I read Jack Kerouac’s On the Road in my late teens and instantly became obsessed with everything Beat generation-related. While I like the Beat writers in general, I particularly love the convention-breaking ‘spontaneous bop prose’ that decorates some of Kerouac’s early work and the fact that the first draft of On the Road was written in just three weeks; he typed like an improv jazz musician.
I love the way that, in several of Kerouac’s semi-autobiographical novels (particularly On the Road, Dharma Bums, the Subterraneans and Desolation Angels), the narrator embarks on a journey filled with hipsters and hobos, yearning for experience of life and something to believe in, reflecting the post-war confusion of America’s youth at the time.
Through his writing Kerouac challenged the old American certainties about society, values, religion and authority much in the same way as James Dean did through acting and Elvis did through rock and roll. He wrote without inhibition and set up his own conventions of what is acceptable socially, morally and stylistically. Pretty cool stuff.