Connections: Beats in Rock Music

I discovered the Beats the same way a lot of people did, not through books but via the musical connections. My interest in the Grateful Dead led me to read “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” as a teenager, and that was how I first heard of Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac . The first time I saw Allen Ginsberg’s name was on the liner notes to Bob Dylan’s great mid-seventies album “Desire.” I first knew of William S. Burroughs as the author of several strange articles in Crawdaddy, my favorite rock music/alternative-culture magazine as a kid (it went out of business in the age of disco) and later as some old guy Patti Smith talked about a lot in interviews.

All of this got me curious, and I followed the threads. When I started reading the original Beat classics I knew I had found something important and real, and since I was already very interested in fiction I soon became personally involved with the whole Beat ‘thing.’ The purpose of this page is to document the musical connections that originally caught my interest. There’s much more to be said about all this; maybe eventually I’ll be the one to say it.

Grateful Dead

The Dead were Beat-related even before they were the Dead. When Ken Kesey (Oregon-born LSD pioneer and author of ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’) began holding public gatherings known as “Acid Tests” in San Francisco, Neal Cassady was his ever-present co-conspirator and the Warlocks were the house band. The Warlocks would change their name to the Grateful Dead after they discovered the name ‘Warlocks’ was taken by another band. I think they ended up with the better name anyway.

A poster for one of the later Acid Tests, after the Dead changed their name, is at left. This all took place around 1965/66, before the Summer of Love, before the Hippie explosion (in fact this greatly inspired the Hippie explosion, at least in Haight-Ashbury). Dead songs about Neal include ‘The Other One’ and ‘Cassidy‘. I used to think ‘He’s Gone’ was about Neal too, and a lot of people have thought so as well; it turns out it’s not but it could have been.

Bob Dylan

Allen Ginsberg was Dylan’s favorite poet. Ginsberg became part of Dylan’s circle of friends and worked with him on various projects including the film ‘Don’t Look Back,’ several early 70’s songs, the legendary Rolling Thunder Revue tour, and the film associated with the Rolling Thunder Revue, ‘Renaldo And Clara.’ A scene of Ginsberg reading his emotional and shocking poem ‘Kaddish‘ to a roomful of unsuspecting elderly mah-jongg players is included in ‘Renaldo And Clara,’ as well as a visit to Jack Kerouac’s grave.

Despite Dylan’s close connection to Ginsberg, Dylan’s creative point of view seems to me even more akin to Kerouac’s than to Ginsberg’s. In fact I suspect (with no evidence at all on this) that the reason Dylan doesn’t stress how much he has gotten from Kerouac is that he doesn’t want to admit it. An example of a very Kerouac-like Dylan work: the excellent spoken-word
performance of ‘Last Thoughts On Woody Guthrie’ on The Bootleg Series.

Kerouac didn’t think much of Dylan, according to reports I’ve heard. That’s what one would figure, too, given Kerouac’s general hostility to the hippie/liberal scene of the Sixties. Anyway, that’s Dylan typing in the picture at the top of this page. There’s a new official
Bob Dylan website now too, and it’s really good (I helped build it).

Pink Floyd

This connection is not as well-known as the Grateful Dead connection, but Pink Floyd arose from the mid-sixties London psychedelic scene in much the same way that the Dead arose from Haight-Ashbury. And just as the Haight-Ashbury scene was partly inspired by Ken Kesey with help from Neal Cassady, the London psychedelic scene was kicked off by the 1965 International Poetry Festival at the Royal Albert Hall, featuring Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Corso and others. This gathering was such a success it led to the initiation of Beat/psychedelic events at clubs like the Marquee, and it was from this environment that Pink Floyd, then led by Syd Barrett, emerged. The Soft Machine were there too, the second-most popular band after the Floyd, kind of like what Jefferson Airplane was to the Dead.

Like I said, this connection is not very well-known, maybe because Pink Floyd’s later popularity with suburban teenage audiences has caused ‘serious’ types to look down upon them. But I was a suburban teenage Pink Floyd freak once, and I know how good they were (I say ‘were’ rather than ‘are’ because I’m not too crazy about the recent post-Roger-Waters material). From the days of the playful and misunderstood genius Syd Barrett to the stoned hypnotic experiments of ‘Ummugumma’ and ‘Soundtrack From ‘More” to the clock-like perfection of ‘Dark Side’ and the naked anguish of ‘The Wall’ and ‘The Final Cut,’ this band went places no other quartet or quintet of electronic-instrument-wielders could possibly have gone.

The most prominent symbol of the connection between Pink Floyd and the Beats is Miles, owner of the Indica bookshop and a key member of the London art/poetry/rock scene. He went on to write the first major book on Pink Floyd (‘Pink Floyd: A Visual Documentary by Miles’) and also wrote the first major biography of Allen Ginsberg (as the more conventionally-named Barry Miles). He later wrote a biography of William S. Burroughs as well. I don’t know much about Miles, and I’d sure like to find out more. I understand it was in his bookstore that John and Yoko met.

Velvet Underground

You know the International Poetry Festival in London that I mentioned above? Well, Andy Warhol and Gerald Malagna were there too. Just as Kesey and Babbs and Cassady and the Dead were building the Haight-Ashbury scene in San Francisco and Miles and Pink Floyd and the Soft Machine were creating psychedelic Swinging London, Warhol and his crowd were turning Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side into their personal playground for art, film, drugs and insanity. And music: Warhol’s house band was the Velvet Underground, starring Lou Reed and John Cale.

The connections to the Beats were numerous, but tended to be incidental. Ginsberg’s crowd and Warhol’s crowd shared the same stomping ground, the Village and the Lower East Side, but their basic philosophies were quite different; Warhol liked to dwell in the negative, nasty, seamy side of life, and Ginsberg was a bearded finger-cymbal-clanging flower child. This kept the two groups from forming any major creative alliances. But you can’t delve very far into the mid-Sixties activities of either group without running into the other.

