Beats of Summer, guest post, Jack Kerouac, Jazz Music, Stephanie Nikolopoulos

Guest Post: Jazz and the Beat Generation (#BeatsOfSummer)

Cover design by Igor Satanovsky

Cover design by Igor Satanovsky


Jazz and the Beat Generation: Jack Kerouac and David Amram

Contributed by Stephanie Nikolopoulos

Before Jack Kerouac stuck his thumb out and criss-crossed his way across the lush landscape of America, he moved from his hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts, to attend prep school at Horace Mann and then Columbia University in New York City. Still just a teenager, he began frequenting the jazz clubs of Harlem and writing up music reviews for his school newspaper.

Starting off as a journalist, Kerouac honed his craft. He soaked in the music and learned to listen well. The jazz he was listening to had a whole different attitude than the jazz that infused the spirit of the Lost Generation writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald. Jazz had gotten its starts in the early 1910s in New Orleans, but following the Second World War it had morphed into a faster style known as bebop—or simply bop. It wasn’t predictable like swing; rather, its melody was more complex, its structure asymmetrical, its spacing dissonant. Bebop prided itself on improvisation and instrumental prowess. Kerouac absorbed the genius talent of musicians like Charlie “Bird” Parker, Miles Davis, and Dizzy Gillespie.

Jazz found its way into the content of Kerouac’s iconic road-trip novel On the Road, which he began writing in the 1940s and was published, by Viking Press, in 1957. His characters constantly fiddle with the dial on the radio or are engrossed in a live concert, but that’s not what makes Kerouac’s writing stand out. After all, his fellow Massachusetts-born friend John Clellon Holmes—the writer with whom Kerouac was talking when he came up with the label the Beat Generation—also wrote about jazz. In his 1952 novel Go, Holmes’ description of friends listening to jazz records in crowded tenements is palpable. Critics even consider Holmes’ 1958 novel The Horn the Beat Generation’s ultimate jazz novel. The distinction between Holmes’ Go and Kerouac’s On the Road, however, is that Holmes’ prose is more traditional while Kerouac’s styling embraced the more avant-garde methods of the bebop musicians.

What bebop musicians were doing with musical notes, Kerouac wanted to do with words. Just as they improvised their music, he freestyled his verse in his efforts to create prose that was as immediate as a live concert. In his “Essentials of Spontaneous Prose,” written in 1958, Kerouac explained his writing method in terms related to jazz:

PROCEDURE Time being of the essence in the purity of speech, sketching language is undisturbed flow from the mind of personal secret idea-words, blowing (as per jazz musician) on subject of image.

METHOD 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)–“measured pauses which are the essentials of our speech”–“divisions of the sounds we hear”-“time and how to note it down.” (William Carlos Williams)

Consequently, Kerouac’s prose is a pure rush of thoughts and feelings. He heaps on themes, demonstrating his virtuosity. His story is not easy or comfortable; it’s complex, jagged, and—at times—jarring. It’s also captivating and beautiful.

Photograph by RA Araya.

Photograph by RA Araya.

Truman Capote famously derided Jack Kerouac’s ability to sit down at a typewriter and pour out a novel in a span of weeks, saying, “That isn’t writing; that’s typing.” Much of the literary criticism surrounding Kerouac posits just that: that he was undisciplined and prone to rambling. Scores of articles and books suggest, however, that the wild syntax and spurred-on prose mirror his bebop-related content and riff on the greater experimental culture of the time period.

Not long after On the Road came out, Kerouac began collaborating with a young musician. David Amram is considered the pioneer of the jazz French horn and can play pretty much any instrument you throw at him. He used to go into a world music store in Greenwich Village and pick up folk instruments many Americans have never heard of and learn how to play them. When he was playing at the Five Spot, a Bowery jazz club frequented abstract-expressionist painters and poets, he used to see Kerouac there. Amram wrote for the lit mag Evergreen Review in 1969:

I knew he was a writer, and all musicians knew that he loved music. You could tell by the way he sat and listened. He never tried to seem hip. He was too interested in life around him to ever think of how he appeared. Musicians understood this and were always glad to see him, because we knew that meant at least one person would be I listening. Jack was on the same wave-length as we were, so it was never necessary to talk. 

By the end of 1957, Amram and Kerouac began performing the first-ever jazz-poetry readings in New York City. Amram created music on the spot; Kerouac read and improvised, his voice an instrument. They listened to each other’s intonation and rhythm, playing off each other’s talents.

At last, the spontaneous visions of words and music fused together.

Suggested reading and listening:

Offbeat: Collaborating with Kerouac by David Amram

The Jack Kerouac Collection

The Horn by John Clellon Holmes

Black Music by Amiri Baraka

Stephanie Nikolopoulos ( has read with David Amram at the Cornelia Street Café. She is the author, with biographer Paul Maher Jr., of Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.”

