Jay Farrar & Benjamin Gibbard - One Fast Move Or I'm Gone: Kerouac's Big Sur
Release Date: October 16th, 2009
Record Label: F-Stop Records/Atlantic
Jack Kerouac was the anti-Ivy League jerk-off; he was overlooked by stuffy suits for years after he created his breakthrough work; then he jump-started a subculture unimaginable to his ancestors, coined phrases that indoctrinated thousands with a refreshing form of humanity that looked beyond the cookie-cutter houses and the nuclear family. Jack Kerouac had three people he relied on, confided in, and used to form his greatest creations, his dharma exact and heartfelt. One Fast Move or I'm gone: Kerouac's Big Sur is a recreation of that voice.
Much as the Beatnik scene had a slough of entertainers inadvertently forming a web of connections and collaborations, the modern indie rock scene is full of interweaving artists with similarly appealing ideas for collections. Jay Farrar (Son Volt, Uncle Tupelo), the lesser-known contributor could be considered a living legend for his contributions to the Indie and Americana scenes. Ben Gibbard’s obvious influence and connections award him godlike status in the less presumptuous hipsters of the world. Together they created One Fast Move or I’m Gone, a stunning work focused on recounting the poetry and prose of Keruac’s time spent at Big Sur.
With the preface “Bixby Canyon Bridge”, the leadoff track from Death Cab for Cutie’s Narrow Stairs, this album comes across as no surprise. The sprout track recounted the perpetual dementia Kerouac suffered during his moment of sobriety then self-destruction through an interpersonal lens. One Fast Move utilizes a more direct approach in documenting the downward spiral spiral by incorporating passages from the book itself. These clever fragments pinpoint the emotional turmoil while loosely integrating the framework of the tale, unfurling it with an accomplished integrity. Track by track, phrase by phrase, One Fast Move articulates Kerouac’s thoughts and presents them in the form of folklore. Elaboration on moments subtly conveyed and summation of instances outright rambled upon in Big Sur are carefully encapsulated in the form of enjoyable ditties. Opener “California Zephyr” delightfully spins the travels once made into a modern fairytale of restlessness and anticipation that spans the ages. Conversely, “Breathe Our Iodine” focuses on the depression that is the heart of the tale.
The beauty of the album is that it is broken into two different, seemingly opposing voices. On one hand, Farrar notes the depression of the tale while the opposite, Gibbard, lends the optimistic tilt. The Angel/Devil profile is identified by the incongruous delivery between the two palpable tones of voice. Whereas Gibbard elaborates with pop eloquence, Farrar stays true to Kerouac’s delivery and poetic integrity. Lines like these can present a line in the sand to unacquainted listeners, steering the listener to choose one author over the other. Songs like “One Fast Move or I’m Gone” and “These Roads Don’t Move” play out like the most gentle of Death Cab numbers, easily understood and adaptable to a personal memoir of some sort. Allowing oneself to accept the darker, more folksy appeal of numbers like “Big Sur” and “Sea Engines” leads the way to a better understanding of the work as a whole (rather than its parts) while building story lines on quotations from Big Sur.
For those who haven’t discovered the Beatnik revolution, One Fast Move will likely come across as a series of songs with punctuated disconnect. Postulating that the greater number of listeners will have at least been subject to On the Road, Kerouac’s style was a rarely punctuated mess of esoteric linguistics that is hardly accessible to those who were born after the fact. This album is an ambitious second-person narration backed with pedal steel, artfully directed strumming, and the delicate action of a piano’s hammers that can read like a series of Ryan Adams covers. Careful insight is conveyed with an amorous tone, with each message worthy of the romanticism it has received. Subjects are heavy at times, and they maintain a sense of letting go that propelled most of Big Sur. Comparisons aside, there is a clairvoyance here that most collections lack, one that draws senses to highs and lows without regard. And as Kerouac’s legend fades into obscurity, it is fair that his darkest times become documented by voices revered not only by their tone but their logic and imagination.