As a lyricist Lou Reed has often been compared to Burroughs, as both are fascinated with heroin, down-and-out characters and the seamy side of the city. Ted Morgan actually insults Lou Reed in his otherwise intelligent biography of Burroughs, calling him a cheap Burroughs
imitation … as I said, this is a good book aside from this uninformed remark. In fact I find Burroughs’ and Reed’s approaches entirely different: Burroughs plays with ideas, breaks rules and strives to make his work incomprehensible as straight narrative, whereas Reed is a minimalist, writing about emotions and events with simple, naked clarity. In his extreme emotional self-revelations, Reed is actually more similar to Kerouac and Ginsberg than to the enigmatic Burroughs. (I also think he’s a brilliant guitarist and songwriter, perhaps my favorite musician of all time.)

Lou Reed was one of the speakers scheduled to present at the Summer 1995 Kerouac Conference at New York University. I was surprised when I heard this, because Lou always maintains a severe ironical distance in his public persona, and NEVER does things like this. My reaction was obviously correct, because Lou’s name was dropped from the list soon after, and Graham Parker’s name was added (see below).

Richard Hell

Like Lou Reed, Richard Hell was scheduled to appear at a Kerouac tribute in New York, and then did not show up. In Hell’s case, it was a reading of Kerouac’s letters at St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery, with Ginsberg, Ann Charters, etc. Graham Parker read in Hell’s place (see below).

Richard Hell and the Voidoids were one of the great original New York scene punk bands, and Hell coined the term “Blank Generation” (which never took off anyway, unlike “Generation X,” which was the name of Billy Idol’s band around the same time). In fact, I recently heard the Rhino “Beat Generation” boxed set and discovered that “Blank Generation” was virtually a parody of the super-corny Rod McKuen song “I belong to the Beat Generation,” which was so hokey even McKuen recorded it under a pen name. You can hear the original Rod McKuen song on the Rhino/WordBeat 3-CD set “The Beat Generation.”

Richard Hell also discovered the great guitarist Robert Quine, who was responsible for the Voidoids’ distinctive sound. I used to see the band a lot back when I was in high school, and they were great.

In case you’re interested, here’s The Blank Generation Web, from somewhere in Japan.

Graham Parker

This late-70’s new-wave musician is obviously the one Ginsberg calls up when less responsible musicians like Lou Reed and Richard Hell cancel at the last minute (see above).


From the song “Holiday”, lyrics sent to me by Rosalind Young (

Somebody had to come up with the “bivouac” rhyme sooner or later.

We’ll write a postcard to our friends and family
In free verse
On the road with Kerouac
Sheltered in his Bivouac
On this road we’ll never die…
Let’s go away!

Sonic Youth

I’ve always wanted to know more about this band — you know how there are sometimes bands that you know must be good and you hear about them all over the place, but then somehow you just never get a chance to really listen to them? That’s what happened to me with Sonic Youth.

I’m planning to get one of their CD’s soon but I’m just so damn busy and I keep forgetting. Till then, I get my Sonic Youth Beat Connection info from Mike McCullough (here’s a bunch of Sonic Youth stuff on his music page). Most recently he told me that Lee Ranaldo has a solo album out called “Scripture of the Golden Eternity,” which is also the name of a great piece of Kerouac freeform Buddhist writing that you can read here. According to Mike the album is “the usual lee ranaldo feedback distortion delay loops, with some spoken spiel interjected over the noise, too weird to have a lot of mass market appeal, but it is out there. it is on father yod records distributed by drunken fish.”

Machines of Loving Grace

The excellent name of this band comes from a Richard Brautigan poem that speaks (ironically or not? Both, I guess) of the beauty and warmth of technology and automation. I don’t have a page on Brautigan yet but I will have one someday …

The Boo-Radleys

The name itself is literary, of course, since Boo Radley was the misunderstood town-outcast/mysterious weirdo in “To Kill A Mockingbird.” That was not a Beat book though; they are listed here because of their song “Charles Bukowski is Dead” (which is true, he is). Thanks to Marisha Chinsky ( for mentioning this to me.

Henry Rollins

This guy’s got the Beat spirit for sure. He even publishes books by himself and others, such as Exene Cervanka and Nick Cave. I think that’s admirable. Check out his publishing company, 2.13.61, named after his birthday.

Blake Babies

According to Jay at the people who would form this band (Juliana Hatfield’s old group) were in Boston talking to Allen Ginsberg (or something like that) and when they asked him what they should call their band he suggested the Blake Babies, after
William Blake. And that’s how they got their name.

Smashing Pumpkins

A song called “Tristessa” may or may not be a reference to Jack Kerouac’s novel of the same name, about a heroin-addicted prostitute in Mexico.

Rage Against The Machine

Allen Ginsberg’s poems and words show up often in Rage’s songs. For instance, the song “Bulls*** On Parade” includes Ginsberg’s “Hadda Been Playing on the Jukebox.”


Josh Dean ( sent me the lyrics to this song, “Boxcar,” and others have also written to tell me that this band is into Kerouac. Conchita ( mentions also the song “Condition Oakland” in which Kerouac’s voice can be heard.

You’re not punk and I’m telling everyone.
Save your breath, I never was one.
You don’t know what I’m all about.

Like killing cops and reading Kerouac.
My enemies are all too familiar.
They’re the ones who used to call me friend.
I’m coloring outside your guidelines.
I was passing out when you were passing out your rules.
One, two, three four. Who’s punk? Whats the score?
Got a friend. Her name is boxcar.
Cigarettes and beer in El Sob.
Her hair was blue now it’s green.

I like her mind. She hates the scene.
You’re on your own. You’re all alone.


The song “Big Dipper” presents this interesting psychodrama:

Cigarettes and carrot juice
and get yourself a new tattoo

for those sleeveless days of June

I’m sitting on the Cafe Zinho’s steps
with a book I haven’t started yet
watching all the girls walk by

Could I take you out
I’ll be yours without a doubt
on that big dipper

And if the sound of this it frightens you
we could play it real cool
and act somewhat indifferent

and hey Jim why did you have to come
why did you have to come around so soon
I wasn’t ready for all this nature
The terrible green green grass
and violet blooms of flowered dresses

and afternoons that make me sleepy

But we could wait awhile
before we push that dull turnstile
into the passage

The thousands they had tread
and others sometimes fled
before the turn came

And we could wait our lives
before a chance arrives
before the passage

From the top you can see Monterey
or think about San Jose
though I know it`s not that pleasant

And hey Jim Kerouac brother of the famous Jack
or so he likes to say

lucky bastard

He’s sitting on the cafe Zinho’s steps
with a girl I’m not over yet
watching all the world go by

Boy you are looking bad
did I make you feel that sad
I’m honestly flattered

But if she asks me out
I’ll be hers without a doubt
on that big dipper

Cigarettes and carrot juice
and get yourself a new tattoo
for those sleeveless days of June

I’m sitting on the cafe Zinho’s steps
I haven’t got the courage yet

I haven’t got the courage yet
I haven’t got the courage yet

(Incidentally Kerouac had no brother Jim, though he had a sister named Nin and an older brother named Gerard who died as a child.)


