On the Road


Den amerikanske forfatter Jack Kerouac var beat-generationens førende krønikeskriver. Efter i en kort periode at have studeret på Columbia-universitet blev han berømt for sin spontane og ukonventionelle prosastil, især med romanen On the Road. Efter denne bogs succes udgav Kerouac en række tematisk og strukturelt lignende romaner, bl.a. The Dharma Bums, The Subterraneans, Desolation Angels og Big Sur. Hans løst strukturerede, selvbiografiske værker fortalte om et rastløst og omflakkende liv med varme, men stormfulde forhold og en dyb desillusionering, der blev dulmet med narkotika, alkohol, mysticisme og en bidende humor.

On the Road er en beskrivelse af de ture, som Kerouac (Sal Paradise i bogen) i slutningen af 1940'erne foretog på kryds og tværs af USA sammen med vennen Neal Cassady (Dean Moriarty i bogen). Kerouac var begyndt at eksperimentere med en mere fri skrivemåde, og han besluttede at skrive om sine ture, præcis som de havde fundet sted, uden redigering og uden egentlig at tænke. Han mødte op hos sin forlægger med manuskriptet i form af én lang rulle ubrudt papir, men forlæggeren delte ikke Kerouacs entusiasme, og samarbejdet blev afbrudt. Først syv år senere, i 1957, udkom bogen.

Kerouac og især Cassady dyrkede tidens fremherskende jazz-genre, bob, og i On the Road finder man fænomenale beskrivelser af jazz-koncerter, som Kerouac og Cassady overværede.  

The American writer Jack Kerouac was the leading chronicler of the Beat Generation. After a short spell at Columbia University he became famous for his spontaneous and  unconventional writing style, especially the novel On the Road. After the success of this book Kerouac published a number of thematically and structurally similar novels, e.g. The Dharma Bums, The Subterraneans, Desolation Angels and Big Sur. His loosely structured, auto-biographical works told of a restless and wandering life with warm but stormy relationships and a deep disillusionment that was relieved with drugs, alcohol, mysticism and a biting humour.

On the Road describes the trips across America that Kerouac (Sal Paradise in the book) in the late 1940s made with his friend Neal Cassady (Dean Moriarty in the book). Kerouac had begun experimenting with a more free way of writing and he decided to describe his trips exactly as they had happened, with no editing and without any thought. He turned up at his publisher's with the manuscript in the form of one long unbroken roll of paper, but his publisher did not share Kerouac's enthusiasm and their cooperation ended. Not until seven years later, in 1957, was the book published.

Kerouac and especially Cassady were into the dominant jazz genre of the day, bob, and in On the Road we find phenomenal descriptions of jazz concerts that Kerouac and Cassady went to.

[. . .] George Shearing, the great jazz pianist, Dean said, was exactly like Rollo Greb. Dean and I went to see Shearing at Birdland in the midst of the long, mad weekend. The place was deserted, we were the first customers, ten o'clock. Shearing came out, blind, led by the hand to his keyboard. He was a distinguished-looking Englishman with a stiff white collar, slightly beefy, blond, with a delicate English-summer's-night air about him that came out in the first rippling sweet number he played as the bass-player leaned to him reverently and thrummed the beat. The drummer, Denzil Best, sat motionless except for his wrists snapping the brushes. And Shearing began to rock; a smile broke over his ecstatic face; he began to  rock in the piano seat, back and forth, slowly at first, then the beat went up, and he began rocking fast, his left foot jumped up with every beat, his neck began to rock crookedly, he brought his face down to the keys, he pushed his hair back, his combed hair dissolved, he began to sweat. The music picked up. The bass-player hunched over and socked it in, faster and faster, it seemed faster and faster, that's all. Shearing began to play his chords; they rolled out of the piano in great rich showers, you'd think the man wouldn't have time to line them up. They rolled and rolled like the sea. Folks yelled for him to "Go!". Dean was sweating; the sweat poured down his collar. "There he is! That's him! Old God! Old God Shearing! Yes! Yes! Yes!" And Shearing was conscious of the madman behind him, he could hear every one of Dean's gasps and imprecations, he could sense it though he couldn't see. "That's right!" Dean said. "Yes!" Shearing smiled; he rocked. Shearing rose from the piano, dripping with sweat; these were his great 1949 days before he became cool and commercial. When he was gone Dean pointed to the empty piano seat. "God's empty chair," he said. On the piano a horn sat; it's golden shadow made a strange reflection among the desert caravan painted on the wall behind the drum. God was gone; it was the silence of his departure. [. . .]


