Spontaneity in the work of Jackson Pollock, Charlie Parker, and Jack Kerouac

During the decade following World War Two, a body of artistic work was created that clearly articulated for the first time, a distinctly American aesthetic, independent of European models. This is not to say that celebrated works like The Great Gatsby, The Sun Also Rises, Appalachian Spring and Roy Harrisʼ Third Symphony are not recognized as American masterpieces; but their American characteristics are expressed through content, rather than form or methods of production. Fitzgerald and Hemingway all furthered their apprenticeship in Europe during the 1920s while Copland and Harris studied in Paris with Boulanger. It remained for the next generation of the avant garde, living for the most part in New York, to create original schools through the modes of Abstract Expressionism, the new chromatic jazz of Be Bop, and the literature of the Beats. The singly most important characteristic of the new American expression was the central role played by spontaneity and improvisation yielding works of astonishing vibrant surface detail.

The emphasis on the spontaneous as an alternative to the careful and rational reflected larger cultural and philosophical issues. In seeking a subjective, existential view of reality, honesty, authenticity, were prized over the objective world view, process over product. Whether expressed in gesture painting, spontaneous bop prosody, or the chromatic flights of bebop, the emphasis was on the experience, rejecting the academic craftsmanship of revision as antithetical to the glorification of the now.This emphasis plus the incorporation of elements from African and Native American sources were interpreted as an attack on the privileged hegemony of the Anglo-American academy. Beat writers were ridiculed by proponents of the New Criticism who vaunted T.S. Eliot as their model. Kerouacʼs spontaneous prose was dismissed as “mere typing” by Truman Capote. While mainstream journals such as Life magazine devoted some attention to abstract art, it was more often of a patronizing nature, referring to Pollock as “Jack the Dripper”. The new jazz faced opposition even within its own ranks, even prompting a revival of New Orleans music, now called “Dixieland”. Louis Armstrong dismissed bop as making about as much sense as “Chinese music”. So with its fusion of modernist complexity with vernacular) or “street”) immediacy the new art represented a third alternative to European elitism and mainstream pop culture. In an even larger context, the avant garde of the late 1940s represented a reaction to Auschwitz, Hiroshima, and the Gulag – the latter having a dampening impact on the leftist Communist idealism of the 30s. Whether implicit in words or explicit in painting and music, the avant garde became a central voice in the new bohemian counterculture criticism of United States political and corporate globalization with its strategy of cold war xenophobia and domestic consumerism. The full effect of this will not be fully realized until the mid 1960s when the civil rights movement and opposition to the war in Viet Nam galvanized many to question the policies of the government.

 

Jackson Pollock photographed by Arnold Newman for LIFE Magazine, 1949

 

Charlie Parker, at the Carnegie Hall, New York. Photo by William P. Gottlieb, 1947

 

Jack Kerouac in his Long Island home displaying one of the scrolls on which he composed his books, unidentified photographer, 1964.

 

Three artists, Jackson Pollock (1912-1956), Charlie Parker (1920-1955), and Jack Kerouac (1922-1969), play a central role in the emerging post war avant garde, each incorporating elements of spontaneity to their arts. The outline of their biographies shows many similarities. Roughly of the same generation, each were born and raised in provincial settings, Pollock in Cody, Wyoming, Parker in Kansas City, Missouri, and Kerouac in Lowell, Massachusetts. Each came from working class blue collar maternally dominated families, with dysfunctional (Pollock and Kerouac) or nonexistent (Parker) relationships with their fathers, Pollock and Kerouac becoming highly misogynistic. Each produced their most important work in New York beginning around 1945, where they all habituated the same Lower East Side and Greenwich Village neighborhoods, often hanging out in the same bars and coffee houses. All three experienced difficult personal lives, cut short from substance abuse resulting in early deaths (Pollock at age 44. Parker at 35, and Kerouac at 47). What is of great interest is the mutual interest and influence among the artistic intelligentsia of the period. Much of Kerouacʼs innovative spontaneous prose sketching achieved most notable in Visions of Cody and The Subterraneans were heavily indebted to his sophisticated knowledge of jazz. Several of the “choruses” in Mexico City Blues are profiles of Parker, Lester Young, and other musicians. Lee Krasner, Pollockʼs wife, has documented the painterʼs interest in jazz as well as classical music. Night Clubs, such as the Five Spot, doubled as jazz venues as well as art galleries.

