Illustration by Ben Beechener
Jack Kerouac’s Maggie Cassidy is a work whose accomplishment is often (unjustly in my opinion) overlooked in favour of his more famous work On the Road. Hauntingly elegant prose is entwined with the protagonist Jack Duluoz’s tumble into adulthood in a narrative that critics have compared to Kerouac’s own experience growing up in French Canada. The plot centres around the coming-of-age story of Duluoz where he must navigate academics, his sporting career and relationships both filial and romantic. The idea of using music as a way to express the sentiments aimed at by Kerouac or any author is one which I think appeals to the idea of completely submersing yourself in a book. Although I put together these songs after reading the book, they are all songs that I was listening to on repeat during the weeks where I was reading it, meaning that they are particularly personal to me, but also meant to apply completely to the book.
Young and tumultuous love
The central focus of this novel, as could be guessed based on the title, is Duluoz’s love affair with the volatile and enigmatic Maggie Cassidy. A year younger than Maggie at sixteen, Duluoz finds himself to be head over heels for her in a sweetly youthful way. Maggie’s temperamental disposition sets a stormy precedent, and Kerouac reminds the reader of this through detailed descriptions of her doleful eyes that forewarn her bouts of depression. Two songs I have chosen that seem to mirror the relationship of Kerouac’s characters are Waltz #2 by Elliot Smith and Golden Brown by the Stranglers. Both songs seem to have a distinctly folk-like sway, which is a theme of this playlist as I feel it reflects the home-town experience shared by Duluoz and the author himself. The lyrics of Waltz #2 reflect the complex relationship shared by Maggie and Jack in the book. Golden Brown also reflects the obsession Duluoz has with Maggie throughout the novel, suggesting also that she is his main source of happiness. The paired-back instrumental and raw-sounding vocals in Golden Brown also ring of the youth of the pair, reminding me of their relative inexperience. Equally, there are dreamlike sections in both of these songs that speaks to the blind, idealised version of love the young couple appears to have.
Another key aspect of this book is the fraternity between the boys in the neighbourhood in which it is set. Going by nicknames such as ‘Mouse’ and ‘Zagg’, Kerouac creates a real feeling of brotherhood between the young boys he describes, they are permanently entwined by their shared experience of youth. For this aspect of the novel, I have chosen Going Up The Country by Canned Heat and Let’s Go Get Stoned by Booker T and the M.G.’s. Going Up The Country reminds me of the youthful hopefulness that Kerouac translates to us from the boys he is writing about. Particularly in Duluoz, but also in the other boys, there is an intriguing mixture of wanderlust, excitement and delinquency that Going Up The Country perfectly captures in its lyrics and energetic pace. Let’s Go Get Stoned is purely instrumental, building from a slow and dreamy beginning to a fuller and more driven ending, reflecting the excitement and vivacity of the boys but also the sleepiness of the town Kerouac places them in.
A stand out element of Kerouac’s style is his meandering use of words in layered and intricate prose. The songs I have chosen to represent this are Sun It Rises by Fleet Foxes and Pocket Full of Rainbows by Jan & Dean. The lyrics in Sun It Rises are poetic, floating above the instrumental because of the dreamy quality of the singers’ voice, as well as the multiple close harmonies also sung. The instrumental also features much mirroring and echoing, which to me reflects the layered and superfluous nature of Keruoac’s writing. Pocket Full of Rainbows has equally tender, if slightly less poetic lyrics. The refrain of ‘aye’ repeated throughout the song perpetuate what I have previously mentioned about Kerouac’s superfluous writing style.
I hope this article will encourage you both to read Maggie Cassidy and to listen to these songs!
Waltz #2 by Elliot Smith
Golden Brown by The Stranglers
Going Up The Country by Canned Heat
Let’s Go Get Stoned by Booker T and the M.G.’s.
Sun It Rises by Fleet Foxes
Pocket Full of Rainbows by Jan & Dean