[. . .] But one night we suddenly went mad together again; we went to see Slim Gaillard in a little Frisco nightclub. Slim Gaillard is a tall, thin Negro with big sad eyes who’s always saying, "Right-orooni" and "How ’bout a little bourbonorooni." In Frisco great eager crowds of young semi-intellectuals sat at his feet and listened to him on the piano, guitar, and bongo drums. When he gets warmed up he takes off his shirt and undershirt and really goes. He does and says anything that comes into his head. He’ll sing "Cement Mixer, Put-ti Put-ti" and suddenly slow down the beat and brood over his bongos with fingertips barely tapping the skin as everybody leans forward breathlessly to hear; you think he’ll do this for a minute or so, but he goes right on, for as long as an hour, making an imperceptible little noise with the tips of his fingernails, smaller and smaller all the time till you can’t hear it any more and sounds of traffic come in the open door. Then he slowly gets up and takes the mike and says, very slowly, "Great-orooni . . . fine-ovauti . . . hello-orooni . . . bourbon-orooni . . . all-orooni . . . how are the boys in the front row making out with their girls-orooni . . . orooni . . . vauti . . . oroonirooni...’ He keeps this up for fifteen minutes, his voice getting softer and softer till you can’t hear. His great sad eyes scan the audience.
    Dean stands in the back, saying. "God! Yes!" and clasping his hands in prayer and sweating. "Sal, Slim knows time, he knows time." Slim sits down at the piano and hits two notes, two Cs, then two more, then one, then two, and suddenly the big burly bass-player wakes up from a reverie and realizes Slim is playing "C-Jam Blues" and he slugs in his big forefinger on the string and the big booming beat begins and everybody starts rocking and Slim looks just as sad as ever, and they blow jazz for half an hour, and then Slim goes mad and grabs the bongos and plays tremendous rapid Cubana beats and yells crazy things in Spanish, in Arabic, in Peruvian dialect, in Egyptian, in every language he knows, and he knows innumerable languages. Finally the set is over; each set takes two hours. Slim Gaillard goes and stands against a post, looking sadly over everybody’s head as people come to talk to him. A bourbon is slipped into his hand. "Bourbon-orooni – thank-you-ovauti . . ." Nobody knows where Slim Gaillard is. Dean once had a dream that he was having a baby and his belly was all bloated up blue as he lay on the grass of a California hospital. Under a tree, with a group of colored men, sat Slim Gaillard. Dean turned despairing eyes of a mother to him. Slim said, "There you go-orooni." Now Dean approached him, he approached his God; he thought Slim was God; he shuffled and bowed in front of him and asked him to join us. "Right-orooni," says Slim: he’ll join anybody but he won’t guarantee to be there with you in spirit. Dean got a table, bought drinks, and sat stiffly in front of Slim. Slim dreamed over his head. Every time Slim said, "Orooni," Dean said, "Yes!" I sat there with these two madmen. Nothing happened. To Slim Gaillard the whole world was just one big orooni. [. . .]


[. . .] The girls came down and we started out on our big night, once more pushing the car down the street. "Wheeoo!! let’s go!" cried Dean, and we jumped in the back seat and clanked to the little Harlem on Folsom Street.
    Out we jumped in the warm, mad night, hearing a wild tenorman bawling horn across the way, going "EE-YAH EE-YAH! EE-YAH!" and hands clapping to the beat and folks yelling, "Go, go, go!" Dean was already racing across the street with his thumb in the air, yelling, "Blow, man, blow!" A bunch of colored men in Saturday-night suits were whooping it up in front. It was a sawdust saloon with a small bandstand on which the fellows huddled with their hats on, blowing over people’s heads, a crazy place; crazy floppy women wandered around sometimes in their bathrobes, bottles clanked in alleys. In back of the joint in a dark corridor beyond the splattered toilets scores of men and women stood against the wall drinking wine-spodiodi and spitting at the stars – wine and whisky. The behatted tenorman was blowing at the peak of a wonderfully satisfactory free idea, a rising and falling riff that went from "EE-yah!" to a crazier "EE-de-lee-yah!" and blasted along to the rolling crash of butt-scarred drums hammered by a big brutal Negro with a bullneck who didn’t give a damn about anything but punishing his busted tubs, crash, rattle-ti-boom, crash. Uproars of music and the tenorman had it and everybody knew he had it. Dean was clutching his head in the crowd, and it was a mad crowd. They were all urging that tenorman to hold it and keep it with cries and wild eyes, and he was raising himself from a crouch and going down again with his horn, looping it up in a clear cry above the furor. A six-foot skinny Negro woman was rolling her bones at the man’s hornbell, and he just jabbed it at her, "Ee! ee! ee!"
