JACK KEROUAC
      Poetry for the Beat Generation
                     Recording Date:
                            March 1957

                           Jack Kerouac  Vo
                           Steve Allen     P


Review by Bruce Eder
Poetry for the Beat Generation marked Jack Kerouac's debut as a recording artist. Strangely enough, it was the by-product of a disastrous first show by Kerouac in an engagement at the Village Vanguard during December of 1957. For the second performance, Kerouac's friend Steve Allen provided the accompaniment at the piano, with results so impressive that it would lead Kerouac to a short but dazzling career as a recording artist. The first result was this album, which came at the suggestion of either Allen or his friend, producer Bob Thiele, who was working for Dot Records at the time. The record was cut in a single session and a single take for each piece. Allen's graceful piano opens the recording and Kerouac comes in, reading "October in the Railroad Earth" for seven minutes, off of a roll of paper in front of him. Kerouac's reading are in a class by themselves, and separate from Allen — the two performances co-exist and weave together without ever really joining, and the result is a peculiar form of jazz; Kerouac did his thing, Allen did his, and the result was a spellbinding performance, and it was musical, despite Kerouac's seeming monotone reading, which never slowed or otherwise interacted with Allen's piano — his voice dances to its own beat, with Allen embellishing and working around him; in the process, you get visions of various facets of Kerouac's work and personality, in extended pieces such as "October in the Railroad Earth" and short, piercing brilliant exclamations such as "Deadbelly" and "Charlie Parker." The resulting album, cut in March of 1958, was one of the crowning achievements in recording of the 1950s. But it so appalled Randy Wood, the president of Dot Records, with its meandering narrative and daring language and subject matter, that the release was canceled, with Wood denouncing the recording in the trade papers as tasteless and questionable. Somewhere over 100 promotional copies of the Dot album (catalog number 3154) had gotten out to disc jockeys and reviewers, however, thus making it one of the rarest LPs in the label's entire history. Thiele finally left the company over the dispute and he reclaimed the master tape — it was on the Hanover label, formed with Allen (who was virtually a pop-culture institution at the time), that Poetry for the Beat Generation finally reached the public in June of 1959. It's still worth a listen now every bit as much as it was in 1959, and perhaps even more so. [Reissued on Rhino's Jack Kerouac Collection, with one bonus track.]
The ultimate Beat Generation collectible on vinyl might be Jack Kerouac’s Poetry of the Beat Generation on Dot Records. Attempting to capitalize on the bestselling On the Road of the fall of 1957 as well as the West Coast craze for jazz poetry readings, Kerouac began a short, troubled career as a spoken word artist. In December 1957, Kerouac signed up for a multiple date engagement at the Village Vanguard. Kerouac lasted about a week. His first show was an out and out failure. Audiences failed to respond to Kerouac; Kerouac was nervous and unsure in his performance; and the musicians just did not mesh with Kerouac. In the second performance, Kerouac read with TV personality Steve Allen playing piano in the background. Kerouac found his voice and his sideman. The decision was made to cut an album. Kerouac and Allen worked with Allen’s friend Bob Thiele who was a producer at Dot Records.

Written by Jed Birmingham and published by RealityStudio on 22 March 2006.
Kerouac showed up at the recording studio with a bottle of rotgut wine and read with Steve Allen for about an hour. The recording engineer congratulated Kerouac on an excellent first take. Kerouac responded that it was the only take. According to the philosophy of spontaneous prose and first thought best thought, Kerouac sought to capture the spirit of his initial creation. Kerouac read both short and extended pieces. “October in the Railroad Earth” is especially wonderful. The entire LP is fresh and alive showing Kerouac to be an accomplished performer of his work. As an example of jazz poetry readings, Poetry of the Beat Generation might be the finest example and it remains to this day one of the best spoken word albums of all time.
It almost did not see the light of day. Randy Wood, Dot President, heard the record just before its release to the public. He was outraged by the frank language and subject matter. Today the record seems tame. Wood declared the record obscene and stated that he would not let his son listen to it. Wood believed that every record on his label had to be family entertainment and suitable for children. He ordered the record to be destroyed. Fortunately for collectors 130 copies (Dot 3154) were sent to reviewers before Wood’s announcement. Copies have survived over the years but the LP is incredibly rare. I saw a copy on eBay years ago that sold for a couple thousand dollars. I have not seen a copy since. Thiele and Allen left Dot Records with the master tape and formed Hanover Records. The Kerouac album was released intact on Hanover in June 1959. Kerouac released another LP on Hanover called Blues and Haikus with Zoot Sims. Soon after Kerouac released another LP on Verve titled Reading by Jack Kerouac on the Beat Generation. All these albums are highly sought after fetching $100-$200. These records are now available on CD on the Kerouac Collection set.

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