There’ll be flowers on Jack Kerouac’s grave up in Lowell today: he died forty years ago to the day.
There’s always a party on Jack’s grave. I was there for the twenty-fifth anniversary of his death, back in 1994. I met some amazing people and we read passages from On the Road and smoked a joint in his honor.
There was a sheaf of roses on the grave. I’ve been back many times since, and there are always offerings: empty wine bottles or beer cans, rolled joints or roaches, I Ching coins, peace buttons, candle wax, poems, flowers: you name it. Once even a typewriter, I understand. Jack’s in-laws, the Sampases, have to come and clean off his grave on a regular basis.
On the Road has sold over three million copies. But the man whose book became the voice of a generation died a lonely death, having achieved notoriety instead of the respect as a writer he longed for and deserved.
Forty years later, all that has changed.
The enfant terrible of the fifties has become an American icon. As far as I know, all of Kerouac’s books are in print, and many are taught in schools. On the Road is regarded as a classic.
Jack’s spirit is very much alive. Only the other night on NPR Terry Gross was interviewing author Dan Fante. She asked Fante why he writes, and he said he had this quote from Kerouac on his wall:
I want to work in revelations, not just spin silly tales for money. I want to fish as deep down as possible into my own subconscious in the belief that once that far down, everyone will understand, because they are the same as me, that far down.
“That’s why I write,” said Fante.
That passage was in a letter Jack wrote to his friend Ed White in 1950. And in The Dharma Bums he wrote:
I intended to pray. . .as my only activity, pray for all living creatures. I saw it was the only decent activity left in the world.
October was Jack’s favorite time of year. As we enjoy the beauty of the changing season, let’s say a prayer of thanks to Jack Kerouac, poet of impermanence, for the courage of his heart and for his lifelong commitment to candor.