I was a teenager browsing the shelves of Better Books in Edinburgh where amongst the imported copies of Grove plays—Pinter, Beckett, Behan, Arden, Delaney, and the City Lights’ volumes of Ginsberg and Corso—there was a small collection of Kerouac books. I picked up The Subterraneans and started reading:
Once I was young and had so much orientation and could talk with nervous intelligence about everything and with clarity and without as much literary preambling as this; in other words this is the story of an unselfconfident man, at the same time of an egomaniac, naturally, facetious won’t do - just start at the beginning and let the truth seep out, that’s what I’ll do -. It began on a warm summer night…
I was filled with “nervous intelligence” yet still “unselfconfident” I was hooked. And this is why Kerouac appeals best to the young whose lives are starting out, giddy with living, filled with a growing self-belief yet still filled with agononizing self-doubt—in need of someone to say, “it’s all right.” And here was Kerouac saying just that.
John Antonelli’s 1984 film Jack Kerouac: King of the Beats, tells Kerouac’s story through dramatized sequences, archive footage and interviews with the regular cast of players - William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg. At times, it skates across, and avoids those cracks that’d reveal troubled depths, but it is still a reminder as to how and why Kerouac very much matters.