 

 

A Pollock painting illustrates the cover of Ornette Colemanʼs, Free Jazz, released in 1959. Some artists worked in several disciplines, most notable saxophonist Larry Rivers who became a prominent painter, composer-novelist Paul Bowles, pianist-poet Cecil Taylor, and poet-painter-composer Weldon Kees. Poetic recitation with jazz, begun with Kenneth Patchen and Charlie Mingus included performances at the Village Vanguard with Kerouac who recorded with tenor men Zoot Sims and Al Cohn as well as recited on television with Steve Allen backing him up on piano. The image of these performances, with their “beards,bongos and beatniks” became simplistic cultural clichés in the late 1950s. perpetuated by the mainstream media in an attempt to trivialize and ridicule the movement. To reiterate the central thesis of this argument, the main thread that unites this rich period of American creativity is the use of improvisation for the purpose of creating art characterized by great emotional and intense expression.

 

American Zeitgeist: Spontaneity in the work of Jackson Pollock, Charlie Parker, and Jack Kerouac
Randall Snyder
(Excerpt)

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Illumination: Who Are Poets

 

We are constantly looking at still and video images through compressed formats, on smaller screens, on shrinking devices. I invert the approach to current media, by enlarging the minuscule detail of compressed imagery to a point of beautiful abstract distortion.

By breaking the image elements into enlarged color tiles, I strive to create two levels of viewing. I experiment pulling the eye of the viewer back and forth between the sterile smoothness of tiles and the composed depth of a lit portrait. It is a mediation of human emotion and experience contained from the perspective of the digital age. My subjects, who are poets – parse the human experience into measures of words, sounds, images.

The portraits are large in scale, evoking sacred items to be viewed with a sense of awe and wonder. One thinks of stained glass windows in cathedrals; upon close examination, the exquisite tiles break the image into astounding squares of colored glass. The abstract color tiles invite the viewer to explore the surface texture of the image. When you take a step back, the image becomes whole, the work illuminated, shining light on the subjects – poetry itself.

I make a statement on the nature of a poet – we can see these faces at a distance, but tiles prevent us from recognizing the subjects at a closer range. the sum of their work and voices touches us, but they are, as all people are, ultimately unknowable.

Steven Sebring

 

 

It was in 1995 when the photographer Steven Sebring met Patti Smith while on a shoot for Spin Magazine. Many years later they collaborated on a film Patti Smith: Dream of Life, a book, and an exhibition. And they collaborated again. to celebrate the opening of Sebring’s exhibition Illumination: Who Are Poets at the Milk Gallery in Chelsea (2011).

The exhibit featured a series of portraits Sebring did of Patti, Jim Carroll, Joey Ramone, Michael Stipe, Neil Young, Philip Glass and Richard Hell. To honor the subjects, Patti and Stipe sang and played. Patti shared with the public few lectures stories and songs about all of them. Her passion and devotion to poetry made her the perfect voice for a special New York night. She shared the stage with her long time guitarist Lenny Kaye and her daughter Jesse (magic on piano).

 

Kafkaesque Chain of Events

George Harrison on the set of A Hard Day’s Night (Richard Lester, 1964)

 

Among George Harrison‘s biographers, Simon Leng views All Things Must Pass as a “paradox of an album”: as eager as Harrison was to break free from his identity as a Beatle, Leng suggests, many of the songs document the “Kafkaesque chain of events” of life within the band and so added to the “mythologized history” he was looking to escape. Ian Inglis notes 1970’s place in an era marking “the new supremacy of the singer-songwriter”, through such memorable albums as Simon & Garfunkel‘s Bridge Over Troubled Water, Neil Young‘s After the Gold Rush, Van Morrison‘s Moondance and Joni Mitchell‘s Ladies of the Canyon, but that none of these “possessed the startling impact” of All Things Must Pass. Harrison’s triple album, Inglis writes, “[would] elevate ‘the third Beatle’ into a position that, for a time at least, comfortably eclipsed that of his former bandmates”.

More Than Them

 
 

The band that would become Travis was formed by brothers Chris and Geoff Martyn. Andy Dunlop, a school friend at Lenzie Academy, was drafted in on guitar, along with Andy Dunlop on drums, although the latter was replaced soon after by Neil Primrose. The line-up was completed by a female vocalist, Catherine Maxwell, and the band’s name became Glass Onion, after The Beatles song of the same name. Parting company with their singer in the spring of 1991, they auditioned for a new vocalist. Having met each other through Primrose pouring him a pint, an untrained art student, Fran Healy, then joined after being invited to audition by Primrose. Healy joined the band on the day he enrolled at The Glasgow School of Art, in the autumn of 1991. Two years later, with the option of music holding more appeal, Healy dropped out of art school, and inspired by song writers such as Joni Mitchell, assumed songwriting responsibilities. With brothers Chris and Geoff Martyn on bass and keyboards, in 1993, the fivesome released a privately made CD, The Glass Onion EP, featuring the tracks Dream On, The Day Before, Free Soul and Whenever She Comes Round. 500 copies of the EP were made and were recently valued at £1000 each. Other songs they recorded but were left off are She’s So Strange and Not About to Change.

