Night Music: Jack Kerouac and Steve Allen, “Charlie Parker”

Steve Allen was the host of the Tonight Show in the time of Kerouac’s popular fame, and Allen had him on the show many times. This isn’t great music. Allen was a good pianist and a prolific songwriter, but a lot of what he plays is, as Truman Capote said it, just typing.

Oops, Capote said that about Kerouac, whose literary tick was the long line, the repetitions, the onomatopoetic bursts. But in a way it also describes Allen’s voracious appetite for sounds and the way he chews them and offers them back.

When I was in high school I fell in love with Kerouac’s writing. Those long lines described the rhythm of my thoughts and the way some idea that felt really large would pull my tongue down with its gravity, til I couldn’t speak or could only speak really fast. When a boxed set of Kerouac’s readings with musicians came out, sometime in the 80s, I bought it and enjoyed it immensely. But by that time the romantic hold of Kerouac’s romantic tongue had lost its grip on me.

Tonight I’m near Lowell, Massachusetts, where Jack Kerouac grew up, and thinking about a friend who died yesterday of cancer at 59. Kerouac died when he was 56, and thoughts like this make me want to change the subject. Of course, Charlie Parker died when he was 35, so we all got a lot more of it than he did, poor Buddha.

Or did we?

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