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ON THE ROAD [1957] JACK KEROUAC

ontheroadQuiet, introspective writer Sal Paradise (Kerouac) meets wild-eyed, maniacal Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady), “a young jailkid all hung-up on the wonderful possibilities of becoming a real intellectual.” The two embark on an odyssey of discovery – fueled by drugs, booze and whores – across post-World War II America. On the Road is a seminal novel—the best work to come out of the Beat Generation (next to Naked Lunch, of course!). Kerouac disciples include Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead, Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Tom Waits, 10,000 Maniacs, King Crimson, David Bowie, Johnny Depp, Ken Kesey, LeRoi Jones (Imamu Amiri Baraka), Hunter S. Thompson, Janis Joplin, David Carradine, Jack Nicholson, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Kim Novak and Nick Nolte. Thinly veiled characters in On the Road include Old Bull Lee (William S. Burroughs) and Carlo Marx (Allen Ginsberg). In creating his masterpiece, Kerouac relied on the inspiration of Thomas Wolfe (Look Homeward, Angel), Walt Whitman (Leaves of Grass), Mark Twain (Huckleberry Finn), Jack London (Call of the Wild) and Herman Melville (Moby Dick) as major literary influences. Kerouac himself summed up the Beat Generation very well: “I want to make this very clear. I mean, here I am, a guy who was a railroad brakeman, and a cowboy, and a football player-just a lot of things ordinary guys do. And I wasn’t trying to create any kind of consciousness or anything like that. We didn’t have a whole lot of heavy abstract thoughts. We were just a bunch of guys who were out trying to get laid.”

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JUNKY [1953] WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS

“I have learned the junk equation. Junk is not, like alcohol or weed, a means to increased enjoyment of life. Junk is not a kick. It is a way of life.” Follow William Lee as he dabbles with petty crime and makes a gradual descent into the hell of drug addiction. One of the most memorable characters he befriends is Herman (Herbert Huncke), hustler, thief and strong early influence on the Beat Generation. Huncke would later depict the same period in his autobiography, Guilty of Everything. Burroughs once said his work was “directed against those who are bent, through stupidity or design, on blowing up the planet or rendering it uninhabitable.” However, in Junky, which was originally published by Ace Books as Junkie: Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict under the pen name of William Lee, Burroughs sticks to a classic, straightforward narrative that details his early life BEFORE the Beat Generation, BEFORE he accidentally shot and killed his wife and BEFORE he moved to Tangier where he penned his masterpiece, Naked Lunch. However, the deadpan style does reveal flashes of the genius to come in his later writing. For instance, check out this passage: “There was something boneless about her, like a deep-sea creature…I could see those eyes in a shapeless, protoplasmic mass undulating over the dark sea floor.”

A FAN’S NOTES [1968] – FREDERICK EXLEY

“I fought because I understood, and could not bear to understand, that it was my destiny – unlike that of my father, whose fate it was to hear the roar of the crowd – to sit in the stands with most men and acclaim others. It was my fate, my destiny, my end, to be a fan.” A “fictional memoir,” A Fan’s Notes delves into the booze-soaked world of Frederick Exley – a mentally ill alcoholic and obsessive New York Giants fan (his hero? Frank Gifford). Simply a brilliant, totally original novel that has earned quite a cult following but definitely deserves a wider audience. Frank Gifford figures prominently as the “hero” in A Fan’s Notes. What would Ex, God rest his drunken soul, think of his hero now? Gifford has had more plastic surgery than Phyllis Diller, for god sakes. It’s not enough that he spewed forth some of the most boring commentary on Monday Night Football for years. Instead of fading away like a hero, this guy gets involved in scandal after scandal. Remember the image of him handing out cash at that sweatshop? Real class, my man! And then there he was caught with his pants down with some slut in one of those cheesy tabloids. I won’t even talk about Kathie Lee, shit . . .