Liner Note Author: Gilbert Millstein.
Poetry for the Beat Generation marked Jack Kerouac's debut as a recording artist. Strangely enough, it was the by-product of a disastrous first show by Kerouac in an engagement at the Village Vanguard during December of 1957. For the second performance, Kerouac's friend Steve Allen provided the accompaniment at the piano, with results so impressive that it would lead Kerouac to a short but dazzling career as a recording artist. The first result was this album, which came at the suggestion of either Allen or his friend, producer Bob Thiele, who was working for Dot Records at the time. The record was cut in a single session and a single take for each piece. Allen's graceful piano opens the recording and Kerouac comes in, reading "October in the Railroad Earth" for seven minutes, off of a roll of paper in front of him. Kerouac's reading are in a class by themselves, and separate from Allen -- the two performances co-exist and weave together without ever really joining, and the result is a peculiar form of jazz; Kerouac did his thing, Allen did his, and the result was a spellbinding performance, and it was musical, despite Kerouac's seeming monotone reading, which never slowed or otherwise interacted with Allen's piano -- his voice dances to its own beat, with Allen embellishing and working around him; in the process, you get visions of various facets of Kerouac's work and personality, in extended pieces such as "October in the Railroad Earth" and short, piercing brilliant exclamations such as "Deadbelly" and "Charlie Parker." The resulting album, cut in March of 1958, was one of the crowning achievements in recording of the 1950s. But it so appalled Randy Wood, the president of Dot Records, with its meandering narrative and daring language and subject matter, that the release was canceled, with Wood denouncing the recording in the trade papers as tasteless and questionable. Somewhere over 100 promotional copies of the Dot album (catalog number 3154) had gotten out to disc jockeys and reviewers, however, thus making it one of the rarest LPs in the label's entire history. Thiele finally left the company over the dispute and he reclaimed the master tape -- it was on the Hanover label, formed with Allen (who was virtually a pop-culture institution at the time), that Poetry for the Beat Generation finally reached the public in June of 1959. It's still worth a listen now every bit as much as it was in 1959, and perhaps even more so. [Reissued on Rhino's Jack Kerouac Collection, with one bonus track.] ~ Bruce Eder
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