The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac

The Dharma Bums

In The Dharma Bums Ray Smith (Kerouac) is looking for peace. But he’s also looking for kicks. When he finds peace, he soon becomes bored. When he locates his friends and starts to party, Kerouac feels empty.

The story starts in San Francisco at a fictional recreation of Allen Ginsberg first reading of “Howl.” Kerouac hitchhikes to his mother’s home in North Carolina for Christmas- sleeping outside on the porch and meditating in the woods at night with only his brother-in-law’s dog to keep him company. He’s convinced that if he empties his mind, he’ll gain Buddhist enlightenment. Once he does, it’s back to San Fransisco to share his insights with Gary Snyder, who has his own Buddhist theories. Their language is vague and nihilistic; so they can only agree with each other. Gary teaches Jack about backpacking, living in the woods, and mountaineering. Skills that come in handy that summer, when Jack hitchhikes to Washington and spends two months on top of Desolation Peak as a fire watcher. All the names are changed in the book- probably the only fiction in the story.

Fifty years on, Kerouac’s writing still feels experimental, with odd spellings, made-up words, and stream-of-consciousness paragraphs. There is an emotional immediacy to Kerouac’s writing that I’m drawn to. All his novels are autobiographical, but nothing seems to happen- he lives his sad life bumming from Mexico to New York, from San Francisco to North Carolina, from Massachusetts to LA. The time-frames in the books overlap so his experiences on Desolation Peak are also recounted in Desolation Angels.

192 pages

I’m Coming Down

In May of 1992 I wrote this song about Jack Kerouac at Desolation Peak.

I was standing on the mountain, I was standing on my head
I was looking for forest fires, above my head
I was looking for trouble, I was looking for rain
I was looking for signs, I was going insane

I’m coming down in a couple of days
(Desolation Peak) in a blind rage
Hide the liquor, hide the women
Only thing on my mind is sinnin’
I’m coming down in a couple of days

I was feeling like Buddha on the top of the world
I was feeling rather lonesome without my girl
Maggie, she loved me, then she changed her mind
So I left for this mountain and the wind in the pines

I was living in a cabin on Desolation Peak
I had buckets of rain from the roof that leaks
There were signs of bears in my mess kit
There were signs of bear… shit

I was cooking up supper, up under the trees
Cooking up another mess; Kraft Macaroni and Cheese
My pals are on the radio, at the end of each day
Counting down the weeks, ‘till we get pay

Into the void, I say my prayers each night
Standing on my head, the mountain is a stalactite
The forest hangs, suspended from the sky
I can’t wait ‘till the forest says goodbye


About craigmaas

I do a little web design work and support a couple web sites and blogs. My primary focus is lighting and energy consulting where I use a number of computer tools to help my customer find ways of saving money and improving their work environment. See my web site for more information:
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