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Prepared by Barbara Rodriguez, November 1996; Last Updated: March 2020
Inclusive Dates: 1949-1951 and 1968
Extent: 1.25 cubic feet (1 LP storage box + 1 record storage box [contains audiocassette duplicates])
Physical Location: 11th Floor
Biographical Note: John Clellon Holmes was born in Holyoke, Massachusetts on March 12, 1926. As an author, he spanned the genres of essays, poetry, and novels. Although not as prolific as many of his contemporaries, Holmes was often regarded as the spokesman for the Beat Generation, defining Beat culture in two of his essays, "This Is the Beat Generation" (1952) and "Philosophy of the Beat Generation" (1958). Some of his earlier works include: Go (1952); The Horn (1958); Get Home Free (1964), the sequel to Go; Nothing More to Declare (1967), a collection of essays about the Beat generation phenomenon; and The Bowling Green Poems (1977), written while working at Bowling Green University. Holmes also lectured at Yale University (1959) and gave workshops at the State University of Iowa (1963) and Brown University (1971). He was a professor at the University of Arkansas from 1976 until a year before his death in 1988. Some of his later works include a memorium to his old friend, Visitor: Jack Kerouac in Old Saybrook (1981), Displaced Persons: the travel essays (1987), and a final book of poems, Dire Coasts (1988). John Clellon Holmes died of cancer at age 62 in Middleton, Connecticut, on March 30, 1988.
Scope and Content: The recordings made by John Clellon Holmes are a valuable addition to the Department's extensive materials by and about the Beatnik generation. The content of these recordings includes musical selections and spontaneous "riffs," as well as Allen Ginsberg reciting selections of his own poetry, a conversation between Jack Kerouac and Ginsberg, and a recitation of two scenes from Hamlet by Kerouac.
Ann Charters' compilation, A Bibliography of Works By Jack Kerouac, notes a description by John Clellon Holmes on the making of the recordings:
...Seymour Wyse, an old friend of Jack's from Horace Mann days, with whom he shared an interest in jazz, was working (in 1949-50) in a record shop on Eighth Street, west of Sixth, owned by another old friend, Jerry Newman, who in early 1940 had made a classic series of records up at Minton's in Harlem, featuring the work of Charlie Christian and the then almost unknown Thelonius Monk, Dizzie Gillespie, Kennie Clarke, and others who came to prominence in the bop revolt a few years later... Anyhow, my then brother-in-law had left in my apartment one of those massive, ungainly and also unreliable recording machines of the late 40's, weighing over one hundred pounds with a cutting arm that had the heft of a good-size hammer. All of us, then, were a bop-mad, indefatigable, stone-broke, and full (we imagined) of ravishing jazz-ideas. One night, Seymour brought to a party of mine several demonstration discs, only one side of which had been used, and, pleasantly mulled on beer, which in those days we always bought in enormous quart bottles, and never more than four at a time, after which someone was delegated to go down to the deli below and purchase more. Soon I got Jack to read the two slight selections from Town and City (both of which were considerably thinned in the published version), after which our exuberance quickly outran any such "literary" projects, and we got down to making records of ourselves, riffing over recorded solos. One of our passions just then was the work of pianist Lennie Tristano, who was, perhaps, the most avant-garde of the younger jazzmen of that year, and who, just a month before, had recorded, the first attempt at total, freeform, atonal improvisation, a record called "Intuition", not yet released, but played occaisionally by Symphony Sid on his all-night radio show. We decided to attempt a similar thing, and the "Three Tools" were born, flourished briefly, and passed away. We made other records, none of which was really successful, and on other nights, with other discs that Seymour brought, I managed to get Ginsberg recorded, reading his then tightly-metaphysical-Yeats-like poems, and Jack doing selections from Hamlet, which he felt he could interpret best while a little muddled on beer, eschewing too much gravity, and adopting a musing, and sometimes amusing, tone... A few months later, my brother-in-law reclaimed his equipment, and the early attempt to establish Caedmon Records came to an end. When, some years afterwards, I got a tape recorder, I taped a long conversations with Jack and Allen and Peter, and joint, giggling poetry readings, and even late-night confessionals. All these tapes, lamentably, are now lost.
