Our current KEXP Documentary series, “Poets and Music,” explores the ways that poetry writers can work with musicians. Artists like William S. Burroughs, Jim Carroll, Saul Williams and Ursula Rucker made their names adding live instruments to their recordings. Jack Kerouac, “The King of The Beats,” was famous for recording with jazz artists. He also wrote many poems about music. Like this one on Charlie Parker:
Charlie Parker looked like Buddha
Charlie Parker, who recently died
Laughing at a juggler on the TV
After weeks of strain and sickness,
Was called the Perfect Musician.
And his expression on his face
Was as calm, beautiful, and profound
As the image of the Buddha
Represented in the East, the lidded eyes
The expression that says “All Is Well”
This was what Charlie Parker
Said when he played, All is Well.
You had the feeling of early-in-the-morning
Like a hermit’s joy, or
Like the perfect cry of some wild gang
At a jam session,
Charlie burst his lungs to reach the speed
Of what the speedsters wanted
And what they wanted
Was his eternal Slowdown.
While performing his poems Kerouac spoke musically. Speaking not only words but sounds, he ran his voice tonally up and down his own unique speaking scale. His best-selling novel, On the Road, demonstrated a whole new language for the Beat Generation. A movement from the 1950’s that would spark a much more political movement called the “hippies” or “beatniks.” Meet the man behind the legend in this short radio story.
KEXP Documentaries are created by Michele Myers with assistance from John Felthous, Tiffany Grobelski, Mary Janisch and Executive Producer Kevin Cole. If you would like to follow along more closely in the creation of these radio stories, we post research materials, songs and videos on our Facebook page and on Twitter.