The band named themselves after the Harry Dean Stanton character Travis Henderson from the film Paris, Texas (Wim Wenders, 1984).

Travis have twice been awarded best band at the BRIT Awards, and are often credited for having paved the way for bands such as Coldplay and Keane (Coldplay’s Chris Martin has called himself “a poor man’s Fran Healy”, while saying that Travis “invented” Coldplay “and lots of others”).

The band won a talent contest organised by the Music in Scotland Trust, who promised £2,000 so that Travis could deal-hunt at a new music seminar in New York. Two weeks before they were due to leave, however, the prize was instead given to the Music in Scotland Trust Directory. When sent a copy of the directory, the band noticed that it seemed to feature every single band in Scotland—except for them.
The band showed promise but had yet to evolve into a decent line-up capable of fulfilling it and spent several years treading water. According to their publisher Charlie Pinder: “They were a band that everyone in the A&R community knew about and would go and see every now and then. But they weren’t very good. They had quite good songs; Fran always did write good songs.” While on a visit to Scotland, American engineer and producer Niko Bolas, a long-time Neil Young and Rolling Stones associate, tuned into a Travis session on Radio Scotland, and heard something in the band’s music which instantly made him travel to Perth to see them. Healy: “He told us we were shit, took us in the studio for four days, and taught us how to play properly, like a band. He was ballsy, rude, and New York pushy. He didn’t believe my lyrics and told me to write what I believed in and not tell lies. He was Mary Poppins, he sorted us out.” The band recorded a five-song demo, which included the song All I Want to Do Is Rock.

With the sudden death of his grandfather, a grief-stricken Healy shut himself away, refusing to talk to anyone. Emerging a week later, and with a clear vision of where he now wanted Travis and their music to go, Healy dispensed with the band’s management and publicity agent. Having been repeatedly knocked back by the British record industry, the band couldn’t afford to stay around the country for another few years and so decided to move to New York, feeling that the U.S. might be more suited to their style of music. However, before leaving Healy told the band that they should send the demo to Charlie Pinder of Sony Music Publishing, who they had known for a few years and regularly sent songs to, saying: “If he’s not into it, then we’ll go.” Pinder was immediately impressed by the song All I Want to Do is Rock, which he felt was a dramatic change for the band: “It was harder, more exciting, sexy; all things that they never really were. They turned a corner.” After performing a secret gig for Pinder and his boss at Sony, Blair McDonald, they were signed to Sony Music Publishing. The immediate impact of what was a very secret deal was that the line-up was changed – keyboard player Geoff Martyn was removed, and the bassist, Geoff’s brother Chris, was replaced with Healy’s best friend Dougie Payne – and the band was moved to London, where they were given a rehearsal room and a house

Produced by Steve Lillywhite of U2 fame, Travis’ first studio album, 1997’s Good Feeling, is a rockier, more upbeat record than the band’s others to date. Recorded at the legendary Bearsville Studios in Woodstock, New York, the place where Travis favourite The Band recorded, the album contained singles such as All I Want to Do Is Rock, U16 Girls, the Beatle’esque Tied to the 90s, Happy and More Than Us.

Letting Bleed the Automatic Changer

Let It Bleed (1969) was the Rolling Stones’ eighth UK album. But only the second to not feature a group portrait

 
 

The cover displays a surreal sculpture designed by Robert Brownjohn, an American graphic designer known for blending formal graphic design concepts with wit and sixties pop culture. He is best known for his motion picture title sequences, especially From Russia with Love (Terence Young, 1963) and Goldfinger (Guy Hamilton, 1964).

