The Beats revisited

“Great American prose is notoriously hard to film..” Andrew O’Hagan —  a Jack Kerouac fan —  doesn’t rate Walter Salles’ adaptation of “On The Road”. And he faces up to the uncomfortable possibility that the Beats’ brand of individualism has been co-opted by commerce. Talking of second thoughts, it’s worth reading Alex Webb’s critique of Kerouac & Co, first published in the Indy more than a decade ago. A jazz musician himself, Webb knows whereof he speaks:

Fortunately for its reputation, On the Road is not a book many people read twice… Kerouac and the Beats were widely held to be the expression of atomic- age angst. We can now see their writing and poetry – with honourable exceptions – as a kind of low-budget transcendentalism, profundity on the cheap for lazy minds…

The power of On the Road is much to do with the age at which we come to it: it is often one of the first “grown-up” books we encounter. It stays on the shelf, fixed by the period art of its paperback cover to the person we were then. We prefer to remember it fondly, if only because criticising it feels disloyal to the selves we were when it moved us: the selves we may still be from time to time, pensively drunk in a jazz club, listening to a smoky ballad and dreaming of the vastness of the city outside, the streets open under the starry sky, the lives that might have been.

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Chief theatre critic for The Times. Twitter: CliveDavisUK Facebook: Instagram: clivephotos
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