Archives For August 2010


Beatdom is expensive. That’s something that cannot be denied, and up until now it has been something that cannot be helped. Each of our eight issues has cost upwards of $20 and that is simply because we are a small, independent publisher. We try and provide quality writing and art, as well as giving away free downloads of the magazine through our website, in order to make amens for the cost of each issue. Continue Reading…


There, now I have your attention… The theme for the eighth issue of Beatdom is “sex”. That means we want to know what the Beats thought about sex, what they wrote about sex, what influence sex had upon their work, who they had sex with, when they had sex… Sex sex sex. Continue Reading…

William Burroughs – Heavy Metal Guru

by Spencer Kansa.
”Tell him I’ve been reading him and I believe every word he says.”

Bob Dylan to Allen Ginsberg on William Burroughs in 1965.
I remember sitting across from William Burroughs at the dining table in his modest, porch-fronted clapboard house in Kansas, trying to take it all in, thinking this was the coolest thing I had ever done. As we sat sharing a joint – small “bomber” variety – Burroughs clocked the emblem on my baseball cap and asked in his drawling cowboy voice what the symbol meant. “Ah, it means I’m a Public Enemy” I replied. Burroughs smiled knowingly; as ever, he understood.
As perhaps one of the most important literary influences on modern music and pop culture, William Burroughs’ nightmarish dystopian visions and anti-authoritarian world view has infused and informed the work and ideas of a pantheon of rockers: Bowie, Dylan, Jagger, Lou, Iggy, Patti, Zappa, Kurt, Sonic Youth etc.

The cut-up technique he made famous has had a precursory impact on the fragmented sonic canvas of hip-hop, and was the catalyst behind the scrambled images of U2’s ZOO TV. His cosmic yobs, hipster jargon, drug induced visions and novel titles have been inspiration to a slew of bands and films: Soft Machine, Steely Dan, Bladerunner, Dead Fingers Talk, Wild Boys, Interzone, The Mugwumps, Johnny Yen, Nova Mob, Thin White Rope et al. Burroughs’ grey, spectral presence graces the iconic cover of Sgt Pepper’s, and even Duran Duran paid their own rather dubious homage to El Hombre Invisible when they based their promo-video Wild Boys on Burroughs’ futuristic story of a savage band of adolescent guerrillas.
Yet, the “heavy metal” guru – Steppenwolf purloined the phrase for their rock anthem Born To Be Wild from Burroughs’ sci-fi novel The Soft Machine, in turn giving name to a whole sub-genre of rock – viewed such reverence with knowing bemusement. A teenager in the 1920s, Burroughs always preferred Leadbelly to Led Zeppelin. However, in an interview with Jimmy Page, Burroughs did concede that “Rock can be seen as one attempt to break out of this dead and soulless universe and reassert the universe of magick.”
The cut-up technique in particular has carved a through-line in modern music and has resulted in Burroughs holding a subversive sway over pop culture for four decades. The cut-ups were discovered serendipitously by Burroughs’ main gazane, the maverick Canadian painter Brion Gysin, while the two men were residing at the bohemian Beat Hotel in the Latin Quarter of Paris in September 1959.

While slicing through some boards with a Stanley knife to mount some of his drawings, Gysin noticed that he had cut through the layers of newspapers underneath and that when he peeled away the top layers he could read across the different pages – which combined stories from across the various columns – providing a new juxtaposition of words and images. Gysin had announced that “writing was fifty years behind painting” and the cut-up technique allowed the writer to borrow the painter’s tool of montage.

Burroughs immediately saw the implications and potential of this discovery and began experimenting, taking a page of his own writing and cutting it into four separate parts, then rearranging the sections to form a new composition out of the text. For Burroughs, who felt restricted by the antiquated beginning, middle and end narrative structure of the Victorian novel, it was a major artistic breakthrough and the perfect vehicle that he had been looking for. Significantly the cut-ups mirrored Burroughs’ own fragmented, mainline existence and as he pointed out, they were also a far more honest representation of how the mind really works. Burroughs explained: “someone walks around a block and paints a canvas of what he has seen. Well he’s seen someone cut in two by a car, reflections in shop windows, passing faces, a jumble of fragments. So the cut-ups are closer to the actual facts of human perception. LIFE IS A CUT-UP.”
Although Mick Jagger had shown interest in starring in a mooted film version of Naked Lunch back in the late 60s and Lou Reed’s smack-soaked sado-sex songs trawled similar subterranean territory – the Velvets even penned an ode to Burroughs, “Lonesome Cowboy Bill” on their Loaded album – the most vocal and visible disciple of Burroughs in rock was David Bowie. Although Bowie admitted to only to having a passing knowledge of Burroughs’ work – he had just read Nova Express – when the two men were brought together for a joint interview by Rolling Stone magazine in 1973, by the time Bowie went to work on his next venture, the future-shocker Diamond Dogs, his own cut-up efforts had been put into action and helped set the fractured tone of that forbidding, Orwellian opus.

During the following Diamond Dogs tour across America, Bowie was filmed by the BBC for the Cracked Actor documentary. With paper and scissors in hand, Bowie was filmed as he cut up and re-arranged a page of ideas: “I don’t know if this is the way that Gysin or Burroughs do their cut-ups, but this is how I do mine,” he explained, adding that the technique was “a western form of Tarot.”

Throughout the rest of the 70s Bowie continued with the cut-up lyrics, particularly on the trio of albums he recorded with Brian Eno: Low, Heroes and Lodger. Bowie also incorporated Eno’s own version of the cut-ups, a deck of playing cards called Oblique Strategies, on which were written a selection of musical instructions that they could randomly pick whenever they were stuck for a new idea, or looking for a new musical direction to take. The card commands helped create a series of “planned accidents” on tracks of those seminal albums.
After a decade’s hiatus Bowie returned to the cut-ups on his 1995 avant-rocker, 1. Outside. This time, however, technology had caught up, and thanks to a computer programming pal, Bowie could now feed a whole stack of information into his Apple Mac and hit a randomiser button, which could cut-up and scramble the contents and spew the results back out to him. Talking on Canadian television that year Bowie paid tribute to Burroughs and the cut-ups saying: “Burroughs particularly touched me. The way he cut-up the world and reassembled it. I felt more comfortable in that environment, that kind of chaos. That fragmentation for me felt a truer picture of reality.”
“He’s up there with the Pope”- Patti Smith on Burroughs.
His legend preceding him, Burroughs returned to New York in the mid-70s, landing smack (ahem) in the middle of the emerging CBGB’s punk scene. More arty and literate then their UK counterparts, Burroughs’ mystique and mythic reputation was idolised by many of the scenes’ leading lights, particularly punk’s own poet laureate Patti Smith, whose performances Burroughs admired and whose classic album, Horses, owed much to Burroughs own homo-erotic prose. Holding court at his famous “bunker on the Bowery,” Burroughs received a steady stream of rock n roll admirers, including Joe Strummer and Richard Hell. Though Burroughs understandably dismissed the “Godfather of Punk” tag that had been foisted upon him, he did send a telegram to The Sex Pistols supporting their anti-monarchist anthem God Save the Queen, declaring: “I’ve always said that England doesn’t stand a chance until you have 20,000 people saying ‘Bugger the Queen!’…This is a necessary criticism of a country which is bankrupt.”

