Transcending Beat with David Amram
Last night, at the Cornelia Street Café in the West Village, I finally got to meet David Amram, the composer, conductor, author and Beat legend who was not only one of the first to read Beatitude but provided a testimonial for the cover as well. “A daring, honest writer with a gritty urban flair,” wrote Amram, who added that he hoped Beatitude would not be “categorized (or imprisoned) by being considered a ‘Beat’ book. It stands on its own. And it transcends Beat.”
Playing to a near fire-hazardous crowd in the Cornelia’s cramped basement, Amram’s Quartet (featuring Kevin Twigg on drums and glockenspiel, John DeWitt on bass, Adam Amram on congas) burned through an incredible two-hour set, with Amram singing, scatting and switching between piano, flute, French horn, tin whistle, talking drum and tambourine. Standouts included the theme from his jazzy score for Splendor in the Grass and an anecdote-infused version of Pull My Daisy, the song he co-wrote with Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady for the iconic half-hour 1959 film of the same name in which they all appeared.
“Pull My Daisy was a lot of fun,” Amram told me, “and, surprisingly, more than 50 years later—due to Jack’s brilliant spontaneous narration, the filming of Robert Frank and, hopefully, my music—still has some value today to a new generation by encouraging them to make their own home movie (which is all it was) and do a much better one than we did. None of us—with the exception of Delphyne Serig—were actors, which we all proved by our non-performances.”
At the Cornelia, the ever-generous Amram and company also provided backup for readings by several poets and writers, including “Mets poet” Frank Messina and my literary friend Stephanie Nikolopoulos, who read from Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, co-authored with Paul Maher Jr. and due out this fall.
I also had the pleasure of meeting artist and fellow Beat aficionado Jonathan Collins, whose magnificent watercolors are imbued with a luminous realism that expresses, in his own words, “the beauty—and the sadness—of existence.”
After the show, Jonathan asked Amram to sign a rare first-edition of Kerouac’s Pull My Daisy script (still on the “get” list for my own collection) as I waited to say hello to Amram in person for the first time—we’d previously only communicated via email—and ask him to sign a copy of Beatitude.
It was a Beat evening in the truest sense of the word, whatever your definition of that word might be. “Everyone,” Amram told me, “has their own vision of what ‘Beat’ is, was and will be about.”