August 15, 2022

Here’s a reason to get on the road.

It was 100 years ago this week that Beat author Jack Kerouac was born.

On March 12, 1922, the counter-cultural icon and “Dharma Bums” author arrived in Lowell, Massachusetts. Now, his hometown is throwing him one heck of a party, with exhibits, readings and music, running from early March into April.

The main attraction at the event, dubbed Kerouac @ 100, is certainly the original 120 foot “On The Road” scroll, the original manuscript Kerouac typed out while living on West 20th Street in Chelsea.

“Jack changed his writing style for this new novel, which becomes ‘On the Road,’” explained Kerouac’s nephew, Jim Sampas, a music producer and the literary executor of Jack Kerouac’s estate. “He doesn’t want to stop to change sheets of paper in the typewriter and uses this teletype paper so he can write in a continuous flow.”

Kerouac turned American literature on its head — and turned heads with explicit depictions of a disenfranchised mid-20th century underground freestyling in drugs and sexual liberation, particularly in his best-known work, “On the Road.”
Wilbur T. Pippin
The original "On the Road" scroll manuscript.
The original “On the Road” scroll manuscript.
Courtesy of Jack Kerouac Estate

On loan from Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay’s personal collection, the scroll is part of “Visions Of Kerouac,” an exhibit of artifacts co-curated with the UMass Lowell Kerouac Center (on display Mar. 18 – Apr. 25 at the Boott Cotton Mills Gallery, 115 John Street.).

Kerouac coined the term “Beat Generation,” meaning beat down and broke, and he walked that walk.

A true working-class hero growing up in this mill town, founded by Francis Cabot Lowell during the Industrial Revolution as the first American “company town,” attracting generations of immigrants like Kerouac’s French Canadian parents.

Birthday weekend guided bus tours will trace Kerouac’s life in the city, which honored the author in 1988 with the Jack Kerouac Park on Bridge Street, where his words are etched on beautiful stone monuments.

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A Kerouac museum and performance center is planned for the former Saint Jean Baptiste Church, where Jack, a Catholic and Buddhist, was an altar boy and where his funeral was held.

Lowell, Mass., was one of America's first company towns.
Lowell, Massachusetts, was one of America’s first company towns.
Courtesy of Jack Kerouac Estate

“That’s going to take a massive influx of cash,” said Sampas of the project. “It’s in its beginning stage.”

But king-of-the-road Kerouac didn’t stick close to home. The handsome sports star landed a scholarship to Columbia University, but an injury sent him deep into Manhattan’s jazz scene instead.

Kerouac’s birthday month launches with a Kerouac inspired art exhibit “Reflections from the Road” (Arts League of Lowell Gallery at 307 Market St., Mar. 4–May 1); and continues with a mammoth “Night of 100 Poems: Blues & Haikus” (Mar. 11. at Pollard Memorial Library).

In 1988 thw town honored Kerouac with a memorial park on Bridge Street.
In 1988 the town honored Kerouac with a memorial park on Bridge Street.
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Music biz vets and Kerouac biographers Dennis McNally and Holly George Warren will lead a Kerouac Biographers Panel, and poetry readings from Outrider alum Anne Waldman, English poet and Jimmy Page beau Scarlett Sabet, and Lowell’s own Paul Marion follow are also on the calendar (Academic Arts Center, 240 Central Street).

Celebrated composer and jazz musician, 91-year-old David Amram, the author of “Offbeat: Collaborating with Kerouac,” will host a screening of the 1959 Beat film “Pull My Daisy,” written and narrated by Kerouac, and featuring Amram and revolutionary poet Allen Ginsburg on Mar. 19. at the Luna Theater at Mill No. 5 on Jackson Street.

Then, Lowell’s annual citywide The Town and The City Festival, named for Kerouac’s first published novel, “The Town and The City,” captured his observances of life in Lowell and New York City. It brings artists such as Tanya Donnelly and Robyn Hitchcock to a massive line-up that will include a special tribute to Kerouac produced by Sampas and the indie rock band Fences (April 8 and 9).

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Kerouac is buried in Edson Cemetery.
Kerouac is buried in Edson Cemetery.
Courtesy of Jack Kerouac Estate

“That was written and filmed up on the Northern California coast,” said Sampas of the Fences project, referencing another locale Kerouac put on the map: Big Sur.

For all his wanderings, Kerouac also stuck close by his family and was utterly devoted to his mother. When she had a stroke in the late 1960s, he moved back to Lowell.

His internal organs were ravaged from the effects of lifelong heavy drinking, Kerouac died in Florida in 1969 but is buried locally in Edson Cemetery.

In 2014, by Kerouac’s original headstone, a memorial was added inscribed with Jack’s signature and his immortal line, “The Road is Life.”