Sunday, September 17, 2017

Kerouac On the Road - Cassady and The Dead - Part 1

In February 1949, Jack Kerouac visited Neal Cassady in San Francisco. They went to the Fillmore district to hear some music; much of their adventure appearing in On the Road, first published 60 years ago. The two found themselves in the midst of a musical paradise. The Fillmore district in the '40s and '50s was known as the "Harlem of the West," a jazz and R 'n'B hot spot with a dozen music clubs crammed into a tiny neighborhood. The Fillmore and Geary location would later become famous as Bill Graham's Fillmore Auditorium, butt hat was long after Cassady and Kerouac. No factual details exist, but reading into Kerouac's novel with a knowledge of Frisco, one can the put pieces together where they may have seen those artists like Lampshade and Slim Gaillard who appear in the manuscript. Kerouac, for instance, refers to a club called Jamson's Nook. Not a lot of imagination required to connect Jamson's Nook with a small jam club on Post and Buchannon, Jackson's Nook. Other clubs at the time included Vout City, right next to Jackson’s Nook, which later became Jimbo’s Bop City. What's interesting is that a connection with the Grateful Dead and Cassady was already in the works. Not only had Jerry Garcia's father played in many of the clubs that Kerouac visited with Cassady/Moriarty (years earlier, but a connection nonetheless), Garcia, with The Dead on most occasions, would play these clubs as well; venues like the Orpheum, the Warfield and the Family Dog near SF's Playland; a club Garcia's father would play when it was called Topsy's Roost. The point is, it's like The Six Degrees of Separation – more of AM's obsession with connections.

In a scene from On The Road, there's raucous musical passage with a wailing horn, a mad crowd, and Cassady/Moriarty in a "trance": "Dean was already racing across the street with his thumb in the air, yelling, 'Blow, man, blow!'… 'Whoo!' said Dean. He was rubbing his chest, his belly; the sweat splashed down from his face… Dean was directly in front of [the horn player] with his face lowered to the bell of the horn, clapping his hands, pouring sweat on the man's keys… Dean was in a trance."

A man in a hat, Larry Rivers, Kerouac, Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg
Kerouac and Cassady lived a jazz soundtrack in On The Road, and even more in Visions of Cody, which has one long section where they talk while listening to one jazz record after another. In one episode Cody (Cassady) plays Coleman Hawkins' 'Crazy Rhythm' and tells Jack Duluoz (Kerouac) to listen carefully while narrating the solos: "Listen to it, you're gonna hear the different things they play…listen to the man play the horn…did you hear that riff?...listen to Coleman, real open tone…here comes the alto again, now listen to the alto…hear him?...real sweet but he rocks…he'll play the same phrase again…watch him hang on it…here comes Coleman real low…” It's the kind of expose in music that I hope to have captured in Jay and the Americans, and more so in the upcoming novels Miles From Nowhere and its sequel Calif.

AM, though, isn't about literature and it's not about jazz, we are aficionados of both, but that's not who we are, so where’s the real connection?

Garcia, Circa '57
Jerry Garcia was in high school when On the Road was published and becoming attracted to the bohemian North Beach scene. He read Kerouac after a teacher recommended it, and called it "a germinal moment:" "As soon as On The Road came out, I read it and fell in love with it, the adventure, the romance of it, everything." A Kerouac album (spoken word LPs the author made, reading his works over a jazz soundtrack) also made a big impression on Garcia: "I recall in '59 hanging out with a friend who had a Kerouac record, and I remember being impressed – I'd read this stuff, but I hadn't heard it, the cadences, the flow, the kind of endlessness of the prose, the way it just poured off. It was really stunning to me. His way of perceiving music – the way he wrote about music and America – and the road, the romance of the American highway, it struck me. It struck a primal chord. It felt familiar, something I wanted to join in. It wasn't like a club, it was a way of seeing. It became so much a part of me that it's hard to measure; I can't separate who I am now from what I got from Kerouac. I don't know if I would ever have had the courage or the vision to do something outside with my life – or even suspected the possibilities existed – if it weren't for Kerouac opening those doors.” There’s your connection; to paraphrase Garcia, no Kerouac, no Dead.

In a musical interlude to this series, tomorrow we'll post The Dead's setlist standard "That's It For the Other One," the core to many a Dead show, and a tribute to the "Other One," Neil Cassady.