The Beats and the Beatles: two sides of the same coin


“If two things are two sides of the same coin, they are very closely related although they seem different”
– The Cambridge Dictionary


As one might guess, the name of the world’s most successful (Hotten) band in history – the Beatles – does not completely incidentally sound so similar to that of the influential group of writers that called themselves the Beat Generation. What one might not guess, however, is how manifold and deeply rooted their connections are.
It must be said from the outset that there are multiple stories surrounding the origin of the Beatles’ name. Stuart Sutcliffe, the so-called ‘fifth Beatle’, who was a study friend of John Lennon and only a part of the first beginnings of what would later become the Beatles, suggested they call themselves ‘the Beatals’ in January 1960, as a tribute to the then famous rock ‘n’ roll band Buddy Holly and the Crickets. In the months that followed this name changed to ‘the Silver Beetles’ (May), ‘the Silver Beatles’ (July), and eventually ‘the Beatles’ (August) (Lewisohn 18-22). John Lennon himself in 1961, before their enormous success came about, already rejected every notion of a ‘meaning’ behind the name:

Many people ask what are 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.
(qtd. in Coupe 131)

Despite this rather whimsical account, we do have reason to believe that the name of the Beat Generation also played a part in the decision of the Beatles’ final spelling. As Coupe continues, “[f]laming pies aside, we may say that the transition from ‘Beetles’ to ‘Beatles’ must have meant to suggest that Lennon’s group was at the very least a ‘beat’ group” (131). Simon Warner, too, in his amusingly titled book Text, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Beats and Rock Culture, argues that “we have strong suggestions that the group adopted the very spelling of their name as a result of a conversation between John Lennon and Liverpool Beat poet Royston Ellis” (37). Coupe, again, confirms this. In 1960, he says, “the Silver Beetles […] became friends with one Royston Ellis, a pop music journalist who was gaining a reputation as a Beat style poet. Not long after that came the change of name to ‘Beatles’” (133). Perhaps the most convincing argument for the influence of the Beat writers on the naming of the Beatles, however, comes from an alleged phone call between John Lennon and Jack Kerouac. Ellis Ambum describes this moment in her work Subterranean Kerouac: the hidden life of Jack Kerouac: “John Lennon subsequently contacted Kerouac, revealing that the band’s name was derived from ‘Beat.’ ‘He was sorry he hadn’t come to see me when they played Queens,’ Kerouac said, referring to the Beatles Shea Stadium concert in 1965” (342).
The relationship between the Beatles and the Beat Generation was not confined to a reference in their name, though. Soon after the Beatles rose to fame, members of both groups regularly contacted and met each other. The group first met Allen Ginsberg in 1965: in fact, they were invited to his thirty-ninth birthday party, on July 3rd. An entertaining account of this party exists, as told by Barry Miles, who knew both Ginsberg and the Beatles:

At the party, Allen got completely drunk and stripped off his clothes, putting his baggy underpants on his head and hanging a hotel ‘Do not disturb’ notice around his cock. It was at this moment that two of the Beatles arrived. (qtd. in Coupe 122)

