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Devils Lake Journal - Devils Lake, ND
  • Jeff Fox: Reach back with imagination

  • I see they’ve finally made a movie out of “On the Road,” Jack Kerouac’s classic novel of the beat generation. I say good luck, but I also have my doubts. Let me offer a theory: Some things are so set in a certain time culturally that that’s when they have to be experienced to be truly appreciated.

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  • I see they’ve finally made a movie out of “On the Road,” Jack Kerouac’s classic novel of the beat generation. I say good luck, but I also have my doubts.
    Let me offer a theory: Some things are so set in a certain time culturally that that’s when they have to be experienced to be truly appreciated.
    The Rolling Stones are great, but I’ve never seen them, and at this point, I wouldn’t bother. I figure the time to hit it would have been anything up to about “Some Girls.” I saw The Who once, and they were awesome, but Keith Moon was gone by then, and it wasn’t quite the same.
    On the other hand, I saw Jackson Browne once –– don’t judge, there was a young lady involved –– at his peak in the late ’70s, and the show wasn’t sublime, but it was very good.
    And so it goes with “On the Road.” A generation after it was written, a well-meaning professor made me read it. That was fine, but I had the strong sense that I was missing a lot, that you had to be there to make the most meaningful connections.
    Oh, I did try. I really liked the part in which a character lamented the loss of a certain vision.
    “The ideal bar doesn’t exist in America,” Kerouac wrote. “An ideal bar is something that’s gone beyond our ken. In 1910, a bar was a place where men went to meet during or after work, and all there was a long counter, brass rails, spittoons, player piano for music, a few mirrors and barrels of whisky at ten cents a shot together with barrels of beer at five cents a mug.”
    No more, he says. Now it’s about money and uptight attitudes, and people just don’t get it.
    I don’t care one way or the other about bars, but the idea of acknowledging something outside our imagining –– that we ourselves ought to be more, ought to yearn for lost things –– is something I have since found deeply intriguing. Maybe it’s that I was a junior in college. Maybe it was just a guy ranting about bars.
    I won’t take refuge in that irritating and prevalent attitude that, well, it happened before I presented myself for service on planet Earth and, therefore, I’m not responsible for knowing it because it’s basically irrelevant. After all, as Cicero said, “Not to know what happened before you were born is to be a child forever.”
    So one tries. It helps if you love history, as I do, and it helps to have an enthusiastic curiosity about the way of things among humans, which is basically all is history is about. But it doesn’t always work.
    Page 2 of 2 - Years ago, in advance of a trip to California, I read “Cannery Row,” John Steinbeck’s less than greatest work, a character study set in Monterey during the Depression. When we got there, I asked where all the cool stuff was, you know, like Cannery Row. Yeah, that’s kind of over, was the response I got from the nice, but young, server at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. So much for that idea. Things change.
    As I say, good luck to the makers of the movie coming out half a century after the novel. I like the supporting cast –– Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, Steve Bucsemi, Terrence Howard and the transcendently amazing Amy Adams –– and we’ll see about the lead actors, Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley and the improbable Kristen Stewart. It could work. You have to give people room to surprise you.
    We live in an era of fierce and perverse pride in our ahistorical sense of things, a rude dismissal of that which came before and, whether we like it or not, made us who we are. That presents challenges. “On the Road” as a time capsule would have limited appeal and be pointless. A reimagining –– “On the Road – 2012” –– would be an insult and equally pointless. The art lies in finding a way to make it true, compelling and engaging for today’s audience. I just fear that Kerouac’s older, freer and decidedly less conformist America is perhaps beyond our ken.

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