Skenes Creek, Australia. Late February, 1981
I could hear an indescribable seething roar which wasn’t in my ear but everywhere and had nothing to do with sounds.
So sings Jack Kerouac, jazz vocalist.
A one man ensemble, caffeinated, amphetamined and mind blown. Watching and declaring, proclaiming, spouting forth, geyser-guy, fire hydrant mouth. With lip. Testifying. Cajoling me to step out, stride, and possess the world.
Kerouac’s bebop fills my body. His mellifluous slurring cha-cha-cha’s itself into a new instrument, floating notes like his beloved Charlie Parker saxophone, over my head and into a deep, wide Outside that I feel pushed, pulled, compelled to prize open and step into. I’m just 19 and young in the soul and frightened of the world. Jack gives me courage to travel.
He sings: Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.
He’s drunk, again. I’m intoxicated, too.
And the cheap rum I’m swallowing, in excoriating gulps.
And stoned on a romance unknown to any sensible part of my person. Jack sings straight to that section of myself. A smooth, dark, licorice lyricist.
King Of The Road.
I hear this tar scarred music, sung to me from battered Penguin pages, a backpack bent paperback. Sea bird on the spine. I can hear the rumble of his 1928 Underwood portable typewriter clattering, chattering and charting the wide vistas of an America I still haven’t visited.
But I have gulped deeply from his cup.
A charcoal grey, 1967 Holden Special HR station wagon waits cooling under foreshore tea tree overhang. Bench seats, touchy clutch and column shift (three on the tree). No maps. No plans. Just road signs by the road side and Jack’s music in my mind. We head for the south west coast of Victoria and the call of the ocean.
It’s night and two boys and two girls make a foreshore fire and cook and eat amazing sausages.
We sleep close by the wagon, under stars, lulled by the swish of the waves.
We wake at dawn, nostrils full of salt and promise. Prime adolescent muscles are fit and unfazed by sand sleep. Typewriter rhythm section, rattling metallic traps, taps a tempo under Jack’s voice:
For the first time in my life the weather was not something that touched me, that caressed me, froze or sweated me, but became me.
Breakfast is a burger at Bruiser’s a half hour beach walk away. Bruiser is, of course, a big man, full-bellied, breasted and with grey eyes that hide every one of his reasons for being all this way down the coast. It’s late February and despite the continuing intensity of the dry summer heat, most of the passing café trade has rolled back to the big city and he’s left with his smudged blackboard price list, Coke-a-Cola clock, worn out, checkerboard linoleum floor and four transient teenagers.
Bruiser’s sizzle grill hot-plate makes our food while I make my first ever grid on his Space Invaders machine. Momentous morning.
I’d never loved the ocean before this trip. Perhaps I’d never really smelt it, touched it, or felt it before. Now I’m totally taken by it, and it by me. There’s a oneness here that’s embarrassing to proclaim, but foolish to ignore. Once again I lose sense. Once more I fall down to and through the rugged romance of On the Road.
Back on the foreshore I read myself so drunk that I can hardly walk. Jack, in full voice, bellows his greatest hit, to me across the sand dunes, the famous number one 45, crackly but clear, over the bass boom of the waves, calling me to search out the people I know I must somehow find and fall in with. He sings of the necessity to seek out these essential souls;
the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!’
I harmonise, softly, singing the last word-sound with him. I keep reading and sometime before nightfall he intones the words that simultaneously pin me to my spot and cause me to alight to an even higher plane;
And for just a moment I had reached the point of ecstasy that I always wanted to reach, which was the complete step across chronological time into timeless shadows, and wonderment in the bleakness of the mortal realm, and the sensation of death kicking at my heels to move on, with a phantom dogging its own heels, and myself hurrying to a plank where all the angels dove off and flew into the holy void of uncreated emptiness, the potent and inconceivable radiancies shining in bright Mind Essence, innumerable lotus-lands falling open in the magic mothswarm of heaven.
The next morning I have no choice, no choice but to hit the road.