When Jack Kerouac went to bed (or passed out) on the night of September 4th of 1957, nobody knew who Jack Kerouac was. By the time he woke up (hungover, perhaps), he was famous.
On September 5th 1957, Gilbert Millstein of the New York Times gave a rave review to Kerouac's book, On the Road. This made Jack Kerouac an instant celebrity and the new voice of a lost generation, along with all of his beatnik friends. Some of Jack's crowd, including Jack, had either dropped out or been expelled from Columbia University. Like most writers, they were a disillusioned bunch of men with various substance abuse problems.
But Jack was soon to appear on the Steve Allen show, where he would perform the only footage of himself reading his own writing, while Steve Allen played soft jazz on a piano. Steve was the ultimate square. Jack jazzed it up. Allen Ginsberg gazed from the studio audience.
Jack Kerouac was born in 1922 in Massachusetts. In his house, they spoke only French. So he did not begin to learn English until he was six years old, and did not master the language until his teens. He tended not to talk much because he didn't like his accent. He played football in his early years, but probably started drinking in early adulthood.
On the Road was Jack Kerouac's second novel, and is still his most famous novel. The story is a product of what Allen Ginsberg labeled (in a brilliantly timed marketing ploy) The Beat Generation. Allen was a beat poet who had studied marketing at Columbia University. These two traits combined made Allan famous, too. With his clout in the marketing and publishing worlds, Allan encouraged his friends to write. He knew he could get them published. One of Allan's friends was Jack Kerouac.
On the Road is about the adventures of Jack Kerouac and his friend Neal Cassady. Neal is known as Dean Moriarty in the book. Dean was, as Neal was, a tall, charming, attractive hustler and car thief. Also, a writer. Jack was the observer, a bit of a mamma's boy who was too freaked out to actually try most of what Neal got up to. And why should he not be? Neal was a total psycho. But Jack admired Neal's writing style, which was once described as “I do this, I do that...” Jack adopted Neal's writing style when he wrote On the Road.
The pair took an extended road trip between 1947 and 1950, when Jack was 25 and Neal was 20 years old, back in the days when there were no interstate highways. Shortly after they took their road trip, it became impossible to take that trip anymore. On the Road is about the trip they took.
Neal was the quintessential beatnik. Jack described beats as “Christ-like,” in that they were so willing to share, despite how little they may have. On the trip, Jack and Neal had shared everything. On returning home, they shared Neal's wife, Carolyn. It was all Neal's idea. But Carolyn didn't mind at all. So Carolyn carried on two separate, discrete relationships with each of these two fine and interesting men. After all, Carolyn was a beatnik, too.
Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady died within about a year of each other, of drug and/or alcohol abuse. Jack was 47. Neal was 41.