Rock to the Beat that goes on

Kerouac anniversary celebration fuses poetry and music

Jack Kerouac died a drinker’s death Oct. 21, 1969, many years after reaching fame with his novels “On the Road” and “Dharma Bums,” which inspired generations to follow. To mark his death and to celebrate his life, The Doors in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district is hosting Bohemian Cafe, a night of music, theater and “dancing angels and poets” Oct. 20.

Beat writer and poet, Jack Kerouac, is remembered at “Bohemian Cafe.”

Kerouac’s mantra for poetics — “Mind is shapely, Art is shapely” — was an echo of the aphorism Ginsberg popularized, “First thought, best thought.” While his prose influenced numerous Beat writers, Kerouac’s poetry is less well-known — although Bob Dylan once said that “Mexico City Blues” blew his mind and was the first poetry that spoke his own language.

Successful poetry events in Tokyo often collaborate with the other arts, principally music, to add layers of meaning to the overall experience. At Fuei Nishimatsu’s recent Nuances event, Shuntaro Tanikawa’s poems were interpreted with ji-uta ballads. At 2001 Creative Hodogaya this spring, Kazuko Shiraishi read the poetry of Ryuichi Tamura to a backing of live jazz and the dance of Kazuo Ohno.

One trend increasingly popular on the Tokyo poetry scene is the fusion of poetry with rock music. Bohemian Cafe will feature rock band Gokuraku Onsen, whose frontman, Muroken, has strong Beat credentials. Muroken has translated the lyrics of Dylan and Tom Waits, as well as Robert Hunter’s lyrics for The Grateful Dead. Performing at the opening party for the film “The Source,” Muroken read his original musings on the Beats to the backing of Gokuraku Onsen’s psychedelic sounds.

Other participants with Beat connections include Robert Harris, whose J-Wave “Poetry Cafe” was the first poetry radio program in Japan; poet Ikuo Tani, who emceed the now defunct Wasteland Gatherings of poets at Shibuya’s Tower Records; Sandaime Uotake, an Osakan storyteller; and Inko Saito, author of lyrics for both children’s songs and J-pop hits as well the producer of the yearly Ueno Poetrican Jam. A “video letter” from rock guitarist Motoharu Sano and Lou Reed will be shown at the event.

So let’s join together in celebrating Kerouac’s life. As he says in an untitled poem: “I could become a great grinning host/Like a skeleton/Hung up in Heaven.”

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.
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