And the recordings don't sound like they were made in the 1950s, but more like it's a guy on the stage right now in front of me. They're so clear, and with no hint of that fake English accent I'm so used to hearing in old American movies. He's just some guy from down the street. And yet the images he paints of life and the city and the world definitely don't include the internet. In his world people are outside, actually looking around. And it's a world of railroads, and steel. Manufacturing. So it's obviously dated. Even so. All his poems are backed by a jazz piano that's so perfect. So present right now. Those quickly fingered notes. Jazz. And Jack's voice is clear, and with that rhythm of phrases, those long breathless sentences, then a stop, a couple of chopped crisp words, a breath and on again. The thing is that after you hear a few of his poems, it becomes obvious that they were written to be read aloud. Not the opposite, which is the case with so many poems read so poorly at readings. The thing I can't get over, beyond his poems and his reading ability, is his calm presence, his confidence. Just concentrating on the content, getting across what's in the poems, in the best way possible. Like talking to a friend.
It's so good you can't help but wonder what happened to poetry read aloud like that. It disappeared. Is it this crazy obsession we have of always having to invent something new? You know -- if it's already been done, it's no good anymore. Musty. Now it's just Beat Poetry. Pointless even listening to it. Certainly you wouldn't actually try to write like that, or read that way. How dumb can you be. And here I've been obsessing with Kerouac for two months. What a loser.
I guess what happened was rock music. The jazz piano was stomped on by drums and electric guitar. Lyrics replaced poetry. But at the peak of rock, the lyrics actually were poetry. Bob Dylan, Jim Morisson of the Doors, to name a couple. Practically all song lyrics in those days were very content heavy. I've been listening on and off lately to a recording of someone reading Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven' as a poem with piano accompaniment. It's great. As with the Beatles and many other bands, someone would write the melody first, which acted much like many poetic forms do, in that the poem or lyrics would then have to be written to fit it, requiring more creativity. In this case Robert Plant wrote to Jimmy Page's melody.
So what happened to that great rock music? Was it that obsession again with always having to be new? Maybe, but in any case producers got involved in the creative process, undercutting it to say the least. The result is style-heavy uniformity. Content is not necessary. It's so diminished you don't even have to understand the language it's sung in.
So what next? Well, here's my dream. Maybe, just maybe, when enough people get totally fed up, there will be an opening for a new age of jazz piano and well-read poems. For beautifully written content. The opposite of Leonard Cohen. Drop the singing and just read the poem.
One of my favourites: October in the Railroad Earth