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Lost Kerouac Work Unearthed

Rockers and poets breathe life into "Dr. Sax" screenplay

April 30, 2003 12:00 AM ET

Graham Parker, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jim Carroll, Robert Hunter, Kate Pierson and Robert Creeley are among the musicians and poets who have lent their voices to Dr. Sax and the Great World Snake, a double-disc reading of a lost screenplay by legendary American writer Jack Kerouac. John Medeski of Medeski Martin and Wood contributed an original, jazz-flavored score to accompany the readings, and the CD package includes the screenplay's complete text, as well as illustrations by Richard Sala.

Producer Jim Sampas, a nephew of Kerouac's by marriage, discovered the screenplay while working for the Kerouac estate and got permission to develop and release the project through his Gallery Six Records.

"I wanted people who actually had a great sensibility for Kerouac's work and were good readers," says Sampas. "I'd been listening to old radio programs and I thought this would be a great way to introduce this work."

The screenplay is loosely based on Kerouac's 1952 novel Dr. Sax, which features an array of fantastic characters like wizards and vampires.

"Dr. Sax was a childhood vision he had," says Ferlinghetti, who read the part of the Wizard. "It was a kid's vision of this amorphous figure that floated around the landscape. A lot of critics made it into a lot of other things, a lot of symbolic things, but I don't think that's what he had in mind. It's like how critics of a painting will read what's written on the wall by the curator, and it's all things the painter never thought of when he was making the painting."

Sampas picked Buffalo Tom's Bill Janovitz to read the part of Dicky, in part because Janovitz lives in Massachusetts, striking distance from Kerouac's boyhood home of Lowell. "I don't know if I gave it a real Lowell accent, but Lowell has a very peculiar accent," says Janovitz. "There's a little slang in there and some French-Canadian dialect. Dicky is one of the pre-adolescent boys that roams around in this pack. The language is really of that time . . . almost like the Bowery Boys or the Little Rascals."

Per Kerouac's original intention, Sampas also plans to get a Dr. Sax and the Great World Snake film made. Kerouac, whose other writings included Beat Generation touchstones The Dharma Bums and On the Road, died in Florida in 1969 from a gastrointestinal hemorrhage brought on by years of drinking.

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