Hoptellectual: Bill Callahan and Jack Kerouac’s America

There’s an America that our generation has just sort of left behind. Pundits cite this for the countries increasing political divide, with one side trying to hold on to an old set of rules and another ostensibly running away into an unknown. In the meantime, the generation set to inherit the Earth falls in line with the idea that we’ve trapped ourselves in a positive feedback loop set for permanent domestic instability.

Objective America

What we’re losing, though, is something I’m developing a great affection for. The American Identity spreads across the country, and unites the odd and the aerodynamic, the strong and the weak. America presents a challenge, one that grows more apparent as the harsh political volume amplifies. As Bill Callahan baritones on Apocalypse, “One thing about this wild country/It takes a strong/ breaks a strong mind.” America is big and daunting. Instead of confronting the divide, we tend to conflict whatever connections we’ve made over time. Distance should not continue to divide us the way our politics do, our size should be an advantage.

My uncle was a driver. Not a truck driver, but just a person who enjoyed getting from point A to point B in a car. He drove regularly from his home in North Hollywood to Chicago taking a new route every time. I didn’t fully understand the purpose until recently, but he drove because driving lends unerring perspective. In a car, America evolves slowly. Each mile passes with a barely noticeable change in landscape. My recent drive to the Upper Peninsula taught me this as birches gave way to sandy pines and ultimately to thick, glacially formed forests of oak and maple.

But is this the America that everyone sees when we discuss the American identity? I discussed corridors last week. Do people use the proper corridors to understand exactly what America is? Do we even have access without a car? The roads in America are long, but they bend without wavering towards a unique principle that defines America. We’re a country of untapped energy and potential, subterfuge giving way to lethargy and moroseness. The latter example is the America I feel we’re hurtling towards. This is not Jack Kerouac’s America.

Jack Kerouac wrote extensively about America, the country. Kerouac rooted himself on the West Coast, but he spread his consciousness across the country. On the Road, he writes,”What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”

Kerouac brought out the best in the country, much like Callahan. Callahan writes about America with irony and sometimes disdain and resentment, but there’s also a desire to keep this strange, mystifying union together. It breaks down the strong, but it also makes us stronger as individuals and as a country. The two share this love of America’s less-traveled parts, the small towns that dot the interstates from California to New York City, south through Texas and to the glacier-kissed terrain of America’s north. They give history to peoples who history previously ignored, a whole world that seemingly spins independent of urban life.

What drew me to Kerouac’s writing is the emphasis on the grandeur, on the stars that hang out just above the mountains. Kerouac’s writing gives the perspective that I’ve always coveted, as if he had glimpsed a sneak peak of the Earth from space. He never wrote this, but would probably agree with Callahan’s sentiment when he sings, “And anything less/ makes me feel like I’m wasting my time.”

Love America? Love beer? Love talking about America over beers? Follow us on Twitter (@midwestbeer), Facebook or send us an email at mwbeercollective@gmail.com.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Hoptellectual: Bill Callahan and Jack Kerouac’s America

  1. Lest we forget the other side of this whole spectacle, again via Callahan lyrics: “Well everyone’s allowed a past they don’t care to mention.” Boomtown.

    Beauty, thanks!

    • Anthony Cefali

      I tried to fit that lyric in there. America’s underbelly and its secrets definitely contribute to the identity. I just didn’t see how I was going to get it in there without opening a whole new can of worms.

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