Beats of Summer, Events, Giveaway, Giveaways

Friday Feature: Giveaway (#BeatsOfSummer)


Hello, Beats of Summer Participants!

This is just a quick note to let you know that Jenna from Lost Generation Reader is hosting a Beats Giveaway for us this week!  The giveaway is open to participants of our event and will end on June 24th. 

Hurry on over to THIS POST to enter for your chance to win any Beat Generation book of choice!

And don’t forget to link up your Beats of Summer event posts/reviews using the Mister Linky widget found on the Master Post!  🙂

Thanks, Jenna!

American Lit, Beats of Summer, Blog Post, Events, Jack Kerouac

Friday’s Featured Beat: Jack Kerouac!



Name: Jack Kerouac

Born:   March 12, 1922 (Lowell, MA)

Died:   October 21, 1969 (St. Petersburg, FL)

Seminal Work:  On the Road

Relationship to The Beat Generation:

Jack Kerouac, with Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, founded The Beat Generation in 1940s New York City.  He was inspired by Jazz music and by the mantra of “first thought, best thought.”  His writing reflects a quest for honesty and a mythical approach to ordinary life.   

Importance to Literary History:

As one of the founding members of the Beat Generation and arguably its most influential character, Jack Kerouac has a very real place in American literary history. On the Road has appeared on almost every published list of “greatest American novels,” since the 1960s and has become one of the most enduring American novels of the 20th Century.  


Jack Kerouac and Automatic Writing:

Kerouac wrote his seminal work in one frantic, frenzied burst that took him three weeks.  He had been taking notes for years, in preparation for what would become the novel, but when he actually sat down to write a book – he did it all at once.  He termed this particular style, “spontaneous prose” and compared it to his greatest influence, jazz music.  Kerouac believed that prose had the ability to capture truths, particularly “the truth of a moment,” but to be faithful to this, the writer could not revise or edit; these corrections, in Kerouac’s opinion, would be like lying – presenting an untrue prose, lacking truth of the moment. This was certainly a new concept, one which publishers were leery of, and it was partly because of this style (and partly because of the book’s content) that it took 6 years for anyone to publish On the Road

  “Jack went to bed obscure and woke up famous.”                  -Joyce Johnson

Biographical Information & Fun Facts:           

  • Kerouac’s birth name was Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac.
  • He began his writing career in the 1940s but his first success, On the Road, was not published until 1957.
  • Kerouac was a High School football star, at the position of running back. He always dreamed of becoming a writer but thought sports would be his best chance at getting himself and his parents out of hardship.
  • He received a football scholarship to Columbia University and moved from Massachusetts to New York in 1939, at the age of 17.
  • In New York, Kerouac would discover one of his first loves and greatest influences: Jazz music.
  • After breaking his leg and being benched by his football coaches, Kerouac quit the team, quit school, and started working odd jobs while writing more seriously.
  • He joined the U.S. Marines in 1943 but was honorably discharged after 10 days, for ‘strong schizoid trends.’
  • Kerouac returned to NYC and met Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, and William Burroughs. The Beat Generation of writers began to form.
Clockwise from bottom left: Gregory Corso (in cap), the painter Larry Rivers, Jack Kerouac, David Amram (musician), and Allen Ginsberg.

Clockwise from bottom left: Gregory Corso (in cap), the painter Larry Rivers, Jack Kerouac, David Amram (musician), and Allen Ginsberg.

  • Kerouac and Cassady took several road trips across the country, from NYC to Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, and Mexico.  These trips would inspire Kerouac to write On the Road.
  • In the late-1940s, Kerouac wrote his first novel, Town and City. It was published in 1950 (with help from Ginsberg).
  • Kerouac wrote On the Road in 1951.  It took him just three weeks, and he wrote it on a single scroll of paper that was 120 feet long, though he had been taking notes for years.
  • Upon publication, On the Road became an instant classic, with The New York Times claiming that the book would do for The Beat Generation what Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises did for The Lost Generation.
  • Following On the Road, Kerouac published many books in rapid succession, including: The Dharma Bums and The Subterraneans in 1958, and Dr. Sax, Mexico City Blues, and Maggie Cassidy in 1959.
  • In the 1960s, Kerouac wrote and published other novels, such as Big Sur (1962), wrote poetry, including experiments with Japanese haiku and long-form free verse, and also released multiple albums of spoken-word poetry.
  • Kerouac did not handle fame well.  He spent most of his years post-On the Road in drunkenness and drug addiction. 
  • He was married three times (1944, 1950, and 1966) and divorced twice.
  • Kerouac died of an abdominal hemorrhage at the age of 47, just 12 years after publication of On the Road.

