Naissance de Jean-Louis Kirouac, le 12 mars à Lowell, Mass. Il est le cadet des trois enfants de Léo-Alcide Kéroack (Kirouack) dont le père Jean-Baptiste Kirouack avait quitté Saint-Hubert (Comté Témiscouata) pour Nashua (N.H.) et de Gabrielle-Ange Lévesque, fille de Louis Lévesque et de Joséphine Jean de Saint-Pacôme. Un frère Gérard et une sœur Caroline le précèdent.
Mort de son frère Gérard alias Jérôme. Jack est profondément marqué par cette disparition.
Diplômé d'une école secondaire de Lowell où il se distingue à la course à pied et au football. Ses succès au football lui procurent une bourse d'études au Horace Mann School à New York, puis à l’Université Columbia.
Études, préparatoires à l'Université, au Horace Mann School.
Alors qu’il fréquente l’Université Columbia, une fracture à la jambe met fin à ses espoirs d'une carrière professionnelle au football.
Jack fait partie de la marine marchande US Navy et de la marine américaine. Jack navigue sur les convois de la marine marchande.
À Columbia, Jack fait la connaissance de Lucien Carr, William Burroughs et Allen Ginsberg qui l'influenceront profondément. Son avenir est scellé. Il vit, rêve et bamboche avec eux à travers l'Amérique. Il croit en son talent littéraire et consacre toutes ses énergies à écrire.
Premier mariage avec Frankie Edith (Edie) Parker, mariage qui ne dure que deux mois.
Au printemps, son père, Léo-Alcide, meurt d'un cancer à l'estomac. Il jure à son père de s'occuper de sa mère. Pendant plusieurs années, surtout avant que son talent littéraire ne soit reconnu, c'est sa mère qui le fera vivre.
Il écrit son premier roman The Town and the City qui a été traduit en français sous le titre Avant la route. C'est un livre largement autobiographique.
Jack fait la rencontre de Neal Cassidy, son mauvais génie si je, puis m'exprimer ainsi. Cassidy, instable, toujours en mouvement, exerce une influence profonde sur Jack qui ne cesse pas d'admirer Neal. Ce dernier donne à Jack le coup de pouce nécessaire pour lui faire quitter sa machine à écrire, dire au revoir à sa mère et partir sur la route. À cause de son style de vie, on considère Jack comme l'ancêtre éloigné du mouvement hippie.
Premiers voyages presque démentiels avec Neal Cassidy à travers le pays. Premières tentatives pour écrire Sur la route. Il invente une nouvelle forme d'écriture: l'esquisse c'est-à-dire une méthode de composition spontanée.
Premier séjour à Mexico chez Burroughs. Il écrit sous l'effet des drogues.
Publication de The Town and the City.
Il épouse Joan Harvety qu’il quittera six mois plus tard.
Il écrit en trois semaines à New York le manuscrit de Sur la route sur rouleau de papier continu pour Télétype que lui avait apporté Lucien Carr.
Il écrit Visions of Cody, livre sur Neal Cassidy.
Naissance d'une fille, Michele, née en février. Kerouac n'admettra jamais officiellement cette paternité.
Lecture et étude du boudhisme dont Kerouac devient un des adeptes. Il écrit Les Souterrains.
Deuxième voyage à Mexico. Il en revient épuisé physiquement par les drogues.
Kerouac passe un été en solitaire comme garde - forestier au sommet du mont Désolation dans l’état de Washington. Il écrit Visions de Gérard.
Publication de Sur la route qui sera un des best-sellers de l'année 1957. Jack se brouille avec Neal à cause de tous les détails donnés par Jack sur Neal dans Sur la route (On the Road.). Il écrit Les clochards célestes.
Il écrit Le vagabond solitaire.
Il écrit Les anges vagabonds, Big sur.
Voyage en juin en Bretagne en quête de ses racines. Il écrit Satori à Paris.
Troisième mariage. Il épouse Stella Sampas, la sœur d'un de ses amis d'enfance. Il revient habiter Lowell, Mass. À lire ses livres, on peut se demander s'il a quitté Lowell...
