Rimbaud, Kerouac and Other Heroes I've Slain (A Family Tree of Sorts)
Once an angry man dragged his father along the ground through his own orchard. “Stop! Stop!” cried the old man, “I didn't drag my own father beyond this tree.” –The Making of Americans
I associate Rimbaud with my father's ’61 Mercedes, but "associate" is too weak a word. Rimbaud, in memory, is that car, sliding down the weather side of the Galveston causeway. All pose and preen--not understanding half of what he himself said. In short, the perfect, and absolute worst, role model for the 16 year-old me, (at least until I discovered Johnny Rotten).
Kerouac is a seat on a Greyhound tooling straight into sunrise in western Pennsylvania, headed for a New York City that never really existed. I am reading Book of Blues with the vibration of the lop-eared wheels as a makeshift mantra.
Bukowski is a New Year’s Eve on another bus in Mexico, I am reading by the colored lights of the driver’s dashboard shrine to la Virgen. No one had a watch, but an older gentleman with a hall of fame worthy mustache passed around a bottle of spirits when the time seemed right.
I picked up Ginsberg when working the third shift in the kitchen at the Austin State Hospital. I stirred vats of primordial soup while reading "Howl" and “Kaddish.”
Autumn always makes me nostalgic for the old me, or mes—plural, as the case may be, though I don’t miss how other peoples' expectations took up so much room in my head then, nor how every choice seemed so crucial. Rather, I miss the genuine enthusiasms and the way discovering a writer could shape life for weeks and months--and ultimately but perhaps less tectonically--years.
I can't read much of my own stuff from back then, though I still have many of my old notebooks filled with dogged erzatz-Kerouac, and prematurely world-weary Bukowski-brand spleen. Nor can I read much of my heroes from those days either. I gnawed through them, took what I could carry and left them hollow, though I think they all shadow my work now, if only because I know their excesses so well and where and why the tiredness seeped into their words.
Writers (and heroes, I guess) are like that proverbial river that you can't step into twice. Sometimes, it's because the river just keeps flowing past, getting deeper and wider, and other times it's because you yourself have changed too much to recognize what you once knew and still other times, it's because that river has just dried up.
I invite you to share some of the heroes you had to slay to move forward in your work and life, or just those writers who changed everything.
Arthur Rimbaud: Rimbaud: The Double Life of a Rebel
Jack Kerouac: Desolate Angel
Jack’s Book: An Oral Biography