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Jay Farrar and Benjamin Gibbard

One Fast Move or I’m Gone (F-Stop Records)

Nov. 11, 2009
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Aside from the Beat roads of Tom Waits, the marriage between music and the words of Jack Kerouac is probably best experienced in the novelist’s own collection of readings and jazz singing, Jack Kerouac Reads on theRoad, or more recently on the Jim Sampas-produced, Ginsberg/Ferlinghetti/Hunter-Thompson-spanning tribute album, Kicks Joy Darkness.

The vibe of each is late-night boozy slurs and pure jazz club finger-snapping. Sampas’ latest Kerouac homage, though, a documentary titled One Fast Move or I’m Gone, offers a collaboration, the first between Benjamin Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie and Jay Farrar of Uncle Tupelo. The duo trades off singing duties on the sparse Farrar-penned tracks of generic acoustic chord changes, pedal steel and light drums, borrowing the breathless prose of Big Sur.

Certainly one of Kerouac’s dreariest works, the novel would seem to be a genuine match for Gibbard’s sad-sap whine or Farrar’s flannel gruffness. But along with lack of light, the prose lacks the usual amount of Kerouac’s whirly-wind sentence structure. The resultant songwriting tends toward forced turns of phrase, nothing in the way of rhyme scheme and, overall, a general feeling of half-baked Beat genuflection.

As a writer so steeped in poetry, Kerouac’s oeuvre definitely holds actual tunes, somewhere, but not here. Lost in the mix is the novel’s entire characteristic: despair-on-the-rocks, blow-by-blow ravages of alcoholism, celebrity-fatigue. Big Sur is actually the Kerouac period of being “sick and tired of all the endless enthusiasms of new young kids trying to know me.” And the earnest lilt of the likes of “California Zephyr” is clearly of the On the Road Kerouac of yore.

But maybe most at odds with the writer is the overriding sound of One Fast Move. As it arrives so pristine, so white, so nerdish and mopey, Kerouac, that “yeah”-saying champion of spontaneity and raging late-night bop, would probably hate it.


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