Somewhat hippy-dippy folksinger from the 60’s who for a while was going to be the British Bob Dylan, and then veered towards pop psychedelia and produced cool songs like “Mellow
Yellow.” According to Will Stanley (, he sang the line “Ginsberg’s taken a trip out east” (certainly a true sentiment) in his song “Sunny South Kensington” on his album “The Trip.”

They Might Be Giants

Thanks to Daniel Pereira ( for transcribing the lyrics to the song “I Should Be Allowed To Think” from the album “John Henry.” TMBG is an extremely unique Brooklyn-based duo that stretches boundaries between nerd-rock and avant-garde. This song is obviously inspired by Ginsberg’s poem “Howl.” I think these lyrics are great, especially the line “I saw the worst bands of my generation.”

I saw the best minds of my generation
Destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical
I should be allowed to glue my poster
I should be allowed to think
I should be allowed to glue my poster

I should be allowed to think

I should be allowed to think
I should be allowed to think
And I should be allowed to blurt the merest idea
If by random whim, one occurs to me
If necessary, leave paper stains on the grey utility pole

I saw the worst bands of my generation
Applied by magic marker to dry wall

I should be allowed to shoot my mouth off
I should have a call in show

I am not allowed
To ever come up with a single original thought
I am not allowed
To meet the criminal government agent who oppresses me

I was the worst hope of my generation
Destroyed my madness, starving, hysterical

I should be allowed to share my feelings
I should be allowed to feel
I should be allowed to glue my poster
I should be allowed to think
I should be allowed to think
I should be allowed to think
And I should be allowed to blurt the merest idea
If by random whim one occurs to me
But sadly, this can never be

I am not allowed to think

The Fugs

A Lower East Side down-and-dirty rock outfit led by Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferburg. Ed Sanders is considered one of the great “latter-day” Beat writers, and with the page above I finally have some info on him here in Literary Kicks. A Fugs discography is included there too.


Lennon hung out with Ginsberg and Dylan a lot in the mid-Sixties, and now in the 90’s McCartney has begun working with Ginsberg for the first time. Also, Burroughs is one of the faces on the cover of ‘Sgt. Pepper.’ The name ‘Beatles’ itself might include a generational reference along with it’s many meanings (it also connotes “beat” as in rhythm, and is an homage to Buddy Holly and the Crickets, but it’s likely the fab four were aware of the literary connotation as well). Finally, as I said above in the Pink Floyd section, I believe John and Yoko met in the Indica bookshop, run by Miles.

The Doors

Some common influences here: Jim Morrison was very interested in the ‘deranged’ poetry of
Rimbaud. And the name of the band came from the Aldous Huxley’s book “The Doors of Perception,” which has some proto-Beat
pedigree. More directly, Ray Manzarek did a poetry project with Michael McClure a couple of years ago. A video of one of these performances, called”Love Lion,” is available from Mystic Fire Video

King Crimson

Created a Kerouac-themed album, ‘Beat,’ with songs about Kerouac and Neal Cassady. I’ve never heard or seen the album, but David Florkow ( told me that he doesn’t particularly like it, and that his cats (who have good taste in music and prefer Pere Ubu and Captain Beefheart) don’t either. Despite this, he sent me the lyrics to the first song on the first side, ‘Neal and Jack and Me’:

I’m wheels, I am moving wheels
I am a 1952 studebaker coupe
I’m wheels, I am moving wheels moving wheels
I am a 1952 starlite coupe …
en route …. les souterrains

Des visions du Cody … Sartori a Paris …
Strange spaghetti in this solemn city …
There’s a postcard we’ve all seen before…
Past wild-haired teens in dark clothing
With hands-full of autographed napkins we
eat apples in vans with sandwiches…rush

into the lobby life of hurry up and wait
Hurry up and wait for the odd-shaped keys
Which lead to new soap and envelopes…
Hotel room homesickness on a fresh blue bed
And the longest-ever phone call home….no
Sleep no sleep no sleep no sleep and no mad

Video machine to eat time… a cityscene
I can’t explain the Seine alone at 4 a.m.
The Seine alone at 4 a.m….Neal and Jack and me
Absent lovers, absent lovers…

Soft Machine

Part of the London Marquee/UFO Club scene, along with Pink Floyd. Took their name from the William S. Burroughs novel, ‘The Soft Machine.’

Steely Dan

Steely Dan was a dildo in ‘Naked Lunch
by Burroughs. Here’s the passage (easily offended people, please link elsewhere now):

Mary is strapping on a rubber penis. “Steely Dan III from Yokohama,” she says, caressing the shaft. Milk spurts across the room.

“Be sure that milk is pasteurized. Don’t go giving me some kinda awful cow disease like anthrax or glanders or aftosa….”

“When I was a transvestite Liz in Chi used to work as an exterminator. Make advances to pretty boys for the thrill of being beaten as a man. Later I catch this one kid, overpower him with supersonic judo I learned from an old Lesbian Zen monk. I tie him up, strip off his clothes with a razor and fuck him with Steely Dan I. He is so relieved I don’t castrate him literal he come all over my bedbug spray.”

“What happen to Steely Dan I?”

“He was torn in two by a bull dike. Most terrific vaginal grip I ever experienced. She could cave in a lead pipe. It was one of her parlor tricks.”

“And Steely Dan II?”

“Chewed to bits by a famished candiru in the Upper Baboonasshole. And don’t say ‘Wheeeeee!’ this time.”

Jeez. And I used to think those guys were soft.

