The whole universe was crazy and cock-eyed and extremely strange.
Wild eyed hipster sitting cross legged pounding the keys of beat up old Hermes, fuelled by coffee and cigarettes and an endless roll of paper in a non stop word orgy spinning tales of a road that stretched into infinity filled with boundless adventure. Tales of Sal Paradise, Dean Moriarty, Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg, of Mexican boys and brown skinned girls, of drinking, marijuana, poetry, jazz, Cadillacs and dark empty nights driving cross America.
Popped into the British Library to see the original scroll that Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road on in three manic weeks back in April 1951. It’s 120′ of tracing paper taped together so that he didn’t have to interrupt his creative flow by stopping to change sheets of paper in his type writer. It is, apparently, only the second time the scroll has been on display in it’s entirety since it was re-discovered. I’d been wanting to go and see it since I heard about the exhibition so the other morning I took the opportunity of a late start up in London to make a detour and a pilgrimage!
It would be easy to say that On the Road changed my life but I don’t think it did, I read it in the late 70’s and it was probably one of a number of books I read at that time that shaped the way I looked at life. I would, however, say it is one of my favourite books and seeing the manuscript is probably akin to seeing the actual tablets that Moses brought down from the mountain with the ten commandments chiselled into them.
The actual exhibition was a bit uninspiring especially as you had to pass a zip up access tower on the way in. There were some pictures and information on the walls as a display case with a first edition and contemporary books but other than that it was just a very long case containing the scroll. (I have to confess that I was a tad disappointed to see the end still on the roll, so much for the whole thing being on display!)
I tried to read the scroll but it was really difficult, firstly because of the angle you had to get yourself into to read it and then because of the reflection of the over head lights. In addition to this the text is quite small and as it was typed without line spacing or paragraph breaks it’s so easy to get to the end of the line and then either end up going back a line or forward a line and loosing the thread. When you did get a good momentum going it gave you the feel of how it must have been come out of his head in that stream of conciousness way, you could help but read it fast!!!
I tried hard to find my favourite bit which is the wild evening in the whorehouse but I didn’t see it (don’t even know if it was in the first draft) but I did find a few passages I recognised! I’m absolutely sure I will have to buy the original scroll version when I have a bit of spare cash and read the book the way he originally wrote it. I’m glad I went as I don’t suppose I’ll see it again or indeed anything quite like it unless those tablets turn up!
Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?
This was originally posted on my blog on 30th November 2012