“Ah the mad hearts of all of us.” ― Jack Kerouac, Visions of Cody
I have ran through many places, many times, worn many faces, I have started, stopped, and restarted time on several occasions, all in the daunting task of completing a read-through of Visions of Cody. At times, the days were cold and sent shudders to the very marrow of my bones, other times, the sun scorched my neck, reminding me of nature’s raw beautiful power and its indifference to my speck of functioning in the world. Jack Kerouac is my ultimate muse author, and having read nearly two dozen of his books, I still was not ready for the wild, free-flowing, at times seemingly disjointed and nonsensical writings that make up Visions of Cody, or at least I was not at first, second, or even third try. Visions of Cody, in all its 400 plus pages of spontaneous (I mean really meandering and spontaneous) prose, is a moment in my life, an accomplished feeling of having experienced an admired writer’s most experimental and complex piece. And in the end, I am better for it.
So what is this piece I am writing now? Well, it is not so much a book review, as it is a momentary snapshot glimpse view back into my experiences with Visions of Cody…my visions of me, reading Visions of Cody.
The first two sections, and approximately one-hundred pages, visually resemble the original scroll version of On the Road, long blocks of small type-font, with little room for paragraph breaks, a true stream of consciousness, and spontaneous prose tale. I was hooked right away. I went into the book knowing of its legendary (in a hip underground beat sort of way) reputation, but was still left in amazement by the hyper-stream of consciousness, and the beautifully, and often tragic, acute attention to detail, so much detail for even the most mundane of situations, that painted vivid imagery in my mind, transporting me back to this bygone era of America. Consider this, there is probably an easy one and a half, to two pages wholly dedicated to describing a countertop and chairs in a skid-row diner. This is part of what Visions of Cody did, it brought you so close to what would in any other situation be considered the dull and mundane, and transformed it into a passionate and somber look back at Americana, as it once existed from coast to coast.
“I can’t think of anybody…who knows the sum and substance of what I know and feel and cry about in my secret self all the time when I don’t feel strong, the sorrows of time and personality, and can therefore on all levels make it all the way with me” ― Jack Kerouac, Visions of Cody
The next two sections, and nearly two-hundred pages, of Visions of Cody goes even further down the experimental and avant-garde rabbit hole of writing, transcribing, word for word, a series of tape recordings between Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassidy, and other various Beats. It needs to be noted that these recordings are painstakingly random, at times incoherent, confusing, and are the result of much intoxication by all involved. It is in this stage of the book, that I am conflicted, torn between my love for self-expression, spontaneity, the “out there”, avant-garde, and the generally askew from the norm, torn between all this, and my ultimate takeaway, that while the intent of transcribing tape recordings of people in true naked conversations is bold and exciting (in theory), the end result is disjointed (and not in a good way) and lacking in true Kerouac storytelling depth. It lacked heart.
Countless cups of coffee, seasons of the year, and a kaleidoscope of people, places, and things came and went in my life as I read this book- my ever-present companion, Visions of Cody. There was some sort of bayou hoodoo spell conjured up within the pages of Visions, for each time I read a segment, my mind raced with intrigue, icons, lost visions, teleportation, and a heart-warming fondness for the less than glamorous side of America, the hard-working, the down-trodden, the people who will not show up on any billboards, wont star in a Hollywood movie, and would not even make a footnote in their local paper. This is the true America, the one Jack Kerouac saw disappearing, that he thought worth saving, the Americana of the blues, of railroad yards, late nights in bars, road trips across the country, a seemingly simpler time that was fading fast. This is just as poignant today as it was then, that is the beauty of Jack’s writing.
The remaining pages of Visions of Cody continues in the stream in which the book started, forgoing the tape recordings, and holds some of the most powerful and beautiful sections of prose I have ever read. I am not one for hero-worship, but I will say that there are some brilliant flashes of storytelling tangled within the stream of consciousness behemoth that is Visions of Cody.
In the end, Visions of Cody made me feel accomplished, rewarded for having made it through. It also left me inspired, inspired to continue writing, seeking adventure, living life on my own terms, and focusing on the little things in life, for they are what make up our memories (stories) we take with us forever. Perhaps, even more than any of those takeaways, Visions of Cody showed me a new level of pride in America (Americana), in the simple hard-working truth of the nation, and the unmolested beauty that still remains down every back-road, if we are just willing to let go, travel, and see what we have flown by blinded for too long, and for that, I am grateful that Visions of Cody is here.
“…the great black bird broods outside my window in the high dark night waiting to enfold me when I leave the house tomorrow only I’m going to dodge it successfully by sheer animalism and ability and even exhilaration, so goodnight” ― Jack Kerouac, Visions of Cody