Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Poetry For The Beat Generation - Jack Kerouac/Steve Allen

Poetry For The Beat Generation
Jack Kerouac/Steve Allen
Rhino RI 70939-A

This is another record from Rhino's "Jack Kerouac Collection" box set.  It was Kerouac's first record album, released on Hanover Records although it had originally been recorded for Dot Records and had been rejected for release when the company president decided it was indecent.  I'm not sure what he found so objectionable, by modern standards it is pretty tame, I hear a lot worse stuff on the radio all the time.  The pairing of the King of the Beats with a television comedian seems a bit odd, but then again Kerouac was never as hip as many of his followers like to think and Steverino may have been a bit of a square, but he was certainly no dummy.  The origin of this record was Kerouac's appearance at the Village Vanguard in New York where Allen was drafted out of the audience to play piano in support of Kerouac's readings.  Allen's piano playing is more trad than bop and it is deliberately unobtrusive, it sounds like cocktail lounge jazz backing up a casual conversation.  I think it is mostly effective, but it also reminds me of the soundtrack to "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" - I kept waiting for Kerouac to ask me to be his neighbor.  For me, Allen's piano noodlings do not add much to the impact of the readings, but they are pleasant and provide some atmosphere.  Kerouac's reading style is mostly laid back and conversational, it often feels like listening to some guy in a bar, particularly on "I Had A Slouch Hat Too One Time" which is one of my favorite cuts on the record.  My favorite of all Kerouac's poems kicks off the record, the celebrated "October In The Railroad Earth."  Kerouac reads it with winning enthusiasm, it demonstrates the potential in the jazz/poetry concept.  I also like the extraordinary "Bowery Blues," "Charlie Parker" and "McDougal Street Blues."  This album was allegedly recorded in one take with Kerouac randomly grabbing poems from a suitcase and sipping from a bottle of Thunderbird throughout and I find that very believable.  There is definitely a sloppiness and rough edge to the performance, Kerouac even makes mistakes, but I think that adds to the record's warmth and charm.  Not all the poems are memorable, "Deadbelly," "I'd Rather Be Thin than Famous" and "Goofing At The Table" are humorous but slight and I could really do without the ode to his mother.  In terms of Kerouac's literary oeuvre this is definitely minor, but well worth checking out.  From a musical standpoint "Blues and Haikus" is far superior and arguably from a literary standpoint as well, but this is more fun.  Recommended for literate barflies.   

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