The image consists of the Let It Bleed record being played by the tone-arm of an antique phonograph, and a record-changer spindle supporting several items stacked on a plate in place of a stack of records: a tape canister labelled Stones – Let It Bleed, a clock face, a pizza, a tyre and a cake with elaborate icing topped by figurines representing the band. The cake parts of the construction were prepared by then-unknown cookery writer Delia Smith. The reverse of the LP sleeve shows the same “record-stack” melange in a state of disarray. The artwork was inspired by the working title of the album, which was Automatic Changer

 
 

The album cover for Let It Bleed was among the ten chosen by the Royal Mail for a set of “Classic Album Cover” postage stamps issued in January 2010

 
 

Many people believe that “Let It Bleed” was a take on The Beatles‘ song/album Let It Be. The titles are very similar, and there was a running history of the Stones and the Beatles tweaking each other. The Stones’ Let It Bleed was released months before Let It Be, but the songs from Let It Be had been recorded earlier than most of the songs in Let It Bleed.

The lyrics include a number of drug and sexual references; however, to Allmusic critic Richie Unterberger, the song is mainly about “emotional dependency,” with Mick Jagger willing to accept a partner who want to lean “on him for emotional support.” Unterberger also asserts that Let It Bleed may be “the best illustration” of the way the Rolling Stones make “a slightly sloppy approach work for them rather than against them.”

Nymphet Found

 
 

It was amazing how many parents would write in, you know, from Montana and so on, saying: “My daughter really is Lolita!” – that sort of thing. But we looked at them all, and of course, Sue Lyon was just one of them – but the moment we saw her, we through “My God, if this girl can act” – because she had this wonderful, enigmatic, but alive quality of mystery, but was still very expressive. Everything she did, commonplace things, like handling objects or crossing a room, or just talking, were all done in a very engaging way… and, incidentally this is a quality which most great actors have, it’s a strange sort of personal unique style that goes into everything they do – like when Albert Finney sits down in a chair and drinks a bottle of beer, and, well, it’s just great and you think “God, I wish I could drink a bottle of beer like that”, or the way Marlon Brando, you know, pushes his sun-glasses on his forehead and just leaves them there instead of putting them in his pocket… and, well, they all have ways of doing everyday things that are interesting to watch. And she had this, Sue Lyon – but of course, we still didn’t know whether she could act. Then we did some scenes, and finally shot a test with James Mason, and that was it – she was great.

S.K. An Interview with Stanley Kubrick Terry Southern (July 1962. NYC)
Unpublished

 
 

Sue Lyon as photographed by Bert Stern. Look Magazine, 1962

 
 

NYMPHET FOUND

The problem of casting Vladimir Nabokov‘s Lolita provoked more of a stir in Hollywood than there would have been over an open call for dogs after the death of Rin Tin Tin. The late Errol Flynn once offered the services of his teen-age mistress, Beverly Aadland, along with his own for the part of Humbert Humbert, Lolita’s tragicomic, middle-aged lover. Director Stanley Kubrick was swamped with letters from U.S. mothers who thought their daughters just right for the part, surveyed 800 budding teen-agers before finally announcing the winner last week. Kubrick’s choice: Sue Lyon, a blonde, blue-eyed, 14-year-old junior high school girl from Davenport, Iowa, now living in Los Angeles with her widowed mother. Director Kubrick spotted Sue in a bit part on the Loretta Young Show, had her read for the part with James Mason, who will play Humbert Humbert, decided: “She is a natural actor. Also she has a beautiful figure along ballet lines.” Lolita and Sue closely resemble each other. Lolita, at 15, toward the end of the book, stands 5 ft. tall, weighs 90 Ibs.; Sue, at 14, stands 5 ft. 2 in. and weighs 102 Ibs. Sue’s picture used to appear in the J. C. Penney mail-order catalogue, for which she modeled junior dresses and bathing suits. Among her other distinctions: last year she won the Smile of the Year contest staged by the Los Angeles dental societies, and at East Hollywood’s King Junior High School she played the cello. Her principal finds her “not bizarre,” but if she is to play the role as Nabokov put it in the novel, she will have to be a “mixture … of tender dreamy childishness and a kind of eerie vulgarity.” Although he knows less about moviemaking than the average scriptwriter knows about lepidoptery (one of Nabokov’s scholarly specialties), the novelist himself wrote the movie adaptation. He had at first refused, but reconsidered after dreaming one night, while traveling in Italy, that he was reading the screenplay. Says he: “Almost immediately after this illumination, Mr. Kubrick called me again, and I agreed.” He is pleased with his own job: “The screenplay became poetry, which was my original purpose.” Inevitably, while working there, the ever-observant Nabokov kept a roving eye on Hollywood, a dreamland for which Lolita herself used to yearn. The movie colony may be hard put to know what to make of his conclusion: “It is quietest, sweetest, softest place in the world.” Time, October 10, 1960

Rush to Exit… Stage Left

Hugh Syme is notably responsible for all of Rush’s album cover art since 1975’s Caress of Steel. He is also a musician and has appeared in some Rush songs as a keyboard player and he has contributed as a musician with Ian Thomas Band and Tiles.

