Arts: To Be-bop or not to be?
On The Road, the album, finds Jack Kerouac flexing his vocal muscles, too.
Thursday 16 December 1999
Inspired by the metrically adventurous bop he had heard Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie play at Minton's Playhouse, and by the spoken-word albums of the poets Langston Hughes, Dylan Thomas, and Carl Sandburg, Kerouac began to record his voice on his own reel-to-reel system from 1949 onwards. By the time On The Road was published in 1957, he evidently envisaged a parallel recording career and embarked on a series of commercial albums, encouraged by Allen Ginsberg's praise for his "verve of pronunciation, deep colour of vowels and consonantal bite, exquisite intelligent consciousness in crossing T's and tonguing D's against the teeth with open lips".
The results as collected on the album are of variable quality, but they mostly make for fascinating listening (although sometimes you wouldn't want to listen to them more than once). And Kerouac really could sing. The opening Prima pastiche on the corny standard "Ain't We Got Fun", recorded "circa late 1950s", is little more than an entertaining bagatelle crooned perhaps rather drunkenly against the accompaniment of a cheesy lounge combo, but elsewhere there's some very effective bop vocalise.
The centrepiece of the album, a recently rediscovered tape of Kerouac reading from On The Road at Sterling Sound recording studio in the Fifties, was never released because the producer, Bill Randle, thought that Kerouac was stoned on pot and kept muffing his lines. Whatever the cause of the admittedly eccentric delivery, Kerouac is captured with perfect fidelity on an episode dramatising an impromptu jam session, and when he comes to the moment where the band are playing the standard "Close Your Eyes', he starts to sing the refrain quite superbly. Later on, there's a version of "Come Rain or Come Shine" where, to the backing of a quite serviceable jazz band, Kerouac scat-sings the vocal with considerable panache.
To give the old recordings a more contemporary stamp, the producers have commissioned new musical settings from the composer David Amram - a friend of Kerouac who wrote the original music for Robert Frank's film Pull My Daisy - and Tom Waits, who performs the closing version of the "On The Road" song with the band Primus. Far more Tom Waits than Jack Kerouac - and sounding more like Captain Beefheart than either - the track doesn't really have much to do with the rest of the album and, but for its dubious commercial value, could safely have been left out. As it is, it helps make what is already an extreme case of the curate's egg become eggier still. But as far as history is concerned the singing alone makes the album a valuable, and all-too-human, document.
"Jack Kerouac Reads On The Road" by Rykodisc Records
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Home Office says Nigerian asylum-seeker can’t be a lesbian as she’s got children
- 2 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 3 Drugs Live cannabis trial: Hash is less harmful than any other drug, expert claims
- 4 Turkish Airlines flight TK 726 crash-lands on Nepal runway amid dense fog
- 5 Apple and Google users being spied on for a decade because of 'Freak' security flaw
Glastonbury 2015: Coldplay will not headline but Florence Welch might play, says Emily Eavis
Kurt Cobain's life and death: Montage of Heck film uses unseen footage to tell Nirvana frontman's story
Mal Peet dead at 67: Tributes to children's author who was 'universally adored'
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Drugs Live: Twitter responds to Jon Snow and Jennie Bond smoking cannabis
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Ukraine crisis: Top Chinese diplomat backs Putin and says West should 'abandon zero-sum mentality'