Music Monday: Kerouac’s Big Sur Inspires Indie Collaboration

Photo courtesy of Shore Fire Media

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


In writing the music for Death Cab for Cutie’s “Narrow Stairs” (2008), singer/songwriter Ben Gibbard holed up in a cabin in Big Sur, California, that was once owned by the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti—and the place where Jack Kerouac wrote his lesser-known 1962 novel Big Sur. Kerouac’s pull evidently lingered with Gibbard. His latest project, released last week, is a soft, melodic collaboration with alt-country rocker Jay Farrar titled “One Fast Move or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur.”

Far more melancholic than On the Road or The Dharma Bums, Big Sur describes a fictionalized (though clearly autobiographical) Jack; his flight from fame to the West, his alcoholism, and his ensuing breakdown. Musically speaking, Farrar and Gibbard’s interpretation is lighter than that, even as it pulls various lyrics straight from the text. And while the artists meld well in songs like “There Roads Don’t Move” and “Sea Engines,” the overall album feels like the work of two distinct artists.

Farrar, formerly of Uncle Tupelo (with Jeff Tweedy), infuses his unmistakable country influence throughout—the smoky voice, sad slide guitars, the spare blues riff in “Final Horrors,” a track that most resembles the fears and collapse of the novel’s broken protagonist. Gibbard, on the other hand, lends a lighter tone, especially when it’s contrasted with Farrar’s voice. If Gibbard’s singing is clear and bright, like a drive down Highway 1 as it hugs the Pacific Coast under a bleached blue sky, then Farrar’s is the city blanketed with fog, the mist clouding the streets and lights.

Even so, Farrar and Gibbard have created a wonderful collection of songs—simple yet lush, effortless-sounding yet well-crafted. And though the album was created and recorded in conjunction with a documentary about the novel, “One Fast Move…” never aspires to be a direct sonic translation. Instead, listeners get what Farrar and Gibbard felt with the book in their hands, and what those feelings begat in the recording studio. It’s not often that a talented duo takes up an undervalued but important piece of literature and finds music in it. For those who may try such a thing in the future, Farrar and Gibbard have set the bar high.

WE'LL BE BLUNT:

We need to start raising significantly more in donations from our online community of readers, especially from those who read Mother Jones regularly but have never decided to pitch in because you figured others always will. We also need long-time and new donors, everyone, to keep showing up for us.

In "It's Not a Crisis. This Is the New Normal," we explain, as matter-of-factly as we can, what exactly our finances look like, how brutal it is to sustain quality journalism right now, what makes Mother Jones different than most of the news out there, and why support from readers is the only thing that keeps us going. Despite the challenges, we're optimistic we can increase the share of online readers who decide to donate—starting with hitting an ambitious $300,000 goal in just three weeks to make sure we can finish our fiscal year break-even in the coming months.

Please learn more about how Mother Jones works and our 47-year history of doing nonprofit journalism that you don't find elsewhere—and help us do it with a donation if you can. We've already cut expenses and hitting our online goal is critical right now.

payment methods

WE'LL BE BLUNT

We need to start raising significantly more in donations from our online community of readers, especially from those who read Mother Jones regularly but have never decided to pitch in because you figured others always will. We also need long-time and new donors, everyone, to keep showing up for us.

In "It's Not a Crisis. This Is the New Normal," we explain, as matter-of-factly as we can, what exactly our finances look like, how brutal it is to sustain quality journalism right now, what makes Mother Jones different than most of the news out there, and why support from readers is the only thing that keeps us going. Despite the challenges, we're optimistic we can increase the share of online readers who decide to donate—starting with hitting an ambitious $300,000 goal in just three weeks to make sure we can finish our fiscal year break-even in the coming months.

Please learn more about how Mother Jones works and our 47-year history of doing nonprofit journalism that you don't elsewhere—and help us do it with a donation if you can. We've already cut expenses and hitting our online goal is critical right now.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate