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Art, Culture, Reality
Jack Kerouac

Kerouac is Dead

by Bianca Fernandes / 11.10.2010

Remember wanting to get off the grid? Head for the hills. Flee society and disappear into Nature – become a non rule-abiding creature of the wild. It’s a powerful fantasy really at the core of popular culture. Escape civilisation into the wilderness. You got Crusoe and Star Trek. You got Tarzan and Avatar. The need to escape seemed to burst, for those instinctively averse to the deadening suburban mainstream, from fantasy into social life in the 1950s. A World War will do that. It’s deadly proof of the lie of progress. The cheapness of human life in the power game of nations. The 1950s were all about freedom and mobility: embodied in the open road and the automobile. The Beats hit the road. They travelled far and wide. Burroughs to Tangiers. Ginsberg to India. Kerouac… well he couldn’t be far from his mother long.

That era seems long gone now. Lost on this media generation. With our ever-living need to fit-in and make the best of late capitalist “normality”. The adventurous spirit of all the “great manly men” of the past only lives on in books, web memes and advertising. Seems like Kerouac and the spirit of simple wonder and cheap questing thumb rides through the great out there is at an end. We’re all wired now. Networked. Sitting solo in front of glowing screens. All living furtively by proxy. At a remove from our own vitality.

Based on a book by John Krakauer, Sean Penn directed Into the Wild (2007) which follows Chris Mccandless, a star student athlete, who gives away his life savings and hitches to Alaska. He goes way way off the grid. With it’s slow thoughtful pace and wonderfully evocative score (by Pearl Jams’ Eddie Vedder), the film gets to you. It has a sad cumulative power. Helped along especially by Emile Hirsch’s committed and nervy performance as Mccandless. It hasn’t yet, but it will become a kind of generational touchstone. A film waiting to be re-discovered. A lesson and example waiting to be learned. Your life can change. You can change it. Go get free.

Jack Kerouac

The closest we get to escaping into the wilderness is driving an hour out of the city to trance in the country. Returning little changed but for a massive hangover.

Should we be taking chances? Packing up our lives and hitting the road. Is it really so important to “discover the unknown” – and rip it up and start again? Is change really always for the better? Worldliness is a DVD box set. You can go anywhere. See anything. From your own home. Is self-discovery through “roughing it” really more fun than partying?

It’s about being you, right, and letting your soul speak for itself in a society of sheep. It’s about finding your “true nature” in a world that won’t allow it.

Remember being a kid when all you wanted was to grow up to be a pirate or a princess. We accept debased versions of those dreams. We wear a sparkly pink dress and a tiara or grow a little chin fuzz. That’ll have to do.

A little pirate spirit doesn’t hurt to hold on to. A little princess grace. The yearning for what’s unexplored and new. Kudos to those who embrace it. Who keep the dream alive. Office jobs and security, are tough enough, they take a lot from us, but don’t forget to get out there and live.

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  1. Lizzy says:

    most of the time i wish for just that. sadly i’m the someone that has to pay the bills. no trustafarian lifestyle for me 🙁

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  2. Max says:

    Inspiring to say the least. The ‘Road’ has been packaged and sold so much that it stopped being one. Sad, the joys of capitalism.

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  3. batandwa says:

    very pertinent.

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  4. Andy says:

    I dunno… great piece but Kerouac kind of bored me… I prefer the arresting first person of Bukowski.

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  5. Anonymous says:

    Bukowski? Arresting? More like arrested.

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  6. numbskull says:

    Travel = propulsion = engines = emissions = environmental destruction

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  7. Katoey says:

    The road is the only real thing there is. Until you’ve lived it everything else is just theoretical. Great article BTW

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  8. james says:

    i live on a farm in a small town. i work on the farm in exchange for rent. i live in a caravan surrounded by plants. every day i get up and draw comics. i have spent 10 years making an art of expending as little energy as possible on useless crap and focus on only what is necessary and heart felt. i used to be an advertising copywriter until i realised that it was killing my spirit. there are more like me. its possible , all you have to do is see it, and you dont have to get eaten by bears to get away from the babylon

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  9. Yusuf says:

    Weird, watched Into the Wild last night. Put it off for ages. What a disappointing end. Like, it’s all pointless. Why didn’t he take a compass? How could he have missed the hand-powered tram? Seems so naive. But, I guess, that’s the point.