Although these two Beatles – John Lennon and George Harrison – did not stay at the party particularly long, and seemed to be rather embarrassed by Allen Ginsberg’s behaviour, Barry Miles does recall John Lennon telling the poet that he used to draw a magazine at art school called the Daily Howl. That was a year after the publication of Ginsberg’s famous poem Howl.
However awkward this first encounter might have been, it was the beginning of what can be called at best a warm friendship, and at least an established connection, between the Beat writers and the Beatles. Ginsberg became a great Beatles fan, and paid their home city of Liverpool a visit in 1965, calling it “at the present moment the centre of the consciousness of the human universe” (qtd. in Warner 38), something that did not go unnoticed by the world and increased the popularity of other Liverpool-based artists too. He mentions the Beatles (once) and John Lennon (twice) in his poetry (Lee 12). A year later, Allen Ginsberg visited a concert by the Fab Four at the Portland Coliseum during their American tour, and when the musicians learnt about this, John Lennon called out a greeting to him from the stage. McCartney and Ginsberg became close friends. The two created a spoken word label in the late 1960s called ‘Zapple’, which of course echoes the Beatles’ new label at that time, ‘Apple’ (Warner 37). John Lennon’s 1969 song Give Peace A Chance lists Ginsberg in its chorus, among a list of other influential people of the time, such as ‘Bobby Dylan’. Furthermore, Ginsberg and Lennon shared many political views, especially on the Vietnam War, and met on regular occasions after they had both moved to New York in the early ’70s. There is a striking recording of an interview with John Lennon that took place in June 1965, before he or any of his band members had met any of the big Beat poets. The occasion was the publication of Lennon’s second novel, A Spaniard in the Works (not many people know that John Lennon was not only a writer of song lyrics, but wrote two works of literature in the mid-sixties as well, the first one being In His Own Write). The BBC interviewer asked Lennon whether he would rather have been published on the strength of his writing talent than on the fame as a member of the Beatles. He replied: “If I hadn’t been a Beatle, I wouldn’t have thought of having this stuff published. I would have been crawling round broke, and just writing it and throwing it away. I might have been a Beat poet!” (qtd. in Coupe 131). Aside from Allen Ginsberg, other Beat writers too had connections with the Beatles. McCartney frequently helped out Burroughs and some of his friends with various recording projects after the Beat writer had moved to London in 1960, and Burroughs later appeared on the art cover of their album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (King). John Lennon is remembered by fellow students to have read Kerouac’s On the Road, and loving it (Morgan 65).
As we have seen in the above, the Beats and the Beatles were much acquainted throughout the sixties and afterwards, and therefore the likelihood of especially the former having influenced the latter is high. Their affinity does not only manifest itself in specific collaborations or direct referencing of each other in their works, but in a more basic way, too. These two groups, of Beat writers and Beatles, had a very fundamental thing in common: they both belonged to, if not instigated, what is now known as the counterculture. Albeit in a less extreme way, many of the Beatles’ songs dealt with the same issues the written works of the Beat writers did. In both cases, this was often a reflection of what was going on in the artists’ lives. The number of similarities is endless, but a few examples will be treated here by illustration, divided into three main themes, that can be found in many Beat works as well as in Beatles songs. The first of those is drugs, the second spirituality or religion, and the third what could be defined as countercultural or anti-establishment elements.


The use of drugs (which includes alcohol as well as other narcotics) is perhaps the most easily identifiable theme in the work of both artistic groups. Anyone who is only vaguely familiar with (the image of) the Beat poets will know that they are (in)famous for their drug use and the way this plays a role in their works, both in the production process and the content. Writers and drugs have always been in a close relationship. According to John Long, the majority of the American Nobel Prize winners for literature were alcoholics. He writes in his introduction to Drugs and the ‘Beats’: The role of drugs in the lives and writings of Kerouac, Burroughs, and Ginsberg, “it is expected that one would find traces of drugs in literature”, attributing this to the fact that humans have always known “a certain desire to get out of themselves” (7). The Beat writers, however, took this liking towards drugs to a whole new level. In almost every single one of their literary texts, drugs play a (major) role, as illustrated by key works such as Howl (“looking for an angry fix”, “with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, alcohol and cock and endless balls”), On the Road (“You could smell tea, weed, I mean marijuana, floating in the air”) or Naked Lunch (about every page). The Beats experimented with many aspects of life, drugs being an important one. Since many of their works are at least partly autobiographical, these personal explorations find their way into their texts. However, not only did they write about drugs, at times they also wrote under influence of narcotics, making drugs influence their works on two levels. Kerouac is a famous example. As Long relates: “[w]e know by his admission that [amphetamine] was often freely circulating in his brain when he was writing [On the Road]”. Ginsberg, similarly “was experiencing the ecstasies and horrors of mescaline at the time of writing [Howl]” (13). These are just a few examples that illustrate the big role drugs played in the writing (process) of the Beats.
If we take a look at the Beatles, we can find similar patterns in both their personal lives and their music, albeit to lesser extremes than in the case of their American predecessors. This similarity is no big surprise, if we are to believe John Long, who continues his argument about writers and drugs by saying that the wish to change consciousness “is often highly developed in artists, whatever their calling: music, theatre, literature, etcetera” (Long 4). A claim that, even if not applicable to every case, probably holds a fair amount of truth.
Mark Hertsgaard devotes almost an entire chapter of his A Day In The Life: The Music and Artistry of the Beatles to the Beatles’ drug use. He describes them as a relatively innocent or even naïve group of musicians in their first years of global fame, but argues that this changed in the second half of the sixties. He also claims that it was none other than Bob Dylan who got the Fab Four hooked on marijuana, by introducing it to them after a concert in New York in 1963. It was their first meeting and Dylan could hardly believe the group had never smoked weed before. “We’ve got a lot to thank him for”, McCartney later acknowledged (qtd. in Hertsgaard 193). From then on, drugs – first soft ones and later psychedelic ones too – began to play a big part in the Beatles’ daily lives. They served both as a means to cope with the pressures of the mid-sixties’ Beatlemania, and aided their creativity. “It just opened up this whole other consciousness”, and “it started to find its way into everything we did” are just two quotes the band members (George Harrison and Paul McCartney, resp.) are reported to have said (qtd. in Hertsgaard 192, 195).
This change from ‘innocent’ boys and starting musicians to an experimental and rebellious group of men is also reflected in their music, according to several Beatles academics, who often divide the band’s successful years into different ‘stages’. Coupe elaborately lays out, in his case three, different periods, based on previous scholarship by the musicologist Wilfrid Mellers. According to them, the group’s preoccupations change from “innocence and dream” (up until the movie A Hard Day’s Night in 1964) to “experience and social reality”, or “human relationships and responsibilities” (the album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band), to the third and final period which “sees a renewal of the first period in the light of the second”, and involves a search within themselves for answers to external pressures (137-8). Coupe then compares the last period to the “beatific” vision of Kerouac and Ginsberg. Hertsgaard argues that part of these changes in style were due to the group’s use of drugs:

