Jack Kerouac on the Steve Allen Show, 1959

Here is the only known footage of Jack Kerouac reading his work aloud in motion picture recording. I had never seen this before today, and was immediately immensely touched by Kerouac’s shy, nervous demeanor, which, with his book in his hands, and the right words to speak, transformed into something else, something special, something fragile and perfect, musical and ephemeral. There was a song on the wind, with the ’60s blowing in, and here we have Jack, heralding it, birthing it, bringing it to life for the generation snapping at his heels.

What joy it is to hear him pronounce the pseudonym of his best friend, Dean Moriarty, Neal Cassady, and watch that careworn face break into life, bring forth a smile and tell us, he wrote because we all die.

I am not sure there is another reason to write, at least not such a honest one. Writers, poets, souls like Jack Kerouac are often sensitive – after all how can they write unless they can feel, and if they don’t feel fully, openly, raw-ly, if they don’t bleed onto the page, what use is it after all. We look to each other to articulate what sometimes we do not dare to, or cannot find words for. Like TS Elliot said in his great poem, The Love Song of Alfred J Prufrock:

If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
               “That is not it at all,
               That is not what I meant, at all.”

Except that this time, this is exactly what I needed to hear in a way that I needed to hear it. This is exactly it, Jack, it is what I meant, after all.


  1. Ron Pavellas

    Deep thanks for remembering to me that Kerouac said “he wrote because we all die.” The older I get, the truth of this enlarges into a simple ‘yes’. I just finished re-reading Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast” (New, revised edition) and he says this without saying it.

    1. The Paltry Sum

      Hemmingway is a beautiful soul, immortal even. He set me out on this quest to find what was beautiful and free and alive. I suppose we can only understand life in relation to not-life. I have my evening tea, Ron…here is to “because we die!”

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