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Posted: 2015 01-12


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Happy Birthday Jack Kerouac You're the flow that broke the dam, I am A Holy Trinity from Cody to Roady

Poor ol’ Jack.  Sadsack, Jack.  No smooth Sam, that Jack, I am.  Stammering shy of a guy.   As Uncle Steve helps sooth his soul.  Oh, nervous Jack, gentle Jack, where for art thou, Holy Jack?

This is the one and only time Kerouac’s captured on camera reading, and it’s his epic no less.  Well, actually, it’s not even.  The first two paragraphs are from different parts of Visions of Cody, then there’s a new bridge just for the show before he reads the climactic paragraph of On The Road.

This is movie-star gorgeous Jack before the bloated babbling Jack, dressed up in unnatural suit jack', doing the only TV show in his 1950s prime, with a very “sympathetic” Steve Allen.  He was so close to Jack, the only time Steve ever appeared on stage to talk about him, he broke down mid-way through.

They recorded a landmark studio album together, probably the best recorded readings Jack ever did, with Steve improvising on piano and Jack working from a suitcase of scattered pages.  This national TV broadcast was a little less comfortable.  “You nervous now, Jack?”  “Nooo.”  

Steve Allen was the original host of The Tonight Show, now with his own hit show, and here's this paralyticly stage-frightened writer who only barely did it cuz it was brother Steve.  And the poor guy's just gasping for air.  

But then he comes to life.

After the painfully nervous opening, once he starts focusing on the typewritten words he leaves this Earth into his own groove and flow.  He voices the melodic horn player he hears in words, flowing with his most natural twin brother accompanist.  Hear the ragged, riffin', happy Beat.  By the time he hits the climactic paragraph — cued by a distinct hand-sweeping “Gone!” — he goes into The Zone.  His Zone.  Jack's World.  The flow that broke the dam.  


The opening intro by Steve Allen shows how that man just channeled music, and maybe it’s why he loved Jack and his musical writing so much.  How Steve improvises this special intro, using both words and piano to say what he’s saying, is white negro, to use Mailer's phrase of the time.

Off-stage you hear the Steve Miller Band.  I mean, the Steve Allen Band — electric guitar, another piano, bass and drums.  As such, this is prolly the best musical accompaniment Jack ever had.  His readings were later set to nice arrangements, like the masterpiece audio track to Pull My Daisy, or more recently by Tom Waits, Primus and so many others, but this is his best live musical accompaniment in existence.

This is a slightly edited version of the interview, but it's all the best parts, and the entire reading.

Why Jack chose these three paragraphs is unknown, but they’re each poetic visions of God and the Spirit.  It’s a Holy Cut-up Trinity from Cody and Roady.

Aficionados Note:  The little extra “Gone!” with his gentle gracious wave in between Dean's motheaten departure around Seventh Avenue and before the final “So in America…” paragraph.

R.I.P. —  Jack Kerouac — 1922 – 1969  (and so much longer) 



Guest's picture

A wonderful, accurate and beautifully written description of a historic broadcast!


Phil in S.C.

Guest's picture

Well, of course, you do it best!

Pity, tho, Jack had had a few before the show but, as you say, he did get into it. Funny, but when Steve Allen was in that awful film, supposed to be about my book, I went up to him hoping to talk to him. He absolutely panicked and raced by me. Wha??

Do you have a copy of my little remnant of a recording of Neal and Jack I managed to save? It was 1952 when both in their prime. One of my most precious possessions (tho the original in now in the British Library).

Anyway, lovely lad — sure miss you.

Lots of love,
Carolyn Cassady

Guest's picture

"I have completely reached my peak maturity now and am blowing such mad poetry and literature that I'll look back years later with amazement and chagrin..." (Jack Kerouac letter to John Holmes, March 12, 1952.)

JK was wild at 30 ... I wonder if he could blow out 88 candles today? Piece of cake!
Thank you for this daily feature, Mr. Hassett.

--Andrew Lampert, Washington DC

Guest's picture

"Nice work!"

Aye aye, capn'.
miss yr voice, Bri.
luv yr muse ic
work 2.


Sloy in Oregon

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