[Charters, Ann. A Bibliography of Works By Jack Kerouac. New York: Phoenix Bookshop (1967): 109-110.]
The last two sound discs of the collection (21 and 22) are entirely different entities from the first 20 sound discs. Not only are they dated much later and are physically different, they were not instantaneous recordings by John Clellon Holmes. Entitled Avant Slant: A Twelve Tone Collage, the two records are actually one-sided recordings of one sound disc by the John Benson Brooks Trio in collaboration with Milt Gabler. John Clellon Holmes wrote the program notes in which he describes Avant Slant as a "collage-in-sound, in which fragments of poetry, pop tunes, radio broadcasts, and Feiffer-like babble intermingle to form an aural history of Right Now." He continues, explaining the importance of this "listening experience" which includes "...that black humor which is so often our last defense against the confusion and sheer noise of a technological civilization that seems increasingly to measure its nerves in decibles..."
All of the recordings will be valuable to scholars on many levels. They offer an intimate view of the past and of the personal lives of individuals who through literature, poetry, and essay would go on to shape and define a generation lost in a post-war, technological society. In addition to the unique recitations and conversations recorded, these tapes catalogue the musical tastes and influences of the Beats during their early conception. Although several classical pieces and popular songs are included, the primary musical form recorded is jazz. Several jazz pieces are mimicked in a spontaneous, free-form expression called "riffing" by several of the individuals recorded on these tapes including Jack Kerouac and John Clellon Holmes, himself. Specifically, the jazz influence on the artistic creations of the Beats is evident in John Clellon Holmes' The Horn (1958), a novel about a jazz saxaphone master loosely based on many of the artists recorded on these sound discs. According to Richard K. Ardinger, Holmes stylistically mimics the riffs in his prose descriptions of a Beat artist, "...capturing the long improvisational, increasingly intense, emotionally driven rhythms" found in the essence and spontaneity of jazz. [Ardinger, Richard K. An Annotated Bibliography of Works by John Clellon Holmes. Pocatello, Idaho:Idaho State U. Press (1979): ii.] The influence of jazz music can also be seen in his first novel Go, in which he states:
In this modern jazz, they heard something rebel and nameless that spoke for them, and their lives knew a gospel for the first time. It was more than a music; it became an attitude toward life, a way of walking, a language and a costume; and these introverted kids (emotional outcasts of a war they had bee too young to join, or in which they had lost their innocence), who had never belonged anywhere before, now felt somewhere at last. 
The Holmes Recordings collection contains 22 sound discs (commonly referred to as records) that have been transferred onto 2 sets of 5 audio tapes and a set of 8 reel-to-reel master tapes. The actual sound discs vary in dimension, material, and speed: five of the sound discs are monaural acetate of 10" (1-4, 12), there are nine monaural shellac-coated metal discs of 10" (5-11, 13-14) and one of 12" (15), then another five (16-20) are 8" monaural aluminum base sound discs, and the last two (21 and 22) are pre-recorded 12" monaural shellac-coated metal discs. The actual material compositions are estimations made by the cataloguer. The speeds are inconsistent, between 78 rpm and 33 1/3 rpm. Due to the age of the recordings and the resulting structural breakdown, the recordings are not of high quality, with some background static and occasional skips. However, they remain audible.
There is a discrepancy in the actual dates of the recording of these sound discs. Purchased from Pharos Books, they were dated by the company ca 1949-1950, however only four of these sound discs have dates written on their labels [7a and 15b are marked March 30, 1951, while the pre-recorded sound discs (21 and 22) have May 24,1968], so they are grouped into two separate categories: 1949-1951 and 1968.
Related Materials: In addition to these recordings, Special Collections also houses correspondence and other papers of John Clellon Holmes.
Restrictions on Use: Kent State University Special Collections and Archives does not own the copyright to the content of these discs. Permissions for duplication must be obtained from copyright owners.
Sound disc entry format: Each sound disc is divided into sides A and B. The titles are taken from the actual labels where they were either typwritten or handwritten (in pencil and ink). Every new line is separated by a slash (/). Notations made by the processor complete names where possible, as well as provide spelling corrections, and are indicated in brackets ([ ]). The notes briefly describe the contents on each of the sides, while a short physical description of the entire sound disc can be found at the end of every set of entries.