Jack Kerouac Wrote Here, Crisscrossing America Chasing Cool, Day One

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Monday, January 7
by Audrey Sprenger, Ph.D

Denver | There has been a lot of talk about Jack Kerouac this year and the 50th anniversary of his novel On The Road. It's buzzed through Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone, public broadcasting and public radio. Over and over again I hear the same comments, the same questions. "Why are we talking about this book?" "How can it possibly be relevant today?" "Why are we wasting time on Jack Kerouac? He was nothing but a hack. He was nothing but a one-hit wonder." To which, I imagine Jack Kerouac's bemused response. "Are they," he asks with genuine surprise, "Talking about me?"

They are, and for good reason. Since the year it was first published, readers have held on tight to their copies of On The Road, claiming Jack Kerouac's words as their own, folding over pages and memorizing passages. It is, for many readers, a confirmation of something of which they can never be perfectly sure: That their lives are worth writing about.

This, at least, is what On The Road has always been to me: A beautifully written diary about the possibilities of a writer's life. A fictional diary, of course, (unless you read the original scroll manuscript of the novel, recently published and currently on display at the New York Public Library, or the reams of publicity and criticism and writing that followed On The Road's publication, some of it created by Kerouac, some of it not), but still a diary nevertheless, made up of all of the tropes and stories that characterize such writing: Rich situational descriptions, moments of self introspection and self revelation, recollections of personal encounters and conversations, meditations on the meaning of home. And like all good diaries it invites us into the story of its settings and its characters, its author and its veracity. Like all good diaries it begs us to ask the question is this story true? Is this story real?

This is the question, which has haunted me since the first time I read On The Road, when I was seventeen and which, has, for the past few years has lured me into some of its settings: Times Square, Greenwich Village, the Upper West Side, North Beach, Denver, Colorado and, of course, all of those roads, which rest in between. And I'm very happy to report that yes On the Road does exist. It is a true story. It is real. For this novel is not only a great diary it is also a great map, leading anyone who follows it through an American dream.

This blog is bring written by Audrey Sprenger, Ph.D and David Amram during the third and final run of Sprenger's cross-country sociology and documentary-making course "Jack Kerouac Wrote Here, Crisscrossing America Chasing Cool." The next entries by Sprenger and Amram will appear January 11, 15, 19. 23, 27, and 31, along with an "audio ethnography" produced by students participating in this course on February 4. Readers are also to join Sprenger and Amram for a FREE Retrospective of the 50th Anniversary of Jack Kerouac's "On The Road" in New York on Friday, January 11 at 8pm at the Theater For the New City and Sunday, February 24 at 2 pm in the B2 Conference Center of the Denver Public Library. Audrey Sprenger, Ph.D is an ethnographer, audio producer and professor of sociology. The author of the true-life novel/community study Home Goings, she creates artistic and educational programming for the Denver Public Library. David Amram is an internationally acclaimed composer, conductor, multi-instrumentalist and author. His most recent orchestral work, "Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie" made its world premiere in San Jose, California this past September and his third book, Upbeat: Nine Lives of a Musical Cat was published a month later. Today is the first of a seven-day diary they are collaborating on together about the life, times and 50th anniversary of On the Road, Jack Kerouac's second novel.

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