The crucial catalyst for the Beatles’ transformation from lovable moptops to high-minded rebels was their involvement with consciousness-raising drugs, specifically marijuana and LSD. No one liked fun more than the Beatles, but for them drugs were not simply about having a good time. Marijuana and LSD were also and more profoundly tools of knowledge, a means of gaining access to higher truths about themselves and the world. Indeed, it was above all the “desire to find out”, as Harrison later put it, that lay beneath their involvement not only with mind-expanding drugs, but with Eastern philosophy as well. (Hertsgaard 191)

Whereas it does not require detective skills to find the references to drugs in Beat literature, it might take a little more digging to pinpoint them in the lyrics and music of the Beatles – although examples are still ample; some more subtle than others. A few will be examined here in some more detail.
Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds and Strawberry Fields Forever are two famous examples of songs that are often believed to be about drugs. The first letters of the words in Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds correspond to LSD, and in drug slang, ‘strawberry fields’ stands for the very same drug. Even the innocent sounding Penny Lane, the other side of the Strawberry Fields Forever single, is said to be connected to drugs. Wilfrid Mellers argues:

[Both songs] relate the LSD experience to childhood memory and a new Eden discovered within the mind; both, if they can hardly ‘justify’ the drug experience, demonstrate its relevance to the Beatles’ development. (qtd. In Coupe 140)

The in 1965 recorded song Day Tripper plays with the dual meaning of the word ‘tripper’. Lennon cunningly said in an interview: “Day trippers are people who go on a day trip, right?” (Sheff 177). McCartney however has said the song is indeed about drugs, and “a tongue-in-cheek song about someone who was […] committed only in part to the idea” (Miles 209-210). In Happiness Is A Warm Gun the lyric “I need a fix” is repeated, a phrase that anyone who read the Beat writers’ works will recognise. And there are countless other examples of these ‘Beatdom-echoing’ lyrics, which have been excluded here for lack of space.
The Sgt. Pepper’s album was “the biggest barrier-breaker of them all”, according to Hertsgaard (195, 196). In fact, so barrier-breaking that the BBC banned the song A Day In The Life from public radio, arguing that it might promote drug use. Interestingly, however, until that moment the world had not known about the Beatles members’ own experimentation with narcotics. Only after the BBC ban did their fans learn of the Beatles’ actual drug-taking, which caused an immediate uproar. However, as Hertsgaard relates, it was hard to convincingly argue for its negative effects on the Beatles, for their newly released, “acid-soaked” album was “widely recognised as the most impressive achievement in popular music for many years” (196). Nevertheless, “the Establishment” was shocked by the revelation. An even bigger surprise, therefore, must have been the Beatles’ announcement, barely a month after the BBC ban, in which they said they were now completely giving up drugs. They replaced it with a new fascination, however: spirituality…


