(Credits: Far Out / Douglas R. Gilbert / Wikimedia / Get Archive)
The American folk revival movement of the 1960s was defined by Bob Dylan, whose music has been universally celebrated and adored ever since. The singer started his career in the early part of the decade, drawn to New York City due to his love for folk legend Woody Guthrie.
After finding himself in the city, visiting his musical idol in the hospital as he lay dying, Dylan established himself as a singer-songwriter. Settling into Greenwich Village, Dylan’s music soon became intrinsically linked to the area. However, Dylan wasn’t the only person who defined Greenwich Village with his artistry. Before Dylan, several members of the Beat Generation moved to the neighbourhood due to its cheap rent and living costs.
Here, great thinkers such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg could be found writing exquisite poetry and fiction that drew on the desire to explore the human condition authentically. They wrote about sexual freedom, drug use, jazz, America and self-exploration, rejecting consumerism and capitalism. While Ginsberg defined the cultural landscape with Howl and William S. Burroughs served up Naked Lunch, Kerouac delivered On the Road, widely considered his masterpiece.
On the Road is narrated by Sal Paradise, a fictionalised version of Kerouac, as he and his pals (who are based on key figures of the movement) search for meaning as they travel across America. The 1957 book was seminal, with its distinctive outlook on self-discovery paving the way for the values that defined the imminent countercultural revolution of the ‘60s.
For Dylan, reading On the Road was life-changing. He once said: “I read On the Road in maybe 1959. It changed my life like it changed everyone else’s”.
Dylan found himself incredibly drawn to the Beat Generation, immersing himself in their world as much as he could before it was too late. In an interview dating back to 1985, the singer explained, “I came out of the wilderness and just naturally fell in with the Beat scene, the bohemian, bebop crowd, it was all pretty much connected.”
He added: “It was Jack Kerouac, Ginsberg, Corso, Ferlinghetti… I got in at the tail end of that, and it was magic… it had just as big an impact on me as Elvis Presley.” Dylan embodied much of the Beat Generation’s ethos, imbuing his own work with their values, which shaped a whole generation of American artists.
Dylan even penned the song ‘On the Road Again’, with the singer undoubtedly using the book title as inspiration. The singer’s love of the Beats shines through his work, whether that be via certain lyrical choices or the whole ethos behind the Rolling Thunder Revue tour.