Jack's Back

Jack Kerouac's On the Road, in all its interminable, rambling brilliance, inspired — even defined — a generation of teens and twenty-somethings suffocating under the tyrannical stronghold of nuclear families and spirit-stifling routine. But baby boomers weren't the only ones who clocked out of structured, civilized life one day and took to the open road, either literally or metaphorically. Lost souls from just about every generation since '57, when Kerouac's semi-fictional travelogue was published, have chosen that path. And for good reason.

"Kerouac is just one of those writers that every single generation of readers rediscovers and discovers as their own," says Lisa Birman, director of Naropa's Summer Writing Project (part of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics). "I think that's one of the things that's so exciting about his work. It doesn't matter when you're twenty years old; you're going to be twenty years old, and you're probably going to be reading On the Road. You're going to be reading On the Road and discovering it as a text that really speaks to you. And in that way, it becomes sort of timeless."

It is precisely this timelessness, says Birman, that was the impetus for celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of On the Road with this weekend's Kerouac Festival in Boulder. A slew of activities — ranging from panel discussions to musical celebrations — round out the three-day affair.

Today at 1 p.m., longtime Kerouac collaborator and composer David Amram will kick off an On the Road Marathon Reading at Naropa's Performing Arts Center, 2130 Arapahoe Avenue. The free program — sponsored in part by New Belgium Brewing Company and Boulder Ice Cream — is open to the public, and community members are encouraged to sign up for a reading slot. "It's twelve hours' worth of reading, so we need some beer and some sugar," Birman notes. "The main focus of the marathon reading is to let people come in and be really spontaneous with it."

Tomorrow, ninety-minute panel discussions beginning at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. will explore Jack's literary legacy and the intersection of music and writing in his work. Panelists include Kerouac scholars and collaborators such as Hettie Jones, Joshua Kupetz, Amram and Kerouac School founder Anne Waldman.

At 3:30 p.m., Amram will host free screenings of Robert Frank's Kerouac films, Pull My Daisy and This Song for Jack — the latter of which was filmed at Naropa's 1982 Kerouac Conference — at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, 1750 13th Street.

Rounding out the day is the 8 p.m. Kerouac Gala, a musical celebration featuring jazz-poetry duo Merge, Artie Moore and Tony Black, Waldman, Junior Burke and Janet Feder, as well as Nick Urata and Tom Hagerman of DeVotchKa. "I think their work has a really interesting literary quality," Birman says of Urata and Hagerman. "There's some sort of connection there, some sort of translation. Kerouac's work is very musical, and all the acts are really honoring Kerouac's connection to music throughout his life."

The Gala also marks the premiere screening of On the Road Now: Artists and Writers Respond to Kerouac in the 21st Century, a contemporary film perspective of On the Road and a collaborative project between Naropa and the University of Colorado's film-studies department. Tickets for the film, which is showing at the Boulder Theater, 2032 14th Street, may be purchased separately from festival-package tickets.

Get more ticket information and a full schedule of events at www.naropa.edu/swp/kerouacfest.cfm; for more on Kerouac's infamous scroll of On the Road, check out Westword's literary map of Denver at www.westword.com/2007-01-04/news/paint-the-town-read.

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Drew Bixby