Monday, November 1, 2010

Lennon, Kerouac, and Dad

John Lennon would have been 70 years old on Oct 9, 2010. Many expressed their surprise at this fact; they knew the date of his birth, but somehow couldn't readily accept that he would now be a senior.

I was surprised by people's surprise. For those of us who watched the Beatles' first appearance on Ed Sullivan, or felt smug when parents disapproved of the too long hair, or spent the entire sum of their birthday money on some of the Fab Four's records -  we have only to look in the mirror to get an idea, within a decade or so, anyway, of John's advancing age.

Then there are Paul and Ringo. It's not so much of a stretch to look at Paul and Ringo and imagine how John would look. George would have been 67 on his last birthday. No, I wasn't surprised at all, perhaps amazed that so much time had gone by in a flash, but not surprised by the age.

But Jack Kerouac is a different story. Kerouac died in 1969, at the age of 47. Bad boy and literary icon, he was frozen in time for me - Beatnik idol to future hippies, forever on the road, drinking and carousing, writing and experiencing.

Because he died just after I became a fan, he was more symbol than idol. Kerouac and his escapades, his road, were not part of my lived experience in the way the Beatles were.

Part of that difference was surely that between music and literature; never did anyone read Kerouac's work daily to millions in the way that disc jockeys played Beatles' music. And Kerouac's road was not the hippie road. Kerouac's road still had hobos and more than a touch of the depression era about it.

For the longest time, I admired Jack Kerouac's writing, the Beats' take on the world, never really thinking about context.

Then when my father turned 88 this summer, the math clicked into place. Jack Kerouac and my father were born in the same year; in fact, Kerouac would be older than my dad by a few months. As much as my father is my hero, he is not my idol for rebellion and bad behaviour, for being a proto-hippie, Beat poet/novelist, benzedrine-taking experimenter with prose.

When Kerouac was listening to Ginsberg reading at the famous Six Gallery, I was listening to my dad read to me. My early listening probably led to my love of Kerouac and all things literary.

So, when someone my age expresses surprise at how old John Lennon would be, I would like to suggest looking in the mirror. When anything makes me realize that Jack Kerouac would be older than my dad, though, I am and will stay, in shock.


cooper said...

I grew up learning about the beat poets and the Beatles, not with them. I always wonder how it would be to have been around at the time.

Judie said...

I am only slightly younger than John Lennon, but I actually forget sometimes that I am as old as I am. When an icon dies, time comes to a standstill for the fans. They still see him as young and vibrant.
I know full well that I am not young and vibrant, but I will still attempt to do the things I did when I was younger. Oh, with the exception of painting until 4 in the morning. I can't do that any more!

ChrisJ said...

I'm a bit young for the Beats, but it was exciting when the Beatles more or less started the British invasion.

ChrisJ said...


I forget, too, until I try to stay up late!

lifeshighway said...

I would have to admit that I am extremely surprised that John would have been 70.

A very well written entry and though provoking. I would agree that when our heroes die young they remain forever frozen in their youth. Perhaps that is how they become heroes, they do no live to disappoint and fall off of the pedestal.

ChrisJ said...


Yes, it's hard to imagine what youthful heroes would be like as people when they age.

P. M. Doolan said...

Some years ago I had an epiphany similar to yours. While visiting the Anne Frank House in Amsterdan with my mother it struck us that my mother and Anne Frank were contemporaries, born three years apart. Looking at my elderly mother I suddenly saw the years that had been taken from Anne Frank.

Hels said...

I was passionate about the Beatles from the moment they arrived in Melbourne (1964) until the very end of the 1960s. But even now I still remember every word of every song, as can the rest of our generation :)

Then one day (in about 1990) my older son said to me "Mum, there is a fabulous new boy band called the Beatles. You won't have ever heard of them, of course. You are wayyy too old". Cheeky devil!

Those youngsters will claim to have invented sex, soon!

ChrisJ said...

Her story, and that of so many others, is so sad. She was robbed of so much.

ChrisJ said...


It's fun when the kids find out they did not invent something - such incredulity.

Pearl said...

yeah, years do slip as if they didn't have cogs on their wheels.

whenever I see someone vital and my mom's age, I marvel at how they took different life path's. Leonard Cohen is close to her age cohort and talk about divergent life experience.

you saw there is a movie made about Ginsberg's howl?

askcherlock said...

Great post, Chris. So many of our generation are already gone. It was the best of times and the worst of times, wasn't it? But I will always be grateful that I lived in that era and experienced life 'back in the day' as my kids say.

Oh, and to Pearl, though Leonard Cohen is older than I am, I think he gets sexier with age. All men do. What's wrong with this picture?

Owen Gray said...

I am now of an age when those who were my first students have entered middle age.

That fact surprises me -- because it seems to have happened overnight. I had the same reaction upon hearing of Lennon's 70th birthday.

ChrisJ said...


Yes, the passage of time surprises, doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

Hi Honey:
Sorry that I was not there to read to you during your recovery period following your first hip surgery. Perhaps I'll make it when you have the second operation. Which shall I bring "Treasure Trails" or "Winnie the Pooh?"
Although I am 18 years older that John Lennon, I still have my eyesight for reading. (They tell me that eyesight is the 2nd thing to go!)
Love: DAD

ChrisJ said...

Hi Dad,

I think Winnie the Pooh would be best - it was always a favourite.

Hels said...

Hi Chris' dad :)
I think it is great to include our parents and grandparents in our blogs, if possible. My dad, also born in 1922, is very pleased with my article on Olympic Games architecture:

Mum is waiting for her 15 minutes of fame, now :)

Anonymous said...

Good Day Hels:

Thanks for your comment. It is a great thrill and an honor to be included in our daughter's blog.
(There may be a few instances where I hope her memory does not kick in -- but those are the chances we must take when we become famous.) Chris' Dad.