Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac

Reads On The Road

Rykodisc

Oh man, I just know I’m going to end up stepping on some toes here. People tend to get precious about their Beat poets. All I’m saying is, I remember the first time I read Kerouac, not On The Road , surprisingly, rather the spontaneous prose experiment The Subterraneans . I was (to the point of cliche) awestruck by the musical flow of his word clusters, the beautiful melodies and saxophone squalls that were conjured forth. And then I heard his voice for the first time. It was part of a documentary on his life on A&E, and they showed that infamous talk-show he was on right at the end of his life, an alcoholic shell of his former self, ranting on about conservative values and the waste of the youth movement. I was shattered. He sounded so normal. So human. I purposely avoided any of the recordings of his voice from that moment on (six years ago), a task made increasingly difficult by spurts of reissue-repackage frenzy.

Until now. Until I got the word from Ink 19 Towers to review the first-ever release of Kerouac reading On The Road: Jazz of the Beat Generation , and some songs too, as it turns out. Now about those songs. To hear Kerouac warble in a rather tone-deaf manner through jazz standards like “When a Woman Loves a Man,” and “Ain’t We Got Fun,” among others is sheer torture on the surface. I found myself wincing in pain at first, but then, well, it was like that scene at the end of How the Grinch Stole Christmas . For the first time I heard why he was singing, not what he was singing, and fuck, you just have to appreciate the man’s love for the jazz, to put himself in such a potentially compromising position. But that sums up Jack Kerouac’s whole writing career, doesn’t it? A manic hyperactivity and lust for life, pulling off word puzzles that shouldn’t work, telling crazy beautiful stories where others would hold their tongue, and you’re just shaking your head at the whole comedy as tragedy as adventure.

Yeah, the reading of Jazz… is brilliant, he scats like a saintly madman, but I think you knew that already. At the record’s close, in a move of demented randomness and brilliance, Tom Waits and Primus perform “On The Road.” And I’m ecstatic with how it all suddenly fits together for me. Waits gurgles and growls his way through a possessed vocal and Primus turn in a completely inspired performance as a railroad jugband. Fuck yes, THIS is the music as Kerouac meant it to be.

Rykodisc, Shetland Park, 27 Congress St., Salem, MA 01970; http://www.rykodisc.com

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