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Jack Kerouac Reads from On the Road (1959)

Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road in three very short weeks in 1951. But then it took six years for the book, famously written on a long scroll, to reach the reading public in 1957. Shortly after its publication, critics were at least quick to recognize what the book meant. One New York Times reviewer called it “the most beautifully executed, the clearest and the most important utterance yet made by the generation Kerouac himself named years ago asbeat.” Another saw in the novel “a descriptive excitement unmatched since the days of Thomas Wolfe.” 54 years later, those early reviews have withstood the proverbial test of time. These days, Modern Library and TIME place the novel on their lists of the 100 greatest novels.

And now the vintage clip — Jack Kerouac, the man himself, appearing on The Steve Allen Show in 1959, first fielding some questions, then reading from his beat classic.


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Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg Visit the Grave of Jack Kerouac (1979)

Above you can watch a rare 1979 meeting, of sorts, of three hugely influential twentieth-century cultural minds: Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, and — in spirit, anyway — Jack Kerouac, who died ten years before. This clip, though brief, would be fascinating enough by itself, but Sean Wilentz provides extensive backstory in “Penetrating Aether: The Beat Generation and Allen Ginsberg’s America,” an essay fron the New Yorker. “On a crisp scarlet-ocher November afternoon at Edson Cemetery in Lowell,” as he describes it, “Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg visited Kerouac’s grave, trailed by a reporter, a photographer, a film crew, and various others (including the young playwright Sam Shepard).” There “Ginsberg recited not from Kerouac’s prose but from poetry out of Mexico City Blues [ … ] invoking specters, fatigue, mortality, Mexico, and John Steinbeck’s boxcar America, while he and Dylan contemplated Kerouac’s headstone.” Why that particular collection? “Someone handed me Mexico City Blues in St. Paul in 1959,” Wilentz quotes Dylan as having told Ginsberg. “It blew my mind.”

In the piece, which comes adapted from his book Bob Dylan in America, Wilentz goes into great detail describing Dylan as a link between two sometimes compatible and sometimes antagonistic subcultures in midcentury America: the folk music movement and the Beat generation.  “I came out of the wilderness and just naturally fell in with the Beat scene, the bohemian, Be Bop crowd, it was all pretty much connected,” Wilentz quotes Dylan as saying in 1985. “It was Jack Kerouac, Ginsberg, Corso, Ferlinghetti … I got in at the tail end of that and it was magic … it had just as big an impact on me as Elvis Presley.” Wilentz describes Dylan relating to Kerouac as “a young man from a small declining industrial town who had come to New York as a cultural outsider more than twenty years earlier—an unknown bursting with ideas and whom the insiders proceeded either to lionize or to condemn, and, in any case, badly misconstrue.” The Beats showed Dylan a path to maintaining his cultural relevance, a trick he’s managed over and over again in the decades since. “Even though Dylan invented himself within one current of musical populism that came out of the 1930s and 1940s,” Wilentz writes, “he escaped that current in the 1960s—without ever completely rejecting it—by embracing anew some of the spirit and imagery of the Beat generation’s entirely different rebellious disaffiliation and poetic transcendence.”

Note: Do you want to hear Sean Wilentz read Bob Dylan in America for free? (Find an audio sample here.) Just head over to Audible.com and register for a 30-day free trial. You can download any audiobook for free. Then, when the trial is over, you can continue your Audible subscription, or cancel it, and still keep the audio book. The choice is entirely yours. And, in full disclosure, let me tell you that we have a nice arrangement with Audible. Whenever someone signs up for a free trial, it helps support Open Culture.


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BEHIND THE SMILE // JOHN CASSAVETES AND HIS FILMS

John Cassavetes via [Dangerous Minds]

As a child, John Cassavetes chipped his front teeth in a fight. As his parents were too poor to buy him caps, Cassavetes didn’t smile for years. The experience made him aware of how others coped with misfortune. Later, when he started making films, his camera fixed on the facial tics and movements of his actors. These were unlike any other movies – improvised character studies, where the camera relentlessly followed, watched, examined, but rarely interrogated. We are always close-up to the characters. When we see them in wide-shots, they are isolated, the scene only highlighting their alienation: Ben Gazzara having breakfast outside after losing $23,000 at a gaming table in Killing of a Chinese Bookie; or Ben Carruthers taking a stroll through the gardens in Shadows; or Gena Rowlands at a loss with the world in A Woman Under the Influence.  His characters are suburban, middle-aged, all on the back slice of life. They may have flourishes of rebellion (a trip to London in Husbands), but nothing changes their direction, all stick blindly to some instinctual role.Cassavetes’ films may not be that innovative, or offer any new or considered insights, or offer redemption, but they succeed because of the ineffable passions, the inexpressible humanity of the central characters that Cassavetes puts on screen. That’s where his genius lies – in his deep and committed humanity.  Cassavetes once told Cahiers du Cinema:

I am more interested in the people who work with me than in the film itself or cinema.’

Cassavetes’ films always remind me of what Jack Kerouac once wrote about literature in Satori in Paris:

“…the tale that’s told for no other reason but companionship, which is another (and my favorite) definition of literature, the tale that’s told for companionship and to teach something religious, of religious reverence, about real life, in this real world which literature should (and here does) reflect.”

Made in 1965, Cinéastes de notre temps – John Cassavetes is a profile of the great director and actor as he edits his second feature Faces in Hollywood, before taking it Paris. Cassavetes openly discusses his views on film-making and cinema, and why he takes certain roles to pay for his movie making.

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Film adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s iconic cult novel: ON THE ROAD