Jack Kerouac - How to be Crazy

Jack Kerouac - How to be Crazy

None of the readers of Small Town England so far have picked up on the fact that the book is to a small extent an East Midlands reworking of Kerouac’s Maggie Cassidy, with the 10 inch deep River Rase standing in for the majestic Merrimack, the Market Rasen Festival Hall for the Rex Ballroom and 50cc motorbikes instead of Model-T Fords.

When I was seventeen and a frustrated want-away teenager in empty Lincolnshire, I felt a real connection with Jack Kerouac’s work. I loved On the Road, with that wayward musical romantic prose energy (I even bought a Dexter Gordon live album to play while I re-read it). But it was the sublime read-it-in-an-hour-and-a-half Maggie Cassidy, with its heady mix of small town mysticism, indoor sprinting techniques, doomed love affairs and mammy’s-boy sentimentality that really got me hooked. In later years I think I forgot why I’d liked him so much. Then about thirteen years ago I read Dharma Bums for the first time. No plot as such – blokes climb mountains, spout buddhist philosophy, act like arses after too much red wine – but this stuff really is sheer poetry and reading it I remembered the mad confused joy of being alive I’d had when I was a kid.

In the last few years I’ve also attempted heroically obscure non-fiction versions of On The Road (Is Shane MacGowan Still Alive?) and The Subterraneans (The Groundwater Diaries). Which means the next project might possibly be a reworking of Dharma Bums – in which I take off to a forest (Highgate Wood, perhaps, or maybe Finsbury Park) and get drunk for two or three months – OK, a couple of hours, tops, because I’d need to pick the kids up from school.

This pic is from a short series I did for the Guardian Review a few years ago called Writers’ Workshop. It tries to get to the true essence of Jack-ness.

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