During their productive years, the Beatles had a huge influence on the American and Western European cultures. Any of their chart-topping hits can still be seen in Rock n Roll music theaters and personal music players today. The Beatles’ albums, like those of other popular music artists, were influenced by unique cultural elements. They concentrated on selecting a cultural element, framing it into song lyrics, and creating a sound that represented their imprint on the chosen cultural aspect. The vast majority of published accounts recording the Beatles’ inspiration provide a connection between the band and the Beat Generation. The Beat Generation was a group of writers that shaped the Western culture for a few decades after the Second World War. Understanding the connection between the Beat Generation and the Beatles is vital in uncovering unique elements in the rock band’s music that resonated with the American culture during its popular days.
A good number of the accounts written to document the musical journey of the Beatles suggest that the group’s name was coined from its strong connections to the Beat Generation literary group. Withal, none of the rock band’s members has directly acknowledged that their name was linked to the movement of literary composers. As the debate surrounding the roots of the rock band’s name surges on, one can note the existence of a strong connection between the artworks of the Beat Generation and the Beatles. Studies attest to the fact that some of the lyrics of the Beatles’ most popular songs were directly inspired by the intricate texts composed by the members of the Beat Generation (Warner 14). In fact, there is evidence of the existence of a good relationship of some Beat Generation writers and The Beatles band members. The most inspirational figure in the rock band, John Lennon, maintained a close relationship with Royston Ellis, a poet affiliated to the Beat generation who hailed from Liverpool which was the hometown of the famous rock band.
Delving deeper into the band’s music, there are numerous elements that help to establish a link between the main themes expressed in its artworks and the core assertions of the literary compositions made by members of the Beat Generation. There were entire albums produced by the rock band that were closely similar to the writings of the beat generation. More prominently, the album titled the “Magical Mystery Tour” contained songs whose lyrics integrated the overall message and poetic styles that were visible in some of the beat generation texts (Warner 16). There are some critics who even argue that the Beatles’ music was the beat generation writings transformed into entertaining sounds. The two groups complemented each other with the writers’ movement being considered the raw producer of the artistic content. There are specific songs that reflected the messages being conveyed by the texts created by the beat generation members.
The message of rebellion in the holistic sense is one of the themes that were mainly explored by the beat generation literally composers. “While my Guitar Gently Weeps” is a perfect example of the Beatles’ popular songs with a rebellious sound that question the societal norms that characterized the American way of life in the 1960s decade. The song’s lyrics make it clear that the Beatles were opposed to the normal way of doing things in Western society. The foundations of its lyrics can be traced to William Burroughs’s writings. The author was a key figure in the beat generation and he was well known for his controversial compositions. When William set out to compose a book, he would aim to disturb the status quo. He is regarded as one of the novelists that could juggle up the mind of the readers and trigger new thought patterns in their brains.
Arguably, his most explicit work was titled “Naked Lunch.” The literary work spurred a lot of controversy because of the obscene language and unapologetic illustrations that irritated most social order conformists. The rebellious nature of the stories being forwarded in the text triggered its banning in Los Angeles, Boston and a few other places across the globe. The though-provoking predispositions associated with famous beat generation writers can also be noted in the lyrics of the song, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” The singers question people’s choice to conform to societal conditions that generally limit their potential. Judging from the tone and the general mood of the song, the Beatles empathize with the people who have aligned their perceptions with the system to an extent that limits their ability to love or explore their dreams and fantasies. Written accounts documenting the effects of the writers’ movement and the rock band concur about both groups’ disregard for societal norms.
Experimentation and psychedelic ideologies also characterize a sizable number of texts composed by writers affiliated to the beat generation movement. This theme is also prominently seen in the Beatles songs during the 1960s. The psychedelic culture was seen as an escape for the rebellious teenagers during that period (Baker 39). The famous rock band embodied this culture and produced enticing songs that encouraged the use of psychedelic drugs while cultivating a euphoria for the few people who dared to go against the rules and experiment new things. There was an unequivocal preference for the bold-spirited in the virtual and untamable culture that was being constructed by the group of writers. Allen Ginsberg was one of the most gifted poets in the beat generation movement. His famous poem titled “Howl” explicitly illuminated his high regard and awe for the audacious young people willing to stretch the boundaries of societal ethics by experimenting with less common sexual experiences and drugs.
