Jack Kerouac

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Jack Kerouac around 1956 (photography by Tom Palumbo)
Jack Kerouac signature.svg

Jack Kerouac , actually Jean-Louis Lebris de Kérouac (born March 12, 1922 in Lowell , Massachusetts , † October 21, 1969 in Saint Petersburg , Florida ), was an American writer of Franco-Canadian origin and one of the most important representatives of the Beat Generation .


Jack Kerouac came from a French-Canadian family of Roman Catholic faith. The French dialect Joual was spoken in the family and as a child he did not learn the English language until he started school. The early death of the older brother Gérard (1916-1926) was a tragic event for the four-year-old Jack, which he tried to process in Visions of Gerard . The father Leo Kerouac died on May 16, 1946.

Kerouac's sporting success brought him from 1940 to 1941 a scholarship to Columbia University in New York , where he formed the cell of the Beat Generation along with fellow students such as Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs . The Beatniks are considered to be the first representatives of the pop literature genre .

Due to a broken leg Kerouac left the university and joined the United States Merchant Marine , the US Merchant Marine in. The Navy had turned Kerouac away. In 1943 he was finally able to switch to the United States Navy , but the following year he was classified as paranoid-schizophrenic and discharged based on this diagnosis. References to his time at sea can be found in The Sea is my Brother .

Between his voyages at sea, Kerouac stayed with his college friends in New York. He met with Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady , Lucien Carr and William S. Burroughs, who influenced him and helped shape his autobiographical work.

It was Kerouac's wildest years - with wine, drugs, sexual adventures, and traveling the US , Mexico , North Africa, and Europe . These trips laid the foundation for his novels, which are written in a style characterized by drugs and rhythmic slang. He was also enthusiastic about the music of bebop and Zen Buddhism; in an obituary, Kerouac referred to jazz musician Charlie Parker as " Buddha ".

In 1944 he married Edie Parker. This first of his three marriages only lasted two months. From 1946 to 1948 he wrote the novel The Town and the City , which appeared in 1950. This first published novel received good reviews but little fame for its author.

Between 1947 and 1950 Kerouac traveled all over the country with Neal Cassady, often referred to as “crazy”. For Kerouac, Cassady was the embodiment of a romantic ideal of America: restless, adventurous, sexually overactive - a cowboy who traded his horse for a car. Kerouac was usually not behind the wheel himself, he always preferred to be a passenger and an observer.

Memorial stone in Lowell, Mass.
Back of the memorial stone

Kerouac initially found no language for what he had experienced, the wild parties, the restlessness and artistic visions of his friends, the life of odd jobs and art. It was only the fresh and ecstatic style in which Cassady wrote him letters that Kerouac appeared to be the right approach to the attitude to life and so the novel On the Road (German: Unterwegs ) was written in 1951 , which was only published in 1957. He typed the manuscript on a roll of teletype paper in just three weeks. So he no longer had to worry about changing paper while writing was in progress. In a letter to Neal Cassady, Kerouac also associated the long paper web with the eponymous highway. The role was bought on May 22, 2001 by the owner of the NFL team Indianapolis Colts , multimillionaire Jim Irsay, at Christie's for 2,426,000 dollars - more than Kerouac earned with his books. The role is occasionally exhibited in public.

On The Road was Kerouac's breakthrough and the highlight of his career. This made him the central figure of the Beat Generation and also interesting for publishers. For a while Kerouac made a living from writing, if not on a large scale. Kerouac's writing style is characterized by hectic and breathless phrasing. There are sentences that go over seven or eight lines, sometimes they take up a whole page. Some of them are reminded of improvisations in jazz music. So it seems no coincidence that Kerouac writes a lot about jazz music and jazz musicians in his works.

Kerouac's decline began with his fame: Ignored by criticism, panned and laughed at, pursued by fans who wanted to drink and drive around with him all the time, his friends Ginsberg and Burroughs somewhere on the road, he increasingly sank into alcohol and took refuge in it more and more often His mother's house. The role of "King of the Beats", which was forced upon him, repelled him more and more because his idea of ​​literature and an unadulterated, spontaneous spelling ("spontaneous prose") was not understood. The media saw only young men and women who led marauding lives, used drugs, and indulged in strange ideas about America's freedom. The caricature of the Beats, the bongo-playing hangover and stoner in a striped shirt with a goatee, was soon to be seen in films and television series. You could book “beatniks” for parties and the like. The commercialization of this literary youth movement became rampant. Kerouac grew bitter. In addition to all of this, literary criticism continued to pay little attention to him or dismissed his books as “writings” ( Truman Capote ). Kerouac continued to suffer from financial difficulties and moved with his mother several times from Florida to the west coast and back again. He drank regularly and visibly deteriorated physically.

