Jack Kerouac’s Good Blonde & Others – Between Sadness & Exultation

good-blondeGood Blonde & Others is a collection of Jack Kerouac’s short writings, some autobiographical, some discussions of literature—including his novel The Subterraneans—others talking about jazz or baseball or his cat or whatever caught his attention for that moment.

One of the joys of the collection is of course just the writing itself—Kerouac’s sadness in constant interplay with poetic exultation. Another joy of the collection is the clarity it brings to your understanding of Kerouac’s fiction, just by watching his themes and obsessions unfold around a wider variety of topics, in short essays that are often more accessible than his fiction.

From being on the road with photographer Robert Frank as he snaps a picture, suddenly opening to Kerouac’s vision a crazy, joyful expression on a truck driver’s face through a windshield, to an account of a walk into the woods after a snowfall as a boy in Lowell, Massachusetts, and coming home to understand for the first time his parents’ vulnerability, to his engaging account of hitchhiking to San Francisco and getting picked up just north of L.A. by a beautiful 22-year-old blonde in a low-cut white bathing suit, driving a brand new Lincoln Continental—in which he hopes for sex, then starts to dislike her, then transcends the differences between them—the writings are Kerouac’s push against what he calls “a sinister new kind of efficiency” in America.

In his preface to the collection, Robert Creeley writes that the essays and stories are part of Kerouac’s “way of being with others.” Creeley sees Kerouac’s writing as Kerouac’s “own determined gift to the people he lived with or just saw in passing.”

Among the 29 essays in this collection:

“The Rumbling, Rambling Blues”

“Essentials of Spontaneous Prose”

“Are Writers Made or Born?”

“Among the Fantastic Wits…”

“Home at Christmas”

“The Beginning of Bop”

“Ronnie on the Mound”

Nosferatu (Dracula)”

“In the Ring”

“My Cat Tyke”

If all you know of Kerouac is On the Road, this diverse collection of his writings is a fascinating portrait of a complex man—devout, a loyal friend, an athlete, an astute literary critic. And, of course, he writes about the Beat Generation. He contrasts the Beats’ “beatific indifference to things that are Caesar’s” with “this late stage of civilization when money is the only thing that really matters to everybody.”

Here’s a quote from “Aftermath: The Philosophy of the Beat Generation:”

The Beat Generation, that was a vision that we had, John Clellon Holmes and I, and Allen Ginsberg in an even wilder way, in the late Forties, of a generation of crazy illuminated hipsters suddenly rising and roaming America, serious, curious, bumming and hitchhiking everywhere, ragged, beatific, beautiful in an ugly graceful new way  …

It never meant juvenile delinquents; it meant characters of a special spirituality who didn’t gang up but were solitary Bartlebies staring out the dead wall window of our civilization …We’d write stories about some strange beatific Negro hepcat saint with goatee hitchhiking across Iowa with taped-up horn bringing the secret message of blowing to other coasts, other cities, like a veritable Walter the Penniless leading an invisible First Crusade.

But the invisible crusade was lost, with its prophets locked up in “jails and madhouses,” or “shamed into silent conformity.” As Robert Creeley puts it, again in his preface to the collection, “‘On the road’ was no simple tag or reflection of random travels but a state of necessary mind. We kept moving because there was, finally, no place we could come to rest.”

I think the great mystery of my lifetime was the emergence in America of that state that Kerouac calls a “sinister new kind of efficiency.” The Beats fought it, and were suppressed. The hippies fought it, and were suppressed. The Occupy movement didn’t last a year. And religious people got redirected from fellowship and charity into a bitter war in defense of low taxes for the elite. Why did people so willingly fall into line for their own destruction?

Was it a result of the success of the big trial run of World War II, which taught the elite they could say or do anything to us without fear of retribution? Or was it truly—as Kerouac suggests—due to television; was the invention of the boob tube, a tool of propaganda beyond all others, really that deadly? Or was it the biological fact of overpopulation and the simple loss of square feet in which a person could be himself?

Kerouac’s “Two,” a July 1959 column written for Escapade, is a political manifesto inside a fan’s outpouring of frustration about baseball.

Why has the prerogative of figuring out a pitcher been transferred to coaches and managers who give hand-signs and ruin the game with their deleterious and vicarious master-minding? …

Why are natural pull hitters taught to hit to the other field? By castrated thinkers? … And pitchers who learn to pitch against barn doors like Bob Feller should never be told how to throw a fast ball or a curve or any pitch any more than a natural brokenfield runner in football should be yelled at with a megaphone when to dodge and when not to? …

Let there be joy in baseball again, like in the days when Babe Ruth chased an enemy sportswriter down the streets of Boston and ended up getting drunk with him on the waterfront and came back the next day munching on hotdogs and boomed homeruns to the glory of God.

These collected writings are an outpouring of Kerouac’s frustration with the control-freak owners/managers of the world who keep riding everyone and making war on our god-given empathy and compassion and sense of wonder and beauty, and Kerouac’s tenderness for the glimpse of these things wherever he finds them.

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