    How about this guy:


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  10. Andy says:

    Ja the kid was stoopid!

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  11. Duran says:

    good stuff. i like kerouac on the road, but i’d rather go for bukowski’s tar too.

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  12. Craig says:

    Another film, in a similar vein, worth a watch is Werner Herzog’s ‘Grizzly Man’, it’s about this guy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timothy_Treadwell

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  13. bleh says:

    if only treadwell’s shrill voice wasn’t so irritating….

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  14. Luke says:

    Young vegabond’s still use the train networks of America, getting their short-lived freedom.


    Would love to do it here without getting shot by train guards.

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  15. bones says:

    That is a healthy dose of inspiration. Thank you.
    Where to from here?….quit job>sell car>hi5 mom>walk to the nearest road>thumb it>freedom.

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  16. Craig says:

    An annoying voice for an annoying man. Treadwell was a knob, sure. But Herzog’s narration more than compensates.

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  17. Al Funk says:

    He’s not dead he’s on a shelf at exclusive books right now.hehe Ask Daniel Pretorius(shift manager at Exclusive Books Menlyn) or Arthur Maslo(free spirit/Mind/songwriter/poet) the Beats will live on and we’ll make bloody hell sure of that.

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  18. Alexis says:

    Its anyone’s choice of course, but having worked in the non-profit field with aspirations of altruism, and doing a part time degree in sustainable development (not an oxymoron) which basically paints a complex system which exposes how our less noble characteristics fuck over other systems…..I’ve seen a pattern emerge of what I would describe as a journey into that career. Journey is corny – but its true. My knee jerk reaction was fuck this, the info is too overwhelming, solutions to the myriad wicked problems are just impossible to find, I’m outa here to go plant organic veggies somewhere remote. However, planting organic veggies can be just another mirage, and you’ll find the same issues plague you there as they do anywhere. But, after i got a grip on myself, realised that I cant save the world by myself and that I can do much more for other people and things if I dont sacrifice myself on the alter of my own righteousness and rigid insistence of how the world should be, I know Into the Wild is a statement, but I saw it as having insight into what sanity was, and how I can drive myself into extremes. I dont think there is any judgement of the said extremes, but more just about showing how someone can just let themselves go with their convictions. Interesting thing is, I dont think you’d get many poor people setting out on this kind of epic indulgence of ethic.

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  19. strandwolf says:

    this article cut me right to the very core.. as a psytrance dj, organiser and an almost religious devotee of kerouac, almost every element of this piece seemed to speak to me personally.. however a great deal of my reactions were bitter sweet.. and maybe that’s the idea of this style of blog writing, just to push buttons, throw around some vague points and make people question themselves.. nevertheless, i don’t believe the technological age we find ourselves in need necessarilly be an impediment for our sense of adventure.. for example about three years ago i found myself thousands of miles away from my capestonian psychedelic family, working as a landscaper in british columbia, locked in the depths of a canadian winter, however i drew great solace from the entire pantheon of kerouac’s work in the vancouver public library, and eventually built up the courage to stick out my thumb and start my way down the west coast of north america on highway 101, taking advantage of the social network revolution and using a website called couch surfers dot com to hook up with amazing people in san fran, la and baja mexico.. i have never felt so alive, so in awe of both the immense glory of the earth underfoot and the inspirational generosity of the human souls i encountered.. for this young pilgrim at least, oom keroauc is alive and well.. the tortured old goat lives on in my soul.. and in the occassional voice sample surreptitiously slipped into a psytrance set..

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  20. Koek! says:

    Really enjoyed this piece, thanks. Quite inspiring… Made me think.

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  21. Caity smith says:

    This is an inspirational piece of writing ! I thank you for it !!!!!

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  22. Dennis says:

    Nice one. (smile)

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