Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo On The Beat Generation

Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo is associate producer of the Kerouac tribute album. Photo by ATN.

Blame it on the bomb. The A-Bomb, that is. Sonic Youth guitarist and Beat

Generation expert Lee Ranaldo thinks that growing up in the shadow of potential

nuclear annihilation explains what he calls the "slightly nebulous" connection

between music and the Beat poetry of the '50s. "People are always trying to

particularly correlate it [the work of the Beat poets] to the music," says

Ranaldo. " 'How does what they wrote inspire the music of today?'...The way I

look at it, they were the first generation of youth that had this certain

unique perspective on the 20th century that's carried over into all of the

youth movements that have happened since then.

"They're the first

post-bomb generation that had the realization that man could put his finger on

the button and end it all, and what that does to your consciousness of the

world and your place in it, and the fact that it's so transitory that it could

be over any minute and you have to maximize the now," Ranaldo continued. "Even

though they [the Beats] were the first to realize it, it's sort of universal in

a way. There hasn't been a youth movement since then--60's, 70's, 80's--that

hasn't been informed by some of the viewpoints that some of those people


The way Ranaldo--associate producer of a new collection of

"covers" of Jack Kerouac poems on Rykodisc called Kerouac--Kicks Joy

Darkness-- tells it, he got turned on to the Beats in much the same way as

thousands of other young hipsters in search of some meaning in their lives. "I

took a trip across the country after high school in the mid-70's and then when

I got to college I read (Jack Kerouac's) On The Road and my interest was

just really focused on his work for a while and it has been ever since."

Kerouac--Kicks Joy Darkness features everyone from Michael Stipe,

Beat compatriot William Burroughs with remixers tomandandy, Patti Smith with

Thurston Moore and Lenny Kaye, and Jeff Buckley to Warren Zevon, actor Johnny

Depp and Kerouac himself (in a posthumous duet with ex-Clash member Joe


"I've been interested in the Beats and Kerouac...

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