On The Road With Missouri Jeff

Posted by | on November 9, 2008

A little musing on Jack Kerouac, Bob Dylan, baked beans, the beaterific 50s and poor ‘ol Missouri Jeff.

I’ve always wanted to ride the boxcars…

Just like Marcus Carl Franklin did in that new Bob Dylan biopic I’m Not There (fantastic movie, must see). I’d Hang my legs out in the wind, chew on dried straw, and watch the dust of rural America sparkle in the sun like fool’s gold. God, I can almost taste the grits and hear the harmonica moaning in the autumn twilight.

Okay, maybe it’s a tad unrealistic for this day ‘an age, but it’s been a dream of mine all the same. Ever since I read Jack Kerouac’s opus On The Road, or maybe it was my first real meal over an open fire…. either way, this fantasy stuck in my mind like shredded rubber on hot asphalt.

The “Beats” or “Beatniks” lived the dream in the early 50s, bumming around the continent with nothing but a joint and a prayer, going from one town to the next in backseats and buses. Guys like Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Ken Kesey, and the mercurial Neal Cassady brought the road to life in story, paint and verse, chronicling their adventures in America’s underbelly. These guys would go on to inspire the great artists of the sixties with their “halfway between beat-down and beaterific” point of view and effortless road-worn cool. Bob Dylan, The Band, and Jazz musicians like Lester Young and countless others used the Beat’s stories of the road to form the soundtrack to the great early-American counterculture… But we’re getting pretty far out here, lets get back on the road with a guy named Missouri Jeff.

Missouri Jeff is not a person I know personally, I’ve never met him, in fact, for all I know he may very well have passed on years ago. What little I know of him, I know from speaking with Crystal’s dad Jim (who could easily write his own On The Road with all the stories he’s picked up hitchhiking and grifting around the 60s ‘n 70s). Jim’s innate talent for finding the most “off the map” bars , and infallible gift for gab have led him to some interesting late night, whiskey-soaked encounters with people who always, and I mean always have a great story to tell. One such person was Missouri Jeff.

Here’s the story Verbatim :

Missouri Jeff was a guy I met in California back in the seventies. Big beard, scarecrow hat and walking stick, really dug the whole “Bohemian pilgrim” thing. He’d left his wife and kids in a Gaugin-style sabbatical to the southern states ten years ago in search of crossroad revelations, and it ended up he couldn’t play guitar worth a damn. So this guy couldn’t busk, he just shined money off suckers in little towns and lived off baked beans and God-knows-what on the edges of the highways. Never slept in a bed, never ate a real meal, just did his business in town long enough to buy a few beers at the pub and made his way out into the dark. Sometimes he’d leave for a couple months on end… he’d follow the mushrooms north or ‘somethin. Town to town just like that… He would always come back though, Jeff was addicted to his chosen lifestyle. He’d done it for so long that he’d forgotten what 9-5 life was like… That was Jeff.”

When Jim told me this story, he was holding a walking stick that he later gave to me as a Birthday present. Of course, this walking stick once belonged to the aforementioned Missouri Jeff, I know ’cause his name is carved into it, and it bears his trademark partridge feather tied to it with leather cord.

I’m holding this stick now as I type. I think about the Beats and their freedom, their loneliness, and their legacy as harbingers of of the Flower Generation. I wonder what Jeff thought about while he ate his tin beans out under the stars by some abandoned one-day-might-be-strip mall on the edge of town. Was he humming Charlie Parker and reading Nietzsche by firelight, dreaming of Mexican summers and revolution…? Or was he just cold and lonely…? I hope the road cared for him like it did for Bob Dylan and me in my dream.

Everything on the Beat Generation you ever needed to know can be found at The Beat Generation Archives.

Much love.

Five Books On the Beat Generation You Have to Dig

Jack Kerouac : On The Raod The great granddaddy of all road literature! Take the ride with Sal Paradise through America’s heartland.

Jack Kerouac : The Darmha Bums I loved Naked Lunch (by fellow Beat William Burroughs)as much as the next guy, but The Darmha Bums‘ focus on road life and philosophy completes my vision of the beat lifestyle better than Burrough’s black Opium trip.

Alan Ginsberg : Howl The essential Beat poetry masterpiece, have a read of the complete poem HERE.

Aldous Huxley : The Doors Of Perception Cited as a great inspiration for the late 50s Beat poets and musicians, mainly for it’s early psychedelic imagery.

Tom Wolfe : The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test Written a decade later than the rest, this epic drug-fueled chronicle of years on the road with Ken Kesey’s “Merry Pranksters” showcases the end result of the Beat’s social revolution. It also acts as a smoldering epitaph for the legendary Neal Cassady.

Five Songs about Life on The Road

Bob Dylan : Tangled Up In Blue A brilliant song that plays out like chapters from Kerouac’s books, but it’s all Dylan’s patented wordplay.

The Grateful Dead : Truckin The perfect soundtrack to an Acid-Test, y’know why ? ‘Cause they were there man… they were there.

Tom Waits : Jack and Neil Yep, Tom’s a huge On The Road fan.

CCR : Proud Mary Years after the Beats hug up their worn loafers, their spirit and stories inspired generations of ‘travelin bands like CCR (who were actually from San Fran, contrary to their Bayou sound) who beat their way down the Mississippi.

JJ Cale : Just about any song he’s ever recorded…

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