Jack Kerouac (No Turning Back/Spontaneity)

Charlie Parker’s saxophone

Student: What I really love about that book (Mexico City Blues) is the way he (Kerouac) looked upon himself like a Charlie Parker or a Lester Young

AG: Hm-hmm.

Student: … writing, instead of playing a trumpet, a sax..

AG: Yeah.  Well, the notion there is that once you have fixed in your mind your theme, or once you have your theme and observe a basic form fixed in your mind, then you just blow.  And anything you blow is what you blew — anything you play on the trumpet or saxophone is what you lay down, and then you lay down the next chorus and then you lay down another chorus on top of that and build.  And you can’t go back and correct the choruses, because the whole point is you’re working with an ensemble, either of musicians, if you’re a musician, or an ensemble of thoughts and heartbeats and pulsations and noises in the window at the moment of writing if you’re a poet. So he saw himself as doing in poetry what jazz musicians had done with their instruments and voices, which is to say, singing on the spot.

Now, it’s an old idea.  Everybody knows you do that in jazz, and everybody accepts that in jazz, and then, if you think a little more, everybody accepts it in calypso, and everybody accepts it when Billie Holiday or Ma Rainey do it, or Louis Armstrong does it, and everybody accepts it when the Zen master does it when he’s doing it with his calligraphy, right?  You know about that, sir?  Yeah? –  You have your paper, and he prepares the brush, and he’s sat many years, and then he goes zap! and that’s it. And everybody accepts that first gesture when the mountaineer jumps across the crevasse.  If you (can) see the picture – the fellow in the red socks holding a rope, jumping from one ice lip to another, across a crevasse, doesn’t revise his jump. It’s taken for granted that you’re in that space, and you’ve got to cover the space, and you jump. Or, if you have a boxing match, you don’t go back and revise the boxing match.

Peter Orlovsky:  Unless you’re a bird.
AG: Well, a bird can go back but then….
Peter Orlovsky:  Chipmunks can do it on the road.
AG: But, as for birds, there is still the problem that, although a bird can go backward, the old Zen saying about birds retracing their steps is “In the vast inane, there is no back or front. The path of the bird annihilates east and west.”  So even the bird doesn’t go back into the exact same spot.
Peter Orlovsky:  But I’ve seen the little …
AG:  Not the exact same spot.
Peter Orlovsky:  … chipmunk … pretty much, boy, pretty much. You ever seen that?  Right in the middle of the road.
AG: That chipmunk.
Peter Orlovsky:  See, they come across the road, a car comes and it’s going to run over them.  Before the car hits – split, they run back..
AG: They go back.
Peter Orlovsky:  ..where they came from.
AG: Um-hmm.
Peter Orlovsky:  ..before you’re going to hit ’em, you know,  (it looks like you’re going to hit ’em), they’re back.
AG: Um-hmm.
Peter Orlovsky:  And it looks like they travel the same road.
AG: Well, of course the point is that … I don’t know.  What is (the point)?  Does that fit our point?

Keroauc’s notion is also like the Tibetan notion of dharmachakra –  turning the wheel of dharma – which is to say, knowing your subject, then you simply proclaim on the spot and interpret phemomena on the spot. If you understand that existence contains suffering, and that existence is empty of soul or ego, and that it’s transitory, then any situation you find yourself in you can interpret as a lesson in transitoriness – like this class is not going to last for more than another hour-and-a-quarter.  Emptiness – (in between words I don’t know what I’ll say next).  And suffering – (well, I don’t know whether it’s “suffering”… somewhat.  I don’t know – I’m unsure what book I’ll cover, or what I’ll do next, so there’s a certain uneasiness just in being in that situation, or an uneasiness (for you) in expecting to learn something, or having to stare in each other’s eyes. And I’m expected to make some sense (with) you looking at me.  The whole arrangement is to some extent we’re having to “”suffer each other”, let us say,  suffering with each other).

So any situation, given a grounding, is a situation for analysis –  poetics, creativeness, discovering and understanding and creating an order, or creating a coherence – any moment.  So you don’t really have to cling to just one inspiration or one model.  And Kerouac abandoned all model and all clinging, and said – “From now on speak, or forever hold your peace.”  Or, “speak as if you’re going to die the next minute”.So that everything you have to say would have to be final and complete.  Because you were dead the next minute, anyway.

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