The Road to Redemption

In Lowell, Jack Kerouac has been better off dead.

In his final years, ravaged by the bad reviews and whiskey that killed him at 47, Jack Kerouac was unwelcome in his hometown of Lowell. He was known for dragging people into Nicky’s bar, buttonholing them with wild stories—and bumming a few drinks while he was at it. Even his oldest friends crossed the street when they saw him coming. “It hurt him,” says Kerouac biographer Gerald Nicosia. “There was always a sense among the older people that he was a sinner. He knew all his life he was a great writer, but they saw a drunk in dirty clothes, pissing on fireplugs.”

Time has certainly cleaned up the boozehound’s reputation. On 6/15, the city embraces the Beat icon as its favorite son (sorry, Ed McMahon), kicking off a three-month bash to honor the 50th anniversary of Kerouac’s definitive work, On the Road ( Some 20,000 pilgrims are expected to hike, hitch, and roll into town—whispers have it that Johnny Depp, who bought Kerouac’s raincoat for $15,000, might be among them. The original scroll manuscript of On the Road, above, will be on display, and UMass Lowell is set to give Kerouac a posthumous degree. The lovefest will get plenty of ink in the Lowell Sun, the same paper that once canned the author for being too wordy. “It’s very ironic,” Nicosia says. “But the people now making decisions in Lowell grew up with the books, not with the sight of Jack Kerouac the degenerate.”