This leads us to the second of our three similarities between the Beat writers and the Beatles: their turn to a form of ‘otherworldliness’, whether (Western or Eastern) religion, spiritual movements, practices that we today would call ‘mindfulness’, or even yoga: (members of) both groups have experimented with or even completely converted to at least one of them.
The Beat writers explored a whole range of conventional and nonconventional religions or other (spiritual) movements. In addition to the Catholicism of Kerouac, the Protestantism of Burroughs, and the Judaism of Ginsberg, the Beats studied gnosticism, mysticism, native American Iore, Aztec and Mayan mythology, American transcendentalism, Hinduism, and especially Buddhism (Prothero 216). This religious eclecticism was set in motion by Kerouac, who next to Catholicism practised Buddhist meditation as well. “Kerouac’s awakening to Buddhism stirred similar searches in other members of the Beat Generation”, Stephen Prothero writes in his introduction to Carole Tomkinson’s Big Sky Mind: Buddhism and the Beat Generation (1). He had learnt about Buddhism and other Eastern religions through, how could it be otherwise, books. Later he wrote Buddhist texts himself as well, such as the book The Scripture of the Golden Eternity and the poetry collection Mexico City Blues. Other works, like Some of the Dharma, Buddha Tell Us and Wake Up have never been published. An example of Kerouac’s inclusive approach to religion can be found in this passage from Mexico City Blues:

I believe in the sweetness
of Jesus
And Buddha –
I believe
In St. Francis
the saints
Of First Century
India A D
And Scholars
And Otherwise
(qtd. in Prothero 216)

Kerouac was not the only Beat writer to incorporate religious themes in his work, though. Ginsberg, a self-styled “Buddhist Jew” (Prothero 216) replied to the statement that his poem Howl was a “howl against civilisation” by saying: ‘’’Howl’ is an ‘Affirmation’ by individual experience of God, sex, drugs, absurdity”, and: “the poems are religious and I meant them to be” (qtd. in Prothero 207). William Burroughs experimented with Buddhism before the Beat writers had even met, as he explained to Allen Ginsberg in a 1954 letter: “Tibetan Buddhism is extremely interesting. Dig it if you have not done so. I had some mystic experiences and convictions when I was practicing Yoga. That was 15 years ago. Before I knew you”. In that same year, however, Burroughs wrote a letter to Kerouac, who had written to Burroughs to tell him about his discovery of Buddhism and his vow to remain celibate for a year, urging his friend not to use Buddhism as “psychic junk”. Although Burroughs liked many Buddhist ideas, he was against using it in the Western world as some kind of “final fix” (Prothero 217, 218).
The influential essayist and Beat writer John Clellon Holmes wrote an article for the New York Times in 1952, called “This Is The Beat Generation”. In it he stated: “unlike the Lost Generation, which was occupied with the loss of faith, the Beat Generation is becoming more and more occupied with the need for it”. Examples of this need for religion can be found in Kerouac’s On the Road, for instance, in which Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty more than once mention (their search for) God. Another example is Ginsberg’s footnote to Howl, which, in its own way, mentions the otherworldly by its repetitive ‘holy’ mantra:

Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy!
The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy! The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy! (Ginsberg 27-28)

Although this part of the poem can be interpreted as a parody on religion or ‘holiness’ (it renders everything and everybody holy, from the members of the Beat Generation to the bop apocalypse, marijuana, but also skyscrapers and the middle class), it does once again testify to at least the fascination of many Beat writers with the subject. Despite claims by Holmes, Kerouac and many other beats that their work was essentially spiritual, however, the Beat movement was hardly ever viewed in that way (Prothero 207).
The Beatles’ fascination with spirituality was well-known; especially after they made a publicised trip to a Transcendental Meditation centre in India in February 1968. This was half a year after the narcotics-loaded album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band had been released, and a few months after they had announced their complete resignation from drugs. The effects this journey had on the four are visible in their work. Take for instance their song Across The Universe, which came out a year later. The song’s chorus has the rather undecipherable phrase “Jai Guru Deva (om)” in it. This means “I give thanks to Guru Deva”: a spiritual leader who invented the Transcendental Meditation technique and whom the Beatles visited during their India trip. He became their spiritual advisor, and helped “stabilise” the group, McCartney said in 2009. According to some others he also discouraged them from LSD use and inspired them to write many songs.
George Harrison was perhaps the most engaged with nonmaterial matters of all four Beatles. Whether this is due to the fact that his mother listened to the mystical sounds of ‘Radio India’ every Sunday morning while she was pregnant with George (Greene 2) is of course not verifiable and more of a romantic tale, but the sitar used in that programme does occur in Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) as well, after Harrison had studied the instrument in Bombay. Before the band’s fame, he already wrote a song of his own called Sheik of Araby. Harrison introduced not only his band members, but also their Western audience to Indian (sounding) music. After the Beatles’ disbanding, he continued exploring Eastern philosophy and music, in a way that reminds of Kerouac’s fascination with the subject.
There are several examples of religious or spiritual lyrics in the Beatles’ music. Think of “mother Mary comes to me” in Let It Be (which alludes to both McCartney’s real mother and the Virgin Mary), the famous Eleanor Rigby (“died in the church and was buried along with her name / nobody came”), the song Lady Madonna, and its B-side The Inner Light, which has lyrics like “Without going out of my door / I can know all things on Earth / Without looking out of my window / I could know the ways of Heaven”, a text that stems from the Tao Te Ching, a Chinese religious and philosophical text. The song does not sound like any Western pop song at all, but rather like ‘psychedelic’ meditation music, because of the melody and the use of instruments like the harmonium, the sarod (an Indian string instrument) and the pakhavaj (Indian barrel-shaped drum). Not surprisingly, the song was recorded in India, too, in 1968.
While much more can be said about both the Beats’ and the Beatles’ relationship with especially non-conventional religions, and many more examples of references to those occurring in their works can be given, what matters is the fact that they both searched for something out of the ‘mundane’, Western world. Whether this was a quest for help, redemption, inspiration, or something else: both artistic groups turned to spirituality at some point, which shaped their lives and their works.


