Jack Kerouac stands out as the voice of the Beat Generation. His 1957 novel On the Road, setting his real-life travels against a backdrop of jazz and poetry, was formed in a series of notebooks he kept. Our Jack Kerouac cover features one of his diary entries alongside an illustration by Dominic Ferrari.
“I wish to evoke that indescribably sad music of the night in America… It is the actual inner sound of a country.” – Jack Kerouac
American novelist and poet Jack Kerouac (1922–1969) stands out as the preeminent voice of the Beat Generation, a literary iconoclast who exposed the realities of politics and culture in postwar America. With a writing method heavily influenced by the era’s explosion of jazz music, his “spontaneous prose” came to represent a new era of popular writing.
Kerouac’s On the Road is considered the defining work of the Beats, with his real-life travels represented against a backdrop of jazz and poetry. The novel, published in 1957, was formed in the late 1940s in a series of spiralbound notebooks Kerouac took with him on his travels. The writing on the back cover of this journal comes from one such notebook, written in February 1950. In the entry, Kerouac writes about seeing himself not as a writer but an “arrangeur,” focusing heavily on the inner music, beat and rhythm that exists within us all.
Inspired by jazz heavyweights Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk, Kerouac’s writing method focused on the idea of breath. He often separated his seemingly improvised words by long connecting dashes, eliminating the period entirely, and limited his revision. When read together, these dashed phrases resemble jazz licks, taking on a musical cadence.
Music plays an important role in the plot of On the Road too. Main characters Sal Paradise (Kerouac’s alter ego) and Dean Moriarty (standing in for Neal Cassady) are portrayed as jazz/bebop enthusiasts, repeatedly depicted listening to specific records and going to music clubs to hear their favourites. And, just as music inspired Kerouac, so too has Kerouac inspired future musicians. The music and lifestyles of Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Patti Smith, Van Morrison and Jim Morrison – among many others – were all greatly influenced by his literary works.
Visual artists like Dominic (Nic) Ferrari, who contributed this cover art, have likewise been inspired to combine Kerouac’s musicality in their own works:
“This was inspired by Jack Kerouac's book On the Road. The themes that interested me in the book were travel, exploration and meeting new, interesting people. There was also a strong presence of jazz music resonating throughout the book. The illustration aims to capture the fluidity and unpredictability of jazz music, as well as portray the concept of movement and travel.” – Nic Ferrari
Though initial critical reaction to On the Road was mixed – some reviewers reacted harshly to his “spontaneous prose” – it has since become a literary classic that brought Kerouac great fame and notoriety. Recently, there has been an influx of films inspired by Kerouac and his fellow Beats, with On the Road itself being made into a 2012 film directed by Walter Salles and produced by Francis Ford Coppola.
Sadly, it is the rock and roll lifestyle that so influenced his writing and the work of future artists that eventually ended Kerouac’s life. He died at age 47 from an abdominal hemorrhage caused by a lifetime of heavy drinking. As we near what would have been Kerouac’s 100th birthday, his influence remains as strong as ever, and we are honoured to bring this great American novel to our Paperblanks collection.