Here, Neal's daughter Jami recalls her father, her mother Carolyn, her childhood, and memories of Kerouac himself.
You've often said your mum kept everything under control so you had no idea about your dad and him being the inspiration for the book. Was it just a completely normal environment for you at home?
I love that term "completely normal environment at home". I did not know what was normal or not, as a child whatever goes on with the adults, you know no difference. Mom tried very hard to keep dad's true nature hidden from us. I think because her entire family was against Neal and she was brought up so strictly in the south in the 20's and 30's she really hoped deep down we kids would NOT follow in dad's footprints. (Sorry, ma.)
Do you remember finding out about On the Road and this amazing character of Dean Moriarty being your dad, and Camille being based on your mum? That must have been surreal.
I gotta say, I do not remember when I became aware of dad and Jack's book, On the Road. It came out in 1957, I was 7 years old. I think I was in my late teens when things started to be known to me.
What are your earliest memories of Jack Kerouac? Do you recall him round the house a lot?
Ah, "Uncle Jack"... so sweet. Yes, he was around quite a bit. Mom said Jack said "Jami is his favorite", which I have cherished to this day.
You have said that your dad really wanted to be that ideal suburban father. Do you think Jack Kerouac wanted that too, but couldn't keep it going? He had his daughter but could never be that kind of man or set himself free from his mother...
Yes, I agree with mom's theory that these two Catholic boys would forever feel guilt about "letting loose". Both men wanted women to be "Madonnas or whores", so when mom came around, they could imagine having the structured life she hoped for and presented.
What are some of your favourite memories of Jack?
Memories of Jack as a child: Big daddy bear, quiet, calm, fun loving, laughed a lot. Walks with ice cream cones and picked flowers for bouquets for mom. He slept in the back yard of our house on Bancroft in Los Gatos (as mom and dad forgot to get a new home with a room for Jack). Us three kids waking up, racing to his slumber spot under a tree and jumping on him... "Wake up! Mom's cooking pancakes!" That sort of thing. Playing around with the tape recorder, he letting us kids say whatever... fun.
Later: Late night drunken calls to mom at the Los Gatos home.; he on EST, we on Pacific. Mom would try to be nice and listen to his ravings. I could always hear the conversations... so sad.
Some people say Neal felt as if he was trapped in the Dean Moriarty role, becoming a myth himself. Do you think this romanticises things a little or is there some truth in it?
OMG, so much truth to that. He had always been suicidal, hated himself for his "demons"; sex, drugs... So after he met Ken Kesey and the (Grateful) Dead, who provided him with anything he might need... Mom divorced him in 1963, so everyone housed him, because of his On the Road persona... He told mom he felt like a trained bear, but it got him what he wanted. Those years were his "I need to stop" years, I think. He jumped in with two feet and 5 years later, he accomplished his wish. When we got the call from Mexico that he had passed, the family was relieved.
I always loved the "God is Pooh bear" line, especially the way Jack reads it on the Steve Allen show. Then I found out he was alluding to your Pooh Bear toy that your mother made you, as written in one of the letters to your mum. How does it feel when you think of that? Is Jack's mention of the Pooh Bear evidence that he really loved your mother and the idyllic set up she had with you the children?
Yes, Pooh Bear... Since my mom's mom was an English Lit teacher, Pooh, Wodehouse, Christie and many more were our staple books to read and love. I still have the original editions of the Pooh series that were mom's. Anyway, every Christmas mom would make a teddy bear for my brother John. I sure wish we had kept those! And yes, Jack loved my mom and us kids and dad. He could come to our home to feel at home.
What are your memories of Jack in his final years? Had the fame gotten to him and his drinking in the end?
Like I said, Jack in later years was not in my life any more. He died when I was 19 living in New York taking classes at the American Ballet Theater when I heard the news on the radio. Neither mom, or us kids attended his funeral... Sad.
The name Kerouac itself is immortal. It's so embedded into culture now. When you think of On the Road, your father and Jack, is it weird to think they are so mythical to people, like sepia toned photographs that stand for another time and way of life?
Yes, I do. My husband, Randy and I have been promoting dad's (and now mom's) legacy for years and years. I'd say 85% of people we talk to see dad as a "God". Phil Lesh told me he was "an Avatar". I bathe in my parent's ideals, accomplishments and love. I feel I chose this family to be a part of, as it is exciting, wondrous, loving and avant garde. Our Sunday school was at home in the living room in Los Gatos, drawing pictures as mom and dad read to us from Edgar Cayce, taught us about reincarnation, etc. I guess I wouldn't call that a normal childhood.