Waterbury beat: Jack's dead (RIP), but Sal Paradise lives on

"Keep your overhead low" -- quote attributed to Jack Kerouac

I was poking around a church sale in Waterbury earlier this spring and surprisingly found an old copy of a collection of some rather ephemeral but published poems by Allen Ginsberg.

The poems are decidedly uneven but the Beats liked to talk about themselves, constantly, and I have read enough about their lives and times, that I easily recognized the references to specific names and places sprinkled throughout the collection.

Flipping though the worn little paperback made me think of Kerouac and On the Road, last week marked the 50th anniversary of the novel's publication. The anniversary sparked the usual retrospectives and critical reassessments, the same sort of thing happened at the 50th anniversary of the publication of Howl. That obscure journal of the counterculture, the New York Times, discussed the book and its ongoing influence on its "PaperCuts" blog.

It was interesting to read the NYT's original review of On the Road, characterized as the "the most famous review in the history of the paper", and the various posts stirred up an energetic debate (opinion being very divided) about Kerouac, his writing, and their ongoing relevance today. Unlike many online discussions I actually enjoyed reading the opinions, the novel is definitely a touchstone of late adolescent experience, but how readers respond as adults varies widely.

This post has been gestating for a long time (I think I started it over a month ago) and like many things that show up here, is very trivial. I have been busy with the stage race and preparing for my rapidly approaching trip to Nepal, but perhaps Kerouac (someone who ceaselessly searched for experience) would appreciate my predicament. But On the Road does lurk at the back of my consciousness, especially in post-9/11 America, where I feel less free, more fearful, and more constrained every day, not to mention like I'm drowning in a sea of cheap plastic electronic crap made in China. "Keep your overhead low": Words to live by, even now.

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