Thursday, August 16, 2007

50 Years Later, On the Road still 'burns, burns, burns'

It was 50 years ago today that Jack Kerouac's On the Road arrived, "exploding like spiders across the stars" becoming the cornerstone of the beat generation, and the standard bearer for counterculture in the 60's and 70's. It's legacy is still felt to this day and as a testament, a film adaptation is finally in production, with the team that brought us another historical road movie - The Motorcycle Diaries - director Walter Salles and writer Jose Rivera.
There are nights when I think that Sal Paradise was right.
Boys and girls in America, they have such a sad time together"

"Stuck Between Stations" by The Hold Steady, referencing On the Road
Author William S. Burroughs famously said about On the Road that it "sold a trillion Levi's, a million espresso coffee machines and sent countless kids on the road." (As a flipside to that, Truman Capote said "that's not writing, that's typing.") The legend is that Kerouac wrote it in only three weeks on a long sheet of teletype paper, but the truth is it took seven years of editing to get it to publication 50 years ago. Those seven years seem like a blink of an eye when you consider that Francis Ford Coppola has been working on adapting it to film for nearly 40 years now.
"You slip, you slack, you clock me, you lack
while I'm reading
On The Road by my man Jack Kerouac"
"3-Minute Rule" by Beastie Boys
Coppola has owned the movie rights to the novel longer then I've been alive (1968,) and has tried several times to get the movie into production. There have been countless screenplays, including Michael Herr (Apocalypse Now,) Barry Gifford (Wild at Heart,) Russell Banks (The Sweet Hereafter,) and even Coppola himself, with his son Roman.

The past 12 years alone have been littered with more stops and starts then hitching a ride with a mailman cross-country. In 1995, Coppola held auditions, with poet (and re-named character in the book,) Allen Ginsberg in attendance. Coppola had planned on shooting it in 16mm black & white, but couldn't get the funding to get the film off the ground. A few years later, it reappeared with Ethan Hawke and Brad Pitt attached to the lead and Coppolla again directing. By 2001, Joel Schumacher (The Phantom of the Opera) was brought in to direct the Russell Banks adaptation, and Hawke was replaced with Billy Crudup. Then the plug was pulled again in 2004, and many thought the project had just disappeared.
On the road with Kerouac/ Sheltered in his Bivouac/ On this road we'll never die...
"Holiday" by Weezer
It was right about that time that a little foreign indie film called The Motorcycle Diaries made it's debut, and Coppola was reportedly so smitten with the film from the start, that it's no surprise Schumacher and Banks were left in the cold. The parallels to On the Road were numerous. The book of The Motorcyle Diaries was a cult classic that followed revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara on the road across South America in 1952. Guevera and Kerouac are both counterculture icons from the 1960s, and both wrote books that looked difficult to adapt. Salles and Rivera's graceful adaptation of Diaries inspires hope that On the Road will actually get done this time. The film tentative release date is set for 2009, and so far the only concrete casting rumor has come in the form of Kirsten Dunst as Carolyn Cassady (Moriarty in the book.)
Jack was almost at the bottom of his md 2020
Neal was yellin' out the window tryin to buy some bennies
from a Lincoln full of mexicans whose left rear tire blowed
and the sonsobitches prit near almost ran off the road

"Jack and Neal/California Here I Come" by Tom Waits
In celebration of the book's 50th anniversary, why not listen to the man himself read from it, in the form of the album Jack Kerouac Reads On The Road. He even sings (most notably "Ain't We Got Fun" and "Come Rain or Shine.") Or check out this video of Kerouac reading from On the Road from a Steve Allen special:

Seems like an odd pairing, but Allen's piano playing actually swings, daddy-o.

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