It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry. A weather-beaten bluesy Bob Dylan composition that seems to capture something essential about writer Jack Kerouac ( 1922-1969 ); especially the discouragingly delivered second line, ”can’t buy a thrill”.Rather than provocative or angry, the song, like Kerouac, is a lazy ,snaking, shuffling beat, reflecting a world weary resignation and a falling backwards into gnawing boredom. The alternate title for the song was ”The Phantom Engineer”, an apt description of Kerouac, an iconoclastic writer whose literary work bestowed on him the mantle and mandate to shepherd and ”engineer” the cultural identity of the parents of the Woodstock Nation, since he was ostensibly the most presentable of a group which included Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and later, Timothy Leary.
With Kerouac, there is a gripping sense of unease lying somewhere between beauty and decay.A resting and reveling somewhere between a capricious sacred and a determined and foreboding profane. For all the promise of the modern age, things were in effect, falling apart in a land of broken promises and dreams.”Arbeit Macht Frei” the inscription on the gates of Auschwitz,translated as ”Work Brings Freedom” was a total lie as the cornerstone of manipulation in post-war America.Kerouac wrote with his flag at half-mast. The jazzman played taps and Ginsberg chanted ”Kaddish” as they buried all illusion in an unmarked grave. There was no comfort in simple pleasures.No respite for anyone in the promised land, wicked or otherwise.
Kerouac, an alcoholic, could drunkenly ramble for hours, verbally staggering to friends and strangers about his daft writing method which involved taping typing paper together to form an extended scroll, and then attempt to write in a transcendental state. Allen Ginsberg, initially skeptical, would later adopt the approach of free flowing prose which is fully realized in his seminal poem ,”Howl”. Kerouac, would improvise words over the inherent structures of mind and language, similar to Jazz musicians improvising, like the CharlieParkers and Charles Mingus’s of the Bop generation who lacked the funds to painstakingly record songs, so therefore developed a free-form platform out of necessity. The beats met the bops, and its literary manifestation became known as spontaneous prose. Similar to stream of consciousness, and purportedly written without editing, like a long jam session.There was spring use of periods and puntuation.The style was very similar to Andre Breton ( 1896-1966 ), and the proponents of automatic writing known as ” self unpacking freefall” Breton explained automatism as ” the true functioning of thought. The dictation of thought, in the absence of all control by reason, excluding the aesthetic or moral preoccupation.”
Kerouac’s semi autobiographical social fiction, and especially his medium of delivery, though innovative for North America, had antecedents in the European tradition going back to at least Samuel Taylor Coleridge ( 1772-1834 ): Automatic writing became the power-drill in the arsenal of games and automatist strategies developed by Surrealism, enabling them to poke holes in the fabric of consensus reality. …It would be mistaken to think of automatic writing as confined to certain types of literary hacks. It was amidst 19th century spiritualists, séance-mongrels and ghostbusters, in the hodgepodge of bourgeois explorers of superstitious reality, that automatic writing gained ground as a reliable interface for mediums to channel messages from spirit inhabited realities, into the reality of our conscious perception…Andre Breton: the ‘pope’ of Surrealism, the poetic-revolutionary movement freeing man from a society, from a state of mind, that made possible the Great War. Against the (so-called) rationality of trench-warfare, Surrealism erected a movement dedicated to the chemistry of unbounded creativity and beauty. Everything can be poetry as long as it is confuses, Tristan Tzara said. Automatic writing was to be a liberator, one foundation on which the revolution of the irrational was to rest.
Kerouac is a writer who connected briefly with genius with On the Road, so monumental it became the point of reference over everything else he wrote or failed to write. To say that Kerouac struck lucky is unfair given the skill with which he constructed his work, but his legacy is one that suggests true inspiration is a fleeting mercurial thing. A certain dark introversion clung to his writing, a tell-tale sign of the depression and alcohol abuse that would later plague him. On the Road is a sublime articulation of apprehension and disbelief about the horror of the time. ‘‘The one thing that we yearn for in our living days, that makes us sigh and groan and undergo sweet nauseas of all kinds, is the remembrance of some lost bliss that was probably experienced in the womb and can only be reproduced (though we hate to admit it) in death.”(Kerouac, On The Road )
“And for just a moment I had reached the point of ecstasy that I always wanted to reach, which was the complete step across chronological time into timeless shadows, and wonderment in the bleakness of the mortal realm, and the sensation of death kicking at my heels to move on, with a phantom dogging its own heels…”"I realized that I had died and been reborn numberless times but just didn’t remember because the transitions from life to death and back are so ghostly easy, a magical action for naught, like falling asleep and waking up again a million times, the utter casualness and deep ignorance of it.” ( Jack Kerouac, On the Road )
Surrealism initially was a broad church with the Sigmund Freud as its earthbound deity and the subconscious mind both its heaven and hell to be charted and explored. Freud himself was less than enamoured with his self-professed followers whom he regarded largely as a motley collection of chancers and madmen.However, The aforementioned Coleridge predated Freud in many ways: speculating on the possibility of interpreting dreams, suspecting the brain, while dreaming, to process reality in a symbolic language native to the unconscious mind. The reason poets welcomed Freud, it has been said, was because Freud made scientific what had been common stock in poetic theory for at least a century.