Saturday, May 12, 2001
Kerouac Still Draws a Crowd
Literature: Hundreds gaze on the first draft
of 'On the Road.' The manuscript is on display
before being auctioned later this month.
By JOHN M. GLIONNA, Times Staff Writer
SAN FRANCISCO--David Jacobson realized the bit of renegade in him 15
years ago when he rashly decided to relocate from Chicago to this
literary mecca of "madmen and malcontents."
He had just finished reading Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" for a
college class, and following in the tire tracks of his newfound hero
suddenly became his obsession. He chucked his old life to cruise the blue
highways and back roads Kerouac once meandered, moving to the city he has
come to associate with his beloved Jack.
On Friday, the 36-year-old freelance journalist was among hundreds of
Kerouac fanatics who got a chance to view what many referred to as "the
sacred scroll," the first draft of the 1957 novel that became the bible
of the emerging Beat Generation, the book many said profoundly changed
both their lives and American literature for good.
Locked away in a safe for decades, the manuscript--typed
single-spaced on 120 feet of tracing paper as Kerouac holed up in his New
York City flat for a caffeine-fueled 20-day writing marathon--was put on
display by Christie's auction house here prior to its sale later this
Officials expect the draft to command $1.5 million. But for Kerouac
disciples, who gazed at the document with the reverence they would have
for a religious artifact, the scroll is considered pretty near priceless.
"It's like the Holy Grail of American letters, the Rosetta stone and
the Shroud of Turin all rolled into one," said Jacobson. "Kerouac is a
hero to me. He's the reason I live here today. And it's such a rare thing
to look down here on Jack's handiwork, to see the real source of
inspiration in your life."
San Francisco was a destination city in "On the Road," billed on
later-edition covers in the 1950s as "the explosive bestseller that tells
all about today's wild youth and their frenetic search for Experience and
Kerouac completed his second draft of the novel while staying at the
home here of friend Neal Cassady, who inspired the book. He also spent
much time carousing on the streets of North Beach with poet Allen
Ginsberg and other emerging literary voices of his generation.
Christie's officials decided to show the work here and in Chicago
before the May 22 auction in New York. "San Francisco was on the top of
the list because Jack spent so much time here," said Chris Coover, a
manuscript specialist at Christie's. "It had to be here."
Kerouac, who died in 1969, created the first draft of his definitive
Beat Generation manifesto by pasting together 12-foot-long strips of
semitranslucent paper, then feeding the scroll through the platen of his
manual typewriter so he could write without interruption or even
Ginsberg once called the scroll "a magnificent single paragraph
several blocks long, rolling like the road itself."
Now yellowed with age, the manuscript still bears the occasional
cross-outs--by repeated Xs--the penciled deletions and word changes.
Auction officials showed the scroll under a plexiglass display atop an
oblong table covered with a white cloth.
On Friday, a steady stream of bike messengers, writers, teachers and
tourists peered at the display, some reading the lines with their lips
moving. While some gawked in silence, others emoted, like the bearded man
in the black beret who repeatedly whispered: "Man! Wow! Man! Wow!"
Several Kerouac biographers and other scholars also showed up to see
the draft, answering impromptu questions from fans.
Gerald Nicosia, author of the 1983 memoir "Memory Babe," told rapt
listeners how Kerouac used to hang out at a bar called the Black Cat,
once located only a block away from where the Transamerica Pyramid now
Mendocino County builder Tom Jones, who drove three hours to see the
manuscript, joked that he was a little disappointed. "They should have
included a little tube so you could smell it, too," he said.
"I can just imagine what that thing would be like. It probably still
reeks of cigarettes, sweat and Benzedrine. But man, oh man, here it is,
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Sat May 12 2001 - 19:12:54 EDT