Music of Kerouac

Posted in Kerouac, On writing, Writers at 8:23 am by Marion

Everything about my understanding of Jack Kerouac changed when I heard him reading his work.

It was the three-disk set, the Jack Kerouac Collection, purchased sometime in the 1990s. I had little spare money and so the boxed set was a hardship, but having three CDs of Kerouac himself reading was an epiphany.

The discs are “Poetry for the Beat Generation,” Kerouac and Steve Allen; “Blues and Haikus,” with Al Cohn and Zoot Sims; and “Readings by Jack Kerouac on the Beat Generation.”

Each disc has its own flavor, but unfortunately, you can also hear him become sloppier and more intoxicated, especially with Steve Allen.

Most of the time, however, the readings are transcendent. San Francisco Street Scene is unmatched for evoking the poetry of an ordinary morning, echoing Thoreau’s “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” when he says,

There was a little alley in San Fransisco back of the Southern Pacific station and Third and Townsend in redbrick of drowsy lazy afternoons with everybody at work in offices in the air you feel the impending rush of their commuter frenzy as soon they’ll be charging en mass from Market and Sansome buildings of foot and in buses and all well-dressed thru working man Frisco of Walkup ?? truck drivers and even the poor grime-bemarked Third Street … so hopeless and long left East … and now all they do is stand there spitting in the broken glass sometimes fifty in one afternoon against one wall at Third and Howard.

Hearing Kerouac read his own work awoke me to the sublime sonority of his voice and his phrasing. There is music in his words. When reading, he lingers on the “o” sounds, making them long and resonant with deep sadness; other times, he races through vowels on his way to consonants and every three or four words there is a melody, if you can hear it.

Now, when I read Kerouac’s prose, I hear that marvelous voice of his wrapping itself around paragraphs and phrases.

So it is reading “Big Sur” again this week. I can taste the music of phrases like these:

It’s all marvelous — and at first it’s so amazing to be able to enjoy dreamy afternoon meadows of heather up the other end of the canyon and just by walking less than a halfmile you can suddenly also enjoy wild gloomy sea coast, or if you’re sick of either of these just sit by the creed in a gladey spot and dream over snags….

If you hear Kerouac read, his voice is forever in mind, breathing song and life into every word.

1 Comment

  1. Fiction Daily » Blog Archive » Sea Poems said,

    August 6, 2008 at 7:01 am

    […] had a natural, instinctive feeling for the sound of words. I wrote in a previous entry about this music and in Big Sur, the lilt and grace of his language brings artfulness to his […]