A celebration of all things Burroughsian, entitled The Nova Convention, took place in New York in the winter of 1978 with a glittering galaxy of rock stars and counter-culture figures taking part. Frank Zappa read Burroughs’ Talking Asshole routine, Patti Smith covered for Keith Richards – who cancelled due to his drug bust in Canada – while Brion Gysin, Allen Ginsberg and Timothy Leary all participated in seminars. Music came courtesy of minimalists Phillip Glass and John Cage, while Laurie Anderson co-mastered the ceremonies.
Though Burroughs had disbanded cut-ups by the eighties they were kept in pop consciousness due to the sterling work of industrial music pioneers, Throbbing Gristle, whose magus Genesis P Orridige released a collection of Burroughs’ audio cut-up experiments on the album Nothing Here but the Recordings. Recorded in London, Paris and Tangier throughout the 1960s, the album showcased Burroughs’ spooky, Dalek-like tone and introduced a generation to how the cut-ups sounded. Dubbing street noise from Tangier to London, cut in with garbled short wave radio, Joujouka music, newspaper reports, and excerpts read from his own novels, these sonic collages were Burroughs’ own subversive brand of musique concrete. Even more than the novels, Genesis P Orridge was interested in Burroughs’ concepts, in particular his idea of using these audio cut-ups as a political tool against hierarchies of control. Burroughs postulated that by selecting the appropriate random sounds, bastardized speeches, siren drones, animal noises and gun shots, a team of operators strategically placed with tape recorders could playback such recordings, inciting a riot at a demonstration, or a political rally.
In tandem the evolution of hip-hop from Bronx block parties to rebel rousing on wax was bearing all the hallmarks of a musical extension of the cut-ups. The way in which Burroughs would construct a new piece of writing by synthesizing two pieces of text and information presaged the way in which a DJ would mix between two records, fusing a third new soundtrack amalgamated from both decks, hence the DJ term “cutting.” Burroughs idea of weaving other authors’ work into his own writing anticipated the whole sampling process. So in the same way as Burroughs, through utilising the cut-up technique, broke down the old structures of the novel, creating a new literary landscape, rap, through musical cut-ups and manipulations of sound dismantled the old song structures, creating a revolutionary new sonic canvas in the process. Burroughs appreciated this new aural architecture and when pressed on the subject admitted to me that “rap music has great potential.”
Throughout the last two decades of his life, Burroughs himself made many interesting forays onto vinyl. In the late eighties he topped the bill on the Smack My Crack and Like a Girl I Want to Keep You Coming Poetry Systems albums, put out by his Bunker buddy and fellow spoken word troubadour, John Giorno. Reading his Words Of Advice For Young People and Just Say No To Drug Hysteria routines respectively, Burroughs  appeared alongside a who’s who of eighties cult figures, like Nick Cave, Diamanda Galas and Lydia Lunch, as well as more established names like Debbie Harry, David Byrne and Tom Waits.

In 1990, Burroughs entered into a full fledged collaboration with Tom Waits when the grizzled singer scored the musical The Black Rider, based on Burroughs’ book of the same name. This Faustian fable was given its theatrical premiere in Hamburg to critical acclaim, and on the subsequent album Burroughs sung the old jaunty jazz number Taint no Sin.

That same year, Island Records released a new Burroughs collection, Dead City Radio. With atmospheric accompaniment from the likes of John Cale, Donald Fagen and Sonic Youth,  old time movie strings courtesy of producer Hal Wilner – who had previously provided background music for Burroughs when he made a memorable appearance on Saturday Night Live, reading his Titanic farce, Twilight’s Last Gleamings – the album’s highlights included Satanic Bill’s downright perverse rendering of The Lord’s Prayer, his anti-American tirade, A Thanksgiving Prayer, and best of all, his croaky, vodka sodden rendition of Marlene Dietrich’s swan song, Falling In Love Again.

In 1992, the concept album The Western Lands was released by renowned producer and Burroughs fan, Bill Laswell. Based around Burroughs’ novelistic investigations into the seven souls concept of the Ancient Egyptians, Laswell crafted an equally exotic and ambient soundgarden. That same year Burroughs collaborated with industrial noise meisters Ministry for the 12” Just One Fix. Over slabs of industrial beats Burroughs intoned an appropriate smack-it-up sermon, and also provided the abstract cover artwork Curse on Drug Hysterics.

The following year another more high profile collaboration rose to prominence fuelled by the untimely death of Kurt Cobain. The Priest They Called Him was an alternate version of Burroughs’ The Junkies Christmas, and pitted his yuletide yarn against swathes of Cobain feedback in a cute cash-in. Although recorded separately, a meeting was held between the two men at Burroughs’ home a year later. Picking up on the troubled vibe of his houseguest, Burroughs later confided to his assistant: “there’s something wrong with that boy, he frowns for no good reason.”

Far more substantial was the collaboration released that same year between Burroughs and Michael Franti’s Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy rap group: Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales. Delivering his infamous Dr Benway and Talking Asshole routines against a funky backbeat, the album contained many precious moments, including MC Zulu’s amusing boxing style announcement introducing Burroughs in his thickest Jamaican patois: “Check dis out. From Lawrence, Kansas, reading from Naked Lunch and weighing slightly over 100 pounds, Uncle Bill.”

A few months later self proclaimed “Beatnik rapper” Justin Warfield paid his own Hip Hop tribute to the original drugstore cowboy, bigging up Burroughs for his “spiritual, musical and earthly inspiration” on his (B-Boys on acid soaked) debut LP, My Field Trip To Planet 9. This filmic album and his subsequent collaboration, Bug Powder Dust with Bomb the Bass supremo Tim Simenon, were littered with Burroughsian and Beat references, and speaking to me Warfield drew many parallels between the Be-Bop inspired Beat era to today’s generation of mic-slingers.

Justin Warfield told me,

The Beat writers got a lot of the rhythms of their speech from saxophone players, and a lot of white writers at the time, like Kerouac, adopted black culture, jazz and drug culture, into their work, but beyond that, Ginsberg said it was more to do with people who were just enamoured with each other. Ginsberg has a great rhythm to him because his poetry has a pulse to it, a bigger backbeat. He really flies off the handle, and it’s pretty wild, but Burroughs has a special rhythm all his own, his literary style is a big influence on me as a hip hop lyricist. I don’t think most people in the rap world are hip to the cut-ups, but if they checked out Burroughs and Gysin they’d certainly see the connections between the two.

Burroughs’ post-apocalyptic dreamscapes also infiltrated the visual Arts and inspired celebrated New York graffiti artists like Keith Harring and Jean Michel Basquiat. Appreciating art-as-crime/crime-as-art, legend has it that Burroughs himself was once caught by a transit cop, aerosol can in hand, spray painting AH POOK IS HERE – the Mayan God of the dead – upon the walls of a New York subway station.

In the wake of Burroughs’ death in 1997, Mercury Records released the 4 CD Box Set: The Best of William Burroughs. Unravelling in almost chronological order this sprawling spoken word box set spanned forty years of Burroughs’ repertoire, and served as a perfect platform for his lacerating diatribes against the phoney war on drugs: “Our pioneer ancestors would piss in their graves at the thought of urine tests to decide whether a man is competent to do his job.” Such assaults marked him out as a masterly satirist, back when that word meant something and the word fuck could not appear on a printed page. His deadpan wise-cracks ranked him up there with Will Rogers, Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks as one of the all time great black humorists: “Doctor asks what the American flag means to me. I tell him soak it in heroin Doc and I’ll suck it.” A genuine cut-up in every sense.

With rock-n-roll credibility enshrined, it was perhaps only fitting that Burroughs last public appearance would be a cameo role in U2’s promo video for their Last Night on Earth single. The sinister image of Burroughs wheeling a giant klieg lamp around in a shopping cart proved to be a perfectly symbolic one for a man whose life and work shone arcs of light with its darkness.

Long John Silver and the Beats

by Wayne Mullins


Many people ask what are the Beatles? Why Beatles? Ugh, Beatles how did the name arrive? So we will tell you. It came in a vision – a man appeared on a Flaming Pie and said unto them ‘From this day on you are Beatles with an A’. ‘Thank you, Mister Man,’ they said, thanking him…

John Lennon

This colourful and creative reason for the name “The Beatles” is something you can immediately associate with John Lennon and his amazing ability to take a fairly mundane topic and give it an otherworldly slant.  However, the real reason behind the name and spelling of The Beatles owes a lot more to the likes of Ginsberg and Kerouac than it does to mystic pie riders from the sky.