    Everybody was making and roaring. Galatea and Marie with beer in their hands were standing on their chairs, shaking and jumping. Groups of colored guys stumbled in from the street, falling over one another to get there. "Stay with it, man!" roared a man with a foghorn voice, and let out a big groan that must have been heard clear out in Sacramento, ah-haa! "Whoo!" said Dean. He was rubbing his chest, his belly; the sweat splashed from his face. Boom, kick, that drummer was kicking his drums down the cellar and rolling the beat upstairs with his murderous sticks, rattlety-boom! A big fat man was jumping on the platform, making it sag and creak. "Yoo!" The pianist was only pounding the keys with spread-eagled fingers, chords, at intervals when the great tenorman was drawing breath for another blast – Chinese chords, shuddering the piano in every timber, chink, and wire, boing! The tenorman jumped down from the platform and stood in the crowd, blowing around; his hat was over his eyes; somebody pushed it back for him. He just hauled back and stamped his foot and blew down a hoarse, baughing blast, and drew breath, and raised the horn and blew high, wide, and screaming in the air. Dean was directly in front of him with his face lowered to the bell of the horn, clapping his hands, pouring sweat on the man’s keys, and the man noticed and laughed in his horn a long quivering crazy laugh, and everybody else laughed and they rocked and rocked; and finally the tenorman decided to blow his top and crouched down and held a note in high C for a long time as everything else crashed along and the cries increased and I thought the cops would come swarming from the nearest precinct. Dean was in a trance. The tenorman’s eyes were fixed straight on him; he had a madman who not only understood but cared and wanted to understand more and much more than there was, and they began dueling for this; everything came out of the horn, no more phrases, just cries, cries, "Baugh" and down to "Beep!" and up to "EEEEE!’ and down to clinkers and over to sideways-echoing horn-sounds. He tried everything, up, down, sideways, upside down, horizontal, thirty degrees, forty degrees, and finally he fell back in somebody’s arms and gave up and everybody pushed around and yelled, "Yes! Yes! He blowed that one!" Dean wiped himself with his handkerchief.
    Then up stepped the tenorman on the bandstand and asked for a slow beat and looked sadly out the open door over people’s heads and began singing "Close Your Eyes." Things quieted down a minute. The tenorman wore a tattered suede jacket, a purple shirt, cracked shoes, and zoot pants without press; he didn’t care. He looked like a Negro Hassel. His big brown eyes were concerned with sadness, and the singing of songs slowly and with long, thoughtful pauses. But in the second chorus he got excited and grabbed the mike and jumped down from the bandstand and bent to it. To sing a note he had to touch his shoetops and pull it all up to blow, and he blew so much he staggered from the effect, and only recovered himself in time for the next long slow note. "Mu-u- u-usic pla-a-a-a-a-a-ay!" He leaned back with his face to the ceiling, mike held below. He shook, he swayed. Then he leaned in, almost falling with his face against the mike. "Ma-a-a-ake it dream-y for dan-cing" – and he looked at the street outside with his lips curled in scorn, Billie Holiday’s hip sneer – "while we go ro-man-n-n-cing" – he staggered sideways – "Lo-o-o-ove’s holida-a-ay" – he shook his head with disgust and weariness at the whole world – "Will make it seem" – what would it make it seem? everybody waited; he mourned – "Okay." The piano hit a chord. "So baby come on just clo-o-o-ose your pretty little ey-y-y-y-yes" – his mouth quivered, he looked at us, Dean and me, with an expression that seemed to say, Hey now, what’s this thing we’re all doing in this sad brown world? – and then he came to the end of his song, and for this there had to be elaborate preparations, during which time you could send all the messages to Garcia around the world twelve times and what difference did it make to anybody? because here we were dealing with the pit and prunejuice of poor beat life itself in the god-awful streets of man, so he said it and sang it, "Close – your –" and blew it way up to the ceiling and through to the stars and on out – "Ey-y-y-y-y-y-es" – and staggered off the platform to brood. He sat in the corner with a bunch of boys and paid no attention to them. He looked down and wept. He was the greatest.
