On the Road, again

Two CDs devoted to Kerouac and Ferlinghetti give history a Beating

Sampas had approached Colley with the idea of working on a CD almost immediately after kicks joy darkness, though actual recording didn't begin until a year ago. "I was very eager to do something on the side, just to keep the juices flowing," says Colley from his home in Boston. "It was a great opportunity for me to put some of the work I'd been doing with a poet." (With the death of Morphine singer and bassist Mark Sandman onstage in Rome in July, Colley's main musical focus these days is on soundtrack work, though he is finishing work on Morphine's final record, slated for release in January.)

The success of the Coney Island disc has much to do with Ferlinghetti's voice. The poems were originally designed to be read aloud, and Ferlinghetti reads with an engaging, jazzy tone. For "5," which characterizes Jesus Christ as "a kind of carpenter / From some square-type place / Like Galilee," he pulls off a New Jersey accent, sounding like he's speaking conspiratorially and awed, as if chatting to a friend in a bar. Colley, to his credit, composes to keep out of Ferlinghetti's way -- he and a number of additional musicians produced piano- and sax-based bop fragments that circle around the words instead of muting them. "I think once you take on accompaniment mode in terms of poetry," says Colley, "where poetry should be heard on its own, to add anything to it you have to be kind of leery...That was definitely the No. 1 criteria, to try to create a sound and create a mood without overpowering the poetry."

Morphine saxophonist Dana Colley's (center) work on the spoken version of Lawrence Ferlinghetti's A Coney Island of the Mind became more important after the death of Mark Sandman (left).
Danny Clinch
Morphine saxophonist Dana Colley's (center) work on the spoken version of Lawrence Ferlinghetti's A Coney Island of the Mind became more important after the death of Mark Sandman (left).

Colley was happy to contribute something. After all, musicians share a lot with the beats, at least in how we like to remember the beat life: long, thrilling travels; nights in clubs filled with ecstatic poetry and music; a learning opportunity on every corner. "Anybody who's spent time on the road can appreciate the mentality and the philosophy of the beats," says Colley. "For me, it was always kind of a beacon. In the darkest hours, when we're sitting and wondering, 'How the hell did we get here,' Route 66 in the middle of Oklahoma, you think about those elements. For me, they were sort of our grandfathers, guiding the way."

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