It was 1957, a time when the Beats were at the height of their powers: Allen Ginsberg was in Court defending his poem ‘Howl’ and On the Road had its first publishing and became an instant classic. At the same time, across the Atlantic, the Beatles (originally called The Quarry Men) formed in Liverpool, England. Several name changes occurred in the early life of the Beatles before John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe decided to honour the memory of Buddy Holly by changing the band name to the Beetles (as a play on Buddy Holly and the Crickets), but as John Lennon was a fan of clever word play he decided to change the spelling of The Beetles to Beatles as a way to suggest “beat” or “beat music”. As John Lennon said in a 1964 interview, “It was beat and beetles, and when you said it people thought of crawly things, and when you read it, it was beat music.”

The Beatles and the Beats shared much in common during these early years. The friendships, relationships and experiences formed by both groups during their early days were to go on and shape entire generations in the decades that followed.

Further evidence of the Beat influence on the Beatles came from the time John Lennon spent at Liverpool College of Art. The Beat culture in Liverpool was certainly one of many influences on him; he knew Adrian Henri, and many of the professors who taught John at Liverpool College of Art were ardent followers of the Beat Movement. His dear friend June Furlong had posed for quite a few Beat artists and John loved the free-form mode of expression that the Beat generation endorsed. However, John was not a “joiner.”  He didn’t want to be linked to any one movement or any one philosophy. When the Beatles journeyed to Hamburg in the summer of 1960, Lennon’s best friend Stuart Sutcliffe became enamoured of the Existential Movement (“the Exi” as John referred to them), but John scoffed at it as silliness. Much later in life when John sang his long list of the things he didn’t believe in (in the song, “God”), he was not so much rejecting everything on that list as he was telling the world that he was not a part of any group. He was himself. And he felt that was enough.

While Lennon may never have been a follower in the tradition sense, it is clear nonetheless that the Beat movement did play an important part in the development of both his and the Beatles vision. While the Beats are famously associated with their love of Jazz, there were notable occasions when the world of Beat and sixties pop music crossed paths. Marianne Faithfull’s autobiography details an encounter between Allen Ginsberg and The Beatles in the mid sixties.

“Then Allen Ginsberg came in … He went over to the chair Dylan was sitting in and plonked himself down on the armrest … John Lennon broke the silence snarling:

“‘Why don’t you sit a bit closer then, dearie?’

“The insinuation – that Allen had a crush on Dylan – was intended to demolish Allen, but since it wasn’t far from the truth anyway, Allen took it very lightly. The joke was on them, really. He burst out laughing, fell off the arm and onto Lennon’s lap. Allen looked up at him and said, ‘Have you ever read William Blake, young man’

“And Lennon in his Liverpudlian deadpan said, ‘Never heard of the man.’

“Cynthia, who wasn’t going to let him get away with this even in jest, chided him: ‘Oh, John, stop lying.’

That broke the ice.


The Beats are largely seen by the public (either rightly or wrongly) as the founders and spiritual leaders of both the Beat and Hippie movements. But this never sat particularly well with several members of both groups. Jack Kerouac in particular came to resent the perceived image the Beat followers had of him and claimed “It is not my fault that certain so-called bohemian elements have found in my writings something to hang their peculiar beatnik theories on.” But follow him they did, often forcing him to move around the country with his mother when his address became too public – allowing eager young Beatnik followers who saw him as some kind of prophet to show up at his door uninvited. Though they were often disappointed that he was not the man they imagined him to be, they would often drag the bloated, old man Kerouac had grown into out for an all night drinking session, just so they could say they partied with “Sal Paradise.”

John Lennon was a person who always strived to be an individual and not belong to any group. But some of the ideals that the Hippie movement cherished, John cherished. After all, his most famous message was “Love is all you need.”

During the mid-sixties the rapidly expanding Beat movement underwent another transformation. The jazz, sunglasses, dark clothing and goatee beards faded out of fashion to be replaced by up tempo rock and pop music, long hair, bright psychedelic clothing and a more high profile form of protest. Many of the original Beats were still active members of the Hippie movement, the most famous of these being Allen Ginsberg who became a permanent fixture of the anti-war movement during this time.  While the Beats were largely apolitical, the Hippies were more active and goal-orientated in their protests; protests that started with the anti-war movement, leading onto civil rights and environmental protests. However, not all of the Beats were so quick to embrace the new counter culture movement. Kerouac in particular was strongly opposed to the Hippie movement and labelled it as “new excuses for spitefulness.”

Both Beatnik and Hippie movements were committed to mind-expanding drug experimentation, free love, anti war protests and living a life of personal and spiritual vision. The Beats pioneered the recreational use of marijuana and Benzedrine, paving the way for the generation that followed to experiment with LSD and other drugs. It’s easy to see how one movement morphed into the other. While the Beatniks may have started the counter culture, music, drugs and promiscuous sex movement, it was the Hippies that really popularised it through a combination of upbeat and catchy sixties pop music and its more inclusive nature.

Drugs played a big part in both movements and Kerouac was famous for his marathon Benzedrine writing sessions (sometimes lasting days). Lennon also experimented quite frequently with mind expanding drugs. His songs, “She Said, She Said,” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” on Revolver demonstrate the influence of the drug culture on John’s lyrics and music.

Famously both the Beats and The Beatles grew weary of the straight laced and conformist attitude of western religions and explored the East in a search for deeper meaning and answers. Both Kerouac (Christian) and Ginsberg (Jewish) had strong attachments to their religions in their youth, but during the early fifties Ginsberg started to become involved in Buddhism while living on the West Coast and Kerouac began to develop his Transcendentalism-based fascination with Buddhism while living on the East Coast. Eager to explore the new consciousness of their newfound Eastern teachings, the Beats revelled in the power of the new philosophy which placed the power of the individual at the spiritual centre of life. Many of the Beats took their new teachings very seriously, travelling to Japan to be closer to the original source and in Ginsberg’s case even going on to become a devoted Tibetan Buddhist after being tutored by his mentor, a monk called Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. The Eastern influences can be seen throughout the writers’ work in pieces such as ‘Howl’ and The Dharma Bums.

When the Beatles started to experiment with their own ventures into the Eastern region it was to prove just as controversial as when the Beats had first began to explore the East a decade earlier. When the Beatles famously travelled to India to converse with the Maharishi during their exploration of Hinduism it was not to be without incident. John Lennon was extremely disillusioned with Eastern philosophy when he returned from the Beatles’ ashram with the Maharishi. In fact, John left in utter disgust and when the Maharishi asked John why he was leaving, John replied, “You’re the mystic. You tell me.”

At the end of John’s life, he was spending a great deal of money each week reading books on all sorts of faiths, including Judaism and Christianity. Having been raised in the Anglican Church John was toying with returning to his religious roots. If you study one of the last photographs of John (in his New York Shirt) before he was killed, he is wearing a crucifix. John believed that God could not be put into a tiny box of any faith. He looked to the East, the West and all points in between. And that after all, is where he believed God was.

Many critics were quick to label the Beat writers “armchair Buddhists” in the sense that they only picked the parts of the religion that was of use to them, abandoning the rest. The Beatles also faced similar accusations in relation to their “free love” and “peace” message of the Hippie era. John Lennon didn’t like materialism and yet he owned a large portion of The Dakota on New York’s West Side, a plethora of expensive guitars, a great deal of land and property on Long Island. John Lennon devoted his life to peace, but he wasn’t opposed to violence when his best friend was threatened by a group of thugs.

That being said, Lennon wasn’t a pacifist to the point of surrendering his values. He didn’t want “peace at any price.” He realized that peace was a cooperative agreement between two people, two cultures or two nations. If one party failed to honour that commitment, then the process was ineffective and other means of solving the problem would then be necessary. In his revision of the rock anthem “Revolution,” John says, “But when you talk about destruction… don’t you know that you can count me out/in.” Why “out/in”?  John wasn’t nebulous in his stance on war and peace. He was being very clear in these lyrics: he was saying that he would like to be counted out of destruction, war and violence (just as the Hippies would have wanted), but in reality there were cases in which one must stand up and fight or stand up and protect/defend. John knew that life wasn’t a simple flower-powered love-in. Life had to be evaluated on a case by case basis.

