Customer Review

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb tribute to Kerouac, September 7, 2006
This review is from: Kerouac: Kicks Joy Darkness (Audio CD)
Kerouac enthusiasts are well-served with recordings of their master's work read by others. I can think of several such albums already available, mainly of his well known books: On The Road, The Dharma Bums, Visions of Cody, Big Sur, and Mexico City Blues. There are also Jack's own recordings, released on a 3-CD Rhino Records set, in which he tends to explore more unfamiliar territory, such as his Pomes All Sizes, Old Angel Midnight, and Book of Blues, with just the occasional excursion into the more familiar realms of The Subterraneans, Desolation Angels, Lonesome Traveler, and Visions of Cody.

Such is the case with this tribute CD from Rykodisc where the producer (and nephew of Jack's last wife) Jim Sampas, has deliberately chosen more unfamiliar texts for the galaxy of star talents on this release to read. The reasoning behind this decision was apparently to show Kerouac in a different light, and to demonstrate the wide range of his different styles. In this objective Sampas has succeeded admirably.

Accordingly, there are readings of the more obscure items from Pomes All Sizes and Book of Blues as well as four texts which have never before been published: Brooklyn Bridge Blues, America's New Trinity of Love: Dean, Brando, Presley, and two dreams: "On a Sunny Afternoon...", and "Us Kids Swim Off a Great Pier". The excellent 32-page booklet includes the full text of all the readings, and so represents the first publication of these items. It also has some photos of Jack, and paintings by him which have not been widely seen.

So, who is reading the texts? A host of talent from the worlds of music, film and literature. The late Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs are present, as are Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Hunter S Thompson and Jim Carroll. The musician readers include R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe, Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, Patti Smith, John Cale, Warren Zevon, the Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, Eric Anderson and Julia Hatfield. Other musicians, such as Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, ex-10,000 Maniacs guitarist Rob Buck, and Jeff Buckley provide backings for the readers. From the land of film and stage come Johnny Depp and Matt Dillon, as well as comedian Richard Lewis. There's even a previously unheard recording of Kerouac himself, reading from his MacDougal Street Blues, with over-dubbed bass, synth and guitar by Joe Strummer. Jack can also be heard in the background of Robert Hunter's reading from Visions of Cody, skatting "A Foggy Day in London Town" from a rare tape recorded at the Cassady's home in 1952.

What of the readings? Well, they cover a wide range of interpretations, from the stark Lydia Lunch on Bowery Blues and the wild Maggie Estep on Skid Row Wine to the child-like rendition by Julia Hatfield of Silly Goofball Pomes, and the improvisation of Patti Smith on The Last Hotel, the poem of Jack's which always reminds me of Arthur Rimbaud. The readers I most enjoyed were those who sounded like Jack and who phrased like Jack, since I truly believe that no one can read Kerouac as well as Kerouac did. Accordingly, my favorite reader has to be Lee Ranaldo, who delivers a magnificent reading of a letter to John Clellon Holmes in which Jack is telling of his encounter with the beautiful "Good Blonde" who gave him a lift up the west coast in 1955. I could listen to that voice reading Kerouac all day long. All night too. Runners up in this category would have to be Robert Hunter (Visions of Cody), Warren Zevon (Running Through - Chinese Poem Song), and Matt Dillon (Mexican Loneliness).

Allen Ginsberg does a fine reading of the previously unseen Brooklyn Bridge Blues, recorded at the Town Hall, NYC, in 1995. Only 8˝ of the total of 10 choruses were read by Allen because, on the day, the last page had somehow become lost. To rectify this shortcoming, Eric Anderson can be heard performing the missing 1˝ choruses on a separate track, from the top of the Brooklyn Bridge, no less, with the sounds of the traffic passing by.

As well as the Kerouac readings, two of the tracks feature new material. The band Morphine perform "Kerouac", their own tribute to the man, and Hunter S Thompson, after reading a short extract from one of Jack's letters to William Burroughs, adds his own "Ode to Jack" in homage to his hero.

The musical accompaniments cover a wide spectrum of styles. No jazz, which Jack preferred, and which backed some of his own recordings, but rock sounds of varying intensities and complexities. I still reckon that Jack would have approved.

The CD as a whole presents a vast variety of content, reading styles and musical accompaniments, all fitted together in a pleasing sequence that would be hard to beat. The playing time is extremely generous at 79˝ minutes, and the complete package is indeed a fine tribute to Jack Kerouac. Producer Jim Sampas is to be congratulated in putting it all together. Let's hope that this is but the first of many such projects.
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