In 1966 he married a third time, the sister of a childhood friend, Stella Sampas. With her and his mother he moved first to his hometown of Lowell and then to Saint Petersburg , Florida, where he died on October 21, 1969, devastated by alcohol and other drugs. Bob Dylan attended Kerouac's funeral , the grave is in Edson Cemetery in Lowell. Kerouac's tomb appears in the music video for Bob Dylan's 1989 song Series of Dreams .

His work

Kerouac finished a first serious novel in 1943, The Sea is my Brother (published in 2010). He wrote The Town and the City (1950), his first published book , from 1946 to 1948 . He then started Doctor Sax , but initially gave up on the work on On the Road , which he began in the fall of 1948. In March 1949 a second version was created, later another and the first by Pic . He wrote the famous roll manuscript of his most famous novel in April 1951 within three weeks, shortly afterwards the book version, which would not appear until 1957. The Visions of Cody , created with On the Road 1951–52, were not published until 1973. Kerouac finished Doctor Sax (1959), which had been interrupted several times, in 1952 when he lived with Burroughs in Mexico City. He began October in the Railroad Earth in California with the Cassadys. His teenage romance Springtime Mary originated in New York in early 1953; published as Maggie Cassidy (1959). Kerouac wrote The Subterraneans (1958) in October 1953, supposedly in just three nights. 1953–54 was also written in New York Some of the Dharma . In 1954 the Cassadys wrote the poem San Francisco Blues . In the summer of 1955 the collection of poems Mexico City Blues (1959) in Mexico. There he also began Tristessa (1960), which he finished in 1956. His Buddha book Wake Up (2008) was also written in 1955. Visions of Gerard (1963) he wrote in 1956 with his sister in North Carolina, The Scripture of Golden Eternity and Old Angel Midnight were written in 1956 when he and Gary Snyder were in Marin County located. He spent the summer in the wilderness in Washington State. In September he was in California and Mexico and finished Tristessa . He wrote Book One of Desolation Angels . Book Two , Passing Through , was written in Mexico in July 1961. Desolation Angels was published in 1965. Kerouac was in Tangier in September 1957, typing Burroughs manuscripts for Naked Lunch . The Dharma Bums (1958) was written in Orlando, Florida in November 1957 . Kerouac bought a house in Long Island in 1958 and began Lonesome Traveler (1960), Big Sur (published 1962) refers to a ruinous stay in Ferlinghetti cabin near Big Sur in July 1960. The book was written in October 1961 in Orlando. Satori in Paris (1966) was written in Paris in July 1965 and first published in the Evergreen Review . Pic (1971) was essentially written as early as 1950 and finished in Florida in 1965. An Vanity of Duluoz: An Adventurous Education (1968) he wrote from March to May 1967 in Lowell, Massachusetts.

Kerouac's heirs

In literary history, Jack Kerouac pioneered a new generation of authors and journalists. Her New Journalism takes up the volatility, subjectivity and spontaneous emotionality of Kerouac, pushes them on or guides them in a regular way. Examples of this are Hunter S. Thompson with his gonzo reports in the USA, Jörg Fauser in Germany and Marie Luise Kaltenegger in Austria. In this way Kerouac was a innovator of literary expression who - like John Dos Passos - gave fresh blood to the literary style more than once.

The extent to which his work stimulated and enlivened others can be seen in the large number of artists of different styles and art forms who explicitly refer to Kerouac's novels and his reputation:

