Arts: To Be-bop or not to be?

On The Road, the album, finds Jack Kerouac flexing his vocal muscles, too.

That Jack Kerouac could make a typewriter swing, rattling the Remington with staccato bop rhythms as he punched out the endless teletype- roll manuscript of On The Road, is an essential part of Beat legend. That he could also sing like Louis Prima - or at least tried to - is less well known, and perhaps should remain so. However, the discovery of previously lost acetate and tape recordings in the Kerouac archives, and their release on a new CD as Jack Kerouac Reads On The Road, means that "Beat" scholars can now groove to Jack's vocal inventions, whether the author would have wanted them to or not.

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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album