Why Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ Is More Relevant Than Ever

On the Road
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Jack Kerouac’s 1957 novel—considered the bible of the Beat generation—turns 60 this month.

The tale of Kerouac’s cross-country adventures with pal Neal Cassidy, which was published on Sept. 5, 1957, “remains a Rorschach blot that means whatever we need it to,” says John Leland, author of Why Kerouac Matters: The Lessons of On the Road.

“Is it about kicks? The search for a father? Depression, freedom, male friendship, God, the American landscape? It’s about all those things,” Leland says, “and [insights] that don’t even exist yet, all in a bop prosody that’s still unmatched.”

An excerpt from On the Road

With the bus leaving at ten, I had four hours to dig Hollywood alone. First I bought a loaf of bread and salami and made myself ten sandwiches to cross the country on. I had a dollar left. I sat on the low cement wall in back of a Hollywood parking lot and made the sandwiches.

As I labored at this absurd task, great Kleig lights of a Hollywood première stabbed in the sky, that humming West Coast sky. All around me were the noises of the crazy gold-coast city. And this was my Hollywood career—this was my last night in Hollywood, and I was spreading mustard on my lap in back of a parking-lot john.