“FREE BEER”

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“FREE BEER” – CLIFF ANDERSON

A refreshing ‘outsiders’ look at the type of man freewheeling bohemian Jack Kerouac became in his final years whilst living in Florida, Free Beer quirkily features an interview with Anderson about his tried-and-tested friendship with Jack, reiterating how tough a life Jack came to possess upon having to care for his ill mother.

While Kerouac has, in some literary circles, been portrayed as a depressed drunk in his later years, Free Beer takes a hearty swipe at the wholesome truth of the matter. For sure, Anderson saw through any criticism shepherded in Kerouac’s direction, understanding that Kerouac’s life didn’t always smell of roses, in spite of the fame he attracted in the wake of On the Road becoming the cult phenomenon it did. Sure, there was every chance that Kerouac necked more beer than even Hemingway did in his hard-drinking lifetime, but that didn’t necessarily make him the type of drunk that many people have described his as being.

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When Anderson isn’t waxing lyrical about Jack, he’s coolly road-testing short stories of his own, inviting the reader to share with him the horror of working atop a barn in dire weather, not to mention the pitfalls of driving home in snow. Perhaps the most engaging short story of them all revolves around his comedic telling of a tale in which he attempts to sell Christmas trees on the mean, snowy streets of New York with a friend. One would think it’d be simple to sell a lorry-load of pines in the run-up to December 25th, but that’s far from the case.

While Anderson is a fantastic scribe in his own right, the highlights of Free Beer unsurprisingly revolve around the intimate insights into Kerouac’s extraordinary life. More than ever, the French-Canadian writer continues to be championed in arts-related circles, not least because a detail-rich adaptation of On the Road was released at cinemas in 2012 to widespread critical acclaim.

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As well as being a mean writer, Kerouac was also a sharp-shooting pool player, renowned for his talent at sinking eight balls across NYC. Given the amount of time he must have dedicated to shooting pool, heading out to jazz clubs, and dashing hither and thither around the states by bus, car and train, it’s hard to figure how he ever made time to simply sit, to be, to pour his heart out in words for the rest of the world to feast upon. Anderson, somewhat unsurprisingly, writes in a similar manner to his friend, effortlessly capturing the excitement of being young and carefree. Indeed, his wonderfully descriptive paragraphs of prose are spurred on by beautiful spurts of poetry, his philosophical take on life proving to be suavely thought-provoking.

Acting as a must-read for all Kerouac fans, Free Beer is a hugely entertaining ode to uncompromised liberalism, borne out of a period of American history that came to be shattered by the horror of the Vietnam War. For those wanting to know what they missed out on, this book goes a long way in helping to fill in the necessary gaps.

(Steve Rudd)

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Signed copies of Steve Rudd’s first book can be purchased here

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