Words in pictures: Jack Kerouac

The Beat novelist discusses the Hippie movement.

Jack Kerouac, the American novelist and author of The Dharma Bums, Big Sur and On the Road was a significant member of the postwar "Beat Generation" of American authors. On the Road stands alongside Allen Ginsberg's Howl and William S Burroughs's Naked Lunch in the Beat pantheon.

In this week's issue of the New Statesman, Olivia Laing reviews hitherto unpublished Kerouac's first novel, The Sea Is My Brother, written in 1943, shortly after Kerouac's first tour as a merchant marine. Aboard a ship named Voyage to Greenland, Kerouac kept a journal which would shape much of the lost novel. According to Laing, The Sea Is My Brother "shows that [Kerouac's] gifts, and flaws, developed early".

In this clip from an episode of William F Buckley's Firing Line from 1968, a drunked Kerouac puffs on a cigar while discussing the hippie movement with Ed Sanders of the counter-cultural band the Fugs and the academic Lewis Yablonsky.



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How Dame Vera Lynn was told to “posh her accent up”

Radio 2’s 100th-birthday tribute reveals how Lynn was forced to change her voice.

“I remember seeing her near an elephant, and this elephant rolled over a bit and she had to get out of the way . . .” Vic Knibb, the vice-chairman of the veterans’ group the Burma Star Association, was one of the thousands of British soldiers serving in the Far East during the Second World War who came across Vera Lynn in the jungle, singing from the back of a Jeep, accompanied by an out-of-tune piano.

Speaking in Radio 2’s celebration of the singer’s 100th birthday, Vera Lynn: the Sweetheart of the United Kingdom (Sunday 19 March, 8pm), Knibb and others recalled what it meant to them that Lynn travelled so far to perform for the so-called Forgotten Army in Burma. Unlike other entertainers, who stayed in Europe or visited only military hospitals in the UK, she deliberately went where few others did – where she felt she was needed by “the boys”.

The programme, which featured a rare interview with Lynn herself, was dominated by clips of her recordings from the Thirties and Forties. We heard frequent extracts from “The White Cliffs of Dover”, “We’ll Meet Again” and “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”. The contrast between these two voices, separated by more than six decades, was the most arresting thing this otherwise pedestrian documentary had to offer. The now gravelly-voiced centenarian sang, in her youth, with a smooth, effortless-sounding tone and crystal-clear diction. But how did the cockney daughter of a plumber from East Ham end up singing with received pronunciation?

The answer, as ever in Britain, is class. Lynn had no formal musical training, and as she had been performing in working men’s clubs from the age of seven, she was considered closer to a musical-hall crooner than a “proper” singer. But with her small vocal range and flawless self-taught technique, she chose her own songs to suit her voice. The BBC, for which she made her hugely popular radio show Sincerely Yours, requested that she take elocution lessons to “posh her accent up” and even at one point took her show off air for 18 months. “Every­body’s Sweetheart” wasn’t immune from snobbishness, it seems. 

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution