In 1949, Jack Kerouac wrote this in a letter to a friend: “Nothing is true but everything is real.” Though he said he was trying to solve Nietzsche’s metaphysics once again, Kerouac might well have been describing On the Road: either the most true-to-life piece of fiction or the most fictionalized personal narrative ever to rule the American zeitgeist. If you read a lot of Kerouac — and despite his relatively short life, there is a lot of Kerouac – you can begin to feel that he is working at you from the inside. That he is the breath and your head is the horn he is playing.
“What is the 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 goodbye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”
Kerouac regularly doubles-down on the notion that we both live it and make it up at the same time. In doing so, he captures something fundamental to our brash young United States: the feeling that in a lively, hungry, restless country the only true moment is a goodbye.
Mad Beat Hip & Gone is my attempt to tell not a real story, but a true one. I don’t know if a couple guys named Danny and Rich were in the Cheyenne bar that Kerouac describes early in On the Road, and I don’t know if they followed him to Denver. But I know that young men marry themselves to wanderlust, and that they are forced to come of age through a series of goodbyes: to home, to family, to comfort, to the known, and finally to each other. I also know that youth is when we both live our lives and make up our lives – gloriously, foolishly, relentlessly – arching towards some divine never-future like Dizzy Gillespie seeking the ultimate note.
The young men in this play – like perhaps both Kerouac and America – really have no clue how to grow old. And that seems honest to me. Because as much as we think of our “dreams” as fictions, I have come to believe that saying we have “let our dreams go” or “outgrown them” is a greater fiction still. Our dreams (and that sublime never-future) remain the huge, lively, restless country inside us.
A big country needs a lot of roads. Long roads and vivid stars and some hard bop on the radio. And as we push on through the night to the “next crazy venture,” it is likely the reach of our own headlights we are chasing.
– Steven Dietz
March 18, 2013