Posted on Wednesday 2 February 2011
remember when people blogged??!
I finished On the Road last evening, a Tuesday in early October 2007. It had languished unread for several weeks as I dealt with the beginning of writing class and had an unexpected surge in social activity after Jim Thomas moved to the area. Yesterday with work a little slow I decided to focus and sprint to the end, reading about half of the book between the afternoon and evening hours while Becca was off in the lab making her PhD research magic happen.
Basic impressions of this book: the language is extremely vivid and rich and unbelievably American. It seems dated, obviously, and its influence can no doubt be seen in all kinds of novels since, including the early Delillo (Americana) and Pynchon (Crying of Lot 49) that I’ve read, and obviously the other Beat writers, Hunter S. Thompson, etc. There’s an incredible motion, velocity, and kinetic energy to the words, a nonstop restlessness that really starts to carry you along if you surrender and let your eyes be drawn along the pages by it. The prose isn’t dense or difficult to untangle and there aren’t a wealth of big, bold ideas. What Kerouac gives instead are sketches of fascinating characters in America’s great cities at midcentury - San Francisco, Denver, New Orleans, and New York City primary among them - and a slowly unfolding and surprisingly deep exposition of the narrator’s evolving character and, most importantly, the impact of Dean Moriarty on the trajectory of his postwar years. There are unforgettable scenes, many of them. The one that springs to mind immediately for me is the one that spawned the term “beat generation” - Paradise and friends hedonistically banging back and forth in Denver between bars and parties and basement apartments, feverishly sharing ideas, standing on top of the world in the middle of the continent, poised as though on a knife’s edge between the two coasts, looking West at San Francisco and all the possibility that lies ahead, at least before the land runs out.
Moriarty is a very complex character, a rogue and a saint and a philosopher and a fool all in one, twice-divorced, thrice-married and living with his second wife, seemingly incapable of reining in his mischief for long. He steals cars and takes them for joyrides, inevitably runs off with the youngest or hottest girl in the room in every situation, and self-destructively runs from responsibility and stability whenever it starts to creep in around the edges of his life. Paradise is slowly drawn into his nonstop, “lessgo!” mode of living; he burns lots of bridges and trashes all his friendships and personal connections, bouncing back and forth between the coasts like a rubber ball, eventually bottoming out back in Denver, in Moriarty’s home town.
A BIT LATER: Just read Louis Menand’s article in the New Yorker this week regarding Kerouac’s/the beat’s place in American 20th century literature. Apparently he agrees with me regarding some of the above - he mentions the influence on Pynchon and Delillo (“Americana” mentioned by name) as well as Hunter S. Thompson. I guess that stuff is kind of obvious if you’re up at all on 20th century American fiction, but it was nice to see that I sort of know what I’m talking about, at least, without just aping what the New Yorker and Harpers say every week or month.
Menand also brings up the “boys wanting to hang with boys” theme that hovers around the periphery of the story. He makes a really good point: these guys drive across the country over and over again because it gives them a chance to spend time with one another in an exclusively male space, without drawing any unwanted attention to the potentially-homosexual vibe of it all. Kerouac doesn’t seem to explicitly crush out on Neal Cassady/Dean Moriarty, but he does have a kind of intellectual infatuation with him: he’s a muse for him, and for all of the beats. And moreover, he’s a link to the sixties, reappearing as the driver of Ken Kesey’s bus in Tom Wolfe’s “Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.” One more interesting thing that Menand points out is that “On the Road” is perhaps the earliest example of the nonfiction novel, published seven years or so before “In Cold Blood.” This is especially relevant since I’m taking a creative nonfiction writing class right now.
Strangely enough, I can count among my earliest memories the buzzsaw-and-angry-hornets sound of computer games loading into our Atari 800 home computer from cassette tape. What I never knew, until today, was that real live vinyl records have been released containing program data. kempa.com provides an entertaining and exhaustive overview of this weirdness, which was seemingly only perpetrated by British artists with a penchant for Lord Sinclair’s ZX Spectrum home computer.
I don’t know what’s more amazing: that artists included unlistenable, speaker-destroying sounds at the ends of their pop records (and in some cases even coded the games that those sounds represented!), or that record companies actually agreed to release them. But I can completely relate to the type of geek, lurking squarely at the intersection of music nerd and computer nerd, who would risk hearing loss to dub the squealing buzzes to cassette and feed them into their computers - even if the result was sometimes a King’s-Quest-style text adventure game starring the Thompson Twins!?!
Hey, that cylindrical-shaft-extending-to-infinity thing looks familiar! The image from my blog’s header is from a photo I took at Chateau de Chambord in France’s Loire Valley, aiming up toward the sky in one of the many wacked-out towers that King François I built there, presumably just because he could.
A band called Bront (or BRONT, I never really decided if it was all caps or not) almost existed once, back in 2003 or so, when Donny Pecano and I lived in the same neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY. We called the recently-constructed Slab Studios home, which was convenient for me since I lived 30 feet away in the same loft space.
Donny and I jammed out a number of tunes on guitar and drums. The idea, theoretically, was to have a two-piece where I’d play through multiple amps (guitar and bass, a la US Maple and no doubt countless other acts these days) and Donny would slam the hell out of the drum kit. We never did come up with any kind of vox concept for the band, nor did we play any shows — but we did have some catchy song titles!
Eventually Bront was reconfigured into the second AWSTA lineup, including Arthur Purvis and Ben West on guitars and bass. AWSTA played some pretty wild shows - and some mediocre ones too - and went on a small tour of the northeastern US, as the quaintly “slice of life” (i.e. not updated since 2005) page reveals.
I guess I forgot to renew the domain name bront.org at some point, because now it has pages about paintball and stuff. So, in honor of what never was, I hereby present to you, members of the universe, some songs that aren’t really finished but that you may enjoy anyway. Maybe some enterprising David Yow in training can karaoke some vocals onto these tunes and Bront will live again!
BRONT - 4trk demos.
Recorded at Slab Studios, Brooklyn, September - October 2003
For what it’s worth, I still think “ghost song” is a pretty badass song; with the right vocals it would be just the thing. “load up on the way down” has a great riff but we just didn’t get the feel so good on this take. And “dot kong” is another great riff in search of a song, but I still enjoy listening to the bendy crazy guitar noise in the breaks around 1:00 or so.