By the end of both their lives, I feel it’s fair to say that both Jack Kerouac and John Lennon, the two people who probably best represent the movements of the Beats and Hippies, had both fallen out of love with their original message. John Lennon was not a person who wanted to be a leader or a follower; he was someone that I don’t think would want to be tagged as part of any movement. As he said in ‘God,’ “I was the Walrus, but now…now I’m John.” He wanted to be individual. What he gave to his era which influenced the Hippie culture as well as a very straight-laced mainstream group of people, he gave out of his need to express himself, to “sing his heart.” If it changed or influenced others, then fine. If it didn’t, then that was fine too. He sang because he had to sing, not because he wanted to lead change or direct a movement.  Jack also appears to be a man who wanted to bring people together and teach the world all the new wonders he had found, but eventually his message became more important than its content, leading him to lose the spark of passion, a spark that he felt could change the world and make it a better place. He famously once said “Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion.” This is the clearest message he could have given that he felt any kind of cultural movement was largely superficial and if you really wanted to make a difference and change the world, you would have to do it in your own way.

However, despite both movements being just memories now, they have left long and lasting legacies that continue to be as powerful today as they were 50 or 40 years ago.  The message of peace and love is always “right on time.” It was brilliant when Jesus proclaimed it. It was powerful when Ghandi proclaimed it. It was courageous when Martin Luther King proclaimed it. It is never outdated. It is the only message; and as cynical as we may be about things as they are today, it is love upon which we focus when everything else around us is falling apart.

Kyle Chase Poems

This issue’s poetry section features the work of only three poets – Jim Davis, Ben Simon, and Kyle Chase. Davis’ contribution is “Set that on Fire” – a beautiful song that captured my attention from its first reading with its magnificent lyricism. Ben Simon’s “Generation Y” grabbed me by its anger and energy than its rhythm or beat. There is wisdom in those words, and a passion that captures the very essence of the Beat Generation.

Over the page you’ll find four poems by Beatdom regular Kyle Chase, whose first book, The Clinic and Other Poems, was released earlier this year by City of Recovery Press. Kyle’s work made a tremendous impact on my life, and has come to be almost inseparable from this magazine. His poetry captures not only a Beat spirit, but a terribly human spirit. His work speaks to us not as readers of literature, but as human beings. He is truly a poet for his age, and one who would have found an audience for his voice in any realm of history.

Kyle Chase is a poet and writer born and raised in the City of Sin. While still in high school, he got his start in journalism by writing book and music reviews for his hometown alt-weekly. Since then, he’s worked as a freelance journalist for such news organizations as the Associated Press, Liberty Watch Magazine, Las Vegas CityLife and many others. As far as his poetry goes, Chase’s poems have appeared in a number of print and online publications. He’s a regular contributor to Beatdom Magazine and his upcoming collection, The sickness which started him typing (City of Recovery Press), is expected to hit shelves sometime in the fall of 2010. Currently, Chase lives in Minneapolis with his wife and cat.

The final pillage of America

A sharp, mad stare

bloodshot eyes, crumpled brow

—an introduction to the madness we seek

as we boom, restless and reckless,

through Midwestern cornfields and winding

Rocky Mountain roadways;

A trek at terminal velocity

for a trio of terminal f(r)iends

Hovering a half-foot above hell-bound highways,

veins overflowing with nicotine and vials

of truck stop speed,

our travels are as much about finding home

as they are about finding hope.

Still, we would inevitably find neither,

though blasting our way past Nebraska coppers

and the warp-speed lights of Ike’s Tunnel

we would at the very least find escape:

escape from the sun,

escape from fools, and finally,

escape from our former selves.

For one wondrous week, we were not the weak

and we were not the worried or the wary.

We were the wild and the wicked;

we were the warriors!

And with my compatriot’s

stupidly sentimental desire

to soil the soil of every single state

through which we sped,

we left our stain—just as conquerors

once left their flags!

Until, at last, we stood atop a final hill

to behold the Apocalyptic red glow

illuminating the clouds above our

final destination: The City of Sin.

And like a sudden change in the direction of the winds,

my young friend’s face shifted from that mad stare

into something overtly innocent but with an

underlying deviousness.

His breezy blond hair and piercing blue eyes

combined with a half-cynical smile and, at once,

he took on the look of a twenty-first century Rimbaud

—fitting, as he was our token L’enfant terrible.

The other, that tiresome ogre whose only

contribution to the trip was about two hours

of driving time, and a seemingly non-stop supply

of grunts and complaints—enough so that his whines

became a regular joke shared by myself and the Kid—

He stared smugly at the glowing sky and said nothing.

In fact, none of us did; crashing hard and fast, we silently

loaded ourselves back into the car, and at long last,

we made our way into the light.

—For Adam Sward and Scott Holmstrom

Dying Star

For once in my life, the cosmos aligned

in my favor—oh! but that was years ago.

For six years we orbited each other—

I was just a moon, but you should have seen her

planetary beauty.

But just as we came out of chaos

We were thrown back into it—suddenly, violently.

Such tragedy—such universal destruction—and

in the vacuum of space, all cries fall on deaf ears.

The universe cares not of our tears.

Has our star burned out and was its death an

awesome explosion, vibrant and magnificent—cosmically glorious?

Or did it simply flicker and fade into

the darkness without any effort to speak of to

let the heavens know it ever

even existed?

Arrogant dead youth

When we were young

we arrogantly cried the Who’s

“Hope I die before I get old,”

and we meant it, Goddamnit.

But now our wishes are coming true

and I can’t stop thinking of you

—Will, Travis, Elliott, Mike—

and wishing we weren’t such snotty brats,

for we knew nothing of time

and not much more of death,

yet we stupidly welcomed it

with open arms—even summoned it.

Even those of us who’ve survived

—so far—

have wrinkles far beyond our ages, and

wake up to brittle bones and swollen, painful knees.

I only wish we’d have celebrated life

in the same way we did mortality.

Oh, we had our fun; in fact, we had a blast,

but at what cost? I ask.

Those of us still above the grass

have ravaged livers and collapsed veins.

We’re reaping what we’ve sewn,

but who is left to save us now?

Hearts of stone still break like hearts

My heart, it has been filled

with so many poisons—so many

solid rocks

that you’d think by now

it would be made of pure stone.

Yet, it’s not, and in fact,

it breaks easily—just as easily as

it ever has

—only now it does so

with much more frequency.

It crashes like and old, hole-filled dam,

like waves against a rocky beach wall,

like the test planes that once filled my dreams

until those dreams were replaced by her.

When she leaves for good

—as, in time, she inevitably will—

I’ll know not how to live,

nor if I’ll have any desire to do so.

I doubt I’ll smile again

—at least not sincerely—

and, no that’s not melodrama;

that’s literally as real as I can get.

She changed my dreams forever,

so much so that I’ve forgotten what I dreamed

before her

and now those dreams are falling

apart like pieces of an unglued puzzle.

If I could, I’d sing her

every lyric which ever made her feel

sentimental about me,

but as I reach these lines, every time,

my voice breaks in lock-step with my stone heart.

Taking stock

Negative two hundred and thirty-seven dollars. This is what my life has become: an overdrawn bank checking account, a stack of past-due bills taller than I am and a first name-basis relationship with the associates at my neighborhood pawn shop.

I can count among my assets a couple pieces of pass-me-down furniture, an almost empty refrigerator whose contents include bread and food-shelf peanut butter but no jelly, and—if you can call a woman an “asset”—a wife of whom I’m no doubt grossly undeserving.

My liabilities are many—perhaps too many to count—though I’ll try nonetheless. For starters, there’s my hereditary inheritance of a slew of neurological heirlooms; from bi-polar to autism, and from attention deficit to schizophrenic disorders, I’ve traces of each. Much worse, however, is my junk habit, the size of which is comparable to whichever Central American narco-state that happens to be supplying it at any given moment.

I’m twenty-four years old and, indeed, this is what my life has become.

Beat News

Since our last issue, one of the few surviving members of the Beat Generation passed away. Peter Orlovsky – poet, teacher and firm member of the Beats – died on May 30th, a few days before Allen Ginsberg’s birthday.