Il est interrogé par Fernand Seguin au Sel de la semaine.
Décès de Neal Cassidy, en février.
Décès de Jack, le 21 octobre, à Saint-Petersburg (Floride)
JACK KEROUAC was born Jean-Louis Kerouac, March 12, 1922 a French-Canadian child in working-class Lowell, Massachusetts. Ti Jean spoke a local dialect of French called joual before he learned English. The youngest of three children, he was heartbroken when his older brother Gerard died of rheumatic fever at the age of nine.
Ti Jean was an intense and serious child, devoted to Memere (his mother) and constantly forming important friendships with other boys, as he would continue to do throughout his life. He was driven to create stories from a young age, inspired first by the mysterious radio show 'The Shadow,' and later by the fervid novels of Thomas Wolfe, the writer he would model himself after.
Lowell had once thrived as the center of New England's textile industry, but by the time of Kerouac's birth it had begun to sink into poverty. Kerouac's father, a printer and well-known local businessman, began to suffer financial difficulties, and started gambling in the hope of restoring prosperity to the household. Young Jack hoped to save the family himself by winning a football scholarship to college and entering the insurance business. He was a star back on his high school team and won some miraculous victories, securing himself a scholarship to Columbia University in New York. His parents followed him there, settling in Ozone Park, Queens.
Things went wrong at Columbia. Kerouac fought with the football coach, who refused to let him play. His father lost his business and sank rapidly into alcoholic helplessness, and young Jack, disillusioned and confused, dropped out of Columbia, bitterly disappointing the father who had so recently disappointed him. He tried and failed to fit in with the military (World War II had begun) and ended up sailing with the Merchant Marine. When he wasn't sailing, he was hanging around New York with a crowd his parents did not approve of: depraved young Columbia students Allen Ginsberg and Lucien Carr, a strange but brilliant older downtown friend named William S. Burroughs, and a joyful street cowboy from Denver named Neal Cassady.
Kerouac had already begun writing a novel, stylistically reminiscent of Thomas Wolfe, about the torments he was suffering as he tried to balance his wild city life with his old-world family values. His friends loved the manuscript, and Ginsberg asked his Columbia professors to help find a publisher for it. It would become Kerouac's first and most conventional novel, "The Town and the City", 'which earned him respect and some recognition as a writer, although it did not make him famous.
It would be a long time before he would be published again. He had taken some amazing cross-country trips with Neal Cassady while working on his novel, and in his attempt to write about these trips he had begun experimenting with freer forms of writing, partly inspired by the unpretentious, spontaneous prose he found in Neal Cassady's letters. He decided to write about his cross-country trips exactly as they had happened, without pausing to edit, fictionalize or even think. He presented the resulting manuscript to his editor on a single long roll of unbroken paper, but the editor did not share his enthusiasm and the relationship was broken. Kerouac would suffer seven years of rejection before 'On The Road' would be published.
He spent the early 1950's writing one unpublished novel after another, carrying them around in a rucksack as he roamed back and forth across the country. He followed Ginsberg and Cassady to Berkeley and San Francisco, where he became close friends with the young Zen poet Gary Snyder. He found enlightenment through the Buddhist religion and tried to follow Snyder's lead in communing with nature. His excellent novel 'The Dharma Bums' describes a joyous mountain climbing trip he and Snyder went on in Yosemite in 1955, and captures the tentative, sometimes comic steps he and his friends were taking towards spiritual realization.
His fellow starving writers were beginning to attract fame as the 'Beat Generation' a label Kerouac had invented years earlier during a conversation with fellow novelist John Clellon Holmes. Ginsberg and Snyder became underground celebrities in 1955 after the Six Gallery poetry reading in San Francisco. Since they and many of their friends regularly referred to Kerouac as the most talented writer among them, publishers began to express interest in the forlorn, unwanted manuscripts he carried in his rucksack wherever he went. 'On The Road' was finally published in 1957, and when it became a tremendous popular success Kerouac did not know how to react. Embittered by years of rejection, he was suddenly expected to snap to and play the part of Young Beat Icon for the public. He was older and sadder than everyone expected him to be, and probably far more intelligent as well. Literary critics, objecting to the Beat 'fad,' refused to take Kerouac seriously as a writer and began to ridicule his work, hurting him tremendously. Certainly the Beat Generation was a fad, Kerouac knew, but his own writing was not.