    Dean and I went over to talk to him. We invited him out to the car. In the car he suddenly yelled, "Yes! ain’t nothin I like better than good kicks! Where do we go?" Dean jumped up and down in the seat, giggling maniacally. "Later! later!" said the tenorman. "I’ll get my boy to drive us down to Jamson’s Nook, I got to sing. Man, I live to sing. Been singin ’Close Your Eyes’ for two weeks – I don’t want to sing nothin else. What are you boys up to?" We told him we were going to New York in two days. "Lord, I ain’t never been there and they tell me it’s a real jumpin town but I ain’t got no cause complainin where I am. I’m married, you know." "Oh yes?" said Dean, lighting up. "And where is the darling tonight?"
    "What do you mean?" said the tenorman, looking at him out of the corner of his eye. "I tole you I was married to her, didn’t I?"
    "Oh yes, oh yes" said Dean. "I was just asking. Maybe she has friends? or sisters? A ball, you know, I’m just looking for a ball."
    "Yah, what good’s a ball, life’s too sad to be ballin all the time," said the tenorman. lowering his eye to the street. "Shh-eee-it!" he said. "I ain’t got no money and I don’t care tonight."
    We went back in for more. The girls were so disgusted with Dean and me for gunning off and jumping around that they had left and gone to Jamson’s Nook on foot; the car wouldn’t run anyway. We saw a horrible sight in the bar: a white hipster fairy had come in wearing a Hawaiian shirt and was asking the big drummer if he could sit in. The musicians looked at him suspiciously. "Do you blow?" He said he did, mincing. They looked at one another and said, "Yeah, yeah, that’s what the man does, shhh-ee-it!" So the fairy sat down at the tubs and they started the beat of a jump number and he began stroking the snares with soft goofy bop brushes, swaying his neck with that complacent Reichianalyzed ecstasy that doesn’t mean anything except too much tea and soft foods and goofy kicks on the cool order. But he didn’t care. He smiled joyously into space and kept the beat, though softly, with bop subtleties, a giggling, rippling, background for big solid foghorn blues the boys were blowing, unaware of him. The big Negro bullneck drummer sat waiting for his turn. "What that man doing?" he said. "Play the music!" he said. "What in hell!" he said. "Shh-ee-eet!" and looked away, disgusted.
    The tenorman’s boy showed up; he was a little taut Negro with a great big Cadillac. We all jumped in. He hunched over the wheel and blew the car clear across Frisco without stopping once, seventy miles an hour, right through traffic and nobody even noticed him, he was so good. Dean was in ecstasies. "Dig this my, man! dig the way he sits there and don’t move a bone and just balls that jack and can talk all night while he’s doing it, only thing is he doesn’t bother with talking, ah, man, the things, the things I could – I wish – oh, yes. Let’s go, let’s not stop – go now! Yes!" And the boy wound around a corner and bowled us right in front of Jamson’s Nook and was parked. A cab pulled up; out of it jumped a skinny, withered little Negro preacherman who threw a dollar at the cabby and yelled. "Blow!" and ran into the club and dashed right through the downstairs bar, yelling, "Blowblowblow!" and stumbled upstairs, almost falling on his face, and blew the door open and fell into the jazz-session room with his hands out to support him against anything he might fall on, and he fell right on Lampshade, who was working as a waiter in Jamson’s Nook that season, and the music was there blasting and blasting and he stood transfixed in the open door, screaming, "Blow for me, man, blow!" And the man was a little short Negro with an alto horn that Dean said obviously lived with his grandmother just like Tom Snark, slept all day and blew all night, and blew a hundred choruses before he was ready to jump for fair, and that’s what he was doing.
    "It’s Carlo Marx!" screamed Dean above the fury.