William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. September-October 1953. (Ginsberg Caption) c. Allen Ginsberg Estate.

Notable Quotes:

“My fault, my failure, is not in the passions I have, but in my lack of control of them.”

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles” (On the Road).

“One day I will find the right words, and  they will be simple” (The Dharma Bums).

“Happiness consists in realizing its all a great strange dream.”

“I realized these were all the snapshots which our children would look at someday with wonder, thinking their parents had lived smooth, well-ordered lives and got up in the morning to walk proudly on the sidewalks of life, never dreaming the raggedy madness and riot of our actual lives, our actual night, the hell of it, the senseless emptiness” (On the Road).

“Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry.”

“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road” (On the Road).

Beats of Summer, Blog Post, Events, GLBT, LGBT, William S. Burroughs

Friday’s Featured Beat: William S. Burroughs!


Name: William S. Burroughs

Born:   February 5, 1914 (St. Louis, Missouri)

Died:   August 2, 1997 (Lawrence, Kansas)

Seminal Work:  Naked Lunch (1959)

Relationship to The Beat Generation:

William S. Burroughs is often called the founder of The Beat Generation and the godfather of punk (music).  Although he was older, at the time, than most of the Beat writers, he was involved in their movement and was an inspiration to and role model, of sorts, for them.  Burroughs was a drug addict for much of his adult life and his addiction inspired him to write books such as Naked Lunch, Junky (1953), and his Nova Trilogy [The Soft Machine (1961), The Ticket that Exploded (1962), and Nova Express (1964)].  He was known for always carrying a gun, even in bed, and for using a walking cane which had a sword inside of it.

Importance to Literary History:

200px-NakedLunch1steditionThe Nova Trilogy, mentioned above, as well as some of his other works, were crafted using Burroughs’s now-signature “Cut-up” technique.  This is a type of narrative form which Burroughs created and which has since enjoyed a movement of its own.  This aleatory technique comes about when the writer writes a text (or texts), then “cuts-up” the original and rearranges it, creating a new text with the same content.  The technique was inspired by Brion Gysin, a painter-friend whom Burroughs visited in Paris in 1959.  Gysin used the cut-up technique on his paintings and Burroughs noticed that it was quite similar to what he had done (juxtaposition technique) in Naked Lunch, but even more radical.  His employment of the cut-up technique in literary form, coupled with his belief that was groundbreaking and innovative, and it has inspired the style of many postmodern writers.

William S. Burroughs on his cut-up technique:

Allen Ginsberg, Lucien Carr, William Burroughs, New York 1953. c. Allen Ginsberg Estate.

Allen Ginsberg, Lucien Carr, William Burroughs, New York 1953. c. Allen Ginsberg Estate.

“A page of text-my own or some one else’s-is folded down the middle and placed on another page- The composite text is then read across half one text and half the other-The fold in method extends to writing the flash back used in films, enabling the writer to move backwards and forwards on his time track-For example I take page one and fold it into page one hundred-I insert the resulting composite as page ten-When the reader reads page ten he is flashing forwards in time to page one hundred and back in time to page one-The déjà vu phenomena can so be produced to order-(This method is of course used in music where we are continually moved backwards and forward on the time track by repetition and rearrangement of musical themes-In using the fold in method I edit delete and rearrange as in any other method of composition-I have frequently had the experience of writing some pages of straight narrative text which were then folded in with other pages and found that the fold ins were clearer and more comprehensible than the original texts-Perfectly clear narrative prose can be produced using the fold in method-Best results are usually obtained by placing pages dealing with similar subjects in juxtaposition.”

Biographical Information & Fun Facts:

  • William Burroughs wrote his first story in 1922, at the age of eight.  This was also the year in which he fired his first gun.
  • He graduated from Harvard with a degree in English literature.  He was known for being that “quiet guy” on campus who could always be found playing with his gun (a .32 revolver).
  • In 1937, he married a European woman named Ilse von Klapper in order to help her escape Nazi occupation and emigrate to the U.S. They divorced a few years later.
  • He cut off one of his fingers (the left pinky) when he was 25.  On purpose. He brought the pinky to a mental hospital in order to be admitted, where he claimed he cut off his finger as part of an “initiation ceremony into the Crow Indian tribe.” (See his short story, “The Finger”).
  • In 1943, Burroughs moved from Chicago to New York City, where he met and became friends with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac.
  • Burroughs and Kerouac collaborated on a novel, And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, which was inspired by the true story of their witnessing the murder of their friend Dave Kammerer, by another of their friends, Lucien Carr.  Carr killed Kammerer because he (Kammerer) had made sexual advances toward him. And the Hippos was written in 1945, but not published until 2008.
Birth of the Beats ... William Burroughs (L) and Jack Kerouac in New York in 1953, photographed by Allen Ginsberg. Photograph: Corbis