His sudden celebrity was probably the worst thing that could have happened to him, because his moral and spiritual decline in the next few years was shocking. Trying to live up to the wild image he'd presented in 'On The Road,' he developed a severe drinking habit that dimmed his natural brightness and aged him prematurely. His Buddhism failed him, or he failed it. He could not resist a drinking binge, and his friends began viewing him as needy and unstable. He published many books during these years, but most had been written earlier, during the early 50's when he could not find a publisher. He kept busy, appearing on TV shows, writing magazine articles and recording three spoken-word albums, but his momentum as a serious writer had been completely disrupted.
Like Kurt Cobain, another counter-culture celebrity who seemed to be truly (as opposed to fashionably) miserable, Kerouac expressed his unhappiness nakedly in his art and was not taken seriously. In 1961 he tried to break his drinking habit and rediscover his writing talents with a solitary nature retreat in Big Sur. Instead, the vast nature around him creeped him out and he returned to San Francisco to drink himself into oblivion. He was cracking up, and he laid out the entire chilling experience in his last great novel, 'Big Sur'.
Defeated and lonesome, he left California to live with his mother in Long Island, and would not stray from his mother for the rest of his life. He would continue to publish, and remained mentally alert and aware (though always drunken). But his works after 'Big Sur' displayed a disconnected soul, a human being sadly lost in his own curmudgeonly illusions.
Despite the 'beatnik' stereotype, Kerouac was a political conservative, especially when under the influence of his Catholic mother. As the beatniks of the 1950's began to yield their spotlight to the hippies of the 1960's, Jack took pleasure in standing against everything the hippies stood for. He supported the Vietnam War and became friendly with William F. Buckley.
Living alone with his mother in Northport, Long Island, Kerouac developed a fascinating set of habits. He stayed in his house most of the time and carried on a lifelong game of 'baseball' with a deck of playing cards. His drink of choice was a jug of the kind of cheap, sweet wine, Tokay or Thunderbird, usually preferred by winos. He became increasingly devoted to Catholicism, but his unusual Buddhist-tinged brand of Catholicism would hardly have met with the approval of the Pope.
Through his first forty years Kerouac had failed to sustain a long-term romantic relationship with a woman, though he often fell in love. He'd married twice, to Edie Parker and Joan Haverty, but both marriages had ended within months. In the mid-1960's he married again, but this time to a maternalistic and older childhood acquaintance from small-town Lowell, Stella Sampas, who he hoped would help around the house as his mother entered old age.
He moved back to Lowell with Stella and his mother, and then moved again with them to St. Petersburg, Florida. His health destroyed by drinking, he died at home in 1969. He was 47 years old.
— Literary Kicks
La Beat Generation
Le mouvement de la Beat Generation est né de la rencontre en 1943-44 entre Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997 - à écouter: Hits Of Sunshine de Sonic Youth tirée de A Thousand Leaves qui est dédiée à Ginsberg) et William Burroughs (1914-1997). Ce trio fréquente le monde des paumés et des drogués de Times Square, se frotte à la petite pègre et découvre le jazz de Harlem.
Le mot "beat" désignait depuis le XIXème siècle un vagabond du rail voyageant clandestinement à bord des wagons de marchandises. Peu à peu ce mot a pris le sens que lui ont donné les jazzmen noirs, "beat" en vint à signifier une manière de traverser la vie. Etre beat devint être foutu, à bout de souffle, exténué.
