Tag Archives: Great Depression

Happy 118th Birthday, Fitzgerald!

24 Sep

442px-F_Scott_Fitzgerald_1921Photo circa 1921, “The World’s Work” (June 1921 issue), via Wikipedia

The man who perhaps best captured the glitz and the glam of the roaring twenties, F. Scott Fitzgerald, was born on September 24, 1896, in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Fitzgerald is, of course, the author of The Great Gatsby, This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and Damned, Tender Is the Night, and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” He was connected with a group of expatriates living in Paris, who became known as the Lost Generation.

It was this Lost Generation that inspired Jack Kerouac to come up with the term the Beat Generation when he was having a conversation with John Clellon Holmes one day. However, in many ways, Kerouac’s content is dissimilar to Fitzgerald’s. F. Scott — named after Francis Scott Key, the lyricist of “The Star Spangled Banner,” and his second cousin, three times removed (whatever that means!) — glamorized America’s economic boom during the Jazz Age, while Kerouac glamorized the American hobo that sprung up following the Great Depression. Yet, their language, their syntax, is similar in capturing all that jazz.

 

You might also like:::

Life Continues to Be Absurd: Saul Bellow, Jack Kerouac, F. Scott Fizgerald, and Eugene O’Niell

 

Advertisements

Happy 92nd Birthday, Jack Kerouac!

12 Mar

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAphoto I took two years ago at Kerouac’s birth home when I attended Lowell Celebrates Kerouac

On a Sunday in winter, Jean-Louis Kerouac was born to Leo and Gabrielle Kerouac in Lowell, Massachusetts. He was the baby of the family, the youngest of three, and his French-speaking family called him Ti Jean, or Little John.

It was March 12, 1922. Warren G. Harding, a Republican, was president and had just introduced radio to the White House the month before. Women had received the right to vote two years prior to that, but even the month before Kerouac was born the Nineteenth Amendment was still being challenged in court — a fact important to understanding the gender politics in which Kerouac grew up.

James Joyce’s Ulysses was first published that year by Sylvia Beach in Paris, and the experimental novel would impact Kerouac’s own writing. Kerouac himself would grow up to become the voice of his generation, the Beat Generation, a generation that had been born around the time of the Great Depression, that had seen the destruction of World War II and lost many friends and loved ones, that had faced a repressive government. Kerouac remains a startlingly refreshing voice even today, reminding readers to observe the sparkles in the sidewalk, to embrace life over possessions, to blaze their own paths.

KerouacCakephoto I took at Kerouac’s birthday bash last year at the Northport Historical Society

Shunning Cars … and Life

24 May

Last summer I relayed the news that Generation Y hates driving. Now it turns out, everybody hates driving.

According to the recent The Exchange article “Why More Families Are Shunning Cars,” the CNW Research of Bandon, Ore., reported that in 2012 the percentage of US households without a car was the highest its been in the 22 years they’ve been tracking this data. The percentage? 9.3%.

Citing a cultural shift, The Exchange says that people today don’t rely on cars as much because:

  • more people live closer to cities and public transportation
  • since they now don’t need a car on a daily basis, these people simply rely on car rentals, which have become more flexible
  • retirees now live in retirement communities that they seldom leave
  • teens prefer to keep in touch virtually than in person
  • the economy is still in the gutter

The economic factor is a fascinating one when it comes to the history of motor vehicles. I’ve been proofreading (what feels like) a lot of books on cars and motorcycles lately and also thinking about cars and road trips while writing Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” and it’s been rather interesting to discover just how much the Great Depression and various wars have had on Americans’ driving habits.

An all-too-brief history:

  • cars and motorcycles are relatively new innovations, and they were making leaps and bounds until the Great Depression
  • there was an economic boom following WWII and suburbs became more popular–think Levittown–so the car became integral to family life
  • during the Cold War, the emphasis on patriotism no doubt led to Greyhound campaigns like this one, featuring a veteran who after fighting for the USA wants to travel to see the entire country, and the tv show/extended commercial See the USA in Your Chevrolet

Life in America hadn’t really changed all that much from that time when the economy improved, people moved out to the ‘burbs, and cars became a fact of life.

Until recently.

There were, of course, recessions here or there after the Great Depression, but it wasn’t until December 2007 that the US experienced the Great Recession or the Lesser Depression, whichever ominous phrase you want to use.

The same day that I read–while I was on the subway, mind you–that more people are “shunning” cars, I also read a Newsday article reprinted in amNewYork as “A growth spurt in NYC” that said, “New York City had the greatest numeric gain in population between 2011 and 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau estimates out Thursday.” Granted, the article seemed to be specifically comparing growth in cities (see this New York Times article as reference), but unless it’s indicating that people are simply moving from one city to another it seems to suggest that more people are taking to city life. And perhaps that’s the–ahem–driving force behind the decline in car ownership.

So… what do automotive trends have to do with literature?

Arguably the most popular of all authors who wrote about traveling by car and philosophized about the culture of his generation didn’t own a car: as I pointed out in my Hipsters Hate Driving post, Jack Kerouac was a hitchhiker, a bus rider, and a passenger, but rarely a driver, and yet he wrote the great American road-trip novel On the Road.

Now, let’s go back to that point The Exchange made that today’s generation–Generation Y, Millennial, whatever you want to call them–seemingly prefer virtual, rather than interpersonal, relationships. Here’s how The Exchange put it: “Teenagers using social media to keep in touch seem to feel less drawn to the open road than their parents did at the same age.”

The issue at hand is not that today’s generation doesn’t like driving or that they’re moving to the cities in droves. The cultural shift that needs to be more adamantly addressed for both the sake of our personal well-being and literature is that people prefer living life virtually than experiencing it first hand.

Kerouac lived life to the fullest. He famously told Steve Allen that he spent more time experiencing the content that would end up in his book than actually writing it:

ALLEN: Jack….How long did it take you to write On the Road?

KEROUAC: Three weeks….

ALLEN: Three weeks! That’s amazing! How long were you on the road itself?

KEROUAC: Seven years

Of course, as Burning Furiously Beautiful points out, it was only the scroll version on On the Road that Kerouac wrote in three weeks; it actually took him years to write the novel. But that doesn’t change the fact that Kerouac was out there living life, adventuring, experiencing, gathering tales to tell.

If today’s generation spends their life behind the computer screen or is too busy snapping photos for instagram to be present in the moment, that will shape our literature.

Lowell of Yesteryear

11 Oct

It’s so much fun to attend Lowell Celebrates Kerouac and visit this great American literary icon’s old stomping grounds, many of which still exist today.  However, much of Lowell has changed over the years.  The streets are smoothly paved.  There’s a color television in almost every home.  UMass Lowell continually expands its presence.  New restaurants serving delicious food have opened up.  Even new communities of immigrants have moved in.  Instead of rotary phones plugged into the wall, people have iphones with apps.  A new family lives in Kerouac’s birth home.  Experiencing Kerouac’s Lowell is about more than just dots on a map.  You have to step back from the tour group, close your eyes and really listen to the rush of the Merrimack River.  You have to imagine a time period when chocolate chip cookies were a novelty, Art Deco looked crazy modern, and women used menstrual cups instead of tampons.  You have to imagine the Great Depression.  You have to imagine a gallon of gas costing 10 cents.  You have to hear swing music.  The NFL draft is a new concept.  Ball-point pens are invented.  And you are just a kid soaking it all in.  Jack Kerouac was born in 1922 and was a kid growing up in Lowell in the 1930s.  Here are a few nostalgic photos of Lowell….