Allen Ginsberg’ work is also prominently reflected in the lyrics of popular songs produced by the Beatles. The song “Tomorrow Never Knows” crisply captures this ideology. Straight from the first line, the listener can feel the strong message urging him or her to transcend to another world that does not recognize risk or dying. The song starts off by saying “turn off your mind relax and float downstream, it is not dying, it is not dying.” Typically, members of the society are always consumed with what the future hold for them. Most people remain fixated on creating plans that will help safeguard their families in the future. These thoughts bear a lot of weight on the individual’s thought processes. As illustrated in “Tomorrow Never Knows,” the Beatles advocate for people to live in the moment and let the future unfold as it should. This message is coined from the themes of experimentation and liberalism that were strongly associated with the texts of the beat generation movement.
On most occasions, the experimentation and psychological liberalism ideologies promoted by the member of the beat generation and the Beatles’ music could not be achieved without the use of drugs. The advocacy for psychedelic drugs was a common undertaking by the Beatles. Some of the songs encouraged their followers to take drugs and enter a new reality that counters the beliefs of the contemporary western culture. This is a feature that is also borrowed from the assertions of specific beat generation writers. The use of drugs was among members of the rock band and the writers’ movement was well pronounced in the 50s and 60s decades (Warner 23). Even though most of their followers believed that the use of drugs was purely for luxury, there are other justifications for the writers and singers to advocate for the use of drugs. One of the most prominent uses of the drugs was to cultivate a higher creative power.
Some of the beat generation writers upheld close relationships with the Beatles band member and together they believed that the use of drugs could make them more creative and capable of producing interesting artworks. In this regard, their approach to the use of drugs was experimental. According to studies, beat generation writers could indulge in marijuana, morphine, alcohol, and Benzedrine to feel more special and to construct the ideal level of confidence needed to compose the audacious pieces that disturbed the social order and catapulted them into immortal status in the world of literature. Consequently, given the strong connection between the music band and the writer’s movement, the Beatles created numerous songs reflecting their experiences with drugs (Baker 47).
There are other songs whereby the Beatles directly encouraged their fans to take specific psychedelic drugs. One of the most loved songs that advocated for the use of psychedelic drugs was “Day Tripper.” The song paints an attractive image featuring the beautiful world that a person gets into after taking psychedelic drugs. The drugs are portrayed as a woman or as a mode of transport that helps the user to travel to worlds unknown but associated with a magical experience. Themes of spirituality are also explored by the famous writer’s movement. There are a number of the beat generation members that illuminate ideas that question the foundations of the most commonly practiced religions (Scheurer 93). According to them, there is no definite way of tapping into spirituality and that a person can choose from a pool of alternatives when he or she endeavors to become spiritual. This theme is also seen in some of the songs composed by the Beatles.
It is crystal that there was a strong linkage between the literary works of members of the beat generation and the Beatles. Their songs’ lyrics captured the themes forwarded by some of the most famous writers affiliated to the revolutionary literature movement. Both the beat generation members and the Beatles singers were opposed to the idea of conformity to the mainstream culture. William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg explored thought-provoking themes that catapulted them to greater heights in western literature. By incorporating the cultural views of the beat generation into their music, the Beatles singers became a cultural emblem of liberalism, experimentation, and rebellion.
Baker, David. “Rock Rebels and Delinquents: the Emergence of the Rock Rebel in 1950s ‘Youth Problem ‘Films.” Continuum19.1 (2005): 39-54.
Scheurer, Timothy E. “The Beatles, the Brill building, and the persistence of Tin Pan Alley in the age of rock.” Popular Music & Society 20.4 (1996): 89-102.
Warner, Simon. Text and drugs and rock’n’roll: the beats and rock culture. A&C Black, 2013.