Poetry for the Beat Generation
Jack Kerouac Vo
Steve Allen P
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.