Free: Hours of Jack Kerouac Reading Beat Poems & Verse

kerouac albums

Image by Tom Palum­bo, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

A high school friend who paid me a vis­it last week­end said she still does­n’t know whether read­ing Jack Ker­ouac saved or ruined her life. I, for one, could think of no high­er praise for a writer. I believe she entered that dis­solute Beat­’s lit­er­ary whirl­wind through the por­tal of a sec­ond-hand copy of his Amer­i­ca-criss­cross­ing nov­el On the Road, as many young peo­ple do, but since then the inter­net has made it much eas­i­er to get into Ker­ouac through a vari­ety of oth­er media as well.

Long-play­ing records, for instance: if you hap­pen to use Spo­ti­fy (and if you don’t yet, you can down­load the free soft­ware to get onboard here), you already have access to a good deal of mate­r­i­al deliv­ered in Ker­ouac’s own voice, some­times against music. On 1959’s Poet­ry for the Beat Gen­er­a­tion (above), an album he put togeth­er with Steve Allen (on whose talk show he famous­ly appeared), he reads his work while Allen accom­pa­nies him on the piano. That same year saw the release of Blues and Haikus, fea­tur­ing that same Ker­ouac voice and sen­si­bil­i­ty, but backed this time by jazz sax­o­phon­ists Al Cohn and Zoot Sims.

On 1960’s Read­ings by Jack Ker­ouac on the Beat Gen­er­a­tion (bot­tom), his final spo­ken-word album, Ker­ouac goes with­out jazzmen entire­ly. But then, some of his die-hard fans might argue that he does­n’t need them, that his use of the Eng­lish lan­guage con­sti­tutes more than enough wild, impro­vi­sa­tion­al, but some­how still dis­ci­plined music by itself. That may sound like a bit much, but Ker­ouac actu­al­ly had a lot in com­mon with his fel­low Amer­i­can icons in the realm of jazz, not least a lifestyle that led him into an ear­ly grave and a lega­cy as a fig­ure both trag­ic and inspir­ing in equal mea­sure. Maybe you hear it in his prose; maybe you’ll hear it in his voice.


As a final bonus, you can stream a fourth album, On the Beat Gen­er­a­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Down­load 55 Free Online Lit­er­a­ture Cours­es: From Dante and Mil­ton to Ker­ouac and Tolkien

An 18-Hour Playlist of Read­ings by the Beats: Ker­ouac, Gins­berg & Even Bukows­ki Too

Jack Ker­ouac Reads from On the Road (1959)

Jack Kerouac’s Hand-Drawn Map of the Hitch­hik­ing Trip Nar­rat­ed in On the Road

Col­in Mar­shall writes on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.