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From Dylan to Del Rey: Bands Influenced by the Beat Generation

On her newly released album, ‘Honeymoon,’ Lana Del Rey returns to her original sound, her voice thick with nihilistic seduction and her album sprinkled with counterculture references like Bowie and T. S. Eliot. On the occasion of this release, we present to you the long romance between musicians and the forefathers of counterculture, the Beat Generation

Rolling Stone India Oct 08, 2015
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Beatles in India

A file photo of the Beatles from their India visit.

The Beats were a group of American writers who rose to popularity soon after the end of World War II for advocating non-conformist values in literature and art. Originally comprising Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Neal Cassady, the Beats influenced the various psychedelic and counterculture movements that took birth in that period. They were a strong voice in the anti-war movement, focusing specifically on the Vietnam War, the hippie movement and other causes such as gay liberation, the hippie movement and using drugs to raise consciousness.

These literary legends were, in turn, influenced by bebop jazz of the Forties, and infused its spirit of improvisation and spontaneity in their own poetry; ”˜First thought, best thought’ was their mantra.

Like the writing of the time, the Sixties’ and Seventies’ underground Protest Era saw a lot of artists experimenting with their art to produce work that defied rules. It was at this time that the music scene witnessed psychedelic rock and acid rock. Garage rock, too, gained considerable popularity around this time as a precursor of punk rock. The anti-establishmentarianism and non-conformist attitude of the counterculture movements resonated as the main idea listeners took away from the music.


The Beatles

From drug influences in “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” to “Day Tripper,” the Beatles personified the Sixties, experimenting with psychedelic substances just like everyone else did. John Lennon was the original Beats fan and the cover of Beatles’ 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band pays tribute to Burroughs.

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Also, just like the Beats, the Beatles were fascinated by Eastern philosophy, and visited India too, just like the Beats did in the Sixties. The Indian influence in the Beatles’ music is seen on their album The Beatles, which is known more famously as The White Album in 1968.

Decades later in 1996, Paul McCartney provided background music to Ginsberg’s song “Ballad of the Skeletons.”


Bob Dylan

Dylan started writing only after being inspired at a Beats’ spoken word performance, finding a mentor in Ginsberg, while the latter sensed an underground, Dadaist sensibility in Dylan. Together, they set English Romantic poet William Blake to music and wrote songs like “Vomit Express” (1971) and “Jimmy Berman.” They also jointly entered the Protest Era with Dylan penning soundtracks to Ginsberg-led protests.


The Doors

Jim Morrison of The Doors had the dual influences of the Beat Generation and Flower Power eras and is remembered as much for his poetry as music. He is often cited as a Beat poet himself and considers Kerouac as one his biggest influences. The Beats’ distinctive repetitive, almost chant-like narration is put perfectly to their rock lyrics. Being a teenager in the Beatnik culture, he was strongly influenced by the atmospheric legacy of the Beats.

The Doors’ keyboardist Ray Manzarek had said in his 1998 autobiography Light My Fire, “I suppose if Jack Kerouac had never written On the Road, The Doors would never have existed. It opened the floodgates and we read everything we could get our hands on ”” Howl, Allen Ginsberg; Gasoline, Gregory Corso; A Coney Island of the Mind, Lawrence Ferlinghetti; Peyote Poem, Michael McClure”¦ All mind-benders, soul-twisters, heart-openers, foot-tappers, bone-crushers, eye-wideners”¦ and general fine things. I suggest you read them all.”

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King Crimson

British rock band King Crimson has a 1982 album Beat, released on the occasion of Kerouac’s book On the Road’s twenty-fifth publication anniversary. It is a tribute to the writers, with songs like “Neal and Jack and Me” and “The Howler” referencing the artists and their works, and the music encapsulating their lively and melancholic spirit.


Lana Del Rey

Among contemporary artists, Rey is one of the forerunners who is carrying forward the Beat culture philosophy. She’s “churning out novels like Beat poetry on Amphetamines” in “Brooklyn Baby,” wearing Seventies clothes in “Born To Die” and like Kerouac, getting on the road as an escape in “Ride.” Her short film Tropico sees her narrating stanzas from Howl. Her seamless self-expression and artistic dwelling often resembles the Beat spirit.


David Bowie

Bowie met Burroughs for the first time at a cross interview and then went on to encapsulate his writing style. Burroughs’ cut-up technique is a writing method that cuts texts up and rearranges them; this embodied the basic ideology of vague ideas and looking for meaning in a haze. In a 1974 interview Rolling Stone, Bowie had said, “Nova Express really reminded me of Ziggy Stardust.”



Following Bowie’s lead, American cult rockers Nirvana also used the cut-up technique for lyrics and encouraged listeners to feel rather than understand, especially with songs like “Rape Me.” Cobain idolised Burroughs and they even collaborated on The “Priest” They Called Him in 1993.

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