Kerouac & Charlie Parker

March 12: Jack Kerouac was born on this day in 1922, and on this day in 1955 Charlie "Bird" Parker died. In On the Road, Kerouac puts Parker atop his list of jazz greats, those who were "children of the American bop night." In "Essentials of Spontaneous Prose," Kerouac goes further, describing his own writing as an attempt to catch the rush and pause of jazz:

No periods separating sentence-structures already arbitrarily riddled by false colons and timid usually needless commas—but the vigorous space dash separating rhetorical breathing (as jazz musician drawing breath between outblown phrases) . . . .  Not 'selectivity' I of expression but following free deviation (association) of mind into limitless blow-on-subject seas of thought, swimming in sea of English with no discipline other than rhythms of rhetorical exhalation and expostulated statement . . . .

Several of Kerouac's poems in Mexico City Blues pay tribute to Parker, ranking him "as important as Beethoven" and god of the jazz clubs: ". . . And soon the whole joint is rocking / And everybody talking and Charley Parker / Whistling them on to the brink of eternity . . . ." The following excerpt from Kerouac's The Subterraneans (1958) shows his spontaneous essentials in action:

. . . and up on the stand Bird Parker with solemn eyes who'd been busted fairly recently and had now returned to a kind of bop dead Frisco but had just discovered or been told about the Red Drum, the great new generation gang wailing and gathering there, so here he was on the stand, examining them with his eyes as he blew his now-settled-down-into-regulated-design "crazy" notes . . .  returning to the Red Drum for sets, to hear Bird, whom I saw distinctly digging Mardou several times also myself directly into my eye looking to search if I was really the great writer I thought myself to be as if he knew my thoughts and ambitions or remembered me from other night clubs and other coasts, other Chicagos—not a challenging look but the king and founder of the bop generation at least the sound of it in digging his audience digging his eyes, the secret eyes him—watching, as he just pursed his lips and let great lungs and immortal fingers work . . . .


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

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