Patti Smith

Another one who was heavily into Rimbaud (remember from the great ‘Horses’ album: “go rimbaud and go johnny go!”) She is also known to be a major William S. Burroughs fan. In October 1995 she performed with Herbert Huncke at the annual Kerouac celebration in Lowell. Her 1997 album “Peace And Noise” is dedicated to William S. Burroughs and includes bits from Allen Ginsberg’s “Footnote to Howl.”

Jim Carroll

As a young heroin-addict New York poet in the seventies, Jim Carroll was often seen as a throwback to the Beats. Two years ago I saw him at the Bottom Line in Greenwich Village doing a reading with Allen Ginsberg. Wonderful night.

The Clash

Ginsberg went to a concert of theirs and got called up on stage to perform. The song, ‘Capitol Air,’ is featured on Ginsberg’s new boxed set, ‘Holy Soul Jelly Roll.’ The Clash also included a Ginsberg collaboration on their ‘Combat Rock’ album.

The Beastie Boys

From ‘3-Minute-Rule’ on the amazing album ‘Paul’s Boutique,’ Ad-Rock (Adam Horovitz) is freestyling:

“You slip, you slack, you clock me and you lack
While I’m reading “On The Road” by my man Jack Kerouac”

Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprasy

Burroughs was on their CD, and they were on one of his as well.

Laurie Anderson

Collaborated with William S. Burroughs on several projects, including songs such as ‘Sharkey’s Night’ and ‘Mister Heartbreak.’ He also appeared in her film ‘Home of the Brave.’

10000 Maniacs

Natalie Merchant wrote this song. I’m typing it as it appears on the album cover, in paragraph form.

Hey Jack Kerouac

Hey Jack Kerouac, I think of your mother and the tears she cried, she cried for none other than her little boy lost in our little world that hated and that dared to bring him down. Her little boy courageous who chose his words from mouths of babes got lost in the wood. Hip flask slinging madmen, steaming cafe flirts, they all spoke through you.

Hey Jack, now for the tricky part, when you were the brightest star who were the shadows? Of the San Francisco beat boys you were the favorite. Now they sit and rattle their bones and think of their blood stoned days. You chose your words from mouths of babes got lost in the wood. The hip flask swinging madmen, steaming cafe flirts, nights in Chinatown howling at night.

Allen baby, why so jaded? Have the boys all grown up and their beauty faded? Billy, what a saint they made you, just like Mary down in Mexico on All Souls’ Day.

You chose your words from mouths of babes got lost in the wood. Cool junk booting madmen, street minded girls in Harlem howling at night. What a tear stained shock of the world, you’ve gone away without saying goodbye.


Kurt Cobain released a CD of himself playing noise guitar over a Burroughs recitation of his short story, ‘The Priest They Called Him.’ Also, according to the biography “Come As You Are” (a good book, though the ending is obviously really sad), Cobain was into Kerouac and once
wrote a song called “Beans” inspired by his novel ‘The Dharma Bums.’ The song’s never been released, but I hope it someday will be.


Allen Ginsberg can be heard reciting a poem amid the crowd noise of a Punjabi marketplace on their CD “When I Was Born For The 7th Time.”

Mott The Hoople

On an early album called “Brain Capers”, this Bowie-esque glam-rock outfit included a song called “The Wheel of Quivering Meat Conception”, after one of Kerouac’s most well-known (and depressing) poems. Thanks to Joel Lewis ( for finding this.

Blue Oyster Cult

This is a good find — thanks to Dan Clore. Blue Oyster Cult’s classic ‘Burning For You’ begins:

Home in the valley
Home in the city
Home isn’t pretty
Ain’t no home for me

Home in the darkness
Home on the highway

Home isn’t my way
Home I’ll never be

Which is likely to have been inspired by a poem that appears in ‘On The Road’:

Home in Missoula
Home in Truckee
Home in Opelousas
Ain’t no home for me

Home in old Medora
Home in Wounded Knee
Home in Ogallala
Home I’ll never be

It’s also worth nothing that the band’s very talented singer and lead guitarist goes by the name of Buck Dharma.

Red Hot Chili Peppers

Thanks to Sarah Davis ( for sending me this, from the song “Mellowship Slinky in B Major,” on “Blood Sugar Sex Magic” album:

Being that I’m the duke of my domain
My hat goes off to Mark Twain
Singing a song about what true men don’t do
Killing another creature that’s kind of blue
Writing about the world of the wild coyote

Good man Truman Capote
Talking about my thoughts ’cause they must grow
Cock my brain to shoot my load
I’m on my porch ’cause I lost my house key
Pick up my book I read

Chuck Berry

No explicit Beat connections, but there’s a definite Kerouac/Cassady sort of sensibility to his lyrics. Listen to his 1964 song ‘Promised Land,’ for instance — something tells me Chuck had a copy of ‘On The Road’ in his back pocket while he was writing this one. Luckily the Dead play the song, so you can read the lyrics here.

Tom Waits

Several people have written to say that Tom Waits had a sort of Beat point of view throughout his work. David Florkow ( sent me the lyrics to this song, “Jack and Neal”:

jack was sittin poker faced with bullets backed with bitches

neal hunched at the wheel puttin everyone in stitches
braggin bout this nurse he screwed while drivin through nebraska
and when she came she honked the horn and neal just barely missed a
truck and then he asked her if she’d like to come like that to californy
see a red head in a uniform will always get you horny
with her hairnet and those white shoes and a name tag and a hat
she drove like andy granatelli and knew how to fix a flat
and jack was almost at the bottom of his md 2020 neal was yellin
out the window tryin to buy some bennies from a lincoln

full of mexicans whose left rear tire blowed and the sonsobitches
prit near almost ran us off the road

well the nurse had spilled the manaschevitz all up and down her dress
then she lit the map on fire neal just had to guess
should we try and find a bootleg route or a fillin station open
the nurse was dumpin out her purse lookin for an envelope and
jack was out of cigarettes we crossed the yellow line
the gas pumps looked like tombstones from here

felt lonelier than a parking lot when the last car pulls away
and the moonlight dressed the double breasted foothills
in the mirror weaving outa negligee and a black brassiere
the mercury was runnin hot and almost out of gas
just then florence nightingale dropped her drawers and stuck
her fat ass half way out the window with a wilson pickett tune
and shouted get a load of this and gave the finger to the moon

countin one-eyed jacks and whistling dixie in the car

neal was doin least a hundred when we saw a fallin star
florence wished that neal would hold her stead of chewin
his cigar jack was noddin out and dreamin he was in a bar
with charlie parker on the bandstand not a worry in the world
and a glass of beer in one hand and his arm around a girl
and neal was singin to the nurse
underneath a harlem moon
and somehow you could just tell we’d be in california soon

Waits also sings of Kerouac in a song called “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart (in Lowell).”