Although he will always be known as “Ginsberg’s lover,” Orlovsky deserves recognition in his own right. His place in literary history as both artist and muse is irrefutable, and he will be sorely missed.

Anne Waldman was with him in his final moments, and penned a touching description of his passing:


If you’re in or around London you should definitely check out a new William S. Burroughs exhibit: Dead Fingers Talk: The Tape Experiments of William S. Burroughs.

Running from 29th May to 18th July at IMT Gallery in Cambridge Heath Road, the exhibition features the audio experiments of William S. Burroughs and responses from 23 other artists.

To find out more, visit the IMT website:


The Rum Diary is one movie that literature fans have been awaiting for some time. Johnny Depp will be reprising his role as Hunter S. Thompson (well, actually Paul Kemp) and is joined by Amber Heard in the role of Chenault.

The movie seems to have been in the works forever, but all is developing nicely and we should see it on screen this year. News is notoriously sparse and unreliable, but for all the best updates, please check


Hunter S. Thompson fans (ie all the people at Beatdom) will be delighted to know that after waiting years for The Rum Diary to be made, another Thompson story is on its way to the big screen.

“Prisoner of Denver” was an article Thompson co-wrote for the June 2004 issue ofVanity Fair. It concerned the plight of one Lisl Auman, who was wrongfully incarcerated after the murder of a police officer. Thompson launched a crusade for her release, but killed himself a month before her conviction was overturned.

The Motion Picture Corporation of America has bought the rights to the story, and has asked writers to produce a screenplay revolving around Thompson and co-author Mark Seal as “a gonzo Woodward and Bernstein.”


Perhaps of most interest to Beat fans is the supposed reincarnation of the whole On the Road movie trip. For what seems like forever (certainly going back to before I was even born) they’ve been talking about making Kerouac’s classic into a film.

Now it seems the project is all set to go, with Francis Ford Coppola (who has been linked to the project for years) producing, and Motorcycle Diaries director Walter Sales directing. Spider-man’s Kirsten Dunst and Twilight’s Kristen Stewart both starring.

Filming will begin later this year, with Salles simultaneously shooting a documentary about Jack Kerouac, titled, In Search of On the Road.


This year you might also like to take a look at William S. Burroughs: A Man Within. It made its world premiere at the 2010 Slamdance Film Festival, and is now trying to work its way into the public consciousness.

Please help support this movie by visiting their website:


If you’re anywhere near Washington D.C. in the next few months, make sure to check out the first ever exhibition of Allen Ginsberg’s photography at the National Gallery of Art. It runs from May 2nd to September 10th.

Ginsberg documented the lives of his friends during the 1950s with a little Kodak camera, and inscribed the photographs with poetic descriptions. Some famous photos of Kerouac and Burroughs come from Ginsberg’s early attempts. He later returned to photograph in the 1980s, with help from his friend, Robert Frank.

Read more about Ginsberg’s foray into photography at


The Huntington Library in San Marino is set to display its Charles Bukowski collection for the first time, starting October 9th, and running into the start of next year.

The material on display comes from their Bukowski collection, which was donated by his widow, Linda Lee Bukowski. The pair married in 1985.

“Charles Bukowski: Poet on the Edge” will showcase 60 items from the library’s collection, and another 15 from his widow’s collection. These include typed manuscripts, first editions and photos of Bukowski’s private life.

For more info, please see the Huntington Library website.


If you have a spare $30,000 you might want to head over to Christie’s in New York, because on 22nd June they’re selling one of Jack Kerouac’s typewriters.

This was the last typewriter Kerouac ever owned, and was in his possession at the time of his death, in 1969. In January of that year Kerouac had the machine repaired after apparently dropping it.

If you don’t have the money for his typewriter, perhaps you might want to bid on what is perhaps a more evocative piece of Kerouacian history: his rucksack.

Kerouac was known as a great traveller, and has earned his place in American history as a sort of hobo – a man constantly “on the road.” In January 1961 – well after his famous road adventures – Kerouac visited New York City and purchased this bag.

It’s listed for sale at between $5,000-$7,000.

Peter Orlovsky Obituary

On May 30th, 2010, Peter Orlovsky died at the age of 76. He is best known as the long-time partner (and muse) of Allen Ginsberg, but he was also a great poet in his own right.


My biography was born July 1933

The first sentence of Orlovsky’s biography in New American Poetry 1945-1960

Born into poverty, Orlovsky dropped out of high school to support his family by working in a mental hospital, and was drafted to fight in the Korean War in 1953 at age 19. After telling his commanding officer that, “An army with guns is an army against love,” he was sent to work at an army hospital in San Francisco.

At 21 Orlovsky met Allen Ginsberg. It’s part of Beat legend that Ginsberg fell in love with a painting of Orlovsky (who was then working as a model) just before meeting the man himself in the San Francisco studio of painter Robert LaVigne in December 1954.

The couple moved into a North Beach apartment together and announced that they were “married.” They spoke openly of their relationship, and were listed as “married” in Ginsberg’s Who’s Who entry in the years following his rise to fame.

They travelled around the world together – spending two years in India, learning about Eastern philosophies. Both men took great interest in Buddhism during their travels.

Peter Orlovsky became an important part of the Beat Generation, although he only began writing poetry at the provocation of Ginsberg while the two were in Paris. He appears in Jack Kerouac’s Book of Dreams and Desolation Angels as Simon Darlovsky, and in The Dharma Bums as George.

Later, he taught at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. His course was called, “Poetry for Dumb Students.”

As well as working as a model, teacher and a poet, Orlovsky made several movie appearances. Along with Ginsberg, Kerouac and Gregory Corso, he appeared in Couch (1964), which was directed by Andy Warhol. Me and My Brother (1969), directed by Robert Frank, concerned Orlovsky’s relationship with his brother Julius, who was schizophrenic. He appeared (uncredited) in Bob Dylan’s 1979 Renaldo and Clara. In 1990 he appeared in Frank’s C’est Vrai.

Although their relationship was not always monogamous (with Orlovsky displaying heterosexual leanings) they were inseparable at times, and stayed together on-and-off until Ginsberg’s death in 1997.


Orlovsky’s poetry became known for its simple, earthy honesty. He spoke freely (and often enthusiastically) about bodily functions and most famously about assholes. He couldn’t spell, but through his misspellings and the unusual phrasings of his work comes a refreshing freedom and originality.

His “Frist Poem” was published in 1958 by Yugen literary journal. It begins:

A rainbow comes pouring into my window, I am electrified

Songs burst from my breast, all my crying stops, mistory fills the air

Of his poetry, William Carlos Williams once exclaimed: “Nothing English about it – pure American.” That was something Williams hoped poetry would become – a natural, organic voice, free of rules and traditions. Orlovsky’s poetry celebrates that which is distinctly natural and does not attempt to grasp grandiose philosophies.

As Gregory Corso put it,

An agricultural romantic, the Shellean farmer astride his Pegasusian tractor re-poems the earth with trees of berry and roots of honey; whose dirtian hands scribe verses of soy, odes of harvest; whose hymns to redolent shovels of manure nourish the fields that so nourish us, both in body meal and the cosmetics of soul.

Perhaps he was best described by the poet Michael Horovitz (with whom he read on his trips to the United Kingdom) as “refreshingly unliterary.”


Dear Allen: Ship Will Land Jan 23, 58 (1971)

Lepers Cry (1972),

Clean Asshole Poems & Smiling Vegetable Songs (1978)

Straight Hearts’ Delight Love Poems and Selected Letters, 1947-1980, co-authored with Ginsberg (1980)

Patti Smith and the Beats

by Michael Hendrick

“A hipster goes into a diner.

‘What kind of pie do you have?’ he asks.

The waitress says, ‘The pie is gone.’

‘Cool,’ says the hipster. ‘In that case, I’ll have two slices.’”

–          Patti Smith, Philadelphia, 2003.

