In addition to writing this blog, holding a day job and preparing to be a father, I’m also finishing — finally — my bachelor’s degree at Central Washington University. It makes for very full and busy days, but it’s better than doing nothing. One highlight of the current quarter is a class I’m in about the Beat Generation.
The Beats were a group of writers in the 1950s who experimented with form, subject matter, drugs and sexuality in their lives and in their work. Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs are considered the progenitors of the Beat movement.
If you take a look at my bookshelf — the other side from the two shelves of Stephen King — you’d see a bunch of Kerouac books. These may seem like polar opposites and that would be a fun debate. I like what I like, and that’s that.
The professor of this course, Katherine Whitcomb, said that nine out of 10 students tell her that Kerouac is their favorite writer. It’s a good time to be a Kerouac fan. “On the Road” finally made it to the big screen in limited release in December. If we’re lucky, it might get a wide-release soon. Another Kerouac book, “Big Sur,” has a film adaptation that should be available soon, too.
I dig the popularity, but I have a problem with it, too. It might be a problem with them, but it might my own quirkiness. Much to the dismay of my wonderful, patient, amazing wife, I am a collector. Some might even say a hoarder. It goes beyond just the regular books. I have one book that is a walking tour guide of New York City based on the places the Beats lived and hung out. I bought two volumes of Kerouac’s letters and one of his journals (“Windblown World,” it’s awesome and you should check it out). Books of interviews, essays and other ephemera round out the printed works.
But wait, there’s more. Kerouac wrote a screen adaptation of his book “Dr. Sax.” A number of years later, some of the remaining Beat generation and other followers recorded the screenplay, radio-show style. Robert Creeley, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jim Carroll and others lent their vocal talents to the recording. Illustrator Richard Scala drew some amazing pictures for the screenplay book.
So here’s the problem: If all these kids say Kerouac is their favorite writer, why don’t they have all this stuff? Why was I the one who lent Whitcomb “The Jack Kerouac Collection” CD boxset? Why am I the one with a copy of Kerouac’s play “The Beat Generation”?
There are two answers and perhaps it is a combination of both: Either the other students lack true passion or I am an obsessive nutjob. The truth is somewhere in the middle. I’m not totally obsessed. I’ve never been to Lowell, Mass., or San Francisco. Even though we read “The Dharma Bums” in class, I probably won’t drive north to hike Desolation Peak, where Kerouac served as a fire lookout one summer.
My obsession ends at the point where I would actually have to climb a mountain.
We all have things we seem to love more than other people. What is your obsession? What do you collect?
• Backstage Pass is a new blog on www.yakima-herald.com covering pop culture from Hollywood to your backyard. T.J. Tranchell, a freelance journalist and Herald-Republic customer service clerk, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.