He Wasn't Free at All

Joyce Johnson spoke with Terry Gross back in June 2001 when her book, Door Wide Open: A Beat Love Affair in Letters came out in paperback. She was in a relationship with Jack Kerouac during the time that On the Road was published. Her insights into him and how the success of the book changed him really rang true, and I think about her comments whenever his writing is brought up as it has been recently with the 50th anniversary of its publication (such as today's New York Times editorial by David Brooks). Joyce, whose memoir is titled Minor Characters, was airbrushed out of the photo that Gap used several years ago for an ad featuring Kerouac.

TG: You say in your book that you had to protect your memories from being swamped by Jack Kerouac’s legend. What are some parts of the legend that don’t fit with your memories?

JJ: Well, the idea that Jack was such a free spirit, mainly, a big example of freedom or that he was this great Buddhist. Those things. Because although he certainly did go on the road, deep inside him he wasn’t free at all. He was so knotted up and so miserable and so attached to his mother. Buddhism was something that was very important to Jack. It was one of those things he looked to, to find some solution to what troubled him. But he really misused it. Even though he had a profound intellectual understanding of it, he used Buddhism to sort of rationalize all his problems—what was the point of dealing with them since we’re all going to die anyway?