We are a Generation of Beats. This Generation has more longevity than any other generation to date. I am 53 years old. I know Beats who are 20-something and the beginning of the movement was 60 years ago. We are an ageless generation. Our heroes are infinite. They are both dead and alive. They are gone but still they teach us. A succession of anti-authoritarian voices have been raised (for this, our generation) since the 1950s.

It is said that Patti Smith bristles at a sobriquet which labels her as an ancestor, or an elder, of punk rock, and rightly so. While she was performing her art in a form that would be incorporated into the punk scene, she predated the rest of the ‘movement’ by a couple of years.

More Beat than Hippie or Punk, movements she feels are linked together by a “common anti-establishment mentality,” her dark, soulful voice, frantic, guttural rocking and shimmering poetics ala guitar rage put her at the head of the vanguard before the movement made it to vinyl. If she is progeny of the Great Spirit, which prevails in the existential and individualist work of hipsters, punks and hippies, then she is a cosmic Big Sister – cajoling, smiling, inciting caring, minding us to wash our socks and drink lots of water. She is, at once, big buddy and spiritual advisor.

A Patti Smith Group show is very much akin to psychedelic experience. It cannot be accurately described in full without losing feeling; if you are aware and paying attention, you learn a lot; you feel a strange energy bubbling up from the pit of your gut and climaxing cerebrally; you do not look at things in the same way the next day and everything looks sorts of different. A typical show is a hallucinogen comprised of  thoughts floating on musical notes and snatches of poetry, punctuated by a voice that comes from far away, from one lost in the wilderness, from one as close as a mother’s breath… and you can count on a couple of laughs thrown in for good measure.

Watch her smile. Feel the vibration of her voice course through your body and let the deep reediness consume you. Listen to her read from Ginsberg’s ‘Howl.’ Have a few laughs as she tells a joke or makes humorous observations. See her jump up and down in anger and frenzy while reading the Declaration of Independence. Dance to her voice as she struts Jagger-style from one side of the stage to the other. Cheer as she yells “Fuck You!” at an odd request from the audience. Sweat from the energy and dance, dance dance.

She deliberately keeps ticket prices low for her fans, so I imagine she may be one of the less expensive trips available these days.

The first time I saw Patti, I was hooked. It was just an album cover but the face, the figure (remember album art?) and the sound of her voice – deep, vibrant, rich, wild, unrestrained – were enough to put me on the path to songs that inebriated my sensibilities. ‘Horses’ (1975) was unlike anything before it or since. It has inspired countless young musicians to take the stage and opened pop music’s back door to sneak in poetry, literature and art. It is the same bottomless voice that belted out ‘You Light Up My Life’ on the kids TV show ‘Kids Are People, Too,’ in 1979. From the beginning, Patti was anything but definable.

With Patti, it seems to always be about “the people” – at least, when she is not holed up in a café writing in her journals or losing herself in the pages of the masters of art and literature. Her song, ‘People Have The Power,’ is an exaltation to all that we, all of us together, have the power to change life, ourselves and the world around us. We just have to know it. We need people like Patti to tell us.

The song was written when she was in the non-performance mode. In a recent Public TV interview, she recounts washing dishes in the kitchen when her husband, the late Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith of the MC5 suggested the song to her. (Some older readers will remember the importance of the ‘Kicks Out the Jams (Motherfucker!)’ LP from the MC5 back in 1969. The MC5 were first to cross the hippie-punk border and put a hard edge on the flower-children.) Patti was leaning on the sink and Fred came into the kitchen, looked at her and said, “Patricia, People Have the Power…write it.” She did eventually write it and the message it carries is one of universal love, hope and encouragement. I post it on about once a month, just to feel like I am giving people some hope.

A few years after ‘Horses,’ the venerable Tom Snyder treated us to an interview with Patti, in 1978. It was an amazing show. In necktie and tweed, she was a gleaming presence as she praised Little Richard for his ability to “focus physical, anarchistic and spiritual energy into a form,” that form being rock and roll. She often sites Mick Jagger as her biggest rock idol, however, and in early videos you can see how much influence Jagger had on her moves, if nothing else.

Death, she told Snyder before losing husband, lover, brother and mother to it, is a really magical extension of being in love. Snyder asked about her feelings for the USA, perhaps hoping to catch a snippet of punk outrage but Patti remained ever-positive, noting that “we have a real wonderful country” but she did give a hint of her penchant for looking at the bigger picture:

I want to see us just care more. We have such a wonderful planet and (yet) we are so lackadaisical about it. I’m not against sin. I’m not against perversity… (we should) define our priorities.

In 2010, those priorities seem to have been defined by the hope for global survival but Patti was on the ball 30-odd years ago. I quote an old interview like this because it adds more gravity to her words and her prescience.

I do a lot of my work to inspire people… inspire them in all different ways – cerebrally, sexually, spiritually. I always hope people will have some kind of orgasms from my work, whether just a sense of relaxation, a sense of release…an illimunation! …and also a good laugh!

Isn’t this what the Beats were aspiring to since the beginning?

Burroughs pushed the envelope with Naked Lunch. It was the last book to be censored in the United States, following a 1966 Supreme Court ruling. Lenny Bruce pushed the language envelope, too, by exposing the treachery of racism in society by using the language of racism against itself.

‘Rock N Roll Nigger’ is a song that Patti usually saves for encores. A song that is shoulder-to-shoulder with all the best rock and roll songs, she often presents it after reading some poetry or giving the crowd a little advice. Her shouts of “nigger nigger nigger nigger nigger nigger NIGGER!!!” still shock and cause us to look around and see who is listening. Isn’t that what Lenny did? What Ginsberg did in ‘Howl’ and Burroughs in Naked Lunch? This is, in fact, the technique employed in ‘Howl’repetitive succession of chorus into orgasmic ecstasy. Ginsberg and Patti share an orgasmic vision as the goal of their art. The other multi-choruses of “…outside…” hung on the phrase “outside of society,” offer the most basic Beat tenet. (I digress, but it is hard not to give a tip of the beret to the Ramones for giving us the song Outsider, to add to the soundtrack of Beat lifestyle.)

The difference between Patti and, say, Mick Jagger is that Jagger does not read Ginsberg, Rimbaud, Tennyson to fans from the stage. He doesn’t sing about his “Blakean Year.” Patti does a service by teaching us, by giving us other voices to learn from. She reads Walt Whitman in honour of Ginsberg and takes the time to explain why Thomas Jefferson is important to us.

After reading a biography of Bob Dylan, I had no choice but to pick up the works of John Steinbeck and read every one. I read about Steinbeck and his love of the poetry of Rimbaud, Verlaine, Baudelaire and the prose of Rabelais. It seemed like pretty heavy stuff but when I saw Patti quoting Rimbaud and even dressing like him, I had no choice but to dive in. She is our teacher, our hallucinogenic big sister. She makes sure we don’t pay too much for tickets to see her. She wants us to be safe. She wants us to be smart. She wants us to have warm socks. She tells us in so many words. When seeing her deal with overly-rambunctious audience members, you remember she is mother to two boys (one of who is now a member of the group, Jackson Smith). She can put loudmouths back into their “terrible twos” with a few words and send them sulking… then tell a joke to diffuse any negativity.

As heavy as she may be, she delights in being the comedian. She was voted “Class Clown” in her final year of high school and her material does not depend on being literary. She will quote a popular television advert when things get quiet. She will be a holy goof when necessary.

During a recent live interview, she was asked a particularly deep question. Looking deadpan into the camera and audience, she quipped, “I guess none of us are gonna get home in time to see House tonight.”

Growing up in TV culture goes deep. When things get a bit dodgy onstage, as is apt to happen in any variety of live entertainment, she humbles herself and thinks, what would JC do? The JC she looks to is not the Holy Saviour of the Bleeding Heart… no, it’s good old Johnny Carson, former king of the tube. She ruminates that her failure to appear on Carson’s show is one of her great regrets. She tried very hard to get a booking and even promised to wear a dress. Her love of Johnny is no passing fancy. A long-time viewer, she would verbally spar with compatriots in the years when she was an opening act in order to prepare herself for the stage. She found that conducting herself  in Carson’s unflappably affable manner always put her comfortably in charge of any onstage mishap… barring physical ones.

