Jack Kerouac Wrote Here, Crisscrossing America Chasing Cool
January 19, 2008
by Audrey Sprenger, Ph.D
Denver | Jack Kerouac's On The Road, based in part on Kerouac's own life traveling back and forth across the United States in the mid to late 1940s, was written in a spontaneous but highly disciplined style of writing, which very effectively documented the ways people lived and spoke during this time.
Most notable of these people, perhaps, was the character of Dean Moriarty, a brilliant and charming raconteur, street kid and heart-breaker from Denver, Colorado, whom Kerouac based on his close friend and occasional traveling partner, Neal Cassady. Kerouac visited Cassady in Denver for the first time in the late 1940s, when cowboys and hobos still roamed the rail yard neighborhoods off of Larimer and Platte St. and the tallest building downtown was the Daniel and Fisher Clock Tower on what today is the 16th Street Mall.
Cassady had grown up just east of there in Curtis Park. He was baptized at the Holy Ghost Church and went to school at Ebert Elementary. His father had a barber shop at 727 Larimer Street near the string of Missions off of 15th Street and, as a child, he played on the grounds of the Puritan Pie Company while his father sold bootlegged whiskey and traded haircuts for pies. Later, as a young man, he played pick-up baseball on Sonny Lawson's Ball Field off Welton Street and 23rd Avenue and spent the early hours of the morning in Five Points eating tacos and listening to jazz.
He was, as Cassady himself put it in his memoir "The First Third," the "unnatural son" of Denver's ragged downtown streets and the makeshift community of working men and migrant families who made their home there, day laborers from Oklahoma City and Los Angeles, female-headed households from Mexico and New Orleans. In his movements and his voice, his choice of words and his ideas Cassady embodied them all. Which to his friend, the young writer Jack Kerouac, seemed worth nothing less than literary documentation.
This excerpt of Jack Kerouac Wrote Here, Crisscrossing America Chasing Cool/Audrey Sprenger and David Amram Write On The Road, was based in part on my exhibit with Ashley Vaughan, "At Lilac Evening, Jack Kerouac In Denver."
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. This blog is 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 while teaching Sprenger's cross-country sociology and documentary making course "Jack Kerouac Wrote Here, Crisscrossing American Chasing Cool."
Ashley Vaughan is a documentary photographer. Currently a journalism student at the University of Denver, she has received several academic grants for her photographic projects including a Fred McDarrah Grant for Young Photojournalists. An assistant archivist for biographer Bill Morgan, she is also the art director for the David Amram Archive and is currently working with Audrey Sprenger on Jack Kerouac's America, 50 Years Old.