Remembering Jack Kerouac

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NBC Today Show
Tom Brokaw, Rick Davis
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Video News Report
NBCUniversal Media, LLC.
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Jack Kerouac once lived in San Francisco where he helped start the beatnik culture. Years later, many people are still intrigued about the author's personal life and his politics.



"Remembering Jack Kerouac." Rick Davis, correspondent. NBC Today Show. NBCUniversal Media. 22 Sep. 1978. NBC Learn. Web. 31 January 2015.


Rick Davis, . (Reporter), & Brokaw, T. (Anchor). (1978, September 22). Remembering Jack Kerouac. [Television series episode]. NBC Today Show. Retrieved from


"Remembering Jack Kerouac" NBC Today Show, New York, NY: NBC Universal, 09/22/1978. Accessed Sat Jan 31 2015 from NBC Learn:


Remembering Jack Kerouac

TOM BROKAW, anchor:

One of the most important and influential writers of the 1950s was Jack Kerouac, often called the king of the beats, the beatniks after that era, he wrote 18 novels and memoirs that captured the flavor of that year. Now nearly ten years after his death, there is a new interest in the work of Jack Kerouac, and we get a report from Rick Davis.

RICK DAVIS, reporting:

City Lights bookstore stands on the corner of San Francisco’s North Beach as it has since the mid 1950s. Back then it published, sold, was a hang out for a group of writers that called “the beats.” Now in the window there is a book called Jack’s Book about a man who for many was the king of the beats, Jack Kerouac. This collection of interviews with 35 people who knew Kerouac was put together by Barry Gifford, a novelist and poet, and Lawrence Lee a journalist and television producer. City Lights is right across an alley from a bar called the Vesuvio’s; it was here in the 1950s too. In fact, Jack Kerouac used to do a lot of drinking here. So it was a good place to talk about the man, his influence, and his image. In the book, Gifford and Lee quote writer John Clellon Holmes, who says, “in the end Jack Kerouac was fleeing the monster image of the king of the beats.”

Mr. LEE: Kerouac got eaten up by his own publicity, he was named the king of the Beat Generation, and the beat generation was erupting in this very neighborhood where we are sitting, but he didn’t feel responsible for it, and he wasn’t. It happened that the people he wrote about were that generation, but he got blamed for the message.

DAVIS: He didn’t want the blame?

Mr. LEE: I don’t think so; he was essentially a conservative man. A man who… probably didn’t vote but said that if he had voted he would have voted for Eisenhower, we know he would have voted for Nixon, for Goldwater. He really didn’t like free love, free life, free grass, only cheap red wine.

DAVIS: When in San Francisco Kerouac lived at a series of cheap hotels, run down then, abandoned today, but this one in North Beach gave him a view of the streets he liked to write about. In other hotels he shared the life of the winos and others barely holding onto life. Barry Gifford said it was partly because he was parsimonious, very careful with his money, but there was another reason.

Mr. GIFFORD: He felt at home among the workingmen, it’s very much like, Fourth and Howard, San Francisco was very much like Pawtuketville in Lowell, where Jack grew up. So it wasn’t a foreign milieu, he did feel at home there, his friends used to come down there all the time and say Jack, why don’t you get out of there, even when Jack had money and was appearing on the Steve Allan show, he’d blow into San Francisco and he’d stay at the Cameo or the Morris Hotel.

DAVIS: Several members of the group called the beat writers were homosexuals, how would you describe Kerouac’s sexuality.

Mr. GIFFORD: Jack was straight as far as I know, he had homosexual experiences, but Jack’s main orientation was towards women. I suppose more than anything his orientation was towards his mother. I think John Clellon Holmes says women loved Jack but Jack was good for about a week and then he went home to “ma mer.”

DAVIS: This book speaks of his friendship Neal Cassady who became the model for the central character in “On the Road.”

Mr. LEE: Each man had something that the other wanted or needed. Neal had energy, had spontaneity, he had automatic success with people and with women. Jack was a tremendously disciplined writer; Neil wanted to be a writer.

DAVIS: Cassady worked as a brakeman for the Southern Pacific Railroad out of San Francisco, and he got Kerouac a job here.

Mr. LEE: He needed the money, his writing provided no money at the time that he did it and from the time he was a kid he wanted to work on the railroad, of course he was a rotten railroad man, he was afraid to jump off a moving train even when it was going 5 miles an hour. Neil Cassady on the other hand, he was a pro.

DAVIS: Gifford and Lee write much of Kerouac’s Roman Catholic faith, his study of Buddhism, and his growing conservatism the older he got.

Mr. LEE: He was in favor of the Vietnam War; he could not imagine a man refusing to serve when called by his country. He was asked to pose for a photograph in which a flag was being propped, and he took the flag and folded it in the very formal way that unintelligible cadets are told to fold it and laid it gently on the table. He was totally against the grain of his character.

DAVIS: Was Kerouac an American tragedy to you?

Mr. GIFFORD: I wouldn’t say that Jack’s life was a tragedy, because he produced so much of value, so that Jack did in fact make his contribution. Personally I can’t say, it is very hard to judge. I didn’t know the man, and at least we have his books, I mean he left us all that, so his life can hardly be termed tragic in that sense.

DAVIS: Gifford and Lee hope that they have renewed interest in Jack Kerouac not just in their book, Jack’s book, but in Jack’s books, all eighteen of them. Rick Davis, NBC news, San Francisco.