Perfect Sound Forever

Advancing Awareness On CD Kerouac- kicks joy darkness
Unpublished And Lesser-Known Works Highlighted

Interview with Jim Sampas, the disk's producer
by John Grady

Growing interest in Kerouac and the Beats includes a Beat art show held at the Whitney Museum last year as well as new films like the one shown at Sundance based on Kerouac and Cassady's letters. Poetry, music, performance art events are being staged in coffeehouses coast to coast. ON THE ROAD remains an enduring topseller on college campuses around the world. And director Francis Ford Coppolla is preparing a movie version of this now-classic American novel.

The producer of Kerouac - kicks joy darkness, Jim Sampas, is a musician and songwriter who plays guitar and sings in Boston area bands. He is related to John Sampas, the literary representative of the Estates of Jack and Stella Sampas Kerouac.

He first saw the effects of Kerouac's words combined with music at an event he produced featuring Graham Parker and Jim Carroll in Boston in March of 1994. Then he produced another one that October with Jim Carroll, Mark Sandman of Morphine and Lisa King at the Middle East club in Cambridge. Both performances gained great reviews. The idea of a Kerouac tribute recording grew.

Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, who also writes his own books of poetry, came aboard as associate producer. Renaldo served as emcee at the Kerouac concert put on by New York University at Town Hall in 1995, with numerous artists reading from Kerouac. This site was the first recording session for the CD project, with performances by Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti presented on the album. Pattti Smith was recorded in performance at the annual Lowell Celebrates Kerouac Festival in 1995.

"Once Lee got involved, the project really started taking off," says Sampas. "He brought in Thurston Moore, Eddie Vedder, Michael Stipe, and others." With interest growing, Sampas was faced with decisions about what material to include.

"The mainstream books are more appealing, more accessible, but we wanted to do things people hadn't heard before, open people's eyes to work never published before, or to a book like VISIONS OF CODY, which is not that well known," says Sampas. Working with literary executor John Sampas, previously unpublished material was made available.

Sampas wanted to expand the awareness of Kerouac. "We experimented. Okay, let's mix it up, put in something for everybody," says the producer. As the project progressed with more artists getting involved, difficulties also arose, mainly questions about who to include and which pieces to use.

"Things started to get dark so we lightened it up." Juliana Hatfield reads a lighter work (Silly Goofball Pomes) and Steve Tyler reads an unpublished reminscence from Kerouac's childhood in which he eats a coffee cake "which is the most delicious thing in the world..."

The previously unpublished piece read by Richard Lewis is also surprising. Kerouac, in 1957, holds forth in an essay about "the dying Dinosaur Age of Violence" while "America is producing a Revolution of Love..."

"Some asked, 'why do you have so many famous people?' It's hard to satisfy Kerouac fans. But we feel this does, it speaks to the uninitiated as well as the fans." Sampas added the bottom line: "All the people on the disk like Kerouac and are influenced by him. Plus they're all people I admire. Some of them may be famous, but they're all hardworking, influential people who are as devoted to their art as Jack was. I think he would have liked it."

Also see: An interview with Lee Ranaldo and detailed review of Kicks, Joy, Darkness
(or see the main intro to the articles).