Whispered treasures

Oct 20, 1999 at 12:00 am

This is the second CD in the Rykodisc Voices series that bears Jack Kerouac’s name. The first, Kicks Joy Darkness, a 1997 tribute featuring Matt Dillon, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the late Allen Ginsberg, the late Mark Sandman and Jim Carroll, was a celebration of the genuine article found on this CD. Jack Kerouac Reads On the Road is taken from recently discovered acetate recordings made in the 1950s, and they’re a treasure. His performances of "Ain’t We Got Fun" and "Come Rain or Shine" ooze with love of all of jazz, from the hot, pulsing center of its sound to the cold, ragged edges of its culture. Some of the tracks are touched by added music that sounds deceptively original. You can see Kerouac, the white college kid, hanging around nightclubs in Harlem, out of his element in some ways, but more in himself than most people will ever be. He is part Shakespeare, part bebop, part bum with a soft dream of a voice beating up Randall Jarrell with "Washington D.C. Blues," which Kerouac wrote at the poet’s house.

"Nobody knows the knowing/that can’t be known/But if they only knew/oo oo oo/I wish everybody knew/what I have known/They’d feel good/this afternoon."

The long, adding-machine tape, rambling liner notes – in imitative style – barely manage to narrate the story of the man behind the "pomes." Not that they need to. After 28 minutes of reading On the Road, Kerouac sings it, like a man who whispers because he is too drunk and tired to lie.

But honesty is not his magic, only a flawless, musical stream of consciousness that makes a listener willing to believe just about anything – except that Tom Waits and Primus have any business covering "On the Road" (the closing track).