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Three From Kerouac For the New Year

Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, the hunt, and visions of a jazz deity.

kerouac on the road

Photo: Book cover art

Bop-kick greetings for the holiday.

Recently I reread Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, that gone epic of mid-20th-century seekerdom (and yes, a movie version, for what it’s worth, finally appears imminent). From it, several quotes to usher in 2011:

They ate voraciously as Dean, sandwich in hand, stood bowed and jumping before the big phonograph, listening to a wild bop record I had just bought called “The Hunt,” with Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray blowing their tops before a screaming audience that gave the record fantastic frenzied volume. The Southern folk looked at one another and shook their heads in awe. “What kind of friends does Sal have, anyway?” they said to my brother.

Something was going on in every corner, on every bed and couch–not an orgy but just a New Year’s party with frantic screaming and wild radio music… Everything in life, all the faces of life, were piling into the same dank room. At Ian McArthur’s the party went on. Ian McArthur is a wonderful sweet fellow who wears glasses and peers out of them with delight. He began to learn “Yes!” to everything, just like Dean at this time, and hasn’t stopped since. To the wild sounds of Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray blowing “The Hunt,” Dean and I played catch with Marylou over the couch; she was no small doll either.

Dean and I went to see (George) Shearing at Birdland in the midst of the long, mad weekend. The place was deserted, we were the first customers, ten o’clock. Shearing came out, blind, led by the hand to his keyboard. He was a distinguished-looking Englishman with a stiff white collar, slightly beefy, blond, with a delicate English-summer’s- night air about him that came out in the first rippling sweet number he played as the bass-player leaned to him reverently and thrummed the beat. The drummer, Denzil Best, sat motionless except for his wrists snapping the brushes. And Shearing began to rock; a smile broke over his ecstatic face; he began to rock in the piano seat, back and forth, slowly at first, then the beat went up, and he began rocking fast, his left foot jumped up with every beat, his neck began to rock crookedly, he brought his face down to the keys, he pushed his hair back, his combed hair dissolved, he began to sweat. .The music picked up, The bass-player hunched over and socked it in, faster and faster, it seemed faster and faster, that’s all, Shearing began to play his chords; they rolled out of the piano in great rich showers, you’d think the man wouldn’t have time to line them up. They rolled and rolled like the sea. Folks yelled for him to “Go!” Dean was sweating; the sweat poured down his collar. “There he is! That’s him! Old God! Old God Shearing! Yes! Yes! Yes!” And Shearing was conscious of the madman behind him, he could hear every one of Dean’s gasps and imprecations, he could sense it though he couldn’t see. “That’s right!” Dean said. “Yes!” Shearing smiled; he rocked. Shearing rose from the piano, dripping with sweat; these were his great 1949 days before he became cool and commercial. When he was gone Dean pointed to the empty piano seat. “God’s empty chair,” he said. On the piano a horn sat; its golden shadow made a strange reflection along the desert caravan painted on the wall behind the drums. God was gone; it was the silence of his departure.

…and finally, a postscript for the morning after:

Holy flowers floating in the air, were all these tired faces in the dawn of Jazz America.

More Jack Kerouac on Night Lights

More About “The Hunt”

Listen to Jack Kerouac read from the ending of On the Road:

David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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  • Keitho

    Great Kerouac posts! I loved reading his books, and of course the prose is akin to jazz. One of my favorite scenes from on the road is when he is descibing listening to a Dodgers game on the radio and switching back and forth between that and the Giants game while trying to follow the Yankees on TV.

    http://worldofkeitho.com

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