“We passed the Apollo theater . . . . and then we crossed the street to a penny arcade . . . . and we started playing pinball machines . . . . I shoved a nickel in the jukebox and played Benny Goodman’s ‘The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise.’” And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs, (written 1945), 2008, (172).
My World War II generation (termed “The Greatest Generation”) parents would be surprised at my (“Baby Boomer” from Beatles to Woodstock to CBGB to jazz) interest in Benny Goodman. I recently found “The Original Recordings, Benny Goodman, Let’s Dance” and track number twelve is none other than “The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise,” (Quartet/Mel Powell & His Orchestra, March 10, 1942); however, this is probably not the recording Jack spent a nickel to hear. I’m curious why Jack would choose this song. Was it a favorite of his? Or just a popular song of the time? Is he being ironic? After all, his friend just killed a friend, so where is the sunrise in this scenario? However, if my friend just killed a friend, this upbeat tune would probably be the last thing I’d play, but then again I probably wouldn’t be hanging at the penny arcade, either.
This extended 1942 CD version (according to the linear notes) “doesn’t actually exist.” It is two versions mixed together with a record time of 5:16 minutes; most of the other recordings are half that time. The “King of Swing” does indeed swing like crazy, when “Swing was the Thing,” Benny Goodman, clarinet; Mel Powell, guitar; Sid Weiss, bass; Ralph Collier, drums. Goodman recorded the song many times and several versions, of course, can be found on YouTube.
The song was first published in 1919 and has been recorded by hundreds of musicians including many jazz musicians. Les Paul (one of the architects of rock and roll) and Mary Ford had a million-selling hit with it in 1951, and even the Beatles got into “World” with a home version of their own in the late 1950s. It’s on “The Early Years 1958-1963” and the boys—pictured with Pete Best the original drummer—look and sound rockabilly. This little number that Jack mentions by title, written by Ernest Seitz- Gene Lockhart, has had quite the history.
For those too young to know, Benny Goodman was BIG. He became famous in 1935 and his career lasted for more than six decades. Maybe at first glance, bespectacled, bow-tied, tuxedoed “The King of Swing” and the someday to be “the bloody ‘King of the Beatniks’” i seem an odd duo, considering Jack’s well-documented love of bebop, but Benny came first—after Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington—and was an intoxicating influence on the culture. And, Jack, short-term U.S. Navy sailor and merchant marine, was a member of the “The Greatest Generation” before the Beat Generation was conceived.
If this song seems tame have a listen to Goodman’s “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” or better yet, have a look at the Ken Burns PBS Jazz series and check out the dancers at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, and I’m talking wild off-the-floor-and-ceiling dancing, and it is exhilarating, and America at its finest, liberatingly glorious, and racially unencumbered. And while you’re at it, check out bandleader Chick Webb at the Savoy—a king of swing drummer—and the great battle of the bands in 1937 between Webb and Goodman, featuring Gene Krupa on drums. It drew a big crowd, so big, that New York riot police were on hand for the thousands of fans who showed up.
Two years later in 1939, a young Jack Kerouac and Horace Mann schoolmate, Seymour Wyse, heard the great bands at the Savoy. ii It doesn’t appear Jack was much of a dancer, but that doesn’t matter. It seems there were two types at the Savoy: the dancers and those who watched the dancers, into the early morning waiting for the sunrise.
i Kerouac, Jack, Big Sur, 1962.
ii Moore, Dave. (March 31, 2013). My really best friend . . . an interview with Seymour Wyse. Empty Mirror. www.emptymirrorbooks.com