Like most American men, my early twenties could easily be described as my “Kerouac Phase.” From roughly May of 2012 until sometime in the early fall of 2018, my life was a flurry of road trips, drug use, and pursuit of genuine connection with my own artistic circle, all shaped by Jack Kerouac’s prose and poetry.
(The argument could be made I never really emerged from the shadow of Kerouac’s influence, but I’ve felt myself slipping away from his influence in these last few years.)
Like so many others, my first exposure to Kerouac came with On The Road. The semi-autobiographic story of two best friends roaming the American continent arrived at the pivotal moment in my life, as my relationship had imploded and I found myself in shambles. The urge to escape my life as it had been yanked at me day and night. I wanted to start over again and found the strength to do so echoed in the first line of the book: “I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up.”
Instead of Dean Moriarty and a Beat Generation, I had a circle of friends I dubbed the “Nocturnal Generation,” a salon of writers, poets, musicians, artists, and activists who seemed awake as everyone around us was asleep. Instead of Columbia, we had ArtStreet on the University of Dayton campus. Our road didn’t lead to San Fransisco, but snaked through the Midwest, with detours in Cincinnati, Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland.
Graduation came. People took jobs and moved to new cities. Friendships reached their expiration dates. Prominent artists faded into obscurity and adulthood. By the time I moved to Los Angeles, I found myself alone. The Nocturnal Generation had reached the end of its road.
At this point, I’d read Big Sur, The Dharma Bums, and made several attempts at Visions of Cody. But the deeper I dove into Kerouac’s catalogue, the less I saw him as the patron saint of a Beat Generation. Instead, he had faded into a sexually frustrated alcoholic pining for greatness.
As The Wonder Years say, “growing up means watching my heroes turn human in front of me.”
To be clear, I do still greatly admire Kerouac. On The Road remains one of my favorite books and his writing is truly remarkable. But my admiration of Kerouac faded as my life took me a different direction.
Near the end of my time in college, I watched The West Wing for the first time and quickly found myself in love with Sorkin’s aesthetic. As I’d done with Kerouac, I threw myself headfirst into Sorkin’s writing, watching every film and TV show he’d written and studying each syllable under a microscope. Most people can easily identify what makes Sorkin great, but it would be years before I could pinpoint his flaws.
Kerouac and Sorkin are only two of many great artists whose time in my life came and went. Green Day, Bret Easton Ellis, Richard Linklater, and Twenty One Pilots are among others. Their fingerprints remain all over my own work, regardless of my current taste or interests.
As with everything else in the world, love of certain writers, artists, and musicians only last for a season. It’s the reason you don’t listen to the same music you did in junior high. Tastes develop, evolve, mature.