Memory Babe : A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac


I’ve been reading Memory Babe for the past few weeks and having finally finished it earlier today I have to say that I disagree somewhat with the numerous positive reviews and things other people have said about the book. Those reviews were, if you haven’t read any, mainly downright enthusiastic.

The books subtitle is ‘a critical biography’, but I have to disagree with the ‘critical’ bit. Nicosia’s complete adoration of Kerouac and most of his literary output is rather pathetic, sure everybody has got their own taste, but talking of masterpieces with regard to Vanity Of Dulouz is rather inappropriate imo. Granted, there are comments that can be described ‘critical’ but far more often, every single tiny thing Kerouac said, did or wrote is outstanding or remarkable.

Also, his obsession with Kerouac and Cassady’s sex life gets quite tiresome after the first 200 pages or so, yes we get the general drift, they were both rather active in that regard, but I don’t have to know about every single one of their sex partners (or, in Kerouac’s case most often not-quite-sex-partners), it does give the book a rather tabloid sheen.

In addition, Nicosia’s interpretation of Kerouac’s books are, for my taste, overlong and bloated, Nicosia’s main theme seems to be the ‘time collapse’ in various of Kerouac’s works (I hadn’t really heard that expression before but it’s basically a fancy description of the passage of time. Right? Correct me if I’m wrong).

As for Kerouac’s persona, for me as a pretty much lifelong fan of the guy, the book was something of an eye-opener. Sure, everybody’s got their weaknesses and everybody is making mistakes, but, boy that guy really did mess things up royally,  didn’t he? Not exactly a new revelation I know (that’s common knowledge and I have read some biographies before) but just the amount of really bad and quite frankly very stupid mistakes and bad decisions is staggering and shocking.

How many times did he hurt other people badly (e.g. Allen Ginsberg)? And the sorry affair with his non-acceptance of his daughter is just absolutely unacceptable and not worthy of any even half-decent person – and he was constantly talking about loving everybody and everything which does make it even worse. He certainly wasn’t a malicious person as such but still.

And he was racked with guilt for a long time of not being able to provide for himself and his family (his mum, basically), so why didn’t you just get a job like most other people, Jack instead of whining about your life? I know he considered writing his life’s ‘work’, which is all fine and well, but if it doesn’t enable you to make a living, at least temporarily, then you have to try and make ends meet in some other way, don’t you. And I never realised that he was such a crybaby, god, all your constant whining about how bad the world treated you was just terrible and pathetic, sorry Jack.

As for Nicosia, that he’s buying into Kerouac’s deluded idea that he was heading for an early death (stated about 1960 or so if I remember correctly) as a sacrifice to art, which is of course utter bullshit, is really quite naive. Sure he was young then, so maybe he would have a somewhat more realistic opinion on that were he to write the book nowadays.  Nicosia, much as Kerouac himself doesn’t seem to understand that Kerouac’s fate was largely decided by the above mentioned mistakes and his alcoholism – nobody his to die for his art, certainly not somebody in situations similar to Kerouac’s – just look at Allen Ginsberg.

The book can most def. be described as ‘thorough’, I agree with my fellow reviewers on that aspect. But I have to confess I thought about giving up on the book more than a few times.

Having finished it after all I have to say I am glad I did (although it was hard work) and towards the end I enjoyed the book quite a bit better as it was dealing more directly with the facts of Kerouac’s life (as heartbreakingly sad as that was).

R.I.P. Jack




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