Art

Ecstasy and semicorcheas 'On the road': Jazz and the beat generation (I)

How Jack Kerouac absorbed the transgressions of bebop and transported them to the typewriter

«Look, uncle, that alto saxophone last night had it .. He found it and no longer released it. I've never seen a guy who could hold him so long.

I wanted to know what that "LO" meant. Dean laughed.

The prefrontal cortex is responsible for the direction of attention, selective attention and sustained attention. It is the brain area that lights up in a frantic improvisation:

"Good uncle! You are asking me about imponderables ... You see, there is a guy and everyone was there, right? It is up to him to expose what everyone has inside his head. The first theme begins, then develops the ideas, and people, yes, yes, and get it, and then follow their destiny and have to play according to that destiny. Suddenly at some point in the middle of the subject he takes it ...

Located in the frontal lobe, this area responds by activating against disinhibition and self-exposure of the personality. It happens when a musician believes in the act and shows the secret visceral melody that he keeps inside. When he plays his truth :

«... all look up and realize; they listen to him; He accelerates and continues. The time stops. Fill the empty space with the substance of our lives, confessions of their guts, memories of ideas, recasts of ancient sounds ».

Before the joy of music, a torrent of twin dopamine is released to other physiological climaxes such as the understanding of orgasm.

«He has to play across bridges and back, and he does it with such infinite feeling, with such a deep exploration of the soul through the theme of the moment that everyone knows that what matters is not the subject but LO that he has taken ... »-Dean could not continue; I was sweating when I talked about it.

( Along the way . Barcelona: Anagrama, 1986, p. 246)

Few doubt that this is one of the hottest moments of In the way of Jack Kerouac, an autobiographical novel that is still a constant game of gramophones where saxophones and box drummers resonate. The amphetamine brain of the antihero Dean Moriarty, pseudonym of Neal Cassady, and the insatiability of Sal Paradise, disguise of Kerouac, squeeze the pace and start vibrant ("yes, yes, come on, there is no time to lose"), pushing us between passersby of a broken boulevard : the most thunderous testimony of the first era of modern jazz .

The portrait of the underground

Begotten in May 1951, the On the Road manuscript had to wait 6 years to be published. The editor of Kerouac recognized the genius of the work: "'Jack, this looks like Dostoevsky, but what can I do with something like this at this time?' It was not the time. " The critic considered On the road and The underground as obscene texts full of verbiage and no aesthetic.

However, the stories of this repudiated writer responded to a rumor that already lived in the American wind long ago: A lot of artists and hepcats began to appropriate the slang used in their works (" hung-up ", " go ", " crazy "or" cool "). The beatniks and jazzniks began to spread from Times Square to California. They loved Kerouac's work. These saints of the night cultivated nomadism, the experimentation of sacred sex, the use of all kinds of entheogens and chemicals. Pilgrimage on the bop route to explode on beatific Sunday mornings.

Interestingly, On the way it can be read as the legend of Don Quijote and Sancho Panza (two Cervantes hipsters ) hitchhiking through the hallucinations of postwar North America. Cultural hotbed that preceded the summer of love and hippie subculture. A song that continues to vibrate even today; anthem to worldly vitalism and untamed youth.

Hey -Ba-Ba-Re-Bop!

At the rhythm of benzedrine, alcohol and gasoline buzzes beauty in the spontaneous prose of beat writers, kick writing (something like writing with pushes). The ideas gather in the writer's mind, and he is spurred to remove the filter and let them out: "Finally ... rataplán-bum!".

Hence the jazz flow of writing, is the uninhibited expression of intimate ideas that now appear as improvisations in the typewriter in D major . Used with spontaneity, and the sincerity exercise that this entails, the emotional intensity caused by this technique reminds, without a doubt, the waterfall of bebop notes. That is, the jazz of underground America .

This transgression happens when, both the rules of written language (categories such as syntax and semantics) and those of the Western musical system (harmony, melody, tonality, etc.), are altered and consciously ignored in order to obtain greater expressive freedom. Something very characteristic of the trances in which musicians like Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie fell during their uninhibited self-exhibitions. They were true heroes and spiritual masters from whom Kerouac, Joyce Johnson, Cassady or Allen Ginsberg absorbed the essence of their improvisations; Through their hungry eardrums they excitedly extrapolated this discursive freedom to their writing.

The writing bop .

When shelling the musical framework we will listen to several simultaneous sound planes: the solo instruments (Dizzy Gillespie on the trumpet and Andrés Boiarsky on the tenor saxophone), the drums of Ignacio Berroa, the walking bass of John Lee and the piano of Cyrus Chestnut. A simple exercise to understand the sound layers of this genre would be to listen to the song four times, bringing full attention to a different musical level each time. By focusing attention on each layer we discover that viscerality, that "LO" that Dean Moriarty craves, the intimate message that each musician brings to that frantic present moment called jazz .