The final point of comparison is slightly related to the previous one, since it moves away from the Western standard, or more specifically, certain norms and values in Western culture. For both the Beat writers and the Beatles were part of, if not instigators of, a countercultural movement. For the Beats, this resulted for instance in court cases that attempted to ban some of their works. Howl is a well-known example: it was banned for obscenity, something that stirred protests from people defending the First Amendment. The ban was eventually lifted after a famous court case in 1957 in which the poem was declared to possess “redeeming social importance” (Morgan & Peters 3) by the judge. Burroughs’s Naked Lunch, arguably the most obscene book of the whole Beat Generation, was banned for several years in some American states and parts of Europe, before it was exonerated in 1966. The Beat writers and their works were controversial, to say the least. In the words of Jamie Russell:

The Beat phenomenon transformed American society. Not only was it the first expression of what we would now dub youth culture – paving the way for the hippies, punks, grungers and ravers as well as thousand and one other styles – but it was also the first moment in Western culture when literature, music and film became cool. In other words, it was totally opposed to the boring adult world of work, money and responsibility. (9)

The Beats’ works always contained many anti-establishment notes, even long after the immediate post WW-II era. A brilliant example of both their continuing countercultural work and their relationship with the Beatles can be found in a 1995 collaboration between no one else than Allen Ginsberg and Paul McCartney, in which they recorded and performed Ginsberg’s poem The Ballad of the Skeletons together. Ginsberg reads out the 66 ‘skeletons’ of modern society, while McCartney accompanies him with music on his guitar. The poem/song was first performed in October 1995 during a poetry night at the Royal Albert Hall, and later even made into an MTV music video, starring Mr Ginsberg himself. The lyrics are poetic yet direct:

Said the Military skeleton
Buy Star Bombs
Said the Upperclass skeleton
Starve unmarried moms
Said the Yahoo skeleton
Stop dirty art
Said the Right Wing skeleton
Forget about yr heart
Said the Buddha skeleton
Compassion is wealth
Said the Corporate skeleton
It’s bad for your health
Said the World Bank skeleton
Cut down your trees
Said the I.M.F. skeleton
Buy American cheese

