We’ve known for years that Bob Dylan borrowed melodies from older songs, and that particular songs and poems inspired him to write his own lyrics. In a nearly 12,000 word essay in the just published book, “Kerouac On Record: A Literary Soundtrack,” I detail just how extensively Dylan made use of Jack Kerouac’s writing in some of the songs Dylan wrote for Highway 61 Revisited. You can read an excerpt from my essay at Rock’s Back Pages.
Here’s a bit of what you’ll find there:
‘No rhyme, all cut-up, no nothing, except something happening, which is words’
I couldn’t have written those songs back then. If I had just come out and sung “Desolation Row’ five years ago I probably would have been murdered – Bob Dylan to Nat Hentoff, autumn 1965, unpublished interview for Playboy
Following the 3 May 1965 publication of Jack Kerouac’s Desolation Angels, the publisher, Coward- McCann, a subsidiary of G. P. Putnam’s Sons, ran full-page ads in the Sunday Times Book Review, the daily New York Times, the New York Review of Books and elsewhere. If you were in New York, and dug Jack Kerouac, it would have been hard not to know that the “King of the Beats’ had a new novel in the stores.
Hi Lo Ha (the house Bob Dylan had just bought in Woodstock, New York, was where Dylan said he wrote the rest of Highway 61 Revisited in the six weeks between the 15 and 16 June sessions in Manhattan where “Like a Rolling Stone” (which he’d written in early June) was recorded, and the late July and early August sessions at which the rest of the Highway 61 Revisited album was completed. (Dylan, ever the poet, said that in one interview, but in another with Jann Wenner for Rolling Stone he said he wrote the Highway 61 song “Desolation Row” “in the back of a taxicab” in New York.)
More interesting than where the songs that comprise Highway 61 Revisited were written is that just six weeks after Desolation Angels was published, Dylan used the book as a major source of raw material for his new songs. “Desolation Row” took the first half of its title from Kerouac”s new book, and Dylan seems to have gotten the idea for the song’s main theme from Kerouac as well. In Desolation Angels, Kerouac writes about “Surrealistic Street,” and describes a wild cast of characters that he sees out on skid row. What is “Desolation Row,” as Dylan describes it in his song, if not a dark, at times horrific version of Kerouac”s “Surrealistic Street”?…
In a 12,000 word essay, “Bob Dylan’s Beat Visions (Sonic Poetry),” that appears in the upcoming book, “Kerouac On Record: A Literary Soundtrack,” I explore how Bob Dylan was profoundly influenced by the Beat writers, and especially Jack Kerouac.
The book is being published by Bloomsbury and will reach book stores online and off on March 8, 2018. Rock’s Back Pages will be publishing an excerpt from my essay, and the April issue of Mojo magazine (see full review below) includes a rave review that says in part: “Among the strongest in a strong lot are Michael Goldberg’s examination of Dylan’s lit roots and Kerouac’s own musicological piece — ‘The Beginning Of Bop’ – that attempts to capture jazz in words – and succeeds.”
Nice to be mentioned in the same sentence as Kerouac!
In addition my Dylan piece, I also have an interview with writer (and one time rock critic) Richard Meltzer in which he talks at length about Kerouac.
The book also contains essays on the influence of Kerouac on a number of musicians including Tom Waits, the Grateful Dead, Jim Morrison, Van Morrison, Patti Smith and others. And there are excellent pieces about the influence of jazz on Kerouac’s writing style.
As we get closer to the publication date I’ll share more about this fascinating book.
An Evening of Poetry & Prose: Larry Beckett & Michael Goldberg
Celebrated poet and songwriter Larry Beckett will be reading from his epic poem, “Paul Bunyan,” for the first time in the Bay Area at The Octopus Literary Salon in Oakland, CA on Thursday, March 30, 2017. Joining Larry Beckett will be novelist and former Rolling Stone Senior Writer Michael Goldberg, who will read from his new novel, “Untitled.” The reading will begin at 7 pm.
If you are interested in attending, please head over to the event Facebook page and let me know.
Larry Beckett’s “Paul Bunyan” re-tells the legend of the giant lumberjack for the twenty-first century. Drawing on logger folklore, James Stevens’ stories and the Davy Crockett almanacs, Larry Beckett’s poem is a modern epic in ‘long-winded’ blank verse. It is a celebration of the everyday poetry of colloquial North American English, loose and rough, bragging and unbelievable.
