The Wayward Offspring of St. Jack:
Rock Musicians’ Rehearsals and Cover Versions of Kerouac’s On the Road


Jack Kerouac revived a powerful American myth, that of Natty Bumppo and Chingachgook alone out in the wilderness or of Huck Finn and Nigger Jim on the raft, when in On the Road (1957) he had Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty criss-cross the continent in various cars. Though in relating his adventures Kerouac almost succeeded in talking to death that new version of the old American boys’ escape story, his book caught on immensely. It has gained a large following, and its main themes have been echoed persistently in rock music. Bob Dylan sang about it out on Highway 61, and Bruce Springsteen in an interview in the late eighties admitted, "I suddenly realized that for the last years I was putting all those people in all those cars." The Allman Brothers Band made a similar declaration in their most popular tune, "Ramblin’ Man." The Grateful Dead accompanied Ken Kesey on the Merry Prankster Bus, which was driven by Neal Cassady, the Dean Moriarty of Kerouac’s book.

The Dead (photographed on the Prankster bus with the members of Jefferson Airplane) afterwards celebrated the cult, from "Trucking" to "Cassidy," whose refrain declared him "born to be / Cassady / Out on the road ..."

soundsym.gif (1250 Byte) The Grateful Dead "Cassady "

WB01396_.gif (309 Byte) The Grateful Dead

A belated and unlikely tribute came, just a few years ago, from that fiendish, hoarse-mouthed Southern poor-white renegade, Steve Earle, who announced,  "Before you can say Jack Kerouac / ... / I’m back out on the road again/ ’cause I’m the other kind."

(Highlight on Steve Earle, "Copperhead Road")

Prosy Introduction