Birth of the Beats … William Burroughs (L) and Jack Kerouac in New York in 1953, photographed by Allen Ginsberg. Photograph: Corbis

  • Burroughs and his new (common-law) wife, Joan Vollmer, moved to Texas and grew marijuana. They moved to Mexico in 1949, where Burroughs went to graduate school and studied Anthropology.
  • Burroughs killed Joan in 1951 when playing a game of “William Tell.”  He was trying to shoot a glass off her head, but shot her instead.  He served two weeks in jail, until his brother arrived and paid thousands of dollars to get him out.  He reported to the jail every Monday for a year, until returning to the U.S. He was convicted of manslaughter, but only received a two-year suspended sentence.
  • Burroughs later wrote that he did not believe he would have become a writer if not for Joan’s death.
  • Burroughs later moved to Colombia, then Tangiers, and then, in 1956, to Morocco, where Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Peter Orlovsky (Ginsberg’s lover) helped him to organize Naked Lunch.
  • Naked Lunch was rejected for publication in the United States, so Ginsberg and Burroughs took it to Paris, where it was published in 1959.  The editor of the Chicago Review, who had tried to publish portions of it in the U.S., was fired.
  • In 1966, obscenity charges were brought against Naked Lunch.  The courts rejected these chargers – this was the last major censorship hearing over literature in America, the ruling of which paved the way for much greater freedom of expression in literature and the arts.
  • Burroughs is on the cover of The Beatles’ album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  He is next to Marilyn Monroe, near the top center, just below and to the right of Edgar Allan Poe.


  • In 1993, Burroughs was featured in a TV. Commercial for GAP clothing.   In 1994, he was in an ad for Nike.
  • Kurt Cobain and William Burroughs collaborated on a speaking album (The “Priest” They Called Him).  Cobain visited Burroughs just six months before committing suicide.
  • Burroughs died of a heart attack in 1997.

Notable Quotes:

“Love? What is it? Most natural painkiller what there is. Love.” (These are the last lines from the last entry in William S. Burroughs’s personal journal).

“Your mind will answer most questions if you learn to relax and wait for the answer.”

“After one look at this planet any visitor from outer space would say, ‘I want to see the manager.’”

“Artists to my mind are the real architects of change, and not the political legislators who implement change after the fact.”

“Language is a virus from outer space.”

“In my writing, I am acting as a map-maker, an explorer of psychic areas, a cosmonaut of inner space, and I see no point in exploring areas that have already been thoroughly surveyed.”

“I am getting so far out one day I won’t come back at all.”

Beats of Summer, Events, Giveaway, Giveaways

The Beats of Summer: Master Post



Welcome to the Master Post for The Beats of Summer! This is a one-month event focused on all things Beats, including primary texts, any re-imaginings of their original works, biographies, critical texts, etc.  In early May, I announced sign-ups for the event, and was very surprised by the great response from all different types of readers & bloggers! I know many of you, like me, have been anxious to get started – so thank you all for your interest, for signing-up, and for spreading the word.

I have a lot of things planned for this month-including giveaways, guest posts, and, of course, my own reading and reviewing of Beat works. First, let’s talk logistics.

At the bottom of this post is a “Mister Linky” widget. Whenever you review a book or write a post related to the event, please link it on this master post. Please include the title or subject of whatever your post is AND your blog name in the “Name” section of the link. It should look something like: “On the Road by Jack Kerouac (Roof Beam Reader).” This will ensure that all the links are in a similar format, and that others will know what your post is about before they click on it. I will make sure that the button on the right side of my blog will take you to this post. Please make sure to only link-up your posts on this main list!

Whenever you link a post, you will become eligible to win the giveaways that I will be hosting here throughout the month.  The only way to be entered for these prizes is to make sure your posts are linked-up here (this includes reviews of the books you’ve read, commentary on Beats topics, giveaways, or any other posts directly related to this event).

There are also going to be giveaways hosted by participants of the event (we are still accepting offers!).  Specific details for each of these giveaways may be different, so be sure to read the rules on those giveaway posts carefully and enter if you are interested!  For any of the giveaways, here or at other participants’ blogs, you will need to be pre-registered (before June 15th) for this event in order to win.

Our first giveaway comes courtesy of Vintage Books!  


They have generously sent me one copy of The Voice is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac by Joyce Johnson


1. You must be a registered participant of The Beats of Summer reading event.

2. You must read, review, and link-up one review by June 15th or post a new announcement on your blog about your participation in this event (also by June 15th).

Alright, I think that’s it! I hope you are as excited as I am! Let’s go get our Beats on!
The first book I’ll be reading is Howl by Allen Ginsberg- what’s yours!?