  • The art rock group King Crimson paid tribute to Kerouac and his works on their album Beat , which contains songs like Neal and Jack and me or Satori in Tangier . (In addition, said album with the song The Howler refers to Allen Ginsberg .)
  • The Japanese-French nu jazz ensemble United Future Organization set the Kerouac poem Poetry and all that Jazz to music on their 1993 CD debut album .
  • The British jazz radio band Incognito used on their album Life, stranger than fiction an excerpt from a tape recording in which Kerouac himself reads from On the road .
  • The writer Thomas Pynchon describes Kerouac's book On the Road in the foreword to his book Late Starters as one of the great American novels.
  • Actor Johnny Depp describes On the Road as his Quran that changed his life.
  • The Munich rock band Sportfreunde Stiller dedicated the song Unterwegs to him .
  • Clutching at Straws (1987), the fourth studio album by the British rock and prog rock formation Marillion , is almost entirely inspired by Kerouac's life and work. For example, the Torch Song quotesalmost literally from the first pages of the classic On The Road .
  • TC Boyle wrote a short story in which two young runaways visit Kerouac for Christmas at his mother's house and celebrate a “real” Beat Night with him.
  • The Cologne rock band BAP released the song Wat for e Booch! On the album Radio Pandora in 2008 . as a tribute to his novel On the Road. Kerouac is also mentioned by name in her song "Ende, aus, ok." In the third verse. According to the statement of the song, nothing significant has changed since his death.
  • For the American singer / songwriter Bob Dylan , On the Road is one of the most important literary influences (see the documentation No Direction Home by Martin Scorsese). The philosophy of the Song and Dance Man Dylan is strongly influenced by the idea of Life on the Road (How does it feel, To be on your own, With no direction home, Like a complete unknown - from Like a Rolling Stone, 1965).
  • The French-American band Moriarty takes its name from Dean Moriarty from On The Road .
  • The Australian band The Go-Betweens wrote The House Jack Kerouac built in 1987 , a small hit within the independent scene.
  • Also in 1987, the American rock band 10,000 Maniacs released the song Hey Jack Kerouac on their album In My Tribe .
  • The 1971 novel The Last of the Moccasins by Charles Plymell , where he tells the short, wild life of his sister, is based on Kerouac's novel On the Road .
  • The punk band Jawbreaker dedicated a line to Kerouac in their song Boxcar , which reads: "Like killing cops and reading Kerouac".
  • The Californian “punk rock veterans” Bad Religion mention Kerouac in their song Stranger Than Fiction , which appeared on the album of the same name from 1994, with the lines: “Caringosity killed the Kerouac cat, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction” .

In 1974, Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman founded the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics , which teaches and practices creative writing , as part of Naropa University, a private Buddhist school in Boulder .




Kerouac wrote a single play: Beat Generation , the writing of which was rediscovered in 2005 in a New Jersey attic. The German premiere took place in December 2007, based on a translation by Andreas Marber, at the Schauspiel Köln . The third act of Beat Generation was filmed in 1959 by Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie in the multi-award-winning short film Pull My Daisy .


  • The Town and the City . 1950.
    • German translation by Hans Hermann (abridged): The town and the city. Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg 1984, ISBN 3-499-14971-0 .
  • On the road. 1957.
  • The Subterraneans. 1958.
    • German translation by Hans Hermann: Bebop, Bars and White Powder Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg 1979, ISBN 3-499-14415-8 .
  • The Dharma Bums. 1958.
  • Doctor Sax. 1959.
  • Mexico City Blues: 242 choruses. 1959.
  • Maggie Cassidy. 1959.
  • Tristessa. 1960.
  • Lonesome Traveler. 1960.
    • German translation by Hans Hermann: Lonesome Traveler Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1981, ISBN 3-499-14809-9 .
  • The Scripture of the Golden Eternity. 1960.
    • German edition: The writing of the golden eternity. Sadhana, Berlin 1980, ISBN 3-922610-02-1 .
  • Book of Dreams. 1961. (First unabridged edition: 2001)
  • Pull My Daisy: Text by Jack Kerouac for the Film by Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie. 1961. Pull my Daisy, Narration by Jack Kerouac for the Film by Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie. introduction by Jerry Tallmer. Steidl, Göttingen 2016, DNB 1114995649 .
  • Big Sur. 1962.
  • Visions of Gerard. 1963.
  • Desolation Angels. 1965.
    • German translation by Otto Wilck: Book II : Passing Through : Engel, Kif and new countries. Novel. Melzer, Darmstadt 1967. (Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg 1971, ISBN 3-499-11391-0 )
  • Satori in Paris. 1966.
    • German translation by Hans Hermann: Satori in Paris. Melzer, Darmstadt 1968. (dtv, Munich 1971, ISBN 3-423-00750-8 )
  • Vanity of Duluoz: An Adventurous Education, 1935-46. 1968.
    • German translation by Hans Hermann: The blindness of the Duluoz. An Adventurous Upbringing, 1935–1946. translated by Hans Hermann. Melzer, Darmstadt 1969. (Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg 1975, ISBN 3-499-11839-4 )
  • Pic: A Novel. 1971.
  • Scattered Poems. 1971.
    • German translation by Horst Spandler: Scattered poems. Stadtlichter Presse, Berlin 2004, ISBN 3-936271-20-8 .
  • Visions of Cody. 1973.
  • Trip Trap - Haiku. 1973. With Albert Saijo and Lew Welch
    • German translation by Stefan Hyner: Trip Trap. Haiku on the go. Stadtlichter Presse, Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-936271-37-9 .
  • Heaven and Other Poems. 1977.
  • Pomes all sizes. 1992.
  • Old Angel Midnight. 1993.
  • Good Blond & Others. 1993.
  • Selected Letters, Vol. 1, 1940-1956. 1995.
  • San Francisco blues. 1995.
  • Book of Blues. 1995
  • Some of the Dharma. 1997
  • Atop to Underworld. 1999
  • Selected Letters, Vol. 2, 1957-1969. 2000
  • Orpheus Emerged. 2002
  • Book of Haikus. 2003
  • The Beat Generation. 2005 (piece)
  • Book of Sketches. 2006
  • On the Road: The Original Scroll. Viking Penguin, New York 2007
    • German translation by Ulrich Blumenbach: On the Road: The original version. Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg 2010, ISBN 978-3-498-03550-1 .
  • Wake Up: A Life of the Buddha. 2008.
  • And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks. 2008. (with William Burroughs)
    • German translation by Michael Kellner: And the hippos were boiling in their basins. Nagel & Kimche, Zurich 2010, ISBN 978-3-312-00451-5 .
  • The Sea Is My Brother. Novel. 2010.
    • German translation by Michael Mundhenk: My brother, the sea. Narrative. Edel Germany, Hamburg 2011, ISBN 978-3-8419-0064-7 .
  • Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac: fame kills everything. The letters. Rogner & Bernhard, Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-95403-001-9 .