She broke her neck after a fall from stage onto a concrete floor in 1977 and between recuperating, enduring therapy and raising a family, she stayed offstage for 17 years. In 1994, her husband Fred died. Shortly after that, her brother, Todd, died. It could not have been an easy time for her. Friends came to her and pulled her up. Allen Ginsberg and Michael Stipe (of REM) urged her to get back onstage when Bob Dylan asked her to join him for the eight-city ‘Paradise Lost Tour’ in December of 1995. Her duet with Dylan on his song ‘Dark Eyes’ was a highlight of the tour and is still a YouTube favorite, fifteen years later..

I managed to catch the fourth show in the tour. Bob Dylan fans are not easy to find sometimes, so I ended up with an extra ticket and an empty seat next to me, which was used by Stipe during part of the concert to take photos for a book he was doing about Patti and the tour. I didn’t know any of the background until afterwards. I didn’t know that a Father of the Beats had sent this Heavenly Sister back to us with her message. Allen died less than two years later but we are grateful for his gift of bringing Patti back to us. May Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs and all the others keep on rocking today, through the voice of She, a Most Sacred Sister.

Patti keeps touring, currently booking a lot of shows in Spain and Italy. She travels Beat. She writes regular journals which are available to her fans on her website.

In the 1970s, she made reference to her Vision and how she would realize it. Her lyric indicates that she has long since found that Vision…

I was dreaming in my dreaming
of an aspect bright and fair
and my sleeping it was broken
but my dream it lingered near
in the form of shining valleys
where the pure air recognized
and my senses newly opened
I awakened to the cry
that the people / have the power
to redeem / the work of fools
upon the meek / the graces shower
it’s decreed / the people rule…

(Lyrics to ‘People Have The Power’ by Patti Smith/Fred ’Sonic’ Smith)

In February, Patti published Just Kids, an autobiographical work centering on her relationship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe.  Her other books include Witt, Babel, Woolgathering, The Coral Sea, and Auguries of Innocence.

In 2005 the French Ministry of Culture awarded Smith the prestigious title of Commandeur of Arts & Letters, the highest honor awarded to an artist by the French Republic. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.

HST & the Music of the Sixties

Hunter S. Thompson painting

(c)Illustration Isaac Bonan

From Beatdom #7.

by David S. Wills

Music has always been a matter of Energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people will call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel.

Music is a theme that crops up throughout the entirety of Hunter S. Thompson’s bibliography. It was an incredibly important aspect of his life, and he always took the time to listen to what he wanted. Those who know about Thompson know that Bob Dylan was one of his heroes, and it is often claimed his favourite song of all time was “Mr. Tambourine Man.” But, of course, there was more. Thompson’s interests were diverse. As a teenager he loved Bing Crosby, whose “Galway Bay” was once his favourite song. He tended to gravitate towards music that reflected the world around him – from Kentucky bluegrass to San Francisco rock ‘n’ roll.

Thompson’s times were wild ones. He lived through the 1960s and 70s, fully immersed in the counterculture of the era. He lived in the Haight-Ashbury during the Summer of Love and watched the musicians of his generation artfully reflect their environment, like he was doing with his writing.

Indeed, Thompson respected their work as much as that of any contemporary writer. He once said, “I’ve been arguing for years now that music is the New Literature, that Dylan is the 1960s’ answer to Hemingway.”

Music was fuel for him, too. Not only did he respect these artists as fellow documenters of the world, but they meant something to him. Good music drove him onwards. It helped him write. And he loved those bands and did what he could to push their careers forward.

As Douglas Brinkley puts it,

He would do anything for the music he liked – people like Warren Zevon, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Lyle Lovett, Townes Van Zandt, Jerry Jeff Walker; old Kentucky bluegrass masters like the Stanley Brothers, Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, and Lester Flatt; and some blues people like Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dizon. Those were gods to him, and a lot of them were friends. He would do anything to promote their CDs, to go to their concerts, to talk them up. But his interest in rock music was not as deep as people think. Because he wrote for Rolling Stone, people sometimes think he was a big music guy. Hunter was not up on current music and didn’t really care to be. He knew what he liked: some Bruce Springsteen; Van Morrison could really get him writing. He knew Leonard Cohen songs by heart. But it was Dylan first and foremost. Any of the Dylan live bootlegs he thought was the greatest thing of all time.”

The above note is telling, but far from complete. Thompson’s favourites spanned decades and genres. He loved folk and bluegrass, but also the various forms of rock music. He was discerning, too. In Jann Wenner and Corey Seymour’s Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson, Brinkley also talks about Thompson refusing to sell quotes from his writing to bands that he didn’t like. In his later years musicians would approach him and what mattered was whether or not he liked their style – not how much they were willing to pay. That is telling for a man whose life was spent chasing paycheques and fighting expenses.

In 1970, Thompson took the time to compose a list of his favourite music of the 1960s (which he posed as “Raoul Duke’s” favourite music) in a letter to his editors at Rolling Stone. The list might be surprising for readers of his work. (It should also be noted that two of these albums weren’t even released during the 1960s!)

1)      Herbie Mann’s 1969 Memphis Underground

2)      Bob Dylan’s 1965 Bringing It All Back Home (especially noted as “Mr. Tambourine Man” in his letter)

3)      Dylan’s 1965 Highway 61 Revisited

4)      The Grateful Dead’s 1970 Workingman’s Dead

5)      The Rolling Stones’ 1969 Let it Bleed

6)      Buffalo Springfield’s 1967 Buffalo Springfield

7)      Jefferson Airplane’s 1967 Surrealistic Pillow

8)      Roland Kirk’s “various albums”

9)      Miles Davis’s 1959 Sketches of Spain

10)  Sandy Bull’s 1965 Inventions

With that list in mind, it should prove useful to explore a few names in depth – to look closely at the relationship between Hunter S. Thompson and the music he loved.

Bob Dylan

Dylan is a goddamn phenomenon, pure gold, and as mean as a snake.

That quote says it all, really. One could open nearly any Hunter S. Thompson book and find a glowing reference to Dylan. Dylan was there throughout much of Thompson’s life, singing about the changing times and documenting the turmoil of an unjust world. Thompson loved Dylan’s work, and viewed Dylan as one of his personal heroes. In interviews with Playboy and SPIN magazine he has even gone as far as to compare himself favourably with Dylan. He viewed both of them as artists against the world; leaders of the underground.

He told Harold Conrad that Dylan was one of the three most important men alive (alongside Muhammad Ali and Fidel Castro) and went on to say,

Bobby Dylan is the purest, most intelligent voice of our time. Nobody else has a body of work over twenty years as clear and intelligent. He always speaks for the time.

Let’s see. I just got the new Bob Dylan box set from the Rolling Thunder tour from 1975. It’s kind of a big package with a book and several CDs in there. It’s maybe the best rock and roll album I’ve ever heard.


In spite of the above list, one could argue pretty vigorously that Thompson’s favourite song of all time was “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Numerous sources testify to the fact that he would listen to this song before writing, and that it was a constant force throughout much of his life. He first heard it whilst living in San Francisco – surrounded by the musical forces of his day – and would play it over his custom-made 100 watt speakers from his home in the Rocky Mountains. When his most famous book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, was published, Thompson dedicated it “to Bob Dylan, for Mister Tambourine Man.” Then, after his death – as decided decades earlier – it was the song that played as his ashes were fired from a giant Gonzo Fist at Owl Farm.

The story of an artist chasing his muse, it spoke to Thompson like no other song.

As a struggling journalist Thompson constantly wrote to his friends and family, and frequently advised them to listen to Dylan. He kept promising to send Paul Semonin – a friend in Africa – some Bob Dylan records, but of course, he kept running into financial issues. It is clear, however, that he felt Dylan’s work was important enough to spread around. When he first met the Hell’s Angels, in a story that is well known to Gonzo fans, Thompson brought the biker gang back to his apartment, while his wife and child cowered in another room. The group partied all night, with The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan providing the soundtrack to this important meeting.