    And it was. This little grandmother’s boy with the taped-up alto had beady, glittering eyes; small crooked feet; spindly legs; and he hopped and flopped with his horn and threw his feet around and kept his eyes fixed on the audience (which was just people laughing at a dozen tables, the room thirty by thirty feet and low ceiling), and he never stopped. He was very simple in his ideas. What he liked was the surprise of a new simple variation of a chorus. He’d go from "ta-tup-tader-rara . . . ta-tup-tader-rara," repeating and hopping to it and kissing and smiling into his horn, to "ta-tup-EE-da-de-dera-RUP! ta-tup-EE-da-de-dera-RUP!" and it was all great moments of laughter and understanding for him and everyone else who heard. His tone was clear as a bell, high, pure, and blew straight in our faces from two feet away. Dean stood in front of him, oblivious to everything else in the world, with his head bowed, his hands socking in together, his whole body jumping on his heels and the sweat, always the sweat, pouring and splashing down his tormented collar to lie actually in a pool at his feet. Galatea and Marie were there, and it took us five minutes to realize it. Whoo, Frisco nights, the end of the continent and the end of doubt, all dull doubt and tomfoolery, good-by. Lampshade was roaring around with his trays of beer; everything he did was in rhythm; he yelled at the waitress with the beat; "Hey now, babybaby, make a way, make a way, it’s Lampshade comin your way," and he hurled by her with the beers in the air and roared through the swinging doors into the kitchen and danced with the cooks and came sweating back. The hornman sat absolutely motionless at a corner table with an untouched drink in front of him, staring gook-eyed into space, his hands hanging at his sides till they almost touched the floor, his feet outspread like lolling tongues, his body shriveled into absolute weariness and entranced sorrow and what-all was on his mind: a man who knocked himself out every evening and let the others put the quietus to him in the night. Everything swirled around him like a cloud. And that little grandmother’s alto, that little Carlo Marx, hopped and monkeydanced with his magic horn and blew two hundred choruses of blues, each one more frantic than the other, and no signs of failing energy or willingness to call anything a day. The whole room shivered.
    On the corner of Fourth and Folsom an hour later I stood with Ed Fournier, a San Francisco alto man who waited with me while Dean made a phone call in a saloon to have Roy Johnson pick us up. It wasn’t anything much, we were just talking, except that suddenly we saw a very strange and insane sight. It was Dean. He wanted to give Roy Johnson the address of the bar, so he told him to hold the phone a minute and ran out to see, and to do this he had to rush pell-mell through a long bar of brawling drinkers in white shirtsleeves, go to the middle of the street, and look at the post signs. He did this, crouched low to the ground like Groucho Marx, his feet carrying him with amazing swiftness out of the bar, like an apparition, with his balloon thumb stuck up in the night, and came to a whirling stop in the middle of the road, looking everywhere above him for the signs. They were hard to see in the dark, and he spun a dozen times in the road, thumb upheld, in a wild, anxious silence, a wild-haired person with a ballooning thumb held up like a great goose of the sky, spinning and spinning in the dark, the other hand distractedly inside his pants. Ed Fournier was saying, "I blow a sweet tone wherever I go and if people don’t like it ain’t nothin I can do about it. Say, man, that buddy of yours is a crazy cat, looka him over there" – and we looked. There was a big silence everywhere as Dean saw the signs and rushed back in the bar, practically going under someone’s legs as they came out and gliding so fast through the bar that everybody had to do a double take to see him. A moment later Roy Johnson showed up, and with the same amazing swiftness. Dean glided across the street and into the car, without a sound. We were off again.
    "Now, Roy, I know you’re all hung-up with your wife about this thing but we absolutely must make Forty-sixth and Geary in the incredible time of three minutes or everything is lost. Ahem! Yes! (Cough-cough.) In the morning Sal and I are leaving for New York and this is absolutely our last night of kicks and I know you won’t mind."
    No, Roy Johnson didn’t mind; he only drove through every red light he could find and hurried us along in our foolishness. At dawn he went home to bed. Dean and I had ended up with a colored guy called Walter who ordered drinks at the bar and had them lined up and said, "Wine-spodiodi!" which was a shot of port wine, a shot of whisky, and a shot of port wine, "Nice sweet jacket for all that bad whisky!" he yelled.
    He invited us to his home for a bottle of beer. He lived in the tenements in back of Howard. His wife was asleep when we came in. The only light in the apartment was the bulb over her bed. We had to get up on a chair and unscrew the bulb as she lay smiling there; Dean did it, fluttering his lashes. She was about fifteen years older than Walter and the sweetest woman in the world. Then we had to plug in the extension over her bed, and she smiled and smiled. She never asked Walter where he’d been, what time it was, nothing. Finally we were set in the kitchen with the extension and sat down around the humble table to drink the beer and tell the stories. Dawn. It was time to leave and move the extension back to the bedroom and screw back the bulb. Walter’s wife smiled and smiled as we repeated the insane thing all over again. She never said a word.
