Spoken Word Spotlight : Ken Nordine

You may not think you’ve heard of him, but once you hear his voice, you’ll recognize it. He’s the voice of movie trailers. He’s the voice of commercials. He’s the voice of the news. If he wasn’t the speaker , he was the voice the speaker  was striving to be. He is the voice of the American Dream. He is the voice. He is Ken Nordine.

As iconic as commercial media presence is, that’s not what he’s known best for. He’s one of the original beat poets of the 1950s. But he was a different sort. He’s been compared to Franz Kafka and Edgar Allen Poe. Even when he’s waxing on the mundane, there’s a spookiness to his recordings. There’s a gritty edginess in his stories told in his smooth polished voice. He is the master of Word Jazz.

If you haven’t heard him before, this is the perfect introduction. It’s a 1970s commercial for Levis. He’s performing a parody of his original piece, Flibberty Jib. The original is one of my favorite works of his. It’s about a small town where nothing interesting happened until a strange man appeared and got them excited with the words “Flibberty Jib on the Bippity Bop”   Those words changed the town forever. 

Many of Ken Nordine’s stories involve something simple trivial changing the lifue of someone forever. Another favorite of mine is, “What Time is it?” In this story, a man’s life is changed forever when someone calls him at 2:00 AM and asks hi for the time. 

Ken Nordine is master of making the mundane magical. In “Bickering,” the story is nothing more than a married couple arguing over silly things. He cuts into the stick of butter on the wrong end. She hangs the toilet paper roll the wrong way. And somehow, the whole story is riveting. His voice is so smooth. His tone is so compelling. While you listen, everything he says sounds like the most fascinating and important information you’ll ever hear.

I’m no Ken Nordine, but I strive to be. He is the grand daddy of spoken word. And he’s still alive. In 2016, he’s currently 94 years old and outlasting all of the major players of the beatnick scene. 

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