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Sunday, 27 September 2009

Kerouac's Blues

Jack Kerouac published his “Mexico City Blues” fifty years ago, in 1959.

The poems never really worked for me, on the page. Out loud, or with a jazz accompaniment, some of the 242 choruses really hit the mark, but "non stop ad libbing" can become tiresome and then "the gig is shot".

I much preferred his prose works, like “On the Road” and “Lonesome Traveller”.

In his introductory note to “Mexico City Blues”, Jack wrote, “I want to be considered a jazz poet, blowing a long blues in an afternoon jam session on Sunday.”

In truth, I preferred Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “A Coney Island of the Mind” (Hutchinson, London, 1959) and Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”, but I still dig the last line of the 231st Chorus. It’s stuck with me for fifty years:

“When rock becomes air
I will be there.”

There's something memorable about this line too (104th Chorus):

"I'd rather be thin than famous".


My colleagues presented me with Jack's 3 CD boxed set when I left Sweden. I often play them here in Greece.

It didn't really matter to Jack what people thought of his blues choruses: 


"And if you don't like the tone
       of my poems
You can go jump in the lake."

(From Desolation Blues, 11th Chorus; Book of Blues)

Check out Tom Waits's two interpretations of a Kerouac lyric in the songs "Home I'll never be" and "On the Road".

Kerouac himself attributes the lyrics of these songs (the original blues) to an old blues singer he met in Des Moines:

"His songs were those mysterious rumbling, rambling blues that you hear with low-register guitar and unknown words rising out of the Deep South night like a groan, like a fire beyond the trees" ("The Rumbling, Rambling Blues", Playboy, January, 1958).

Kerouac "Home I'll Never Be" and YouTube version

And remember Jack's words:

“Take a chorus, it’s free! Blow one for me!"

Tom Waits talks about Kerouac, and sings

Kerouac, On the Road to Desolation

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