BEAT SOUND, BEAT VISION: THE BEAT SPIRIT AND POPULAR SONG (Manchester: MUP, 2007)

Now available in paperback for £14.99

 

This book reveals the ideas behind the Beat vision which influenced the Beat sound of the songwriters who followed on from them. Having explored the thinking of Alan Watts, who coined the term ‘Beat Zen’, and who influenced the counterculture which emerged out of the Beat movement, it celebrates Jack Kerouac as a writer in pursuit of a ‘beatific’ vision. On this basis, the book goes on to explain the relevance of Kerouac and his friends Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder to songwriters who emerged in the 1960s.

Not only are new, detailed readings of the lyrics of the Beatles and of Dylan given, but the range and depth of the Beat legacy within popular song is indicated by way of an overview of some important innovators: Jim Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Donovan, the Incredible String Band, Van Morrison and Nick Drake.

While this may seem at first sight to be a deviation from my earlier themes, I should stress that the book addresses the recurrent theme of the interplay of ‘the sacred and the profane’ – according to the myth theorist, Mircea Eliade, the two dimensions of all religious experience.

The Beat writers were obsessed by the possibility of apprehending the spiritual dimension of the everyday, ‘fallen’ world. In Buddhist terms, this means recognising the identity of ‘nirvana’ and ‘samsara’. Alan Watts and Gary Snyder are particularly impressive in the way they effect this in their own writings.

Again, in the final chapter, entitled “‘Eco-Zen’, or ‘a heaven in a wild flower'”, I bring my interest in mythology and my interest in ecology together, in assessing the Beat legacy within the work of a wide variety of sixties songwriters. The ‘green’ emphasis, I argue, began with the Beats and was developed by Joni Mitchell and others.

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Please note: there are one or two ERRATA in this volume. Details are given here:

#‘A note on usage’, l.14:

For ‘materialist’ read ‘materialism’.

#p. 120, endnote 27: missing statement:

‘Devotees of traditional American music will realise that Dylan is here subtly reworking the old spiritual, “This Train Is Bound For Glory”, which gave Guthrie the title for his autobiography.’

#p.176, l.29:

For ‘California’ read ‘Canada’.

#p.199, l.26:

For ‘Acheron’ read ‘Charon’.