Mimicking the journey taken by its creator, the original manuscript of Jack Kerouac's On the Road is trekking its way from San Francisco to Denver.
"On the Road is still important in just its spirit of people trying to find new solutions. It's not political, it's adventurous," says John Cassady, son of famed Beat icon Neal Cassady. He says the book is fairly tame by today's standard, recognizing that back in the day, it was revolutionary. "Guys didn't do that kind of thing. They didn't take off like that."
The manuscript isn't in normal book form a bound collection of pages. It's a single 120-foot scroll with Kerouac's corrections seen in pencil throughout.
"He laid On the Road out in three weeks in a New York apartment, unedited and raw," says Cassady. "The style of writing was completely different. Spontaneous prose was such a new and transitional writing style."
David Amram, Kerouac's first musical collaborator, says Jack was trying to write like he talked: "In his writing, he was talking to you he was speaking to you as he wrote it."
This conversational, give-and-take spirit is what Amram and Cassady aim to celebrate when they perform in the Denver Public Library. "We're not coming with bodyguards, roadies, batteries of lawyers and advisers," Amram says. "We'll be there with the audience to show some of the good feelings of our time."
On Saturday, Amram will use words and music to talk about how the book was written. John and Carolyn Cassady (Neal's widow) will be appearing with him. Carolyn will read from her book Off the Road to give another perspective of the famous travelers. "[Carolyn's story] really makes you realize how well Jack, as a writer, could fictionalize," Amram says.
On Sunday, the Denver Public Library will celebrate another writer who was inspired by Colorado and Kerouac's free-form writing: Juan, Anita and Will Thompson will sit alongside Amram for a musical tribute to Hunter S. Thompson.
"I first met Hunter in '59," Amram says, "And he was another writer who felt like west of the Rockies was an almost mythological place."
Much like Kerouac isn't going to be celebrated as just a "Beat" writer, "We're going to celebrate Hunter not as a gonzo writer, but just a writer," Amram says. "Just like how we're celebrating Kerouac as a great American writer, not just a Beat."
Carolyn Cassady also agrees with this, believing that the Beat generation stereotypes bad poets with goatees and a very basic understanding of Marxism were invented by the media of the time and poet Allen Ginsberg. "We were normal people raised with Victorian values," she says. "We didn't think we were a part of any new movement. But anyway, it was what it was."
On the Road Scroll Exhibition
Denver Public Library, Central Library, 10 W. 14th Ave. Pkwy., Denver
Runs Jan. 4 through March 31; Opening reception, Jan. 6, 2 p.m.
Various special events, Jan. 5-7
Call 720/865-1206 or visit denverlibrary.org for event listings.