Larry Beckett’s songs have been recorded by musicians all over the world; “Song to the Siren,” which he wrote with Tim Buckley, has been covered by David Gray, Robert Plant, Bryan Ferry, George Michael and Sinead O’Connor. Larry Beckett’s other books include “Songs and Sonnets” and “Beat Poetry.” He has translated many poets, including Heraclitus, Goethe and Li Po. He lives in Portland, Oregon.
About “Paul Bunyan,” San Francisco Poet Laureate Jack Hirschman wrote: “A terrific, epic-like poem based on the story of Paul Bunyan, in which Beckett creates a gigantic working-class type who is also everything and everyone. He’s mythic and his shibboleth is: Work. Beckett has written a rollicking, truly inventive long poem whose lines are sustained by a brilliant haiku-syllablation (each line has 12-15 syllables) coupled with images that bring the Bunyan myth right into the 21st Century. Certainly Beckett’s finest work to date.”
“Paul Bunyan” publisher’s page for more info is here.
Michael Goldberg is the author of three novels, “True Love Scars,” “The Flowers Lied” and “Untitled,” which comprise the Freak Scene Dream Trilogy, a rock ‘n’ roil coming-of-age story set in the late Sixties and early Seventies.
What the critics say about Goldberg’s novels:
“Radioactive as Godzilla!” – Richard Meltzer
“Kerouac in the 21st Century.” – Dennis McNally
“Penned in a staccato amphetamine grammar…” – Simon Warner
“Holden Caulfield meets Lord Buckley?” – Paul Krassner
“Our hero drinks and drugs and dances to the nightingale tune while birds fly high by the light of the moon.” – Larry Ratso Sloman
“If Lester Bangs had ever published a novel it might read something like this frothing debut by longtime music journalist Michael Goldberg.” – Colin Fleming, Rolling Stone
The Octopus Literary Salon is located at 2101 Webster St #170, Oakland, CA 94612
It was sixty years ago, on October 7, 1955, that Allen Ginsberg stood in the Six Gallery, a gallery/poetry space that artist Wally Hedrick had opened on Fillmore Street in San Francisco in 1954, and read his radical and epic poem “Howl” for the first time.
Hedrick had to convince his friend Ginsberg to appear. “[Hedrik] asked him to organize a poetry reading at the Six Gallery,” according to Wikipedia. “At first, Ginsberg refused. But once he’d written a rough draft of ‘Howl,’ he changed his ‘fucking mind,’ as he put it. The large and excited audience included a drunken Jack Kerouac, who refused to read his own work but cheered the other poets on, shouting ‘Yeah! Go! Go!’ during their performances.”
Ginsberg was second to last on a lineup that also included Gary Snyder, Philip Lamantia, and Philip Whalen, Michael McClure and Kenneth Rexroth.
Michael McClure later wrote: “Ginsberg read on to the end of the poem, which left us standing in wonder, or cheering and wondering, but knowing at the deepest level that a barrier had been broken, that a human voice and body had been hurled against the harsh wall of America…”
In addition to being one of the seminal works to come out of the Beat movement, “Howl” influenced numerous poets around the world, both at the time and continuing right up to today. But it also had a profound impact on many rock musicians including a young Bob Dylan, whose songwriting was clearly influenced by Ginsberg’s electric writing in that poem, which begins:
“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix…”
On October 10th, the 60th anniversary of that first reading of “Howl” will be celebrated during a nine hour event, Still Howling, at the Wonder Inn in Manchester, England, that will run from 2 pm until 11 pm.
Participating will be Ginsberg biographer (and Beat expert) Barry Miles, British poet Michael Horovitz who appeared along with Ginsberg at the International Poetry Incarnation at the Royal Albert Hall in 1965, Ginsberg guitarist Steven Taylor, who accompanied Ginsberg for 20 years (and a member of The Fugs for the past 30 years) and the British actor George Hunt, who will read “Howl” in its entirety. MCing will be CP Lee, author of “like the night: Bob Dylan and the road to the Manchester Free Trade Hall,” and a former senior lecturer at the University of Salford.