 
 

(1975)

 
 

The album cover for Caress of Steel was intended to be printed in a silver colour to give it a “steel” appearance. A printing error resulted in giving the album cover a copper colour. The error was not corrected on subsequent printings of the album.

 
 

(1976)

 
 

The Starman emblem (also known as the ‘Man in the Star’ logo) was adopted by Rush fans as a logo since its first appearance on the back cover of 2112. Peart described the Starman in an interview with Creem magazine:

“All (the naked man) means is the abstract man against the masses. The red star symbolizes any collectivist mentality.”

In 1983 Hugh Syme told Jeffrey Morgan that he never imagined the band would use the Starman as their main logo.

 
 

(1976)

 
 

The title of this album alludes to William Shakespeare‘s play As You Like It.

 
 

(1978)

 
 

Permanent Waves (1980)

 
 

The cover art sparked some controversy because of the appearance of the “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline on the newspaper. Because of pressure from the Chicago Tribune, cover designer Hugh Syme changed the text to “Dewei Defeats Truman”. The billboards in the distance were changed from Coca-Cola (who objected to the use of their logo) to include each band member’s name in similar type style.

The background scene comes from a photo, taken by Flip Schulke, of the Galveston Seawall in Texas during Hurricane Carla on September 11, 1961. The woman pictured in the foreground is model Paula Turnbull. The waving man in the background is Hugh Syme.

 
 

(1981)

 
 

The title is from the signature catchphrase “Exit, stage left!” of the Hanna-Barbera pink mountain lion cartoon character Snagglepuss (coincidentally, Time Warner, former owners of Rush’s later label Atlantic Records, owns the H-B properties today). The term “stage left” is a stage direction used in blocking to identify the left side of a theater from the point of view of the performer, as opposed to the point of view of the audience.

An item from each of Rush’s previous eight studio album covers can be seen on the front and back cover of this live album, though each has been modified in some way. The owl from Fly by Night flies above Apollo, the man in the suit from Hemispheres, who stands next to the woman from Permanent Waves. The puppet king from A Farewell to Kings sits atop a box stenciled with the “Rush” logo from Rush. Next to him is a painting of the Caress of Steel album cover, held by one of the movers from Moving Pictures, with another mover standing behind. Next to this is Dionysus, the nude man from Hemispheres. Behind this scene, the starman from 2112 hangs in the background, next to an “EXIT” sign. This entire foreground scene, shot in Toronto’s then-abandoned Winter Garden Theatre, is on the left side of the stage (from the point of view of the artist), thus “Exit…Stage Left”.

 
 

(1982)

 
 

(1984)

 
 

(1985)

 
 

(1987)

 
 

(1989)

 
 

(1991)

 
 

“…The essence of these songs is: if there’s a chance, you might as well take it. So what if some parts of life are a crap shoot? Get out there and shoot the crap. A random universe doesn’t have to be futile; we can change the odds, load the dice, and roll again…. For anyone who hasn’t seen Groucho Marx’s game show You Bet Your Life, I mean that no one but Groucho knows the secret word, and one guess is as good as another… Anything can happen. That is called fate.

Neil Peart

 
 

Counterparts (1993)

 
 

(1996)

 
 

Retrospective I (1997)

 
 

Retrospective II (1997)

 
 

(1998)

 
 

Vapor Trails (2002)

 
 

(2003)

 
 

(2004)

 
 

The album features eight covers of songs that were influential for the band members during the 1960s.

 
 

(2006)

 
 

(2007)

 
 

According to drummer and lyricist Neil Peart, inspiration for the title of the album was conceived after considerable research from several sources; the 2000-year-old Buddhist game called  Leela, the Game of Self Knowledge, the related children’s game Snakes and Ladders (also known as Chutes and Ladders), and Hamlet‘s quote “slings and arrows.” This information helped convince bassist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson to adopt the original painting of the age old game board as the cover for the new album.

 
 

Alternative cover

 
 

(2009)

 
 

(2012)

 
 

The album’s cover depicts a clock marked with alchemical symbols instead of numbers. It displays the time as 9:12 (21:12 in 24-hour time),  in reference to the band’s 2112 album and its title suite. Other symbols are incorporated into the band name and album title.