08 August 2007

On the Road. Jack Kerouac, 1957.

'The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.' (On the Road, 1957)

Jack Kerouac. ON THE ROAD. Viking, New York, 1957.

Current Selling Prices
$4000 - $8000 /£2000-£4000

Beatnik road novel, something of a cult, now collected by highspot fanciers and regularly traded on ebay sometimes with amusing descriptions like:
" Very nice copy of this rare TRUE 1st printing from one of Americas greatest writers! Book and jacket look terrific; with brilliant ink colors... A wonderful gem for any collection! One of the nicest FIRST EDITION books in the world!"
The great hip beat bible now reduced to --'One of the nicest books in the world!' Sic transit gloria mundi.

Kerouac said that the book was written for his second wife "to tell her what I'd been through... It's directed toward a woman. It's sexy because it's addressed to a woman." Kerouac started as a handsome heroic figure, King of the Beats and the heir to Walt Whitman but became an anti - communist homophobe and ended up a rather scary alcoholic redneck and fan of the Ku Klux Klan. He wrote 'On the Road' in 3 benzedrine fuelled weeks typing uninterrupted on to 12 foot rolls of paper. 119 feet in all. These rolls turned up in Christies' in 2001 and went to Indianapolis Colts owner James Irsay for $2.4 million. Capote famously remarked of his work - 'this is typing, not writing...'

VALUE? A very desirable book signed, especially if signed to someone close or important. At the 2002 Rechler sale a copy inscribed to Joyce Johnson with an autograph letter made $160K, another copy inscribed to William Targ in 2004 made $55K (d/w was rubbed, as is common with this book.) Lesser signed copies around $20K,but they are uncommon- he never did bookshop signings and when the book was a hit was so overwhelmed by the publicity that he went into self-imposed exile with his mother.

7500 copies printed so not scarce, but pretty hard to find a sharp copy for less than $5K, a cheap price for instant hipsterdom. Sometimes seen in fancy leather bindings which seem some how inappropriate for a beat book, next they'll be binding 'Steal This Book.' The etymology of 'beat' is anyone's game but it seems to combine the idea of 'beat' as in defeated, fatigued, surrendered, and 'beatific' or 'beatitude' with the rhythmic 'beat' of music. It still sells 100,000 copies a year and must be the ultimate backpacker classic. A movie has been on the cards for a while, possibly to be shot by Coppola, maybe with Johnny Depp. As I recall at one point in the nineties Depp bought Kerouac's raincoat for $20K. [ W/Q ** ]

ADDENDUM. We first posted this in April 07, but have renewed it due to the brouhaha that is starting about the unexpurgated straight fom the roll edition coming out in September + the news that Russell Brand is doing a TV series where he tours America in JK's footsteps. As 'Hello Magazine' put it:
"Once voted Shagger of the Year by readers of The Sun, Russell Brand is looking to gain some intellectual kudos with his new programme for the BBC. The crazy-haired, make-up wearing lothario is going to take to the roads of America with his Radio 2 colleague, Matt Morgan, as homage to the great beatnik writer Jack Kerouac. Kerouac’s classic On The Road celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and so as a huge fan of the work, Brand will retrace Kerouac’s journey.

So what can viewers expect? “We're going to meet some of the surviving beat poets; we'll go to places of significance, take long car journeys and, you know, just hang out," says Brand. "I'm a fan of Kerouac – not in a thorough and academic way, more inspired by the idea of Kerouac and the style and what he represents...(we) are going to re-create Cassady and Kerouac's adventures.”

Kerouac in his later years became a serious drunk and died aged 47 from cirrhosis of the liver. It is said that he used, whilst 'off his face', to visit local bordellos and pay hookers to read from his works while he whacked off. It has the ring of truth. As mentioned Kerouac became very reactionary and patriotic - many of his collectors are in no way wiggy old beats, but include Hollywood actors, entrepreneurs, bland corporate types or even crazy completists who hunt down every offprint and salesman's dummy. Beats, beatniks and hipsters (now in their dotage) occasionally turn up at Shakespeare and Co in Paris so I have been able to observe them at first hand - they are generally a tiresome, unenlightened and self centred bunch. Gary Snyder and the Brit Alan Watts excepted.

Kerouac prices are steady but not on the rise; recent auction records have been unimpressive. Today's youth, although they like the idea of the man and the book, if actually forced to read the stuff are said to find it it old fashioned, gushing and embarrassing. The book is being turned into a Hollywood film, scripted by Roman Coppola, son of Francis Ford, and directed by Walter Salles who made The Motorcyle Diaries, the story of Che Guevara's road trip across South America. Kirsten Dunst will star as Carolyn Cassady. It is slated for 2009--movies seldom improve book prices but with this, the 50th anniversary and the Russell Brand trip, the improbable scenario is that 'On the Road' becomes a sort of 'Ulysses' for Generation X and prices go 'radio rental.'

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