Kerouac on Firing Line

In 1968, Jack Kerouac was a guest on William Buckley's Firing Line tv program. The video is viewable online at the Digital Beats: Kerouac site hosted by the Jack & Stella Kerouac Center for American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Kerouac on Firing Line


  1. Best that interview remain buried in the ground with the man that gave it. Kerouac was really off his nut that night and the whole thing is just too painful to watch. WFB does his best to coax something meaningful out of him, but it never really comes. Not book tour material, I’m afraid.

  2. I saw a show once called “Kerouac: The Essence Of Jack.” In it, the performer reenacted most of Kerouac’s life story, based on interviews with his widow and notes from Kerouac’s papers and stuff. I seem to recall a mention of an interview shortly before he died–maybe this one–where he was blind drunk.

  3. Sad to watch. It reminded me of Keroac’s description of his drinking in Big Sur. He was so aware of what it was doing to him, but seemingly so unable/unwilling to stop doing it. It was sad to read that book knowing how he ended up.

  4. What exactly was the intent of this post? Because I guess that you ask yourself if there is a valid reason for you to post, other than just filling some void on BB.

    This was a freak show, there should be little doubt about that for most who have seen the video.
    Were you trying to make us aware of the dangers of the abuse of alcohol?

    Kerouac was a valuable writer nevertheless. Not the greatest of all history but the times required someone like him.

  5. THANK YOU for posting this David!

    The play that Kappakahi mentioned was a one man show by Vincent Balestri. He did it for 15 years, until he was the age Kerouac died at actually. Part of it is featured in the movie “Beat Angel” (

    The scene that refers to his run-in with Buckley features a completely blitzed Kerouac holding a glass of wine being told by an stage hand to get rid of the drink. He replies:
    “This? This isn’t wine. Well, it’s wine now, but it was water until Buckley came into the room”

    I saw the show in junior high and it got me deep into the Beats. Thanks again!

  6. IamInnocent @5, The reason I posted it is the same, and only, reason I need when determining whether to post anything to BB: I found it interesting.

  7. Even Buckley seems out of his nut in this one. It’s like the interview was taped at 4AM after everyone involved had been on a serious bender.

    Reminds me of the Elvis footage I saw once of a concert in which he was all bloated and wearing one of those Vegas flying-squirrel jumpsuits, and he was so wasted he kept forgetting the lyrics and laughing about it.

    The video in this post reminded me that I like the theory of Jack Kerouac more than the reality.

  8. What they didn’t show in that segment was Buckley welcomed Jack with an awkward, lingering hug.

  9. No offense David since you really are one of my favorite Boingers, who showed me much unexpected and eye opening things, but a real answer would be to tell me what you think is of interest into watching a greater man than us disintegration?

    Not saying that you are not right. I am on record for being quite dense at times and here I fail.

  10. I’ve read many descriptions of this dreadful performance, and I don’t plan to watch it.

    I’m likelier to finish Big Sur–I got about sixty pages into it, and it hurt too bad. I don’t mean hurt from bad writing–I mean hurt from empathy for the poor bastarrd.

    There’s nothing wrong with posting it.

    Haimish McDonald @ 8: You do both Elvis and Jack a disservice by judging them at the low points of their lives. (Elvis, at least, was spared being subjected to that cultured shit Buckley.)

  11. Yikes, watching even five seconds of that was like rereading Tristessa. Horrid flashback visions of deadly hipster angels sprawling the wastes of American nightshade, man! I’m freakin’ out!

  12. It’s very clear to me where Anthony Hopkins found the character for playing Hannibal Lecter: William F. Buckley, Jr.

    Close your eyes, listen to it again, and imagine it’s Hannibal. It fits perfectly.

  13. Pretty sad watching him muddle through the interview. Social train wrecks were Kerouac’s specialty in those years, and he may have been a little incensed in general that his old schoolmate Buckley invited him on the show to talk about hippies, whom Kerouac disdained since, socially/politically, he was closer to a Sinatra or even Buckley than Ginsberg.

  14. anonymous@11: Didn’t you intend to log in as me when you made that comment? I thought so.

  15. @12

    “deadly hipster angels sprawling the wastes of American nightshade”

    That was what “Twilight Candelabra” by William J. Craddock was like.

  16. I watched that show when it first came out. Kerouac was sad and clearly drunk. Buckley was playing with him without any grace or compassion. I’d liked Buckley up until I saw how he treated Kerouac and, at that point, realized what a self-serving, pretentious, little dungheap of a man he actually was.

  17. NYC theater company Elevator Repair Service made a performance piece a few years ago based on this Kerouac appearance.

    I don’t get why people are so sensitive about anything that shows Kerouac in a negative light. He was a prick. Accept it. Trying to scold Boingers for finding it interesting is plain creepy.

  18. Kerouac’s spoken word recordings are genius. His writing is the poetic road map of a journey of misogyny and disintegration.

    The video shows him near his destination.

    People who are offend by this video prove only that they are incapable of truly loving and understanding an alcoholic asshole.

  19. Gerard Kerouac died at the age of nine. He was Jack’s older brother, and a figure that Jack always felt incapable of matching. He was revered as a saint by nuns, and throughout his whole life, Kerouac never stopped thinking about his brother.

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