Jack Kerouac would have been turned 90 years old in March this year had he not died – not quite like the fizzing, burning Roman candles he adored – at the age of 47, drunk and ungodlike in St Petersburg, Florida, in October 1969.
Had he survived he’d have seen the release on to the internet of the first trailer for the upcoming move of his supposedly unfilmable seminal Beat text, 1957’s game-changing roman a clef novel On the Road.
It’s taken a long while in coming to the cinema, but the Walter Salles-directed movie starring Leeds-born Sam Riley as Kerouac’s alter ego Sal Paradise and Garrett Hedlund as the real focus of the book, cowboy hipster Dean Moriarty (in real life, Jack’s object of adoration Neal Cassady) hits cinemas in the UK in September this year.
Salles beefs up the women’s roles in On The Road, providing more action for Marylou (Kristen Stewart) and Camille (Kirsten Dunst), hopefully to elevate them from two-dimensional obstacles getting in the way of Dean and Sal’s bromance.
The trailer itself offers some hope that this will finally be the film version that nails the spirit of On the Road. The 1 minute and 45 seconds it offers begins with Jack’s opening words from the novel, “I met Dean not long after my father died”, by Riley in a whisky-and-fags soaked voice-over that sounds a little too Bukowski-ish-worldly for my image of the young Sal Paradise, but raises the hairs on the back of my neck just the same.
We are told the movie is based on “Jack Kerouac’s generation-defining novel” and here’s Dean, Twilight-pretty and spinning a car around to a rising hot jazz beat. The saxes are howling, everybody’s dancing, and Allen Ginsberg’s stepping into the role of the gang nerd. Is this going a bit American Pie?
But no, here’s the big American landscape from the book, rolling out in “one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast’” as Jack had it in the book, and some absolutely gorgeous photography as Riley tells us about his life on the road.
The sax is blowing again, William S Burroughs is firing off shots, and Jack is giving us his “the only ones that interest me are the mad ones” speech, and the music’s building, and roman candles are burning across the night and oh God I really need to see this movie.
Alene Lee, one of the few Afro-American members of the Beat Generation inner circle, immortalised as Mardou in Kerouac’s The Subterraneans and given the pseudonym of Irene May by Jack’s later biographers, once asked him how fame suited him. He replied with the typically enigmatic and melancholy: “It’s like old newspapers blowing down Bleecker Street.”
Fame might be as transient and ephemeral as that, but if the rest of the On the Road movie is as good as the trailer suggest, then it might give Jack another well-deserved moment in the sun.