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Monday, April 12, 2010

One Fast Move Or I'm Gone: Kerouac Rip-Off Or A Great Album?

I first heard about Jack Kerouac as a small town kid attending a big city university.  I remember the cookie-cutter college "intellectuals" debating the merits of Kerouac's prose in an English department hallway and would later that same day hear the Beastie Boys reference "reading On The Road by my man Jack Kerouac" on their superb (and criminally underrated) Paul's Boutique album.  Given that I found myself in a stage of self-betterment, I decided to check out Kerouac and his best-known book - On The Road.   To be frank and truthful, I didn't get what all the fuss was about.  The book was a disjointed work that rambled on, lacked a compelling story line and was downright dull.  Apparently, that was the charm of the piece and was a style that inspired some of my subsequent favorite writers like Hunter Thompson (may he rest in peace).  However, my brief interest in Kerouac ended with On The Road, a book that I never did manage to finish as the boredom overtook me.

That was where my Kerouac exploration ended until recently when Son Volt frontman Jay Farrar embarked on his latest project, a soundtrack for a film based on one of Kerouac's last works - Big Sur. Both the film and the soundtrack bear the same name - One Fast Move Or I'm Gone: Kerouac's Big Sur. I learned of the project from a typical visit to Son Volt's website and was intrigued when I learned that Benjamin Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie fame was involved in the project with Farrar.  Despite piquing my interest, the project struck me as odd and I was worried that should I choose to pick up the soundtrack, it would be a collection of artsy, self-indulgent rubbish that would only be tolerable while watching the film, if at all.  I mean really, the unwarranted hype and mystique that has been bestowed upon Kerouac since his death and my disappointment with what many consider his best work, combined with Jay Farrar of whom I am a big fan, but also sometimes disappointed by, as he veers to the extremely morose and dull reaches of alt-country, combined with Benjamin Gibbard, who apart from my having heard of Death Cab For Cutie I knew nothing about, was cause for concern.  Kerouac's penchant for jazz also concerned me, as I worried that this record would be jazzy, or at least jazz-influenced, and if there's one thing Knox hates it's jazz.  Despite those reservations, my constant starvation for new music took over and I decided to download the album.

Let me tell you friends, this is where the surprises started.  First, I liked this project,  I mean REALLY liked it, even on the first listen.  The opener "California Zephyr" begins with simple guitar and Gibbard's clear, youthful and energetic voice combining perfectly to create a catchy, yet thoughtful song that is reflective of many songs on the album.  While I love Jay Farrar's work and most-often, enjoy his vocals, he can, much like Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, seem a bit too recognizable.  The best songs on this album are largely penned by Farrar (the music that is, as the bulk of the lyrics are taken from Kerouac and Big Sur)  and sung by Gibbard, with Farrar adding harmony vocals (an unreal combination by the way).  "These Roads Don't Move" and "All In One" are examples of this winning formula and are classics of the Americana/alt-country genre.  Exceptions to the rule are the Farrar-led "Low Life Kingdom", which is great, and the Gibbard-written (with Kerouac) "One Fast Move Or I'm Gone", which is the best song on the album.  The songs on the album are simple, yet intriguing, both in terms of the lyrics and the musicianship exhibited by the dynamic duo.  My next surprise was that the project inspired me to look more into Jack Kerouac, 20 years after I had first given him a whirl.  The third surprise was what I learned about the man when I did so.  Expecting an avowed leftist, given that his "beat" movement had supposedly inspired the generation of hippies that followed, I was shocked to learn that the rabidly individualistic Kerouac virtually despised hippie culture and purportedly held conservative/libertarian political views.

Both the record and my subsequent Kerouac research (if you can call my reading snippets around the internet "research") were inspiring enough to have me give Kerouac another whirl.  I ordered Big Sur, mainly because of the Farrar/Gibbard/Kerouac project, but also because I seem to be hooked on junkie rock star books and anything telling a tale of self-destruction and Big Sur is said to be a tale of grim alcoholism, written at a time when Kerouac himself was drowning in a bottle.  While it has yet to arrive, if the book is half as good as the spectacular album that it inspired, I am in for a treat indeed. 

Posted by Knox Harrington on April 12, 2010 | Permalink


Jack Kerouac met Tim Leary in Boston and they talked and ended up playing one on one hockey on the harvard ice rink-

Historic fact

Posted by: 419 | 2010-04-12 10:34:19 PM

In New York City on 3 Occasions I saw 3 Different Plays about
Jack Kerouac
by Playwright Larry Myers
This dramatist gets it!
some say he actually channels the Father of the Beats who actually hated Beats!

Posted by: Lance Michaels | 2010-04-14 10:28:11 AM

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