywood depictions of the Beats are laughable failures? HERE'S why.