Kerouac in Florida:
Where the Road Ends
Bob Kealing with a foreword by David Amram (Shady Lane Press 2011 Updated Edition, Trade Paperback) 174 pages, indexed and illustrated $20 cover price
What do we say about The Beats, now removed from their peak by over half a century? Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, On the Road, and Howl - what do we call them? Were The Beats a mere short-term cultural off-shoot, a flash in the pan; or were they authentic voices for a specific era of America life? I vote for the latter, as does Bob Kealing, the author of this truly loving and quite fascinating investigation of Kerouac’s years of living in Florida.
All eras in all societies have their lightness and their dark. In the 1950s of America, for all the skyrocketing of the economy and what we see now as the peak of the middle class, there was a contrary opinion that needed a voice. That voice came from the young men who had spent their childhood in a Great Depression, their late adolescence at war instead of freshman mixers, and returned home to find there was a country that lived outside the comedies and series seen on this thing called television, and as that part of the country was not necessarily pretty, that voice became the voice of discontent and an entirely different value system to that endorsed by Senator Joseph McCarthy. I call that significant.
Kealing is a print and television reporter in Orlando. One of the things I instantly liked about Kerouac in Florida is that the author doesn’t hide himself outside the narrative. He rather reminds me of the newsreel reporter in Citizen Kane who ferrets out the story of the great man by talking to a fascinating range of people. Better than the film though, Kealing clearly has a great love for his subject and a well-deserved satisfaction with the results of his endeavours.
The idea for this book came from a phone conversation between Orlando and Kansas City, making it perfectly delicious that the origin has a certain element of distance and travel. Kealing had visited the Hemingway House in Key West, and mentioned to an old friend in KC that he wished there was something like that in Orlando. His friend said, ‘You know Jack Kerouac lived in Orlando, don’t you?’ Well no. That was in 1996.
In 1997 Kealing ran a 3,000 word story in the Orlando Sentinel about how Kerouac had lived in the area off and on from 1957 through to his death at age 47 in 1969. (At this point, the reader will want to know, so let’s get it out of the way that yes he drank himself to death and his final hours were horrifying. You don’t want to go out that way.) Because of that story, a series of wonderful things happened. A reader thought it would be a wonderful idea to buy the little shotgun shack where Kerouac wrote Dharma Bums in 1957, and where he lived when On the Road exploded into the massively controversial literary event of that year. Fund-raising happened. The little house was purchased and renovated and now there is a Writer-in-Residence program. In invite you to take a look at The Jack Kerouac Project. It is an example of everything good about community involvement in the arts. All because a reporter wanted to prove Orlando had a history and culture that wasn’t made and sold by the Mouse people.
Kealing is a very, very fine reporter. There is no doubt at all that he is a great admirer of his subject, yet he does not shirk when it comes to the cruelty that can burst from a man’s mouth when he is a slave to drink. As well, Kealing most eloquently describes the Kerouac family dynamic; how this man best known for his travels was the most dutiful son in history, buying and selling homes in order to please Memere.
The final word I’ll toss out here is inspiring. The stories of the people who knew Kerouac, cared for him, liked him mixed with the people who were determined to build a legacy truly felt inspirational to me. It is a tale well-told and one you will enjoy.
Be seeing you.
I urge you to not only take a look at the Kerouac Project (link within the review), but to support the project and purchase this fine book you can do so here: http://www.