Loudon Wainwright III

The song “Cobwebs” by this well-loved modern-day folkie contains this couplet:

Yeah it might have started back with Jack Kerouac
Probably more than likely it was Maynard G.Krebs

Van Morrison

Michael Bridge ( sent me this info about Van Morrison and the Beats:

There are a number of literary references in Van Morrison’s music- there are many to William Blake, as well as Alan Watts, Rimbaud, Joyce, etc.- but there are a couple of brief mentions of Kerouac as well. (Although I must say, usually he just invokes their names rather than actually alluding to their work.)

One is in “Cleaning Windows” from the album BEAUTIFUL VISION (1982) where he talks about a working man’s pride in his job and his enjoyment of simple daily activities:

I heard Leadbelly and Blind Lemon
On the street where I was born
Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee,

Muddy Waters sing “I’m A Rolling Stone”
I went home and read my Christmas Humphreys’ book on Zen
Curiosity killed the cat
Kerouac’s “Dharma Bums” and “On the Road”.

Also, “On Hyndford Street” from HYMNS TO THE SILENCE (1993) is one of his zillion songs reminiscing about growing up listening to the crackling mystery of Radio Luxembourg. One verse is:

Going up the Casltlereagh hills

And the cregagh glens in summer and coming back
To Hyndford Street
Feeling wondrous and lit up inside
With a sense of everlasting life
And reading Mr. Jellyroll and Big Bill Broonzy
And `Really the Blues’ by Mez Mezro

And `Dharma Bums’ by Jack Kerouac
Over and Over again.

I guess Jack Kerouac and Van Morrison have always coexisted in the same place in my brain. Both of them were brought up Christians (I think Morrison was a Jehovah’s Witness) who later embraced Buddhism, and each follows a similar path- the pursuit of the infinite/god/buddha/whatever in the face of human reality…. At times, they both can reach it AND can communicate it in such a way that make you know exactly what it is, even if only for a moment, but at other times you can feel them pulling and straining to make sense of even the simplest things….

Frank Zappa

I’m sure there are many beat references in the hundreds of extant Frank Zappa/Mothers of Invention albums. I can only think of one: the voice Zappa uses in the spoken-word introduction to ‘Muffin Man’ (from the great Beefheart/Zappa live album ‘Bongo Fury’) is an affectionate (I think) parody of Ginsberg’s odd poetic-reading voice. This comes out most explicitly in the pronunciation of phrases like ‘dried muffin remnants’ and ‘he puts forth a quarter-inch green rosette on the summit of a dense but radiant muffin of his own design’ — Zappa cracks up laughing during this last one.

Janis Joplin

Janis’s version of ‘Oh Lord Won’t You Buy Me A Mercedes Benz’ is pretty well-known, but did you know the song was written by Michael McClure? McClure used to hang around Haight-Ashbury playing songs like this one on an autoharp given to him by Bob Dylan, often with the help of Hell’s Angels like Freewheelin’ Frank.

Jethro Tull

Jethro Tull, a 70’s band that explored the interplay between British/Celtic folk traditions and high-powered progressive rock, does not on the surface appear related to the Beats or any other American literary tradition. However, the album “Too Old To Rock and Roll,” a cycle of songs that appears to be about lead singer Ian Anderson’s own life, contains the following track, a drowsy pub conversation set to music and called “From A Dead Beat To An Old Greaser.” This is another reminder of how deeply the Beat movement had once permeated British culture, despite (or perhaps because of) its overwhelming ‘American-ness’. On the other hand, as Ian (the Old Greaser) sings: “I wasn’t there, friend, I didn’t care, friend.” In any case, it’s a nice song on a mostly-forgotten album.

From a dead beat to an old greaser, here’s thinking of you.
You won’t remember the long nights;

coffee bars; black tights and white thighs
in shop windows where blonde assistants fully-fashioned a world made
of dummies (with no mummies or daddies to reject them).
When bombs were banned every Sunday and the Shadows played F.B.I.
And tired young sax-players sold their instruments of torture —
sat in the station sharing wet dreams of Charlie Parker,
Jack Kerouac, Rene Magritte, to name a few of the heroes
who were too wise for their own good — left the young brood to
go on living without them.

Old queers with young faces — who remember your name,
though you’re a dead beat with tired feet;
two ends that don’t meet.
To a dead beat from an old greaser.

Think you must have me all wrong.
I didn’t care, friend. I wasn’t there, friend,
If it’s the price of a pint that you need, ask me again.

David Bowie

David Bowie, with his mask-like face and dry deadpan speaking voice, has often reminded people of William S. Burroughs. This is not a coincidence; Bowie is quite familiar with the works of Burroughs and has even acknowledged the stylistic influence in interviews. For Bowie, whose lyrics often explore the concept of fame and pop culture as an insidious control system, Burroughs is a natural comrade, along with other 60’s media-culture prophets like Andy Warhol and Marshall McLuhan.

The most Burroughs-related Bowie work is “Diamond Dogs.” This fascinating concept album mixes snatches of George Orwell’s novel “1984” with ominous, creepy Interzone-inspired imagery and sounds. The album begins with a spoken-word bit called “Future Legend” that could have come right from a Burroughs cut-up. On the “David Live” album (from a concert tour built around the “Diamond Dogs” concept) the first thing you hear is the faraway sound of Arab music, as if to set the show in Tangier.

“Diamond Dogs” (which features the songs “Rebel Rebel” and “1984”) is a great album, probably my favorite Bowie work. The best bit is probably the long, swirling montage called “Sweet Thing,” featuring Mike Garson’s amazing “Cabaret”-style piano and some of the nastiest guitar noises I’ve ever heard.

And here’s a Bowie beat connection I bet you didn’t know — Bowie recently revealed that he thought up the name of the song “Jean Genie” while in the City Lights bookstore when he spotted a book by the French transgressive novelist Jean Genet.

