“One Fast Move or I’m Gone” is a documentary on Jack Kerouac’s experiences at Big Sur, the subject of his last novel Big Sur. Taking on this concept album is Uncle Tupelo’s Jay Farrar and Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, a strange, yet intriguing combination. They created the album in quintessential Kerouac style with the duo writing and recording all the songs within three days, much like the writer’s improvisational writing style. Again, intriguing approach.
Unfortunately, the soundtrack doesn’t live up to expectations. The songs sound like they were written in three days, mostly mediocre strum-athon’s that never really take shape. Songs like “These Roads Don’t Move” and “Low-Life Kingdom” could have possibly been strong if given more than a few days to ferment. Otherwise, one song’s steel guitar bleeds into the next, with nothing much standing out or making a statement.
Farrar’s offerings are stronger than Gibbard’s, but I guess I’ve never been much of a fan of Ben’s voice. I can appreciate Death Cab For Cutie, but that’s about as far as it goes. His vocals really don’t work when conveying Kerouac’s words, while Farrar’s gruff baritone seems more up the bedouin’s rustic road. Gibbard sounds big city; Farrar sounds a little more like a man that has ridden the rails and sat on mountain tops.
The lyrics are taken directly from the book, almost like the two of them sat with highlighters and picked out their favorite lines. Actually, the lyrics might be the one strength to this album. They are combined in a way that is poetic and free-flowing, like Jack would have liked it. Most of the lyrics speak of Kerouac’s depression, which is the focal point of Big Sur. It is easily his most depressing novel, focusing on his deterioration toward the end of his life. The once idealistic buddha had turned to alcohol and let life drag him back down to earth. It’s a damn shame.
To capture this mood, Farrar and Gibbard rely heavily on country tinged folk tunes, which I think kind of misses the mark. Kerouac was all about jazz and its improvisational form. As far as I’m concerned, a wailing saxophone always trumps a slow strumming guitar when it comes to portraying loneliness.