There will be an afternoon symposium featuring Miles, Horovitz, Taylor, Peter Hale of the Ginsberg Trust and poets Christina Fonthes and Elmi Ali, and others.
Taylor will collaborate with Horovitz, perform a solo set and give the British premiere of his short choral work, “Footnote to Howl.”
There will also be a series of musical performances, paying reference to Ginsberg and the Beats, by spoken word artist Heath Common, joined by the Lincoln 72s and Dub Sex front man Mark Hoyle, alt-folk singer-songwriter Chris T-T, whose debut album was called Beatverse, and the Isness.
The event is co-produced by Beat authority Simon Warner, who in 2005 organized a 50th anniversary celebration of the first reading of “Howl,” and Manchester-based installation artist Roger Bygott. “Roger proposed we try and do another [‘Howl’] birthday event,” Warner explained via email from Leeds, England, where he teaches at the University of Leeds. “A decade on seemed a good moment to return to this seminal moment in twentieth-century poetry.”
Warner has been a fan of ‘Howl’ since he first read it as a teenager. “At first Ginsberg’s poem seems like a dislocated explosion, a chaotic stream of consciousness,” Warner said during a 2013 interview. “But when you start to unpack the details and debate the reasons why the poet uses such a fragmented form, its treasures are many. Its language is rich and raucous, surprising, sometimes shocking. ‘Howl’ is one of the great modernist statements, to rank with masterpieces by Picasso and Brecht, Beckett and Eliot. Its truths lie in its dissonance, in its fragmented shards, in its huge rolling passion, its heartfelt gravity.”
It was in the late ‘70s that Warner discovered the Beats. “I first encountered the names of the Beats through publications like New Musical Express, a weekly magazine forging an alternative voice and confirming that there were links between popular musical expression and the ideas of those maverick American writers,” he wrote in his email. “But then I read Ann Charters’ biography of Kerouac, the first such book to profile the novelist, then came across a remarkable late 1950s compilation called ‘Protest,’ which gathered work by the Beats and the UK’s Angry Young Men, and ‘Howl’ was one of the featured items.”
While Kerouac’s “On the Road” is likely the most popular (and influential) piece of writing to emerge from the Beat scene, Warner thinks “Howl” – published a year before “On the Road” – is just as important a literary work, perhaps more important.
“I think that ‘Howl’ was a genuine game-changer in all sorts of ways,” Warner wrote. “Until then, this underground gathering of friends and lovers, largely unpublished novelists and poets, dubbed the Beat Generation, was essentially beneath the radar, largely anonymous. Ginsberg was desperate to escape the formal strictures of the academy when it came to poetry, but he was very nervous about expressing his most intense, inner personal feelings.
“Here was a Jewish, socialist, second-generation Russian immigrant and a homosexual man to boot, who was likely to upset the conservative WASP establishment on so many levels, at a time when anyone stepping out of line faced censure, the prospect of unemployment, even imprisonment,” Warner continued. “Ginsberg had devised a new observational poetry, a fractured, fractious consideration of contemporary America, a modernist view of a land ensnared in the post-war paranoia of Cold War politics.
“Yet there was also a deep humanity to the piece,” Warner wrote. “The poem was certainly a tremendously brave gesture and once it was read in the Six Gallery on October 7th, 1955, the padlocks of repression and inhibition were smashed. In short, ‘Howl’ introduced powerful and controversial ideas but also trumpeted, by name, those very writers who would become the key, published members of the Beat community, widely read and acclaimed in the decade that followed. It also opened up the possibility of the counterculture having a voice and, it might be argued, was actually a significant preface to what happened, socially, culturally, even politically, in the West in the 1960s.”
Warner is the author of “Text and Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Beats and Rock Culture,” and in that book he makes the case that the Beats, including Ginsberg, had an immense influence on rock music.
“The Beats had a tremendous impact on rock culture,” Warner wrote in the email. “Particularly that version of sophisticated rock music that emerged around 1965 and 1966, that time when Dylan went electric, when the Beatles entered a new era of musical and lyrical maturity.
“Artists from the Doors to Jefferson Airplane, the Stones to Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead to Van Morrison and Cream, acknowledged the influence that writers like Kerouac, Burroughs and Ginsberg had had on their sensibilities, opening their consciousness and encouraging them to be more adventurous artistically.”