Iggy Pop

In the song “Little Miss Emperor,” cowritten by Pop and Bowie, he paraphrases from ‘Howl‘:

I saw the best minds
Of my generation
Learn how to crawl

Across our nation
Conformity falls

Thanks to John Regehr (


A few people have told me about the album ‘Hallucination Engine,’ which has a song called ‘Words of Advice’ written and performed by Burroughs.


According to Hayden Burton (, this band is very into Burroughs’ heroin-lore. There are samples of Bill’s voice on the album “Psalm 69,” and his image appeared in the video for the song “Just One Fix.”

Skinny Puppy

Hayden Burton (see above) also tells me of this band’s admiration for Burroughs’ heroin-lore, and says the lyrics are often inspired by Bill’s cut-up experiments.

Philip Glass

Philip Glass is not exactly a rock musician — he’s more of an experimental classical type. He has worked with musicians like Bowie and Brian Eno, though, so I guess he qualifies. He’s beat-related because he occasionally collaborates on projects with Allen Ginsberg, and has performed live with him as well.

Paul Winter

Also not a real rock musician but rather a new-age type. He’s done some work with Gary Snyder, mostly providing musical backup while Snyder recites. I’ve heard some of these recordings and they’re actually pretty interesting, not merely relaxing like all that Wyndham Hill new-age stuff.

Al Stewart

Thanks to Lindsay Loyd ( for sending me these lyrics. I don’t know much about Al Stewart, except that he sang 70’s-era pop torch songs with quirky lyrics. The Kerouac reference is hardly enough to make this a true “Beat Connection”, but what the hell.
Here’s “Modern Times,” written by Dave Mudge and Al Stewart and recorded in 1975:

Hello old friend, what a strange coincidence to find you

It’s been fifteen years since we last met, but I still recognised you
So call the barman over here, and let us fill our glasses
And drink a toast to olden times where all our memories lie,
Where all our memories lie.

Do you remember the time when we were young?
Lowly, lowly, low
Outside the window the frosty moonlight hung
On the midnight snow

So we pulled our scarves around our faces in the night
Huddled on the doorsteps where the fairylights shone bright
Singing Christmas carols while our breath hung in the light
It all comes back like yesterday
It almost seems like yesterday

Do you remember the changes as we grew?
Slowly, slowly, slow
Sneaking in the back way into movies after school

For the evening show
Chasing skinny blue jean girls across the building-site
Checking out the dance floor while the band played ‘Hold Me Tight’
See the blonde one over there–I bet she’d be alright
It all comes back like yesterday
It almost seems like yesterday

While I talked he sat and he never made a sound
Staring at the glass beside me

Hey old friend, tell me what’s on your mind?
Silence grows on you like ivy

Do you remember the church across the sands?
Holy, holy, ho
You stood outside and planned to travel to the lands
Where the pilgrims go
So you packed your world up inside a canvas sack
Set off down the highway with your Rings and Kerouac

Someone said they saw you in Nepal a long time back–
Tell me why you look away
Don’t you have a word to say?

He said “I don’t remember…Don’t want to remember
In fact I’ve heard too much already
I don’t want to think, just leave me here to drink
Wrapped up in the warmth of New York City
Oh, oh, it seems you just don’t know

And you just don’t understand me
I’ve got no use for the tricks of modern times
They tangle all my thoughts like ivy.”

So I left him, and I went out to the street
Lowly, lowly, low
Where the red light girls were coming after me–
Forty dollar show
All across the city’s heart the lights were coming on

The hotel lift softly hummed a Cole Porter song
If I went to look for him I knew he would be gone
A picture-card of yesterday
A photograph of yesterday

And far off in a deserted part of town
The shadows like a silent army
Flooded out the rooms in pools of blues and brown
And stuck to all the walls like ivy

Dexy’s Midnight Runners

This is sort of like the Jethro Tull mention above — the singer doesn’t seem to like Kerouac and Burroughs much himself, and views the character he’s speaking to as somewhat pretentious for constantly tossing their names about. This provides an interesting insight into how the Beats may have been perceived by some in England and Ireland.

Even if he didn’t like Kerouac, though, I liked Dexy’s classic 80’s song “Come On Eileen” a real lot.

Thanks to Paul Williams ( for sending me these lyrics. The song is called “There, There My Dear”:

Dear Robin

I hope you don’t mind me writing it’s just that there’s more than one thing
I need to ask you. If you’re so anti-fashion why not wear flares
instead of dressing down all the same? It’s just that looking like that I
can express my dissatisfaction. Dear Robin, let me explain though you’ll
never see in a million years. Keep quoting Cabaret, Berlin, Burroughs, JG
Ballard, Duchamp, Beauvoir, Kerouac, Kierkegaard, Michael Rennie.
I don’t believe you really like Frank Sinatra.

Dear Robin, you’re always so happy, how the hell do you get your
inspiration? You’re like a dumb patriot. If you’re supposed to be so
angry, why don’t you fight and let me benefit from your right? Don’t you
know the only way to change things is to shoot men who arrange things?
Dear Robin, I would explain, but you’d never see in a million years.

Well you’ve made your rules but we don’t know that game, perhaps I’d listen
to your records, but your logic’s far too lame and I’d only waste three
valuable minutes of my life with your insincerity.

You see Robin I’m just searching for the young soul rebels and I can’t find
them anywhere. Where have you hidden them? Maybe you should welcome the
new soul vision.

Willie Alexander

Boston-based rocker, recently jammed with Patti Smith and Herbert Huncke at the October ’95 Kerouac fest in Lowell. Also recorded a song called “Kerouac.”

The Washington Squares

This latter-day folk band, cleverly named after Greenwich Village’s own little version of Central Park, sang a very affecting song called “(Did You Hear) Neal Cassady Died?”


This very literate band has more references to Kerouac and Beat poetry than I can even begin to list.


William S. Burroughs appeared as a cryptic mysterious person holding a spotlight in their video “Last Night On Earth.” It was one of Burroughs’ last gestures to the world before he

died in 1997.

Bad Religion

From the ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ album: ‘Caringosity killed the Kerouac cat.’ (This seems to be a reference to the novel ‘Big Sur.’)