Everything the Beats did not like is contained in these 66 lines, which make references to big multinationals, media, religion, right-winged politics, capitalism, conservatism, etc. It is the mid-nineties and Ginsberg feels compelled to write this poem: the world has not changed much since his youth. It almost feels like a contemporary Howl. The fact that not that much has changed and we are still not even close to the society the Beat writers dreamt of is also illustrated by censorship regulations of today: readings of Howl are still banned on American radio before midnight (Russell 10).
The Beatles were also a major part of the counterculture, although they were not as rebellious or shocking as their predecessors on the other side of the Atlantic. Not as obviously rebellious, at least. In their personal lives, the Beatles did sometimes advocate their ideologies, albeit some (Lennon and Harrison) more than others. In 1966 Lennon argued against the Vietnam War during a press conference in Chicago (Hertsgaard 197). In general, the Beatles started to take more interest in political issues from 1966 onwards. Two years later, an interviewer asked Lennon what he thought should be done about “the Establishment”. Lennon’s reply was short and clear: “change it.” He continued: “and not replace it with another set of Harris tweed suits. Change it completely” (Hertsgaard 198).
However, the Beatles’ most important instruments to speak their minds were, naturally, their actual instruments, and specifically their lyrics. Harrison later explained: “We felt obviously that Vietnam was wrong – I think any war is wrong, for that matter – and in some of our lyrics we expressed those feelings and tried to be the counterculture, to try and wake up as many people as possible to the fact that you don’t have to fight” (Hertsgaard 198). Although this is true, the Beatles were not as outspokenly ‘anti’ as the Beats were, or, if we look at other musicians, as Bob Dylan was, for example. Sometimes one has to look beyond the surface of some songs to find that layer of protest. One of the exceptions is Lennon’s 1968 Revolution, which is in fact a protest of the kind of political protest that was going on at the time. The song starts with: “You say you want a revolution / Well you know / We all wanna change the world” and goes on to say “But when you talk about destruction / Don’t you know that you can count me out”. It also includes the remarkable sentence “But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao / You ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow”. This allusion to a Chinese communist leader proves that, although the Beatles were not fans of the capitalist system, they were not necessarily communists, either: something the Far Right did claim after the release of their Back In The U.S.S.R. (“You don’t know how lucky you are, boys”), the chorus of which, some claim, sounds remarkably like “I’m backin’ the U.S.S.R.”. The song Piggies, written by George Harrison, is also very direct in its social criticism, with lyrics like “Have you seen the little piggies / In their starched white shirts?” and “You can see them out for dinner / With their piggy wives / Clutching forks and knives to eat their bacon”. The song reminds one of Harrison’s namesake George Orwell’s 1945 work Animal Farm – although both criticise a different socio-economic structure (capitalism and communism, respectively). Fact remains that the Beatles’ allusions towards communism and critique of important politics did not go well with conservatives and right-winged politicians.
Perhaps it is no big surprise, then, that not only the Beat writers were condemned by the American authorities, but the American Federation of Musicians tried to ban the Beatles, too, when they wanted to come back to the States for their second tour, after their first one in January and February 1964 had been hugely successful. By that time, the British and the American music unions had made an agreement that stated that any musician that was “highly valuable” (Roberts 4) was to move freely between the two countries, but other, “non-valued” artists were very much restricted in their touring possibilities. The AMF claimed that the rock ‘n’ roll music of the Beatles required no special talent, and that you could pick up four guys who could do “this kind of stuff” (Roberts 8) basically anywhere in America. As you might have guessed, the AMF’s decision caused an outbreak of the already strong Beatlemania in the States, and especially young girls revolted at the idea they might never see their idols again. The decision was overturned, eventually.


As we have seen in the above, the Beats and the Beatles were occupied with many similar ideas. They shared several interests or even obsessions, such as spirituality and narcotics, had comparable ideologies and held similar views on politics. Most notably and more generally, however, they both were a significant part of the countercultures in their own countries and beyond. Allen Ginsberg said of the Beatles: “They had, and conveyed, a realization that the world and human consciousness had to change” (Hertsgaard 197). A thing that could be said about Jack Kerouac, or many other a Beat writer, too.
Of course, the fact that many similarities between these two groups can be established does not necessarily mean that the one influenced the other. Even though the Beat writers’ heydays came exactly before those of the Beatles, the latter is not merely a result or product of the first. Indeed, many other factors and circumstances have undoubtedly played a part in the shaping of the Beatles as well: the general (youth) culture, political developments and other influential figures, for instance. The Zeitgeist of the sixties. However, since the Beat Generation was a well-known and popular movement at the time the Beatles grew up, especially with young people, it is very probable that the Beats did influence many artists that (directly) succeeded them to at least some extent – including the Beatles. Moreover, we have proof of the first-hand connection between some of the Beat writers and the Beatles, and know that they admired each other’s work. Therefore, we can quite safely assume that the Beatles have at least partly, and perhaps even for a big part, been inspired by the great names of the Beat Generation. Although the Beats were not as popular worldwide as the Beatles eventually became, and the Beatles were never as extreme as the Beats were, they both heavily contributed to a counterculture. A culture expressed in novels, poems and songs that inspired and keep inspiring people all over the world.






















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Merel van 't Hooft


Merel van 't Hooft is a recent graduate from University College Utrecht. She writes columns for several Dutch media, has lived on three continents this year, and takes delight in (practicing) theatre and music.

One response to The Beats and the Beatles: two sides of the same coin

  1. Wonderful essay here. The comparisons and contrasts laid out really highlighted both the Beats and the Beatles. Coincidentally, I’ve taken a class with one of your sources, Loren Glass, and he is by far one of the best people to learn about the Beats and counterculture from, so seeing his name on your list was a pleasant surprise!

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