Since innumerable rock tunes contain intertextual references to Kerouacs novel, this presentation is by needs selective, passing over what Steppenwolf put forward in "Born to be Wild" and neglecting such inanities as the Eagles crooning in "Take it Easy" about cruising with "seven women on my mind." Kerouac had already failed to realize that the myth he propounded was gendered. The women in On the Road are either overbearing mamas (like Kerouacs portrait of his own mother) or chicks on the side, mere sexual objects. Most rock musicians, to be sure, are no better than Kerouac; some are even worse sexists, and one need not just think of heavy metal (or most of it). Jackson Brownes Running on Empty is a rare exception as it offers a sensible treatment of gender relations.
What salvages Kerouacs book from oblivion is that the narrative can occasionally evoke genuine joy about being on the road. Some rock songs manage at times to convey the same invoking at once the rhythms celebrated by Kerouac. "Dont the sunlight look so pretty, never such a sight / like going into New York City, with the skyline in the morning light / we rolled right through the night" (Little Feat, "Feats Dont Fail Me Now")
Rolling "right through the night," however, the boys in the cars are often naughty and exhibit a flagrant disrespect for the law (proclaimed exemplarily in Steve Earle's "Copperhead Road"). They ignore speed limits, steal cars, and drive while under the influence of intoxicating substances. Kerouacs adventures on the "nightmare road" reappear in Little Feats plea to "put on your / Sailin Shoes" (referring to cocaine), or in "Henry" by a Grateful Dead subsidiary, The New Riders of the Purple Sage. That Henry makes a run to Acapulco since at home "it all ran dry" and he agreed to pay a visit to "the man who has it growin on the ground." His return trip, then, is foolhardy, a madcap affair: "Henry tasted, he got wasted, couldnt even see. / How hes gonna drive like that, is not so clear to me."
Audio Clip and full lyrics, "Henry," The New Riders of the Purple Sage
Perhaps the fullest rendering of what it may mean to be on the road is Little Feats "Willing." With its title often sung as "Wheeling," it is not limited to cheap adventure, though containing that as well, besides addressing serious existential questions, and thus is worth some attention.
i was out on the road late at night
ive been kicked by the wind, robbed by the
Click for audio clip
(the Sailin' Shoes version)
Lowell George, the writer of the song, died in circumstances pretty much like Rainer Werner Faßbinder, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, Jim Morrison etc., etc.
For more on "Willin'" or an
overview of links concerning Little Feat
For more on rock music, generally, go to
"What Is Rock Music Anyway?"