Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Kerouac notebook page

[Click for a larger view.]

I was startled yesterday to see the name of our friend Seymour Barab in a post at Ordinary Finds for Jack Kerouac’s ninetieth birthday. My transcription of this 1953 (?) Kerouac notebook page, which analyzes Allen Ginsberg:
Ginsberg — intelligent enuf, interested in the outward appearance & pose of great things, intelligent enuf to know where to find them, but once there he acts like Jerry Newman, the photographer anxious to be photographed photographing —— Ginsberg wants to run his hand up the backs of people, for this he gives and seldom takes — He is also a mental screwball
*(Tape recorder anxious to be tape recorded tape recording) (like Seymour Barab anxious to have his name in larger letters than Robert Louis Stevenson, like Steinberg & Verlaine Rimbaud Baudelaire
I think I’ve put together the connections:

1. Jerry Newman was a friend of Kerouac’s, a Columbia University student and recording engineer. (“The photographer anxious to be photographed” seems to be a metaphor, followed by the more appropriate metonymy, “tape recorder anxious to be tape recorded.”) I recognized Newman’s name because of his recordings of jazz in Harlem clubs: Charlie Christian, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and Art Tatum, among other musicians. Newman recorded Kerouac too.

2. Newman founded two record labels, Esoteric and Counterpoint. Russell Oberlin’s recording of Seymour Barab’s settings of poems from Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses was released on Counterpoint in 1953. (It’s still available from Essential Media Group.)

3. Kerouac seems not to have understood that a composer often gets the more prominent credit when setting texts to music.

4. I can make nothing of “Steinberg & Verlaine Rimbaud Baudelaire.” Did Saul Steinberg do a cover for a collection of their work? If so, I haven’t found it. [6:39 p.m.: Bent from Ordinary Finds offers the likely explanation in the comments: Steinberg’s drawings of pages from Rimbaud’s lost diary.]

5. Speaking of artists: the cover for A Child’s Garden of Verses is the work of William Steig. He and Seymour were friends and neighbors.

Elaine and I have learned so much from Seymour Barab and Margie King Barab. As Elaine puts it, Seymour and Margie are our “favorite inhabitants of the Upper East Side.” How fortunate we are to have their friendship. Seymour by the way never met Kerouac or Ginsberg, and he recalls no discussion of the billing on the album cover.

A related post
Jack Kerouac’s last typewriter

[I mark very few birthdays on Orange Crate Art: Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Martin Luther King Jr., Van Dyke Parks, Marcel Proust — that’s all. Elaine took note of Seymour’s ninety-first birthday earlier this year.]

comments: 4

Bent said...

Wonderful post, Michael! Glad to have inspired it indirectly, and very happy to have learned about Barab...

A thought: Might Kerouac be referring to Steinberg 'writing' Rimbaud's 'lost diary', cf this link w. a video of such a piece?
Steinberg's Illuminations

Michael Leddy said...

That must be it, Bent. That’s another great find.

Lady Monster said...

So, if Kerouac knew Newman, would you be able to shed any light to the track on the 1941 live recording at Minton's in Harlem, titled (and credited to) "Kerouac"?
Some say it's Jack at a tender age, some say it can't be.

Michael Leddy said...

No, it’s Dizzy Gillespie. I suspect that the title is just something Newman tacked on. (Not unusual in jazz — “Blues for ...” sometimes goes on an otherwise untitled blues.) “Kerouac” sounds to me like ”Exactly Like You” minus the melody (same chord changes).