    Out on the dawn street Dean said, "Now you see, man, there’s real woman for you. Never a harsh word, never a complaint, or modified; her old man can come in any hour of the night with anybody and have talks in the kitchen and drink the beer and leave any old time. This is a man, and that’s his castle." He pointed up at the tenement. We stumbled off. The big night was over. [. . .]


[. . .] Great Chicago glowed red before our eyes. We were suddenly on Madison Street among hordes of hobos, some of them sprawled out on the street with their feet on the curb, hundreds of others milling in the doorways of saloons and alleys. "Wup! wup! look sharp for old Dean Moriarty there, he may be in Chicago by accident this year." We let out the hobos on this street and proceeded to downtown Chicago. Screeching trolleys, newsboys, gals cutting by, the smell of fried food and beer in the air, neons winking – "We’re in the big town, Sal! Whooee!" First thing to do was park the Cadillac in a good dark spot and wash up and dress for the night. Across the street from the YMCA we found a redbrick alley between buildings, where we stashed the Cadillac with her snout pointed to the street and ready to go, then followed the college boys up to the Y, where they got a room and allowed us to use their facilities for an hour. Dean and I shaved and showered, I dropped my wallet in the hall, Dean found it and was about to sneak it in his shirt when he realized it was ours and was right disappointed. Then we said good-by to those boys, who were glad they’d made it in one piece, and took off to eat in a cafeteria. Old brown Chicago with the strange semi-Eastern, semi-Western types going to work and spitting. Dean stood in the cafeteria rubbing his belly and taking it all in. He wanted to talk to a strange middle-aged colored woman who had come into the cafeteria with a story about how she had no money but she had buns with her and would they give her butter. She came in flapping her hips, was turned down, and went out flipping her butt. "Whoo!" said Dean. "Let’s follow her down the street, let’s take her to the ole Cadillac in the alley. We’ll have a ball." But we forgot that and headed straight for North Clark Street, after a spin in the Loop, to see the hootchy-kootchy joints and hear the bop. And what a night it was. "Oh, man," said Dean to me as we stood in front of a bar, "dig the street of life, the Chinamen that cut by in Chicago. What a weird town – wow, and that woman in that window up there, just looking down with her big breasts hanging from her nightgown, big wide eyes. Whee. Sal, we gotta go and never stop going till we get there."
    "Where we going, man?"
    "I don’t know but we gotta go." Then here came a gang of young bop musicians carrying their instruments out of cars. They piled right into a saloon and we followed them. They set themselves up and started blowing. There we were! The leader was a slender, drooping, curly-haired, pursy-mouthed tenorman, thin of shoulder, draped loose in a sports shirt, cool in the warm night, self-indulgence written in his eyes, who picked up his horn and frowned in it and blew cool and complex and was dainty stamping his foot to catch ideas, and ducked to miss others – and said, "Blow," very quietly when the other boys took solos. Then there was Prez, a husky, handsome blond like a freckled boxer, meticulously wrapped inside his sharkskin plaid suit with the long drape and the collar falling back and the tie undone for exact sharpness and casualness, sweating and hitching up his horn and writhing into it, and a tone just like Lester Young himself. "You see, man, Prez has the technical anxieties of a money-making musician, he’s the only one who’s well dressed, see him grow worried when he blows a clinker, but the leader, that cool cat, tells him not to worry and just blow and blow – the mere sound and serious exuberance of the music is all he cares about. He’s an artist. He’s teaching young Prez the boxer. Now the others dig!" The third sax was an alto, eighteen-year-old cool, contemplative young Charlie-Parker-type Negro from high school, with a broadgash mouth, taller than the rest, grave. He raised his horn and blew into it quietly and thoughtfully and elicited birdlike phrases and architectural Miles Davis logics. These were the children of the great bop innovators.
    Once there was Louis Armstrong blowing his beautiful top in the muds of New Orleans; before him the mad musicians who had paraded on official days and broke up their Sousa marches into ragtime. Then there was swing, and Roy Eldridge, vigorous and virile, blasting the horn for everything it had in waves of power and logic and subtlety – leaning to it with glittering eyes and a lovely smile and sending it out broadcast to rock the jazz world. Then had come Charlie Parker, a kid in his mother’s woodshed in Kansas City, blowing his taped-up alto among the logs, practicing on rainy days, coming out to watch the old swinging Basie and Benny Moten band that had Hot Lips Page and the rest – Charlie Parker leaving home and coming to Harlem, and meeting mad Thelonius Monk and madder Gillespie – Charlie Parker in his early days when he was flipped and walked around in a circle while playing. Somewhat younger than Lester Young, also from KC, that gloomy, saintly goof in whom the history of jazz was wrapped; for when he held his horn high and horizontal from his mouth he blew the greatest; and as his hair grew longer and he got lazier and stretched-out, his horn came down halfway; till it finally fell all the way and today as he wears his thick-soled shoes so that he can’t feel the sidewalks of life his horn is held weakly against his chest, and he blows cool and easy getout phrases. Here were the children of the American bop night.