In 1968, Thompson wrote a long piece about hippy music in 1967, that appears at the very start of Fear and Loathing in America. In it, Thompson first describes Bob Dylan and “Mr. Tambourine Man.” He portrays Dylan as “the original hippy,” and his song as “both an epitaph and a swan-song for the… ‘hippy phenomenon.’”

Later in his career, Thompson found himself drawn to presidential candidate Jimmy Carter. This was largely due to Carter’s famous Law Day Address, from May 4 1974. For Thompson, justice meant the world. He was obsessed with right and wrong, and about the corruption and greed that he saw controlling his country. Carter’s speech meant a lot to him, and did so partly because Carter referred to Thompson’s favourite artist:

The other source of my understanding about what’s right and wrong in this society is from a friend of mine, a poet named Bob Dylan. After listening to his records about “The Ballad of Hattie Carol” and “Like a Rolling Stone” and “The Times, They Are a-Changing,” I’ve learned to appreciate the dynamism of change in a modern society.


Thompson recorded this speech and would play it back for friends, comparing it to General MacArthur’s “old soldiers never die” address.

This is perhaps a key to why Dylan meant so much to Thompson – a man whose work is characterised by an unrelenting attack on hypocrisy and injustice. Thompson saw in both Carter and Dylan an awareness of what was truly right. Dylan was a magnificent poet, but his work – like Thompson’s – sought to frame the guilty for their crimes, to expose the rank side of modern life and explore the possibility of change.

Jefferson Airplane


Although Jefferson Airplane only arrives at number six on Thompson’s list of his favourite albums of the sixties, a reading of his writing from and about that particular decade would suggest that he thought about the band, and in particular their singer, Grace Slick, a whole lot more than anyone except Bob Dylan.

His sixties-era writing is packed with references to his time in San Francisco, living in the Haight-Ashbury, and frequenting the Matrix. One night he witnessed the debut of a band called the Jefferson Airplane, and immediately began telling people about them. He seems to labour this point in his letters… He sent numerous notes to people to let them know that he “discovered” the Jefferson Airplane, and that he played some role in their rise to success.

He supposedly phoned Ralph Gleason and told him about the new band. Gleason became known for championing the Jefferson Airplane and helping them reach a greater audience.

The Matrix played a large part in Thompson’s life for a short period of time. Whilst writing Hell’s Angels, he used to ride through North Beach on his motorcycle, seemingly, just to watch Grace Slick in action. He said that she “made even the worst Matrix nights worth sitting through.”

After writing the book, whilst on his gruelling publicity tour, Surrealistic Pillow was released. Thompson demanded time out from his schedule, just to listen to the record. He could barely contain his excitement.

Upon hearing the first note I smiled. This was the triumph of the San Francisco people. We were all making it, riding a magical wave which we didn’t think would break.

His favourite Airplane song was, of course, “White Rabbit,” which he listened to for years after he left San Francisco. He claimed that its sound not only captured a vibe or a feeling, but a whole generation. It was the song of the sixties, in his eyes. When asked what he was trying to convey in his own work, Thompson once played Surrealistic Pillow for his publicist and said that was it. He said, “I could’ve written these lyrics myself. Today is my time.”

In his opus magnum, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the Matrix appears in a brief flashback scene to what came before the fall of the sixties. It is viewed as an example of that wave that Thompson mentioned above, as well as in a more famous segment of his book. The song “White Rabbit” also appears in the novel. In one of the book’s more memorable moments, Dr. Gonzo demands that Raoul Duke (Thompson’s alter ego) play “White Rabbit” for him:

“Let it roll!” he screamed. “Just as high as the fucker can go! and when it comes to that fantastic bit where the rabbit bites its own head off, I want you to throw that fuckin radio into the tub with me.”


When Thompson left San Francisco and moved to Woody Creek, he found himself a home away from the madness. It was a place he could come to escape the world, and to give him some sense of security.

He needed his music, though. Away from the action, he had a custom-made 100watt amp that he used to blast inspiring music out over the mountains. These songs were fuel for his writing.

He once said,

I like to load up on mescaline and turn my amplifier up to 110 decibels for a taste of ‘White Rabbit’ while the sun comes up on the snow-peaks along the Continental Divide.


The Grateful Dead

Thompson’s love for the Grateful Dead is well known. He frequently makes reference to owning at least one Grateful Dead t-shirt, and the band’s name pops up throughout his body of work. Thompson even shared the same literary agent as the band.

As mentioned his list of favourite albums of the sixties, Thompson had a particular fondness for Workingman’s Dead. He said, in a letter found in his Fear and Loathing in America collection: “I think Workingman’s Dead is the heaviest thing since Highway 61 or ‘Mr. Tambourine Man.’”

His favourite song from this album – which it should be mentioned once again was released in 1970 and is thus not really a sixties album… – was “New Speedway Boogie.” This song was written in 1969 about the death of Meredith Hunter at Altamont, by a gang of Hell’s Angels who were hired as security. It was written by Dead lyricist Robert Hunter.

Thompson once said: “…at the moment my writing room is full of ‘New Speedway Boogie’ by the Grateful Dead. It says more than anything I’ve read in five years.”

Aside from the three “Hunter’s” involved, and the familiarity of the violence of the Hell’s Angels, Thompson was probably drawn to this song as an epitaph of sorts for the sixties. Thompson’s most famous work – and the most famous passage in that work – concerns the death of the idealism of the 1960s: “the high-water mark – that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”

After the advent of Gonzo Journalism, Thompson was taken by a burst of inspiration. He had – with Ralph Steadman – taken on the Kentucky Derby in his masterful short, “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved.” He began tossing about the idea of taking Gonzo to all of America’s grand institutions. One such idea involved the America’s Cup. Thompson wrote numerous letters that announced his plan to commandeer a sort of Freak Press yacht and sail into the midst of the race with the Grateful Dead playing on deck.

Later, during George McGovern’s run for presidency in 1972 – which Thompson documented in his classic Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 – the author tried to bring the Grateful Dead on board the democratic nominee’s campaign. In the end, Warren Beatty successfully organised a fundraising concert that included the Dead, while Thompson merely suggested that McGovern go out in public while wearing “my Grateful Dead T-shirt.”

2010 Beat Movie News

The Rum Diary is one movie that literature fans have been awaiting for some time. Johnny Depp will be reprising his role as Hunter S. Thompson (well, actually Paul Kemp) and is joined by Amber Heard in the role of Chenault.

The movie seems to have been in the works forever, but all is developing nicely and we should see it on screen this year. News is notoriously sparse and unreliable, but for all the best updates, please check


Hunter S. Thompson fans (ie all the people at Beatdom) will be delighted to know that after waiting years for The Rum Diary to be made, another Thompson story is on its way to the big screen.

“Prisoner of Denver” was an article Thompson co-wrote for the June 2004 issue of Vanity Fair. It concerned the plight of one Lisl Auman, who was wrongfully incarcerated after the murder of a police officer. Thompson launched a crusade for her release, but killed himself a month before her conviction was overturned.

The Motion Picture Corporation of America has bought the rights to the story, and has asked writers to produce a screenplay revolving around Thompson and co-author Mark Seal as “a gonzo Woodward and Bernstein.”


Perhaps of most interest to Beat fans is the supposed reincarnation of the whole On the Road movie trip. For what seems like forever (certainly going back to before I was even born) they’ve been talking about making Kerouac’s classic into a film.

Now it seems the project is all set to go, with Francis Ford Coppola (who has been linked to the project for years) producing, and Motorcycle Diaries director Walter Sales directing. Spider-man’s Kirsten Dunst and Twilight’s Kristen Stewart both starring.

Filming will begin later this year, with Salles simultaneously shooting a documentary about Jack Kerouac, titled, In Search of On the Road.


This year you might also like to take a look at William S. Burroughs: A Man Within. It made its world premiere at the 2010 Slamdance Film Festival, and is now trying to work its way into the public consciousness.

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