Thursday, November 11, 2010

On the (Dirty, Free, Beat) Road

One of my all time favorite authors/poets, Jack Kerouac, can be compared to the “Cup of Dirt” dessert. He was an individual, raw at the edges (and perhaps the core), who never took the painless or simple way out and looked at life as a never-ending journey. His life was gritty and imperfect, much like the “dirt,” with strong hints of sweetness that kept him breathing and existing every day. 
            The famously innovative and radical author was born on March 12, 1922 in Massachusetts. His first language was French-Canadian, which can be deduced from his surname, Kerouac. His writing career officially began with the publication of his first novel, The Town and the City, in 1950. Around this same time, Kerouac began to mix with a “group of New York based intellectuals” that included one of my other favorite poets, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs, while hanging around the Columbia campus. These characters were a part of the awesome Beat generation that Kerouac became a pioneer and spokesman for. He also became great friends with each of them. Jack was known as an iconoclast individual who lived his own way on his own terms. His mantras of life included drugs, sex, alcohol, poverty, and travel among many others. What I admire so much about him is that he lived life without limits, he was unafraid. Kerouac embraced unfamiliarity and innovation.
            He was a writer in the truest form. Kerouac was known to always carry a notebook around with him and wrote constantly. One of my all-time favorite novels of his, On the Road, is a largely autobiographical account of his road-trip adventures across America and Mexico in the late 1940s. The final draft of this truly brilliant novel was supposedly written by Kerouac in a mere 20 days. The published version was cut of several explicit passages that displayed Kerouac’s true genius. However, the edited version was still amazing and thought provoking. In 2007, Viking Press released a new edition of the novel entitled On the Road: The Original Scroll for the 50th anniversary of the original publication. This new edition is a transcription of the original draft that was typed by Kerouac and includes the sexually and drug-ly explicit passages that were previously removed. I have not read this version yet, but I am dying to! 
            Kerouac’s style is genius, raw, and real. It has energy that can be felt through the passages, deep within a reader’s soul and mind. He was heavily influenced by jazz, much like everyone else. (I mean, how could you not be? Jazz is just THAT amazing.) Kerouac referred to his style as “spontaneous prose” in how he truly rambled in his writing akin to a stream of consciousness. What is purely sensational about Kerouac’s writing is that it is primarily autobiographical. So many of his amazing passages were based on actual events, written with excitement and wonder. His style can be referred to as “free flowing prose,” and as an aspiring writer, I believe this to be utterly amazing and inspirational. Kerouac even created a set of guidelines for his style, Belief and Technique for Modern Prose. The list compiles thirty “essentials” to the style which some, I believe, can be applied simply to life in general.
            Although Kerouac was an amazing individual, known for his ingenuity, he suffered from a deep love of drugs and alcohol. Kerouac also became depressed, which I feel could have been due to the fact that he felt and lived with such intensity that it somehow hurt him. He succumbed to internal bleeding, due to extensive alcohol consumption, on October 21, 1969. Although he died at quite a young age, Kerouac left a style of writing among several brilliant novels that are cause for inspiration to this day. He has certainly influenced my life and thought process. I am enthused to travel and genuinely see and experience the world in its bona fide nature. Perhaps one day, my life should fit the bill, or plate of “Cup of Dirt,” much like Kerouac’s as I write of my imminent experiences and verve of life.
My favorite quote from On the Road: "I shambled after as I've been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes 'Awww!'"

A video of Jack Kerouac performing a bit of On the Road

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Chocolate: The Soul of Cake / Blues: The Soul of Music

Chocolate is to cake as Blues is to music: soulful, rich, and all-around amazing. It’s quite ironic that I use this analogy, for this post deals with the Black Arts Movement and its association with Blues music. A little chocolate thunder for you.
            Now, the BAM was a period that spanned the 1960s and 1970s in America and was considered the artistic branch of the Black Power Movement. Amiri Baraka is accredited with starting the movement in Harlem. Time Magazine described the movement as the “single most controversial moment in the history of African-American literature – possibly in American literature as a whole.” The most common form of expression during this time was through poetry, and this poetry was highly influenced by blues music. The Black Arts Movement deals with looking within an individual’s own background, history, race, tradition, and culture and pulling from those roots to establish an artistic style. The Black Arts, therefore, had influences of blues and jazz.
            Although this movement was short-lived and seemed the most unsuccessful of Renaissance artistic movements, it set the course for multiculturalism in America that successfully exists today. Now free expression of any race and culture is mostly accepted and even encouraged. This would not be possible without the inventive and revolutionary thinker, Amiri Baraka, among many others who contributed to the movement. Much like cake, which used to be very plain and unoriginal, is now used to express emotions and individuality through colors, flavors, messages, etc.
            The Blues style of music that was extremely influential in the Black Arts Movement, is still apparent in music today. Such an example of this influence is one band that I am simply falling in love with, The Black Keys. Consisting of Dan Auerbach (vocalist and guitarist) and Patrick Carney (drummer and producer), this blues-rock music duo is becoming highly more popular each day. Formed in 2001 in Akron, Ohio, the band has since released thirteen albums and EPs and sold 1.7 million records. TBK is said to have the same stylings and energy as Muddy Waters and Elmore James, famous blues artists. 
            This band is just one of many examples of the influence that Blues and the Black Arts Movement have on our culture and arts to this day. Like chocolate, these indulgences are hard to resist!

A little taste to stimulate your palate: