A parked mid-fifties, Chevrolet four door sedan from 1955 or 1956, a Chevrolet that would have been ‘on the road’ in an era Jack Kerouac writes about in his novel with the same title – On the Road.
In the novel, a young World War II veteran, Sal Paradise, newly based in New York embarks on a career as writer, a writer in search of experience just at a time when America wrestles with new identity as world power and war victor. In one sense the book documents the restless, youthful spirit of a nation discovering identity as it moves into an era of prime economic stability.
Key among the era’s cultural entities is the independence of movement brought about by owning and driving a car. A car allows you to see the world. And, there’s always a car going by; so, if you’ve had a mishap with yours you can thumb a ride from someone else. Or, you can take a bus. Again, there’s the idea of a vehicle being something where all riding within it, all have their eyes fixed on the road ahead. Perhaps that’s part of what Kerouac aims at with message in all the travel – he might be pointing to the road ahead for the nation. Perhaps the car and occupants image is also about riding along with shared ideologies and intentions … but this is extrapolation.
Needless to say, a variety of vehicles – cars and trucks – move Sal Paradise and his cohorts across the nation from New York to San Francisco and back again … two or three times. A friend with a car is the force initiating Sal into a road trip. There’s the within vehicle narrative – what’s going on – and there is the travelogue narrative of Sal making sense of the America he finds along the way. By the end of the book Sal has ridden in and driven many vehicles … he’s been more a passenger than driver, though – one able to observe the goings on rather than being the driver compelled to get where he’s going. Perhaps there’s something there about stances that can be taken in living life.
Jon Foreman of Switchfoot got me to read Kerouac’s On the Road because of a section of stream of consciousness writing embedded into the novel’s narrative – the ramble and rant of thought-life shared, somewhat soliloquy, somewhat monologue, expression utilizing meter and curious placement of rhyme usually halting abruptly with quirky insight into the issue at-hand – Life and living. Here’s the quote Jon excerpted and placed within a Switchfoot concert that led me to consider a serious read of On the Road: “… the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’” ― Jack Kerouac, On the Road
Listening to – Lucinda William’s Can’t Let Go from Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, The White Stripes’ 300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues (Live) from Under Great White Northern Lights (Live); it’s also been Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie (Live) offered by Bob Dylan from The Bootleg Series Vols. 1-3 (Rare and Unreleased) 1961-1991.
Quotes to Inspire – (1) “Anything more than 500 yards from the car just isn’t photogenic.” – Edward Weston; (2) “You don’t take a photograph. You ask, quietly, to borrow it.” – Pentax Advertisement.
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