KEROUAC WAS INTO JAZZ. HE DUG IT HARD and I bet he loved that good ol’ southern blues beat as well. Seems like in On the Road whenever Kerouac mentioned drinking in bars, there was always music. He always mentioned the music.
“Once there was Louis Armstrong blowing his beautiful top in the muds of New Orleans; before him the mad musicians who had paraded on official days and broke up their Sousa marches into ragtime. Then there was swing, and Roy Eldridge, vigorous and virile, blasting the horn for everything it had in waves of power and logic and subtlety – leaning to it with glittering eyes and a lovely smile and sending it out broadcast to rock the jazz world. Then had come Charlie Parker, a kid in his mother’s woodshed in Kansas City, blowing his taped-up alto among the logs, practicing on rainy days… Charlie Parker leaving home and coming to Harlem, and meeting mad Thelonious Monk and madder Gillespie … Here were the children of the American bop night.” – On the Road
Now I don’t know much about this jazz bebop stuff, I can sure appreciate it and I love to hear those horns wail, I just don’t know squat about it. But I do know something about bluegrass and folk. The way the fiddles melt in with the banjo and get picked up by the bass drum drum drumming in the background to set the beat, toes tapping, legs tapping, next thing you know your up on your feet hoppin’ around and wiggling your hips and throwing up your arms like a crazy person. And there’s the simple quiet folk that seems to be the heart of the matter. And the swayin’ blues that started it all of.
We got Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan and Waylon Jennings. Woody Guthrie of course. Peter, Paul & Mary, Simon & Garfunkle, guys like Peete Seeger and the Foggy Mountain Boys. New stuff too. The Milk Carton Kids, Old Crow, David Wax. It’s all good stuff.
I’ve had the pleasure over the past few years to host a radio show and share these tunes with the world over the FM dial. A little local college station just outside of DC. College Park radio WFMU 88.1FM. Inside of a worn down dining hall up the stairs and in a smelly little radio room with bookshelves 14 feet high full of outlandish and bizarre records. My co-host and I taglined our show “Folk, bluegrass and worthwhile country” because we all know how bad country can be. And we prided ourselves on our expansive flannel shirt collection, so we always came wearing flannel.
The sound boards are big and crowded with buttons and numbers and dials. Never knew how to properly work the thing. The transmitter switch was my favorite thing in that little musty studio room. It was on the right side on some big tall box and it lit up a blue light when it was switched up to the on position. Below it someone had written and taped up instructions and no lie they said “I am getting old and cranky. If the blue light does NOT come one, give me a stern tap. – Switch”.
My second favorite part of the radio show experience was the big soft microphones that hung down on these silver crane-like mechanism. I felt so professional and important talking in to them. I never knew about such thing as a radio voice until the last time I did the show. I definitely talk different and sound different when on the air. My voice gets deeper and more serious and I crack ironic jokes like it’s my job.
Music. I should listen to more jazz.