Beat sound, Beat vision

Beat sound, Beat vision: The Beat spirit and popular song

Laurence Coupe
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Beat sound, Beat vision
    Book Description:

    There have been books on the Beats; there have been books on the Beatles; but there has not been a book linking the two. Ditto Jack Kerouac and Bob Dylan. Nor has there been a study of this range of writers and songwriters, in relation to a central vision. This, then, is the first sustained study of the spiritual revolution made by the Beats and of its impact on popular song. This book reveals the ideas behind the Beat vision which influenced the Beat sound of the songwriters who followed on from them. Having explored the thinking of Alan Watts, who coined the term ‘Beat Zen’, and who influenced the counterculture which emerged out of the Beat movement, it celebrates Jack Kerouac as a writer in pursuit of a ‘beatific’ vision. On this basis, the book goes on to explain the relevance of Kerouac and his friends Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder to songwriters who emerged in the 1960s. Not only are new, detailed readings of the lyrics of the Beatles and of Dylan given, but the range and depth of the Beat legacy within popular song is indicated by way of an overview of some important innovators: Jim Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Donovan, the Incredible String Band, Van Morrison and Nick Drake. Beat Sound, Beat Vision will appeal to all devotees of the Beats and of the songwriters who emerged in the seminal decade of the 1960s. It will also prove useful to students of literature, of pop music and of religion.

    eISBN: 978-1-84779-476-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. A note on usage
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-21)

    This is not, strictly speaking, a book about music: I am neither a musicologist nor a pop journalist. Nor is it a wide, equal survey of an era: I am not a cultural historian. Still less is it a work of critical theory: I am not setting out to expose the hidden agenda of literature and popular song. Rather, it is a series of reflections on ideas addressed by certain songwriters who came to prominence in the 1960s. These ideas, I argue, derive from the literary phenomenon known as the Beat movement. My premiss is that the ‘Beat vision’ of...

  6. 1 ‘This is IT’: Alan Watts and the visionary tradition
    (pp. 22-55)

    Western writers and artists have been looking to the East for inspiration since at least the eighteenth century. In the United States a decisive moment came in the middle of the nineteenth century when Ralph Waldo Emerson discovered the Hindu scriptures in translation, and conveyed his enthusiasm to his protégé, Henry David Thoreau. Both men became associated with the school of thought known as Transcendentalism, which effectively fused English Romanticism and Eastern mysticism. The Transcendentalists, as the name implies, thought of themselves as religious thinkers, not just literary writers or cultural commentators (though they were both of these). But it...

  7. 2 ‘Go moan for man’: Jack Kerouac and the beatific vision
    (pp. 56-78)

    Of the three main Beats whom we are considering in this study, it is Kerouac who merits a complete chapter to himself. Not only does he give us our understanding of ‘Beat’ as ‘beatific’, but also he gives us the fullest sense of what literature as spiritual quest might involve – more so even than do Ginsberg and Snyder. The trouble is that this aspect of Kerouac’s achievement is all too often glossed over: there is still a tendency for interest in him to be confined to his bohemian image and his reputation as untutored genius. My aim here is to...

  8. 3 ‘Vision music’: Bob Dylan via Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg
    (pp. 79-120)

    In October 1975, Allen Ginsberg and the songwriter Bob Dylan visited the grave of Jack Kerouac. They had stopped off at the Edson Cemetery, Lowell, Massachusetts during the course of Dylan’s tour of the east coast of the United States. He called the tour ‘The Rolling Thunder Revue’, this name being an allusion in general to the ‘freewheeling’, unplanned nature of the enterprise, and in particular to a Cherokee medicine man called Rolling Thunder, who had become involved. (There was also an unstated, presumably ironic reference to a famous bombing operation by the USA during the recently terminated Vietnam War.)...

  9. 4 ‘Mantra rock’: the Beatles via Allen Ginsberg
    (pp. 121-163)

    Probably the first account of the British equivalent of what in the USA was to become known as the counterculture was Jeff Nuttall’sBomb Culture, written in 1967 and published the following year. Indeed, so quick off the mark was Nuttall that the book consists largely of hints and guesses about what seemed to be emerging from the streets, cafes, clubs, poetry readings, ‘happenings’, ‘alternative’ press, and, above all, popular music in mid-sixties Britain. Lacking the concept of a mass countercultural movement, Nuttall is content to use the word ‘subcultures’ as a way of indicating a pluralist, even fragmentary scene...

  10. 5 ‘Eco-Zen’, or ‘a heaven in a wild flower’: from Gary Snyder to Nick Drake
    (pp. 164-206)

    In his celebrated critique of the Beats, made in the days before his canonisation by the counterculture, Alan Watts exempted one writer in particular from the charge of misappropriating Buddhism. That was the poet Gary Snyder:

    Whatever may be said of Kerouac himself and of a few other characters in the story, it would be difficult indeed to fit Snyder into any stereotype of the Bohemian underworld. He has spent a year of Zen study in Kyoto, and has recently (1959) returned for another session, perhaps for two years this time.¹

    Snyder, that is, represented Zen proper, not what Watts...

  11. Postscript
    (pp. 207-208)

    I trust that, as this study comes to a close, readers will feel able to concur with me that, once one has recognised the ‘Beat’ vision as the ‘beatific’ vision, the relationship between the fifties writers and the sixties songwriters becomes rather more intriguing than it would be if we relied on some vague notion of a bohemian legacy. Once one takes Beats such as Kerouac, Ginsberg and Snyder seriously as religious writers, exploring possibilities of spirituality with a view to mystical revelation, the achievement of artists such as Dylan and the Beatles appears far more substantial than one thought....

  12. Select bibliography
    (pp. 209-214)
  13. Index
    (pp. 215-217)