The Go-Betweens

On this Australian band’s 1987 album ‘Tallulah’ is a song called ‘The House that Jack Kerouac Built.’ I’ve never heard it, but Michelle Hills ( typed the
lyrics in for me:

You and I together, with nothing showing at all,
In a darkened cinema, I’ll give you pleasure in the stalls.
Want to give you tenderness, and my affection too,
If it’s through clenched teeth, that’s what you’ve driven me to.
I want us to be lovers
I want us to be friends
Want it like it’s the living end
Keep me away from her.

With your kittens, on the patchwork quilt,
Oh no, what am I doing here, in the house Jack Kerouac built.
There’s white magic, and bad rock ‘n’ roll
Your friend there says, he’s the gatekeeper to my soul.
The velvet curtains
The Chinese bell
With friends like these, your damned as well.
Keep me away from her.

Shake off your despondency, and your country girl act.
You are reading me poetry that’s Irish and so black.
I know you’re warm, the warmest person alive,
But are you warm deep down inside
I want us to be lovers
I want us to be friends
Want it like the world crumbles and then it ends.
Keep me away from her.

You’re on the road.

The Incredible String Band

This is a classic late-psychedelic-age band that did not survive the 70’s, and I had no idea what had become of the members until I got this message from John Earley (

I’ve been reading some of your web pages, and was interested to see
your connections between music and the beat authors. I was “turned
on” to Kerouac via my passion for the Incredible String Band, or more
specifically Mike Heron. Unlike the other original String Band man
Robin Williamson (who has played, recorded and toured constantly
since the ISB split in ’74) Mike Heron stopped performing and turned
songwriter throughout the ’80s, but has been performing again with
the Incredible Acoustic Band for the last three years or so. I could
ramble on for hours about the ISB and the rise of the current wave of
interest in the UK through Andy Roberts’ BE GLAD fanzine, but perhaps
I should get to the point!

Heron wrote and recorded a song called Mexican Girl which appeared on
The Glen Row Tapes in 1989; it seems he’s a big Kerouac fan – the
song is specifically about Kerouac’s Mexican girl in On The Road (her
name has slipped my mind! – typical!) The song led me to the book,
which then led me on to several other Kerouac gems, of which my
favourite is Dharma Bums. (Reading Kerouac also led me
indirectly to John Steinbeck, Hemingway and American literature in
general, having previously been a scifi / fantasy buff all my life)

More recently, Heron has written (and currently performs) a song
called Jack Of Hearts, which is based around the memoirs of Jack’s first
wife, whom I’ve just read about on one of your pages, Edie someone
(I’m terrible with names!) Heron explained the song at a gig recently,
although I didn’t catch all the details. I think it’s sung in the
person of Edie’s later boyfriend / husband lamenting the fact that he
cannot measure up to her original love — Jack Of Hearts.

Clearly Heron is a Kerouac buff. I suppose it ties in with the ISB’s
interest in buddhism which I understand can be interpreted from some
of their early material circa 1968, before LRH and Scientology took a

(Incidentally, the Mexican girl’s name was Terry, and Kerouac’s first wife was Edie Parker.)


I’ve never even heard of this band. Henrik Goransson ( sent me the lyrics to their “Torch Song,” and I think they’re pretty interesting. The bit about the roman candles obviously refers to the famous description of Dean Moriarty in the first
few pages of ‘On The Road.’ Henrik also mentions that Kerouac is one of seven “angels” portrayed on the cover of the album the song is on, and that the cover can be viewed here.

Read some Kerouac and it put me on the tracks
to burn a little brighter now.
It was something about roman candles fizzin out
shine a little light on me now,
I found a strange fascination with a liquid fixation
alcohol can thrill me now

It’s getting late in the game to show any pride or shame
I just burn a little brighter now

Burn a little brighter now

Doctor says my liver looks like leaving with my lover,
I need another time out now,
Like any sort of hero turnin down to zero
still standing out in any crowd
Pulling seventeen with experience and dreams,

sweating out a happy hour,
Where you’re hiding 29 you know it ain’t a crime
to burn a little brighter now, burn a little brighter now

Dr. Finlay: And my advice is if you maintain this lifestyle
you won’t reach 30
Torch: it’s a romantic way to go really, part of the heritage
it’s your round in’it

We burn a little brighter now

Read some Kerouac and it put me on the tracks
to burn a little brighter now
It was something about roman candles fizzin out,
shine a little light on me now,
I found a strange fascination with a liquid fization,
alcohol thrill me now
It’s getting late in the game to show any pride or shame
We burn a little brighter now, burn a little brighter now

Aztec Two-Step

I remember this band from my college days in the 80’s. But I didn’t realize until told me that they got their name from a line in a Ferlinghetti poem,
“See it was like this when …” which goes: “a couple of Papish cats is doing an Aztec two-step.”

Thanks also to Joe Kulikauskas ( for reminding me of the song below and transcribing the lyrics. I like the line about “it is you and not he who is really the freak.” The song is called The Persecution and Restoration of Dean Moriarty and it was written by Rex Fowler.


Well I can’t understand what is wrong with the man
Don’t he know how he’s acting was long ago banned?
Don’t you think it’s a shame, someone tell me his name
If we let him continue he may get out of hand.

Well, look at him laughing and carrying on
Like a hydrogen manic or an organic bomb
He’s alive like a child so terribly wild
He has way too much freedon, of course, he is wrong, is wrong, yeah.

And he was born on the road in the month of July
And he’ll live on the road till he sees fit to die
‘Cause he’s learned from the road how humanity cries
How society lies, he sees with more than his eyes.

Well won’t you look at him running, don’t he know how to walk?
He’s just too damned cunning, you can tell by his talk

You can tell he is rude like a typical dude
If you want my opinion he belongs under lock.

One look in his eyes and you know he’s unsound
There’s no way to faze him ’cause he’s nobody’s clown
He’s as deep as the sea and he’s equally free
That’s why I fear him and hate him and wish he was down, was down, yeah.

Whether riding the rails out of Denver,

Or bumming a friends’ cigarettes,
He’s asking them all to remember,
Making sure that they’ll never forget.

