Beat News

A Kerouac Centenary Celebration in England [Press Release]

In 2022, the centenary of one of the USA’s greatest writers is commemorated and this significant anniversary for Jack Kerouac, creator of the legendary novel On the Road, will be the subject of a new live show, combining conversation and readings, an exciting and original soundtrack and the World premiere of an unseen American film tribute to the novelist.

Kerouac Lives! will bring together Simon Warner, a specialist on the Beat Generation and popular music, acclaimed poet and spoken word performer Heath Common, some of the author’s most revered writing and eight new songs responding to his tumultuous life and tragically early death.

The specially composed score, with lyrics by Heath Common and music by John Hardie, will blend multiple styles – from rock and soul to jazz – in a commentary on Kerouac’s rise from provincial New England to global fame as the writer of novels, essays, travelogues and poetry only to meet an alcoholic end in 1969 at a mere 47.

An exciting addition to the evening will be a first-ever public screening of a 10-minute short entitled American Joyride: 100 Lines for the Kerouac Centenary, a work by filmmaker Tom Knoff and Kurt Hemmer, a leading Beat historian.

The first performance of Kerouac Lives! will be given at Wadsworth Community Centre, near Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, on Friday, February 4th at 7:45pm, with further dates to be announced.

The on-stage presentation will feature lively discussion between Warner and Common, telling the writer’s rollercoaster story supported by key extracts from significant Kerouac works, including The Town and the CityDoctor SaxBig Sur and, of course, from On the Road Itself.

Warner, whose books Text and Drugs and Rock’n’Roll and Kerouac on Record have reported on the author and his powerful connection with the American literary community known as the Beat Generation, believes that this new show will bring together important elements from a turbulent personal history but also share the background to a radical and fascinating social movement.

The Beat Generation, the so-called Beats, turned literature on its head in the mid-1950s by pursuing innovative forms of expression in fiction and verse, challenging social norms in that country at the height of the Cold War and the Red Scare, prompted by McCarthy-ite witchhunts. Kerouac, alongside Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and others, preached a new and libertarian view of life, an alternative manifesto that pre-empted the counterculture of the following decade.

Warner comments: ‘Kerouac spent his short yet full life writing with an almost manic devotion to the art. But he did it to a constant soundtrack – on record players, car radios, in concert halls, via jukeboxes and in bars and cafés. Music was his most trustworthy companion, whether jazz or country, blues or Broadway ballads. It seems logical to tell his tale through words and song.’

Intriguingly, Kerouac’s vagabond life, a symbol of freedom during a period of conformity, would become an inspiration to the next generations of rebels, particularly in the world of rock, as Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, Jim Morrison, Tom Waits, David Bowie, Patti Smith and Joe Strummer all acknowledged the novelist’s large impact on their own creative ambitions.

The featured artists in Kerouac Lives! will include singers Jessika Mae and Patrick Wise and the part of Jack Kerouac will be performed by Malcolm Webb.

MORE INFORMATION: Public/Venue – Martin Richards, 0773 166 1053; Press – Sonic PR, info@sonicpr.co.uk

Biographies

Simon Warner is a journalist, author and broadcaster with a special interest in the Beat Generation writers and their associations with popular music. His books include Text and Drugs and Rock‘n’Roll: The Beats and Rock Culture (2013) and Kerouac. on Record: A Literary Soundtrack (2018), both published by Bloomsbury. He was a live reviewer for the Guardian in the 1990s and is the founding editor of the web newsletter Rock and the Beat Generation. For more than 20 years, he taught Popular Music Studies at the University of Leeds and remains a Visiting Research Fellow in the School of Music. He produced live events – Howl for Now (2005), Still Howling (2015) and Kerouac on Screen (2019) – and was part of the launch team of Louder Than Words, The Festival of Popular Music Writing in Manchester in 2013.

Heath Common is a songwriter, poet and performance artist from Northern England. He began his musical/spoken word career performing in New York City with his mates who he had previously met in Britain: Robert Lockwood and Johnny  Shines – the stepson and close friend, respectively, of the legendary blues musician Robert Johnson. He was subsequently involved with a diverse number of musicians ranging from the American guitarist John Fahey to the British indie act the Rhythm Sisters. Heath Common continues to work closely with surviving figures from the Beat era and he is a published poet.

John Hardie is a celebrated songwriter, session musician and record producer. Following a long and highly successful career working in many areas of the music industry, John now focuses his talents on composing alongside Heath Common in what the pair intriguingly describe as a series of musical ‘cabarets’.

David S. Wills

David S. Wills is the founder and editor of Beatdom literary journal and the author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the Weird Cult, World Citizen: Allen Ginsberg as Traveller, and High White Notes: The Rise and Fall of Gonzo Journalism.

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