But why did the amazing bop throb so strongly in these youngsters? In its rebellious and underground character, this new style of art making violated certain rules of musical taste hegemonized by the swing . In the 1930s, the musical sensibility of American citizens was catalyzed by the big band orchestral sound, a taste massively propagated on the radio. While this approach to popular taste came to sound canned and sweetened before many ears, the swing engendered a bright aesthetic: a sweet sound (for show purposes) in the rich instrumental template, friendly use of vibrato in the notes, repetitive melodies and memorizable, harmonic turns and stereotyped rhythms. Something unmistakable in the songs of Glenn Miller or Benny Goodman.

In the swing the melodic arcs built on "harmonic notes" prevailed: the tonic, third or fifth note of a scale (eg do - mi - sol, intervals that would form a chord of C major ), necessary notes at the time of forming the tonal chords or triads that underpin western music. In addition, sometimes new colors were introduced on the triad chords thanks to additional intervals such as the sixth or seventh note of the scale ( the and if, respectively, counting from the tonic do ).

These harmonies of the swing produced a very consonant sweetened sound that subsequently accentuated the obvious antagonism against the dry and often grueling sound of Charlie Parker's alto saxophone and his entourage of artists. The hipsters' bop transgressed the rules of prevailing good taste by creating irregular melodic arcs and introducing whatever they liked, notes that were not usually part of the tonal or triad chords. So far, jazz musicians had not dared to warm their language so much and use these extravagances to "color" their harmonies: continuous sevenths ( air ), novenas ( velvet ), onceavas ( earth ) and chromatic approximations (a melodic locomotive that runs over the specific order of the scale without respecting the "notes to avoid").

Of course the atonality was not reached, but many times this freedom was suggested that existed on the other side of the tonal system. The origin of these "coloristic" sonorities can be traced in modernist composers such as Debussy, Satie or Alexander Scriabin, as cited by Parker, and in the heterodox melodism of the soloists of the cornetist Bix Beiderbecke.

Three Deuces, the germ of the bop on 52nd Street in New York. Portrayed in On the Road.


Kerouac absorbed these transgressions and transported them to the typewriter, thus advocating "suppress literary, grammatical and syntactic inhibitions." As he prays in his Creed and technique of modern prose (1959): "Indomitable, undisciplined, pure compositions, which come from below, the more foolish the better." And about spontaneity in writing, he asserts:

Shame seems to be the key both in repression of writing and in psychological pathologies. If one is not faithful to the first idea and the words that idea brought with it, what is the point of wasting time with that? Why traffic lies and inflict them on others?

( The philosophy of the Beat generation . Madrid: Caja Negra, 2015)

And is that when this beatist prosista gives us an idea within its pages, we observe a parallel between its construction and the usual structure of jazz : the writer presents a specific theme-idea, then decides how to get away from it in his improvisation (always through the present moment) and, finally, recapitulates the initial idea, returns to earth to follow something else (" let's go Dean! "). Theme-improvisation-theme; We can see it in the following example of The Undergrounds : "The Night in the Mask" is the main theme / melody [M] and the final return to this idea [M]. Between the two, they embrace the great central body, the rambling and rapid improvisation [I] of Kerouac. Let's take the tempo and read: one, two, one, two, three and ...!

[M] As usual, we had started in the Mask. Nights that start so clear, dazzling with hope: [I] let's go visit friends, take action, phones ring, people come and go, coats, hats, affirmations, good news, metropolitan attractions, a round of beers, another round of beers, the conversation becomes more beautiful, more excited, more heated, another round, it sounds midnight, later still, the happy heated faces become increasingly wild, soon the wobbly friend da da ubab bab appears, fall, smoke, drunkenness, dawn, madness that ends with the owner of the bar, which, as a seer of Eliot, declares It is time to close, [M] thus more or less we had reached the Mask when a boy called Harold Sand ...

( The subways . Barcelona: Anagrama, 2015)

Literature at up tempo of 200 blacks per minute. A fleeting sample of how prose beat sounds and its constant search for loudness in words; alliteration and poetic dissonances. In other fragments we can see inexhaustible paragraphs without pauses that extend along bursts of pages. Kerouac is unlikely to use points and apart; To (de) structure his speech he prefers the use of commas or scripts, such as long exhalations that a trumpeter needs to take before firing another cascade of arpeggios.

With the previous transcript of Los subterráneos, we witness what this amazing artistic zygote meant: a remarkable fertilization between music and literature. Examples of how the freedom of black art became evident, once again, in the aesthetic taste of white bohemians. A suggestive unprecedented sound that coaxed these young men of the late 40's who wanted to swirl in the ramshackle taverns, bars and record stores where the hip trend sounded, the sound that infected that orgasmic pulse that beats in Kerouac's prose. A heartbreaking and provocative show of freedom. In the words of Parker himself, the father of the bebop :

Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you do not live it will not leave your body . They tell you that there is a limiting line for music. But, man, there are no borders to art.

Surfing this same flow of vibrant music we will dive into beat poetry and its hectic organic sounds. For now, eve, it is enough. Crickets sing hollow chords, the last drops of semifuse already sprout and night has fallen in Tunisia, it's time to close the curtain and arpegiarize the last chord: On-the-Road .

Author's Twitter: @MateoTierra