Secondary literature

  • Eike Gebhardt: Jack Kerouac. In: Martin Christadler (Ed.): American literature of the present in single representations (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 412). Kröner, Stuttgart 1973, ISBN 3-520-41201-2 , pp. 248-267.
  • Jorge García-Robles: At the End of the Road: Jack Kerouac in Mexico. University of Minnesota Press, 2014, ISBN 978-0-8166-8065-8 .

University publications

  • York Alexander Fanger: Jack Kerouac's "America", Mythos and Vision, an examination of his novels "The Town and the City", "On the Road", and "Visions of Cody" with a special focus on the reflection of American myths . Dissertation . Hamburg 1981, DNB 820641391 .
  • Karin Köhne: La vie est d'hommage: autobiography and fiction, tradition and avant-garde in Jack Kerouac's narrative work (= epistemata , series: literary studies . Volume 339). Dissertation. Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2001, ISBN 3-8260-2098-7 .
  • Frederik Hetmann : To the end of all streets. The life story of Jack Kerouac. Beltz & Gelberg, Weinheim 1989, ISBN 3-407-80689-2 .

Web links

Commons : Jack Kerouac  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. See Hubert Zapf : American literary history. 2., act. Edition. Metzler Verlag, Stuttgart / Weimar, ISBN 3-476-02036-3 , p. 309. See also Arte about the film: Beat Generation: Kerouac Ginsberg Burroughs ( Memento of the original from May 4, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was used automatically and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.arte.tv
  2. George Mouratidis: Into the Heart of Things. In: Jack Kerouac: On the Road. The original version. Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg 2010, p. 538.
  3. Frederik Hetmann: To the end of all streets. The life story of Jack Kerouac. Beltz and Gelberg, Weinheim / Basel 1989, ISBN 3-407-80689-2 , p. 104.
  4. Jack Kerouac on the Steve Allen Show. In: Youtube. Historic Films Stock Footage Archive, accessed January 3, 2020 .
  5. Howard Cunnell: Fast This Time. Jack Kerouc and the Writing of On the Road. In: Jack Kerouac: On the Road. The Original Scroll . London 2007, ISBN 978-1-84614-020-4 , p. 1.
  6. On the Road manuscript roll at Christie's
  7. God is gone, says Jack Kerouac. In: Stockpress. September 18, 2010.
  8. ^ The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, website of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics
  9. With Kerouac totally off the shelf. In: FAZ . November 27, 2010, p. L 14.