Here’s a 37 minute collaboration between Savages and Bo Ningen.
Clash Magazine reports:
Billed as a ‘simultaneous sonic poem’, the performance was a molten, volcanic flood of ideas. Taking control of London’s Oval Space venue, the collective spewed forth 37 minutes of inspiration, deeply improvisational music.
Released as ‘Words To The Blind’ via Stolen/Pop Noire, Boiler Room were on hand to film proceedings.
On October 28, 2014 the first complete book of Bob Dylan’s lyrics will be published in a limited edition of 3500 copies. Priced at $200 for the 960 page, 13.3 pound book, Amazon is currently taking advance orders for the book at a discounted price of $126.74.
The songs are presented chronologically, including alternative versions released as part of Mr. Dylan’s archival “Bootleg Series.” The album covers, front and back, are reproduced.
The way the songs are laid out is meant “to help the eye see what the ear hears,” Mr. Ricks said. “If you print the songs flush left,” he added, “it doesn’t represent, visually, the audible experience.” So refrains, choruses and bridges are indented. And where Mr. Dylan intended a line, however long, to be unbroken, it sprawls across the 13-inch-wide page.
How did the editors know which lines were meant to be unbroken? Did Mr. Dylan provide feedback or comments? Mr. Karp said he had heard that Mr. Dylan provided notebooks and manuscripts. Mr. Ricks refused to elaborate.
“I think the right thing for us,” he said, “is not to go into the question of the particular kinds of help and assistance and advice that we were in a position to receive.”
“The Lyrics: Since 1962” (Hardcover – October 28, 2014)
by Bob Dylan (Author), Christopher Ricks (Editor), Lisa Nemrow (Editor), Julie Nemrow (Editor)
Hardcover: 960 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (October 28, 2014)
Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 12.4 x 2.8 inches
Shipping Weight: 13.3 pounds
A major publishing event—a beautiful, comprehensive collection of the lyrics of Bob Dylan with artwork from thirty-three albums, edited and with an introduction by Christopher Ricks.
As it was well put by Al Kooper (the man behind the organ on “Like a Rolling Stone”), “Bob is the equivalent of William Shakespeare. What Shakespeare did in his time, Bob does in his time.” Christopher Ricks, editor of T. S. Eliot, Samuel Beckett, Tennyson, and The Oxford Book of English Verse, has no argument with Mr. Kooper’s assessment, and Dylan is attended to accordingly in this authoritative edition of his lyrics.
In the words of Ricks: “For fifty years, all the world has delighted in Bob Dylan’s books of words and more than words: provocative, mysterious, touching, baffling, not-to-be-pinned-down, intriguing, and a reminder that genius is free to do as it chooses. And, again and again, these are not the words that he sings on the initially released albums.”
This edition changes things, giving us the words from officially released studio and live recordings, as well as selected variant lyrics and revisions to these, recent revisions and retrospective ones; and, from the archives, words that, till now, have not been published.
The Lyrics, edited with diligence by Christopher Ricks, Lisa Nemrow, and Julie Nemrow. As set down, as sung, and as sung again.
While you wait, here’s Dylan, Ry Cooder and Van Dyke Parks performing Woody Guthrie’s “Do Re Mi” at the Malibu Performing Arts Center in January 2009:
[I just published my rock ‘n’ roll novel, True Love Scars.” Rolling Stone has a great review of my book in the new issue. Read it here. There’s info about True Love Scars here.]
Fifty-two years ago, Bob Dylan appeared at Gerde’s Folk City. He’d been playing there since 1961 when, on April 11, he played Gerde’s for the first time.
What’s important about the April 16, 1962 gig is that some of it was recorded, and the recordings are tremendous. They’re great in and of themselves, but it’s also fascinating to get another earful of an artist in transition. And with Bob Dylan, he’s always in transition.
These songs appeared on an official album released by Sony two years ago. They’re on the The 50th Anniversary Collection: The Copyright Extension Collection, Volume 1. Of course that was released as a very limited edition so that Sony could prevent the recordings from entering the public domain in Europe.
“Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance”:
“Talkin’ New York”:
“Deep Ellum Blues”:
“Blowin’ in the Wind”:
-– A Days of the Crazy-Wild blog post: sounds, visuals and/or news –