Spontaneous Poetics (Ballads) – 6

AG: First off, remember Jack Elliott was talking about Okie language and he had that in common with (Jack) Kerouac? (So) the first texts I want to pick up on (for) this term are a couple (of) short texts from Mexico City Blues using that kind of Okie talk. The “146th Chorus” of Mexico City Blues – Is anybody familiar with that? Who has read some of Kerouac’s poetry? And who has not? Okay. We have, in the library, a tape of Kerouac reading his own poetry. It’s a cassette. If you have a cassette machine or can borrow a cassette machine. Did you check that out?

Student: I went in there today and they didn’t have it available.

AG: Did they know about it?

Student: The fellow said he just didn’t know if it was there or not.

Student: It’s downstairs in the main Naropa library. He has it downstairs usually..

AG:  (Hmm) (That) Kerouac tape should be on hand for our class, yeah, I think. I don’t know why that got (it all) screwed up.. but anyway we’ll get it and (keep it) where it should be kept, actually. Should it be downstairs there?

Student: Well I figured it would be in the regular library

AG: We should put it here.

Student: We’re keeping all the books here.

AG: Yeah, okay. So the point is, where is that tape of Kerouac?

Student: It used to be at the (front) desk..

AG: Okay. Then I don’t know how you’d (easily get to) listen to it. If anybody’s got a cassette, Yeah? – so, bring your cassette, or borrow a cassette and come to the library and listen to it. It’s worth hearing.

[AG proceeds next to read Jack Kerouac’s “146th Chorus” from Mexico City Blues  – “The Big Engines/ in the night -/ The Diesel on the Pass,/ the Airplane in the Pan/ American night -/Night/ The Blazing Silence in the Night,/ the Pan Canadian Night -/ The Eagle on the Pass,/ the Wire on the Rail,/ The High Hot Iron/ of my heart./ The blazing chickaball/ Whap-by/ Extry special Super/ High Job/ Ole 169 be/ floundering/ Down to Kill Roy”] – That’s the Southern Pacific. Gilroy is the terminus – Gilroy, California – “The blazing chickaball/ Whap-by/ Extry special Super/ High Job/ Ole 169 be/ floundering/ Down to Kill Roy” – It was Okie talk for Kerouac. Actually, he defined that. He thought that accent was Okie – that rhythm too. He was interested in hard-hat truckers, what comes into a chic vogue now as CB truckers’ high-faggot style, or whatever you call it. And “180th Chorus” – [Allen reads Jack Kerouac’s “180th Chorus – “When you work on that railroad/ You gotta know what old boy’s/ sayin/ in that en-gyne/ When you head brakie/ just showin up for work/ on a cold mist dusk/ ready to roll/ to on down the line/ lettuce fields/ of Elkhoen/ & sea-marshes/ of the hobo highriding/ night, flash Salinas – /”Somebody asked me where/ I come from/ I tell them it’s none of their/ business,/ Cincinnatta” -/ Poetry just doesn’t get there”] – “/”Somebody asked me where/ I come from/ I tell them it’s none of their/ business,/ Cincinatta” -/ Poetry just doesn’t get there” – C-I-N-C-I-N-N-A-T-T-A – Cincinnatta – “I tell them it’s none of their/ business,/ Cincinnatta” – It’s the sound that he’s listening to, American diction, the word – Cincinatta – that’s the diction. It’s not Cincinnati, it’s Cincinatta – it’s Okie diction, or whatever local diction it is and some kind of local rhythm. I’m not sure where it comes from but I think that the Western Okie sound seems to be a reflection of some kind of black talk, where the accent comes towards the end, with an extra-special “bop” at the end – “Cincinnat-TA!” – There’s a special accent, especially in blues, that comes at the end of the line – [Allen begins singing] – “I don’t know where I’m GOIN’” – [he continues] – “181stChorus” – “The girls go for that long red/ tongue/ From the pimp with the long red/ car,/ They lay it in his hand/ The profits’ curfew/ He take it “The Yellow Kid”/ – He’s the Man – “ – I guess that’s the sound I was talking about – “He’s the Man” – Black talk – but it also seems to affect white Okie speech – “She goes home and hustles/ Remembering Caroline,/ The hills when little/ The raw log cabin/ rotting in the piney woods/ where the mule was mush/ and pup-dog howled/ for no owner/ all one owl-hoot night/ and watermelon flies/ on the porch/ But she loved that long red tongue/ And the Man/ is a Sucker/ “SOMEONE LOWER THAN SHE IS” – So it’s like a lot of different voices there, actually. A Black voice, a South Carolina voice, a New York Nigger voice. I was just putting Kerouac’s accent next to Jack Elliott’s accent, since they were both friends and co-poets, in a way, or they influenced each other, or had some relationship, or some..some kind of American tongue. Which is, I guess, the basis of our study here.

Student: How old is Elliott now?

AG: Jack is, I think, younger than me, so he must be around..38?,,no, no, 45 maybe?. Forty-five. I’m 50, and he’s a couple of years younger, I think. Maybe ten?. I thought he was older than me, actually, originally. We were on the road together and I found out he was younger. That’s what we have Elliott’s Okie-talk and Kerouac’s Okie-talk, but they’re all mixed. Elliott can do really elegant faggot-talk too, oddly enough. He’s a good pantomime. But the question I was asking Elliott was, where do these words come from? where do those forms come from? where do the ballads come from? where do the songs come from? There aren’t enough books in the library to get it out and to lay out the origins, but, fortunately, Helen Adam is still here. So I thought it would be interesting to ask Helen to lay the ballad on us, the history of the ballad, and what she knows – the classic ballads  (because she grew up in Scotland with Scottish Border Ballads)

AG (to Helen Adam): Are they Border Ballads?

Helen Adam:  Yes, Border Ballads.

AG: Who collected them? Sir Walter Scott?

Helen Adam: (Francis) Child

AG: Child did?

Helen Adam: Yes

AG: Ah, yes, the Child Ballads that I was talking about then. How many volumes is that?

Helen Adam: Scott collected them too – Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. But Child is the one who did it first.

AG: So I thought, maybe, let’s work with Helen and find out about ballads. Because I don’t know very much about the history of the ballad. I’m just getting it myself and learning about it, and producing some, so I’m interested in finding out  more background than I know, and it might be an interesting thing for a class scene for us to work on a little music this week and everybody write a ballad (which is something that most people aren’t, here, because…we’re all writing crazy beatnik free verse). I’m going to try and write a ballad this week. So the class-assignment for, I guess, Monday – we’ve got a weekend – is, write up a ballad. Anything – sex ballad, sex blues – blues or ballad (blues form is iambic pentameter, three-lined stanzas rhymed A-A-A, and you can repeat the (last) two lines – I mean, the second line can repeat the first) – but better still if we did a ballad, a formal ballad, like Helen is doing (because she’s going to lay out some samples)

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