In 1995 Johnny Depp made a cameo appearance on an improbable TV mini-series called The United States of Poetry. The series was broadcast on PBS and featured highly stylized vignettes spotlighting a range of poets–Joseph Brodsky, Derek Walcott, Czeslaw Milosz and Allen Ginsberg to name but a few–along with some famous names better known for their work in other fields–Lou Reed,  Leonard Cohen, Jimmy Carter–in six fast-moving episodes, each tied to a theme. Depp appeared in “Show Five: The Word” to read from a poem by one of his own idols, Jack Kerouac.

In the scene above, Depp reads a selection from Kerouac’s 1959 book of improvisational verse, Mexico City Blues: 242 Choruses. “I want to be considered a jazz poet,” Kerouac writes in the introduction to the book, “blowing a long blues in an afternoon jam session on Sunday. I take 242 choruses; my ideas vary and sometimes roll from chorus to chorus or from halfway through a chorus to halfway into the next.” Here’s the chorus Depp reads from:

Chorus 113

Got up and dressed up
         and went out & got laid
Then died and got buried
         in a coffin in the grave,
Man–
         Yet everything is perfect,
Because it is empty,
Because it is perfect
         with emptiness,
Because it’s not even happening.

Everything
Is Ignorant of its own emptiness–
Anger
Doesn’t like to be reminded of fits–

You start with the Teaching
         Inscrutable of the Diamond
And end with it, your goal
         is your startingplace,
No race has run, no walk
         of prophetic toenails
Across Arabies of hot
         meaning–you just
         numbly don’t get there

For more on Johnny Depp’s literary interests and Jack Kerouac’s literary greatness you can explore the Open Culture archives, beginning with:

Johnny Depp Reads Letters from Hunter S. Thompson

Jack Kerouac reads from On the Road (1959)

Celebrate Jack kerouac’s 90th Birthday with Kerouac, the Movie


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