So you’re curious, friend, ’bout this man who I speak
For he tears you and scares you out of your sleep
I’m sure you will find, if you open your mind
It is you and not he who is really the freak.

So relax for a moment as you would for your hobby
His beauty abounds in his mind and his body
He’s like the setting sun’s hues or the dust on his shoes
He’s living he’s naughty he’s Dean Moriarty, yeah.

He may ride down the road at one hundred and ten

Exclaiming his thoughts about prisons and men
He may tell you his dreams, maybe something obscene
And you’ll swear you’ve been through it but you don’t know just when.

He’s like the dancing gold prairies that will never be mowed
Or the wind in the sail that’s about to explode
He’s like fire and rain bringing pleasure and pain
And he learned all he knows from the ways of the road.

Eric Anderson

Eric Anderson is a folksinger whose career began in the sixties and continues to the present day. I saw him at a folk festival about eight years ago, and thought he was pretty good. Thanks to James Holbrook ( for telling me about this song, “Ghosts Upon The Road,” and sending me the lyrics.

I was stranded up in Cambridge Mass it
was the winter of 64 before that in a torn-
down building up on Beacon Hill I made
my money mowing lawns that fall and

jukin in a band the air was full of energy
only a few could understand

Now I was lucky in my building because the
city had forgot to board up all the doors and
windows and shut the electric off an abandoned
dog had earlier destroyed the first and second floors
I found some country records there but I had no stereo
but sometimes I’d hear noises in the night

On the 3rd floor there I was livin by candlelight
crashed out in the corner of a room afraid to draw
attention I was eating cold out of cans later they
said I was living like a rat

Now the crowd I hung out with well they were outcasts too
Suzie alone and pregnant with my best friend’s kid
Johhny Boy just got thrown out of the local loony bin
and Brain was renting out apartments that didn’t exist

then one night alone I wrote a song about something
that I knew about the black faced miners it was a tune
from a man named Blue

Ghosts upon the road they were ghosts upon the road
just ghosts upon the road

Soon I moved across the river and got a roommate right
off of Cambridge Ave Alfredo was from no man’s land he
danced his car over the moon his eyes were full of Latin

smoke and his wall was full of knife holes he had a job as
a maitre’d and I didn’t have enough to keep in cigarettes
his pockets were always lined and his bed was always full
my soul felt like an empty lot and people were hiding their
stash and stuff underneath their floorboards back then
everybody was paranoid of the cops and then there was Diana
she took me under her hat she’s happily married with three
kids now so I won’t go into that

Ghosts upon the road they were ghosts upon the road
just ghosts upon the road

Now the jungle war and politics was on everybody’s mind
they rejected me on mental grounds so it was not my lot to serve
that August day on Whitehall street I ran into some post beat hippies
I’d known I must have looked so weird to them they only waved at me
I’d been lucky to have been advised by some higher sources that I’d
known and managed to keep the circles under my eyes I knew that fear

can make a man crazy even more than make him scared you didn’t need
a bloodhound to know the smell of blood was in the air soon I was asked
to leave the place the rest were asked to stay both my head and I were
dressed like Holden Caulfield on that day

But ridin the rails of subways was far safer than the time I tried
like takin matters into my own hands down on the Lower East Side
that summer’s night on Avenue B he almost jumped off a six story roof
next time I got a piano but I fell in love too soon but sometimes

I’d hear noises in the night

Ghosts upon the road they were ghosts upon the road
just ghosts upon the road

It was then I knew that death was death that life was life
maybe there was an in between not just some French and Russian
novels or the love of a poet’s life or the need to give everything
three had tried to kill me and three had saved my life life and death
were indistinguishable til death put an end to that I dreamed my life

would roll on forever like some great plain in the west my lovers I’d
count like billboards on ribbon route infinity cryin out Dean Moriarty
Sweet Marilyn here I come in our fast cars our rockin boots meet the
sons of the dharma bums til one went into the bathroom he took his belt
off and never came out and Melissa put one up inside the soft roof of
her mouth

Ghosts upon the road they were ghosts upon the road
just ghosts upon the road

Now and then I think about Rachel who I followed up some
steps and I think it was Georges Clemenceau who once said
that the highlight of making love first time was to watch a woman
from behind climbin up the stairway to her room but that was 1914
and now this was 14th Street in the Spanish neighborhood by the river
but it was long ago she said she took a lot of acid then but she ended
up besides many I knew ended up much worse and Ramblin Jack was wild
but Lowell Jack was first and I still shiver from the words but it’s

these times I wonder when I’m all alone and I don’t see you did I lose
my way or did you lose yours

Ghosts upon the road they were ghosts upon the road
just ghosts upon the road

Belle and Sebastian

A few people have told me about the Kerouac inspirations behind this new Scottish
experimental folk-rock outfit. Among other references, the song “Le Pastie De La Bourgeoisie” asks:

Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Kerouac’s beckoning with open arms
And open fields of eucalyptus
Westward bound

Soul Coughing

Everybody tells me I gotta get into this band. Okay, I’ll buy the CD.

Other Connections?

That’s all I have for now; there’s a lot I’m leaving out, I’m sure. Please send me info about anything you think I should include. I will be adding to this section occasionally, although I think there’ve been more and more connections lately, including the Kerouac tribute CD “Kicks Joy Darkness,” and if this craze continues I’m eventually going to have to either quit my job and dedicate my life to keeping this page up to date, or just give up, which is probably the better option.

In any case, I think the connection between the Beats and 1960’s rock is an especially fascinating subject, especially with regard to three cities that had ‘underground scenes’ around 1965-66, London, New York and San Francisco, and the three major bands that arose from these scenes, Pink Floyd, the Velvet Underground and the Dead. Like I said up on the top of this page, I think there is a lot more to be said about this connection, and if nobody else finds the time to delve into this I think I eventually will.

NOTE: despite the many connections between the Beats and rock ‘n’ roll, the primary music associated with the Beat movement was jazz. There’s also reason to suspect that some of those guys occasionally tossed a classical album on the turntable. Note this picture of 1010 Montgomery Street in San Francisco, where
Allen Ginsberg wrote ‘Howl.’ It’s a little hard to see, but the album on the shelf says “Mass In B Minor.” Probably Bach or Vivaldi or some shit like that. Hey, you know those Ivy League types.

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Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!