Jack Kerouac's 'Big Sur'

This article is more than 9 years old.

Jack Kerouac’s 1957 novel, “On The Road” made him a literary rock star, but the fame led to his unraveling. So three years later he headed to a friend’s cabin in California to battle his demons and his alcoholism. The result was a second novel, “Big Sur.” The real life events behind the book are documented in a new film and CD, both called “One Fast Move or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur.” Jay Farrar, leader of the band Son Volt, puts the words from the novel to music on the CD and joins us from St. Louis to talk about it.

One Fast Move Or I’m Gone Lyrics (words by Jack Kerouac)

1. California Zephyr

Up the Hudson Valley across NY State
To Chicago then the plains
All so easy and dream like
Crashing the salt flat day break
I hear “I’ll take you home again Kathleen”
Sad in fogwinds out there that blow
Across the rooftops of eerie old hangover
San Francisco
Now I’m transcontinental
3000 miles from my home
I’m on the California Zephyr
Watching America roll by
I’ve hit the end of the trail
Can’t even drag my body I’ve been driven mad
For three years
Too much fame keeps a body busy
And a mind full of white port tears
Terrified by that sad song
Across roofs mingled with the lachrymose cries
Of the salvation army meeting on the corner
Saying Satan is the cause of it all
Now I’m transcontinental
3000 miles from my home
I’m on the California Zephyr
Watching America roll by

2. Low Life Kingdom

Have you sent men here
For this cold clown
And monstrous eater at the world
Send illumination to our drowning brains
Slime hoops and iodine weeds
I’ve got to believe in you
Or live in death
I’m going to die in full despair
Wake up where
The atmosphere is dearer
Maybe closer to heaven
We try to make our way
No aid comes from whatever and wherever
The low life kingdom where we part out tea
Heaven dear suggested to promise us
You’ve not seen mermaids in my actual sea
Her name is oh so really high life
I’m going to die in full despair
Wake up where
The atmosphere is dearer
Maybe closer to heaven
My golden empty soul
Will outlast your salty sill
In a billion years of trying
We’ve had no crack at eternity
I’ve got to believe in you
Or live in death
I’m going to die in full despair
Wake up where
The atmosphere is dearer
Maybe closer to heaven

3. Willamine

I’m only interested in the sad music
Of the voice of Willamine
She makes men sigh and women wonder
Where is all the beauty coming from – and why
Nobody ever dares to write
The true story of love
Hiding under buried junkyards
Throughout the world
With her sad abstract letters
She talks with a broken heart
We’re going to get married and fly away
Roam the Genghis Khan clouds
Anybody who’s never done this is crazy
Nobody ever dares to write
The true story of love
The secret underground truth - of desire
Never mentioned in newspapers
The mat of night admits the groaning godlike love
Ooh Ooh

4. All In One

Cliffs of antique ain’t got no rose
The mornings seen the ledder pose
Say thanks to foggy moon
Except when tumble boom
Soon and sand crook bird back
Long and short low and easy
See round see the end of me
Too find the other side of flat
Owe wait too for heaven
All in one
I’m gonna wash old Pavia down
And pack my salt to another town
How sweet the earth yells sand
All there is in the fair and sight
Whose plantation Neptune got
That of Atlas still down there
Rough old hands played out pedigree
Sunk more boats than dreamer will ever see
The world is burning and needs water
I’ll have a daughter wait and see

5. Breathe Our Iodine

Breathe our iodine
Filthy your drink
Faint at feet wet drop your profile
Move it in the sea
Burn in salt
With slow most change
One grain of sand
3 thousand worlds of glee
Murdering of time
For me for us the sea
Lusty cracks of lip feed wave
Nothing but old age
Burn in salt
With slow most change
One grain of sand
3 thousand worlds of glee
Drop your profile
Move it in the sea
No crack at eternity
For me for us the sea
Burn in salt
With slow most change
One grain of sand
3 thousand worlds of glee
Drop your profile
Not to mention me
Aeons with cigar-a-mouth
Move it in the sea

7. Big Sur

Settling down with warm glow woodstove and kerosene
Peace looking for Peace you’ll find
In the tangled mad cliffsides and crashing dark of Big Sur
Rapturous ring of silence Pacific fury
Flashing on the rocks the sea shroud towers
The innocence of health and stillness in the wilds of Big Sur
This whole surface of the world as we know it now
Will BE covered with the silt of a billion years in time (should “BE” be here?)
I see as much as doors will allow
I’m a long way from the beat generation
Here comes the nightly moth to his nightly death
In Big Sur
The best thing to do is not to be false
The rocks of the valley have left no howl of complaint
I’m just a sick clown and so is everybody else
In Big Sur

9. Final Horrors

Frisco Skid Row - Hotel Room
I feel I’ve been betrayed my very birth
My guilt so deep I must be with the devil
Breathing without believing
My helpless hands are on fire
I look at the world with dead eyes
I’m like a city street drunk
In the Boweries of the world
I want to bury my face in my hands and moan for mercy
The world is looking at me
With hollow big red eyes
I’m at the point of disaster of the soul
Even worse than dawn is morning
The bright sun glaring in on my pain
You feel death for a good reason
I took the deep iodine death breath
I’m afraid to close my eyes
I throw a cancerous look on the world

10. Sea Engines

We calcimine feathers
Kitchen lights on
Sea Engines from Russia (should “Engine” be capitalized?)
Sea birding here below
When rocks out sea froth
I’ll know Hawaii
My double legged cliff
To the stilt of a million years
Go on die salt light
You billion yeared rock knocker
Sad as wife and Hill
Loved as mother and fog
Wine is salt here this tidal wave kitchen
Engines of Russia in your soft talk
You ain’t just whistling Dixie
You ain’t just wasting time
Tumble seabird dig down
Footstep hollow weed
Accomodations of mind
Crashes in rhythm
The 5 billion years
Since earth we saw substantial
No human words bespeak
Sorrow older than this wave
Ah change the world
Ah set the fee
Are rope the angels
In all the sea
Wine is salt here this tidal wave kitchen
Engines of Russia in your soft talk
You ain’t just whistling Dixie
You ain’t just wasting time

11. The Void

The machine gun sea
Rhythmic balls of you pouring in
Buddha land and Buddha seas
Slickered histories below
Water swim Neptunes nectar drink
Sinners, liars goodmen all sink
The sea doesn’t murder
The sea doesn’t tell
The sea doesn’t murder
New morning of sitters by the unborn
Bird of Roses yet undone
No tempest still and awful as the one within
A troublesome spirit here can’t make it in the void
The sea doesn’t murder
The sea doesn’t tell

12. San Francisco

The church is blowing a sad windblown “Kathleen”
On the bells of the skid row slums
I wake up goopy and woebegone
At the Mars Hotel on 4th and Howard
Do you remember dancing girls in St. Louis
Stan Getz on the hi-fi under midnight kitchen bulbs
We all agree it’s too big to keep up with
That we’re surrounded by life – that we’ll
Never understand it
The great magical city of the Gandharvas
Of San Francisco
Where is the writer who could bring you
Sobbing through the bed fucking bed cribs
Of the moon to see it all even unto
Some robbery of the heart at dawn
When no one cares
I’m lost among strange agitators of the heart
We center it all by swigging from the bottle
All for two sticks of loco weed
That grows by itself in Texas because god wanted it
Great magical city of the Gandharvas
Of San Francisco

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