Kerouac y vit le style propre de toute une génération; il inventa le label: il y avait eu la génération perdue, celle-ci était la génération foutue. Ce mal du siècle né du vertige des grands espaces et décrit par Kerouac l'a conduit a s'interroger sur ce monde trop vaste qui nous écrase. Dans les années 50-60 Gary Snider rencontre Kerouac et Ginsberg qui le décrivent comme le type le plus fou et le plus intelligent qu'ils aient rencontré. C'est le personnage dont le pseudonyme est Japhy Rider dans les Clochards Célestes, 1963. Gary Snider établit de nouveaux rapports entre l'homme et la nature, liés à une nouvelle compréhension de la nature de l'homme lui-même. L'influence de Gary snider viendra infléchir le vagabond vers le "clodo du dharma", le moine bouddhiste itinérant, le vagabond sous son ombrelle trouée. "Beat" renvoie alors à la béatitude, à la disponibilité qui ouvre une nouvelle perception du monde.
La soirée d'octobre 1955 à San Francisco où Allen Ginsberg lut "Howl", sa rhapsodie illuminée, et le procès pour obscénité qui s'ensuivit, fit éclater le mouvement beat dans le grand public américain.
En septembre 1957, "Sur La Route" trouva enfin un éditeur ("Sur la route" a été écrit entre 1949 et 1952). Du jour au lendemain, l'Amérique fut pleine de beatnicks, c'est-à-dire, dans l'image de la grande presse, d'adolescents déguisés en clochards crasseux, cheveux longs et nu-pieds, trouvant des extases mystiques au fond de piaules grouillantes de cancrelats.
Le 24 octobre 1969, on enterrait au cimetière catholique de Lowell, morne petite ville industrielle du Massachussetts, le corps de Jack Kerouac, mort d'une hémorragie abdominale à l'âge de 47 ans. Depuis quelque temps, il n'était plus que l'ombre de lui-même, revenu auprès de sa mère. Il resta sourd à la musique de Woodstock dont il aurait pu y reconnaître, comme Ginsberg, la moisson de ce que lui et ses amis avaient semé. Un chapitre était clos. Kerouac le clochard céleste, lampant sa gnôle à même le goulot et scandant ses blues à l'escale de la grande-route avait été la star numéro un du mouvement beat qu'une Amérique un peu effarouchée avait vu exploser en 1955-57. La secousse qui, partie d'un clan de copains emportés par le tourbillon d'un narcissisme extatique, avait fini par transformer le paysage culturel, voire politique de l'Amérique et laissa un profond sillage...
— Beat whisky & Poésie
Kerouac realized his desire to be a writer when he was in his teens, probably influenced by his father, a linotypist with a command of words. His unique style of writing wouldn't emerge until after his college years, after he wrote his first novel, "The Town and the City". He would often write while intoxicated with some substance, usually Benzedrine strips he would purge from over-the-counter inhalers, marijuana, and alcohol. He claimed that they---particularly "Bennies"---enhanced his writing by giving him the tremendous energy that this kind of writing required. Kerouac is considered by some as the "King of the Beatniks" as well as the "Father of the Hippies".
Kerouac's method was heavily influenced by the prolific explosion of Jazz, especially the Bebop genre established by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and others. Later, Kerouac would include ideas he developed in his Buddhist studies. He called this style Spontaneous Prose, a literary technique akin to stream of consciousness. Kerouac's motto was "first-thought=best thought", and many of his books exemplified this approach including 'On the Road', 'Visions of Cody', 'Visions of Gerard', 'Big Sur', and 'The Subterraneans'. The central features of this writing method was the idea of breath (borrowed from Jazz), improvising words over the inherent structures of mind and language, and not editing a single word. Connected with his idea of breath was the elimination of the period, preferring to use a long, connecting dash instead. As such, the phrases occurring between dashes might resemble improvisational jazz licks. When spoken, the words might take on a certain kind of rhythm, though none of it premeditated.
He would go on for hours to friends and strangers about his method, often drunk, which wasn't well received by Ginsberg, who had an acute awareness of the need to sell literature (to publishers) as much as write it; though he'd later be one of its great proponents. It was at about the time that Kerouac wrote 'The Subterraneans' that he was approached by Ginsberg and others to formally explicate exactly how he wrote it, how he did Spontaneous Prose. Among the writings he set down specifically about his Spontaneous Prose method, the most concise would be Belief and Technique for Modern Prose, a list of thirty "essentials".
— Dharma beat