    Stranger flowers yet – far as the Negro alto mused over everyone’s head with dignity, the young, tall, slender, blond kid from Curtis Street, Denver, jeans and studded belt, sucked on his mouthpiece while waiting for the others to finish; and when they did he started, and you had to look around to see where the solo was coming from, for it came from angelical smiling lips upon the mouthpiece and it was a soft, sweet, fairy-tale solo on an alto. Lonely as America, a throatpierced sound in the night.
    What of the others and all the soundmaking? There was the bass-player, wiry redhead with wild eyes, jabbing his hips at the middle with every driving slap, at hot moments his mouth hanging open trancelike. "Man, there’s a cat who can really bend his girl!" The sad drummer, like our white hipster in Frisco Folsom Street, completely goofed, staring into space, chewing gum, wide-eyed, rocking the neck with Reich kick and complacent ecstasy. The piano – a big husky Italian truck-driving kid with meaty hands, a burly and thoughtful joy. They played an hour. Nobody was listening. Old North Clark bums lolled at the bar, whores screeched in anger. Secret Chinamen went by. Noises of hootchy-kootchy interfered. They went right on. Out on the sidewalk came an apparition – a sixteen-year-old kid with a goatee and a trombone case. Thin as rickets, mad-faced, he wanted to join this group and blow with them. They knew him and didn’t want to bother with him. He crept into the bar and surreptitiously undid his trombone and raised it to his lips. No opening. Nobody looked at him. They finished, packed up, and left for another bar. He wanted to jump, skinny Chicago kid. He slapped on his dark glasses, raised the trombone to his lips alone in the bar, and went "Baugh!" Then he rushed out after them. They wouldn’t let him play with them, just like the sandlot football team in back of the gas tank. "All these guys live with their grandmothers just like Tom Snark and our Carlo Marx alto," said Dean. We rushed after the whole gang. They went into Anita O’Day’s club and there unpacked and played till nine o’clock in the morning. Dean and l were there with beers.
    At intermissions we rushed out in the Cadillac and tried to pick up girls all up and down Chicago. They were frightened of our big, scarred, prophetic car. In his mad frenzy Dean backed up smack on hydrants and tittered maniacally. By nine o’clock the car was an utter wreck; the brakes weren’t working any more; the fenders were stove in; the rods were rattling. Dean couldn’t stop it at red lights, it kept kicking convulsively over the roadway. It had paid the price of the night. It was a muddy boot and no longer a shiny limousine. "Whee!" The boys were still blowing at Neets’.
    Suddenly Dean stared into the darkness of a corner beyond the bandstand and said, "Sal, God has arrived."
    I looked. George Shearing. And as always he leaned his blind head on his pale hand, all ears opened like the ears of an elephant, listening to the American sounds and mastering them for his own English summer’s-night use. Then they urged him to get up and play. He did. He played innumerable choruses with amazing chords that mounted higher and higher till the sweat splashed all over the piano and everybody listened in awe and fright. They led him off the stand after an hour. He went back to his dark corner, old God Shearing, and the boys said, "There ain’t nothin left after that."
    But the slender leader frowned. "Let’s blow anyway."
    Something would come of it yet. There’s always more, a little further – it never ends. They sought to find new phrases after Shearing’s explorations; they tried hard. They writhed and twisted and blew. Every now and then a clear harmonic cry gave new suggestions of a tune that would someday be the only tune in the world and would raise men’s souls to joy. They found it, they lost, they wrestled for it, they found it again, they laughed, they moaned – and Dean sweated at the table and told them to go, go, go. At nine o’clock in the morning everybody – musicians, girls in slacks, bartenders, and the one little skinny, unhappy trombonist – staggered out of the club into the great roar of Chicago day to sleep until the wild bop night again. [. . .]

Copyright Jack Kerouac 1955, 1957
Reproduced here under educational Fair Use laws

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