The first time I really noticed Kerouac, he was a dog belonging to Nick Nolte’s homeless character in the film comedy Down and Out in Beverly Hills.  For some reason, I remembered that dog’s name as the name of some famed writer who’d written a book called On the Road, which I hadn’t yet read but my young mind vaguely associated with the film Easy Rider.  Hadn’t read a whole lot of literature at that time in my life – but I was intrigued enough by that dog to visit the local library and investigate his namesake further.

Jack Kerouac

Since then, in college, after college, before prison, in prison, I read lots of Kerouac.  Enthralled I was….  The Dharma Bums, Visions of Gerard, Dr. Sax, Mexico City Blues, you name it….  But then I kinda put him behind me in the 21st century.  “All things must pass away,” as George Harrison sang.  And to paraphrase the Who, a part of me died before I got old.  Did it?  Then I recently discovered a CD called Kerouac: Kicks Joy Darkness at a nearby library.  It features a wild ménage of artists reading, singing, and even wringing Kerouac’s poetry.  25 tracks in all….  Right now, I’m listening to Patti Smith, Lenny Kaye and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore’s live performance of Jack’s “The Last Hotel” on that CD.  Makes me want to STFU….  Warren Zevon, Michael Stipe, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Morphine, Joe Strummer, Allen Ginsberg, Steven Tyler, Hunter S. Thompson, Jeff Buckley, William S. Burroughs, John Cale, Robert Hunter, and even Richard Lewis are among the other contributors – all Jacking, Kerouacking, all over this CD.

One of my favorite tracks on the disc finds Maggie Estep and the Spitters interpreting Kerouac’s “Skid Row Wine.”  And I’ve uploaded that track here for your listening pleasure.  Just click the little triangle thingy in the black box to hear the podcast (if you received this blog via e-mail, you can click the Media link in your message).

[“Skid Row Wine” (words by Jack Kerouac, music by Maggie Estep, Mark Ashwill, Tim Bradee, Louis Echavaria, Bill Bronson)  Published by Duluoz Publishing, Inc. (ASCAP).  Maggie Estep appears courtesy of Mouth Almighty / Mercury Records.  Track is copyright 1997 by Rykodisc.]

Jack Kerouac was no ordinary dog.  And though this über-dog has had his day, his day is not done – by a long shot.  Here is the text to “Skid Row Wine,” followed by links where you can buy the CD Kerouac: Kicks Joy Darkness (and other Kerouac works I recommend) from my Amazon bookstore.

I could have done a lot worst than sit
In Skid Row drinkin wine

To know that nothing really matters after all
To know there’s no real difference
Between the rich and the poor
To know that eternity is neither drunk
nor sober, to know it young
and to be a poet

Coulda gone into business and ranted
And believed that God was concerned

Instead I squatted in lonesome alleys
And nobody saw me, just my bottle
And what they saw of it was empty

And I did it in cornfields & graveyards

To know that the dead don’t make noise
To know that the cornstalks talk (among
One another with raspy old arms)

Sitting in alleys diggin the neons
And watching cathedral custodians
Wring out their rags neath the church steps

Sitting and drinking wine
And in railyards being divine

To be a millionaire & yet prefer
Curlin up with a poorboy of tokay
In a warehouse door, facing long sunsets
On railroad fields of grass

To know that the sleepers in the river
Are dreaming vain dreams, to squat
In the night and know it well

To be dark solitary eye-nerve watcher
Of the world’s whirling diamond

                    – Jack Kerouac


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