Listen to James Franco Read from Jack Kerouac’s Influential Beat Novel, On the Road

“Movie star, con­cep­tu­al artist, fic­tion writer, grad stu­dent, cipher.” These roles, and oth­ers, New York mag­a­zine attrib­uted to the sub­ject of their pro­file, “The James Fran­co Project.” If you reg­u­lar­ly read Open Cul­ture, you’ve sure­ly had your own areas of inter­est touched by the lit­er­ar­i­ly inclined young Hol­ly­wood mav­er­ick. Maybe you’ve seen him appear in a book trail­er, read the Paris Review in bed, nar­rate an ani­ma­tion of Allen Gins­berg’s Howl, or direct and star in a docu­d­ra­ma about poet Hart Crane. Above you can hear him give a ten minute read­ing from a work of lit­er­a­ture that, whether or not it made a per­ma­nent dent in your own con­scious­ness, we’ve all encoun­tered: Jack Ker­ouac’s On the Road. When Lapham’s Quar­ter­ly excerpt­ed the nov­el for a trav­el issue, Fran­co turned up to per­form.

“It was driz­zling and mys­te­ri­ous at the begin­ning of our jour­ney,” Ker­ouac wrote and Fran­co reads. “I could see that it was all going to be one big saga of the mist. ‘Whooee!’ yelled Dean. ‘Here we go!’ And he hunched over the wheel and gunned her; he was back in his ele­ment, every­body could see that.” Hear­ing this par­tic­u­lar voice inter­pret this par­tic­u­lar nov­el reminds you of both Fran­co and Ker­ouac’s images as thor­ough­ly Amer­i­can cre­ators, though each express­es that Amer­i­can-ness in very much their own way: Ker­ouac, of course, actu­al­ly comes from a French-Cana­di­an fam­i­ly, and Fran­co leads the kind of cul­tur­al renais­sance-man career the mod­ern Unit­ed States tends to frown upon. But giv­en the places they’ve both secured for them­selves in the Amer­i­can zeit­geist — and the best sort of places: unlike­ly ones — was­n’t it inevitable that their crafts would inter­sect?

Relat­ed con­tent:

Jack Ker­ouac Reads from On the Road (1959)

The Bro­ken Tow­er, James Franco’s Docu­d­ra­ma On “Dif­fi­cult” Poet Hart Crane: A Pre­view

James Fran­co Reads a Dream­i­ly Ani­mat­ed Ver­sion of Allen Ginsberg’s Epic Poem ‘Howl’

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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