Words by: Theodora Sutcliffe
The man who inspired a generation of beatniks and dropouts, ee profile a self-destructive but mesmerising talent.
So who was Jack Kerouac?
Catholic turned Buddhist, US Marine turned Beatnik, sports jock turned lush, the author of The Dharma Bums was a bundle of unresolved tensions. He composed his masterwork, On The Road, in a 20-day speed-fuelled marathon, using a single scroll of paper that later sold for over $2,000,000. According to Ray Manzarek, The Doors would never have existed without Kerouac; Bob Dylan said that On The Road changed his life.
Where did he drink?
During his New York years, Kerouac was a regular at the White Horse, the legendary literary establishment where Dylan Thomas embarked on his last ever bender - and routinely 86ed from there. He also appreciated the now-defunct San Remo Cafe and Hurley's Saloon, though it was a bar fight outside the Kettle of Fish that provoked his move from the city.
In Saint Petersburg, Florida, he favoured the Flamingo Sports Bar; in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, he enjoyed The Berlin Bar. His local of choice during his declining years was Peter Gunthers, in Northport, Long Island: he was often to be found at one end of the bar staring into his drink.
What did he drink?
In Mexico, in line with the spirit of the times, he favoured pulque along with the occasional hit of peyote. But Kerouac wasn't fussy. He once kept a 'shroom session alive courtesy of Christian Brothers port on the rocks, and was known to consume the street drinker's "wine" Thunderbird. His routine beverage, however, was the Boilermaker: one biographer records him drinking a liver-savaging average of fourteen an hour from morning to night.
Any famous drinking buddies?
Kerouac was close to the gay Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, despite a tendency to abuse his politics and sexuality while drunk, and to William S. Burroughs. The two introduced him to counter culture icons such as Timothy Leary, while he once (according to Vidal) slept with the young Gore Vidal.
How did drink change his life?
Kerouac died relatively young, his body riddled with cirrhosis, after haemorrhaging induced by a combination of alcohol, a self-treated hernia and injuries sustained in a bar fight. His last years were spent drinking whisky, recording his own voice as he talked at the TV and, when he ventured out of the house, getting in bar fights.
In his youth, Kerouac felt that alcohol and hallucinogens opened up regions of the soul and creativity that other substances couldn't reach. In later life, alcohol became both the medicine for and the cause of an intense self-hatred that often turned outwards as aggression.
It's indisputable that Kerouac would have been a different writer without the booze and almost certain he would have lived longer. The eternal and unanswerable question is whether he would have been a better writer, or a happier man.
Any drinking stories?
Drinking tended to bring out Kerouac's macho tendencies, setting him swinging one-handed from lamp posts like the footballer and US Marine he once was. He was so drunkenly abusive to Timothy Leary, who introduced him to psilocybin, that the godfather of acid had his first ever bad trip.