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Cherise Spins: Jack Kerouac and Steve Allen’s Poetry for the Beat Generation

In April 2016 I took a trip to Lowell, Massachusetts to visit my cousin Matt and his fiancé Evan.

Naturally, there was a lot of stuff I wanted to do and see. I wanted to explore more of Boston, go shopping at the Wrentham Outlets and get drunk and eat at cool bars and restaurants. But on this trip, there was one thing I absolutely had to do.

I needed to visit a cemetery.

No, nobody in my family had died. In fact, didn’t know the person I was paying my respects to personally. In fact, it wouldn’t even call it a “visit”. It was more like a pilgrimage.

I needed to pay my respects to Jack Kerouac.

I’m not going to go into a history lesson of the Beat writer. He’s pretty famous has continuously inspired generation after generation with his writing, with both its content and style. Today, he’s often considered a cliche, viewed as the patron saint of pretentious “hipster” culture and in some ways, perhaps he is. But that’s a label placed on him after his death, one I’m certain he’d never want. But no matter what other’s opinions are and were of him, I don’t care. Because no matter through what lens you viewed him, I will never deny or disregard the impact his work has had on my life, particularly in my adolescence and in my early writing.

I first discovered Kerouac through my obsession with Allan Ginsberg, who I, in turn, discovered from no other than Bob Dylan. At this time in my life, I was writing a lot of poetry and short stories and the Beat writers showed me that poetry didn’t have to be Shakespearian Sonnets. In fact, it could be in whatever style or form you wanted it to be. Rules don’t apply. There didn’t have to be abstract ideas, allegories or cliche metaphors. Poetry could be raw, confessional, personal and even political.

They got me excited to write things down. Some got published, much I just wrote for myself. But it didn’t matter either way. They helped me realize that writing was a weapon, a skill that I could foster and could take me anywhere and help me through anything. It was an epic epiphany to have at 16. It’s what pushed me to keep writing, to hone my skills, to take them to another level and become a journalist. Though there were, of course, other factors that led me down the path I went, I don’t really know how things would have panned out without the literary contributions of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs.

So when I visited his grave that sunny April day, I simply wanted to say “Thank you.”

This record is of Kerouac reading some of his poetry to the accompaniment of musician Steve Allen. This was gifted to me by Matt and Evan as a gift. It’s exclusive to Newbury Comics, a New England chain of comic/record stores. It’s also red tie-dye vinyl. Neato.

Some poetry is best spoken and I think that’s the case with a lot of the pieces on this record. Part of it is because of Kerouac’s read and pace. He has a wonderful voice and since it’s his work, he presents it in the tempo and style he intended it to be performed. Since this is only exclusive to the New England area, I suggest if you’re a Kerouac fan, snag it!

However, if you’re not. I suggest you start by reading some of his work.

My suggestions for newbies:
On The Road (DUH)
The Dharma Bums
The Book of Blues
Big Sur

Cherise Letson is the host of the Strange Grooves podcast. 

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Cherise is the co-host of the Strange Grooves podcast. She started collecting vinyl back in high school, but her love of classic rock and AM Radio hits goes back long before that. When she’s not listening to music, Cherise is the Associate Editor of Huddle Today, an online business publication that covers Atlantic Canada. She’s previously worked for CBC New Brunswick, The Canadian Press and the Telegraph-Journal, among other great publications.

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