“On the Road” vs. “The Road”
By Cam Mather
There is a book by Jack Kerouac called “On The Road.” It’s considered to be a classic. It’s the defining book about the ‘beat generation’ who broke all the rules and set the new bohemian standard for existential coolness. I use many of these terms not really knowing if I’ve got them straight, but I know some people really love this book and it changed their life when they read it.
I had been hearing about it for years and so I finally bit the bullet and read it myself. And I’ve got to say I have never enjoyed a book less. It stunk. It was bad. Really bad. In this humble reporter’s opinion, anyway. It was just one long endless run-on sentence about smoking, drinking and hitchhiking from one coast of America to the other, and back again. Yawn.
I obviously missed the point. Clearly I didn’t “get it.” I guess the book was trying to portray the author’s search for meaning in life and apparently he wasn’t having much success. Other than the smoking and the drinking and the hitchhiking. Oh and listening to jazz music, while smoking and drinking.
And now I see they’ve made “On The Road” into a movie.
It’s interesting how your worldview jades everything you read and watch. I look at “On The Road” completely from an energy and wealth perspective. Jack Kerouac lived at a time of infinite and cheap energy and exceptional wealth. He and his hipster friends were able to hitch hike back and forth across the country because gasoline was so cheap. It not only powered their cars but also the tractors that allowed one farmer to feed many non-farmers, some of whom just seemed to wander around aimlessly reading poetry, listening to jazz and smoking. Oh, the smoking. The jazz musicians could earn a living playing jazz because someone else was growing their food, and so on. Previously the hipsters would have been tossing hay bales for a living and wouldn’t have had so much time to contemplate their existence. They’d be too tired.
I’m starting to sound like some crotchety old man of the “why don’t these hippies just get a job” genre. And I guess that would be accurate. I think the book’s main contribution to literature and society was to demonstrate the amazing time we live in when people have the luxury of pursuing interests other than filling their stomachs and not freezing to death. For many of our planet’s inhabitants, these are still their priorities. Here in the developed world we’ve worked our way up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and our focused on being self-actualized. As I point out in my book “Thriving During Challenging Times,” I think we’re all about to start working our way down that pyramid and spending way more time worrying about food and warmth.
Which brings me to what I think is a more realistic book about the current situation, Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.” Michelle and I read it after Oprah recommended it. I still cannot believe Oprah had this on her book list. It is one of the most depressing, bleakest books I’ve ever read. It’s the story of a post-apocalyptic journey of a father and son through a permanently grey wasted landscape of the future world. There is one scene in the book that I wish I’d never read. Rarely have I ever read anything so disturbing but after reading this one scene in particular I wish that I could go back in time and erase the images it invoked from my memory.
But for some crazy reason Oprah recommended. I think perhaps she saw through the bleakness and destruction and was able to focus on the father’s love for his son. The book is framed in such a way that when you realize that the father has a handgun with 3 bullets you can’t helped but think that the logical use of them won’t be self-defense but just putting an end to their own misery.
“The Road” is available on DVD to rent now. Woo hoo! Get it tonight!
CAUTION: Drink heavily before you watch it or have industrial quantities of chocolate available to drown out the suffering.
It’s terrible but I’m more drawn to “The Road,” than to “On The Road.” Kerouac’s days of endless cheap hitch hiking are rapidly drawing to a close. Just as complex societies are becoming more and more dependent on energy we will have less and less energy to use. History has taught us that when one group of humans has more of a desired commodity than others, wars ensue. When we fought with swords and spears, or even guns and cannons we could only blow up so much of the planet. Now we have the technology to do way more damage. And the end result is what you see in “The Road.”
So I guess the question becomes, are you a shiny happy “On The Road” sort of person or a more pragmatic “The Road” type of person? I’d like to be an “On The Road” carefree hipster kind of guy. But I’m not. I guess it might be better for me if I stayed away from these sort of gloomy versions of the future because I just end up saying “See, yup, that what’s going to happen.”
Yet somehow I’ve convinced myself to spend another $200 on 20 high bush blueberry plants that won’t produce any appreciable harvest for 3 or 4 years, and won’t be in their prime for 10 or 20 years. Apparently Oprah and her little storm cloud of “The Road” hasn’t been able to completely squelch my happy place! Take that Oprah! It’s still “Joy Rising” at Sunflower Farm!