Monthly Archives: May 2012

Sur la Route: At last, Cannes premiere for Kerouac classic

The much-discussed movie interpretation of Jack Kerouac’s most celebrated novel On the Road finally, but finally, secures its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival today, with the Walter Salles-directed production unwrapped in the full glare of the globe’s most talked about cinematic jamboree.

How though will the world respond to this re-imagined celluloid version, decades on the drawing board and now ready, after too many false starts, for critical consumption?

There are certainly some Americans who feel that this film should have received a US unveiling – Kerouac, after all, the all-American traveller who turned his treks across the States in the late 1940s into the fictionalised adventures that launched a million such road trips for those who read it.

Yet Kerouac has strong affinities with France – his 1966 volume Satori in Paris was, in part, a kind of Who Do You Think You Are? odyssey, as the writer attempted to trace the Breton roots of his name. And, of course, Kerouac grew up in New England speaking French.

Further, France has always had a particular affection for the existential antics of the Beat writers – a living, transatlantic incarnation of the philosophical ideas that Sartre and Camus had explored in the years just before Kerouac thumbed his rides on Route 66 and, by the end of the 1950s, his fellow travellers – Ginsberg, Burroughs and Corso – were living in the French capital in what became dubbed the Beat Hotel.

The new Kerouac movie, produced by Roman Coppola, will eventually earn its US debut in the autumn. Before then, on August 16th, Somerset House in London will present the UK premiere of the picture. Rumours have it that the tickets for this auspicious screening sold out in 5 minutes. The long summer of On the Road has clearly commenced.

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Review: Jonah Raskin – Rock’n’Roll Women: Portraits of a Generation

Ry Cooder in Oklahoma

dust bowl blues again, Karen

turning back pages of Kerouac and

kissing along Snake River,

Rock’n’Roll woman.

                  – from ‘Karen & Ry Cooder’

The moment I encountered Jonah Raskin’s new poetry collection it took me back to Stephen Stills’ deliciously evocative ‘Rock & Roll Woman’, a song that graced the second Buffalo Springfield album in 1967. And Raskin, that most versatile of cultural historians whose American Scream is a key book on the myth of Allen Ginsberg and the rise of ‘Howl’, provides plenty more twinges to the musical memory in this slim but sharp volume.

Like me, this poet is a sucker for the ballsy beat of R&B or the potent pulse of raw rock and still eager, too, to imbibe the freewheeling spirit of the Beat writers, a clan he aspires to emulate – and admits as much – in his stand-up verse and stripped down stanzas.

If he’s on stage reading his stuff, he is often joined, a la Kerouac, by musical accompaniment; here, in his latest opus, he takes on the tropes of rock history and interweaves that thrillingly volatile narrative with the adventures of a gallery of women (friends? lovers? fictions? fantasies?) who have played out their own sparky lives with the radio on, the turntable spinning or the jagged edge of a Stratocaster sending its shockwaves across the shimmering sea of a live audience.

Are these fragments of the Raskin biography? Quite possibly. Yet it matters not that much, for the female gang who inhabit this world – one that stretches from Elvis’ curled quiff to Johnny Rotten’s rusting safety pin – are essentially autonomous, stand-alone types who live maverick existences to a highly-charged soundtrack and, perhaps in rock itself, see a means to escape the stultifying air of conformity.

The Beats didn’t let women carve out independent lives – they kept lovers, wives and muses suspended in a submissive domesticity. The women of whom Raskin writes, later daughters of the vinyl countdown, have broken out of that triangular trap of Kinder, Küche, Kirche and, amid moveable feasts of the heart, absorb the sounds of the Everlys and the Beatles, Janis Joplin and Tina Turner, Dylan, the Dead and the Floyd.

Perhaps though, this cycle of poems is less about girls digging the latest discs and more about singles and LPs and concerts providing the aspic of nostalgia for Raskin and, indeed, so very many of us. We probably recall the 45 as much as the kiss, the album as much as the sleepover, the gig as much as the furious row, the record sleeve as much as the eventual break-up.

Rock’n’Roll Women comprises a series of snapshots that set relationships against the pleasing perspective of the jukebox, even if all was not sweetness and light – even back then. The love affairs may have tarnished in time but the Beach Boys and Jimmy Cliff, Carole King and Otis Redding will eternally suggest the possibility of youthful optimism and Raskin distils something of that appealing spark in these brief cameos.

Note: Jonah Raskin’s Rock’n’Roll Women: Portraits of a Generation is published by McCaa Books of Santa Rosa, California

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