Life on the road: How I fell in love with Kerouac and wanted to join the Beats

one of Jack’s many quotes – and one of my favourites

I first heard of On the Road through a friend. It was in music class in which we had just learnt about the different variations of Jazz, Bebop being one of them. Lili, seated next to me, casually mentions that in the book she is currently reading the main characters enjoy Bebop and Jazz music (or rather go crazy listening to it). I was unaware that I would fall in love with this book and the characters involved.

After she had finished reading the book, my friend held a presentation on it in school which lead to me hearing for the first time of the adventures of a certain Jack Kerouac and the man who fascinated him so much, Neal Cassady. Being a passionate traveller with constant wanderlust myself, I was instantly intrigued by the spontaneity of their trips. Caught wondering what kind of person Kerouac had been, I decided to read the book as well. From the start, I was spellbound. I think it might have been because I identified with Jack. He seems like a normal guy who wants to break out of his ordinary life but seems hesitant to do so completely. He states that he has always been the one to follow behind others and observe, a position I felt I’ve held for most of my youth. Most likely therefore did he choose to flock around interesting (or crazy) characters that would sort of ensure that he would experience something extraordinary.

I won’t bore you with any details regarding the plot, however, if you do consider reading this masterpiece of the Beat Literature, I would strongly advise you to read On the Road: The Original Scroll for, apart from the included parts that had earlier been taken out of the first publication as they were deemed too graphic/provocative/etc.., the original feels more real especially as the actual names were used. The scroll was another thing that fascinated me, the fact that this book had been written on a metre-long roll of paper taped together. Little did I know then that I would get to look at the actual thing in person.

one of the earlier editions
one of the earlier editions
One of "The Original Scroll" versions (and the one I own)
One of “The Original Scroll” versions (and the one I own)

It happened… on a school trip to France in 2012. In my junior year of high school, after having studied French for three years, I went on a language course with my class. We spent 5 days in St. Malo, Brittany, near the Atlantic Coast and three days in the country’s capital Paris. Weirdly enough, on the first day arriving in France, while strolling along the aisles of a book store, one particular magazine in the newspaper section caught my attention. It was a limited edition issue by the magazine “Trois Couleurs” on Jack and “On the Road”.

sur la route

Without much consideration, I bought it. Flicking through, I noticed an ad about a museum exhibition with the title: “On the Road: from novel to the big screen” (ok, that’s the approximate translation from French into English). Although aware that it probably wouldn’t work out for me to visit it, I was getting more excited as I tried to figure out when and where this exhibition would be held. The answer was at the moment in Paris (in the “Musée des lettres et manuscrits”). I couldn’t believe my luck. Long story short, after convincing our teacher, Lili and I were allowed to leave the group to pay the museum a visit. What we did not expect what was awaited us there. The moment I went into the room of the exhibition was probably the closest I’ve ever come to a “fangirl moment”. Upon entering, the first thing I saw was what every passionate “On the Road” enthusiast dreams of: THE SCROLL. Well aware that this might sound very weird, it was one of the happiest days of my life. Not only for having seen it but because it came as a surprise. I couldn’t have anticipated it to be there, I thought the museum would just put a few photographs on display. Besides the scroll, there were requisites of the movie and some original letters and personal belongings of Kerouac himself.

The iconic beginning of On the Road: "I first met Neal not long after my father died..."
The iconic beginning of On the Road: “I first met Neal not long after my father died…”
Outside of the museum
Outside of the museum
Requisite: Scroll used in the movie
Requisite: Scroll used in the movie

iphonebilder 2012 juni# 800

THE SCROLL
THE SCROLL

iphonebilder 2012 juni# 825

I first met ....
I first met ….

Needless to say, my excitement lasted throughout my stay in Paris (and maybe still lingers on to this day). I bet most bookworms will understand – there is always one book that captivated you so much that it makes you want to know everything related to it. Seeing the actual scroll was a big deal for me. For others, it might just be an old, yellowed roll of paper. To me it’s definitely more.

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