Hunter S. Thompson Writes an Ode to Jack Kerouac in 1998 (After Calling Him an “Ass, a Mystic Boob” in 1958)

Today is the 92nd birth­day of author and cul­tur­al icon Jack Ker­ouac. Born in Low­ell, Mass­a­chu­setts in 1922, Ker­ouac was one of the troi­ka of writ­ers – along with Allen Gins­berg and William S. Bur­roughs – who formed the core of the Beat Gen­er­a­tion. He wrote shag­gy dog sto­ries — thin­ly veiled auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal tales about sex and drugs, friend­ship and spir­i­tu­al yearn­ing. His style was spon­ta­neous and off-hand, yet he craft­ed pas­sages of such poet­ic beau­ty that they make the read­er gasp. He wrote his huge­ly influ­en­tial book On the Road — leg­end has it — dur­ing a 20-day writ­ing ben­der. He went so far as to tape togeth­er strips of paper into one con­tin­u­ous scroll of paper so as not to break his flow.

It’s hard to imag­ine Hunter S. Thomp­son and his dis­tinc­tive brand of jour­nal­ism with­out Jack Ker­ouac. Both wrote bril­liant, ram­bling tracts about Amer­i­ca. Both could turn a phrase like nobody’s busi­ness. Both had polit­i­cal philoso­phies that didn’t fit com­fort­ably on either the left or right side of the spec­trum. The dif­fer­ence is that Ker­ouac was doing all of this while Thomp­son was just hit­ting puber­ty.

So it might be sur­pris­ing to learn that Thomp­son appar­ent­ly loathed Kerouac’s writ­ing when he was a young man. In a let­ter penned when the future gonzo jour­nal­ist was a mere 21 years old, he sav­aged the Beat writer.

The man is an ass, a mys­tic boob with intel­lec­tu­al myopia. The Dhar­ma thing was quite as bad as The Sub­ter­raneans and they’re both with­ered appendages to On The Road — which isn’t even a nov­el in the first place…If some­body doesn’t kill that fool soon, we’re all going to be labeled “The gen­er­a­tion of the Third Sex.”

Is this a sin­cere opin­ion or is this blus­ter? Or is it both?

Thir­ty years lat­er, it’s hard to see if Thompson’s opin­ion of Ker­ouac has evolved. In a record­ing from 1998, which you can lis­ten to above, he seems to praise Ker­ouac while at the same time slip­ping in the shiv. In the video, an obvi­ous­ly ine­bri­at­ed Thomp­son can be heard read­ing a poem ded­i­cat­ed to the author.

Now I want to tell you.… In fact he (Ker­ouac) was a great influ­ence on me.… So now I wan­na put out my poem…This is my Ode to Jack Ker­ouac, who remains one of my heroes…Uhhhh…How about this… This is called, let’s see…This is called ‘Hip­py Ode To Jack’…

“Four dogs went to the wilder­ness, Only three came back.
Two dogs died from Guinea Worm, The oth­er died from you.
Jack Ker­ouac.”

Well, Jack was not inno­cent. He ran over dogs…Just think of it…OK…That’s enough of that for now…Thank you very much. And.…Ahhh…Ya, well…Jack was an artist in every way…I admire the dog thing most of all.

So Hap­py Birth­day, Jack. Hunter brings insults and back­hand­ed com­pli­ments with a side of innu­en­do.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Jack Ker­ouac Lists 9 Essen­tials for Writ­ing Spon­ta­neous Prose

Pull My Daisy: 1959 Beat­nik Film Stars Jack Ker­ouac and Allen Gins­berg

Jack Ker­ouac Reads from On the Road (1959)

Jack Kerouac’s Naval Reserve Enlist­ment Mugshot, 1943

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow.

by | Permalink | Comments (2) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (2)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • todd grant says:

    Sounds about right…fuck Jack Karouac!

  • Lewis LaRoche says:

    As far as I know, Jack Ker­ouac had no polit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy. Oth­er than that, nei­ther did he dri­ve. So, in a way, in fact, as far as writ­ing goes, they were oppo­sites. Hunter Thomp­son was a jour­nal­ist,
    Jack Ker­ouac was some­thing else. An artist in every way, a writer by any oth­er name.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.