Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan had a close friendship that began in the early 1960s. Al Aronowitz, a journalist for the New York Post, first presented Allen Ginsberg to Bob Dylan in 1963. They were both part of the thriving folk music and beat poetry scenes. They quickly realized that they shared a deep appreciation for each other’s work, and their friendship blossomed from there.
Before they ever met, Dylan had heard of Ginsberg and the other members of the Beat Generation, and this was one of the things that drew the ambitious troubadour to New York City in 1961. While talking with The New Yorker in 1985, he said, “I came out of the wilderness and just naturally fell in with the Beat scene, the bohemian, Be Bop crowd, it was all pretty much connected, 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.”
Since he was in his late teens, Dylan had been drawn to Beat writing. He used this ground-breaking wordplay in his early songs after learning about Woody Guthrie and entering the folk scene for the first time. However, his writing started to become more abstract and avant-garde after he met Ginsberg in 1963. Bob recalled, “I didn’t start writing poetry until I was out of high school, I was eighteen or so when I first discovered Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, Frank O’Hara, and those guys.”
Ginsberg has also talked about their friendship. He reflected on Deliberate Prose: Selected Essays 1952-1995. He said, “I first met Bob at a party at the Eighth Street Book Shop, and he invited me to go on tour with him, I ended up not going, but, boy, if I’d known then what I know now, I’d have gone like a flash. He’d probably have put me onstage with him.”
He added, “His image was undercurrent, underground, unconscious in people … something a little more mysterious, poetic, a little more Dada, more where people’s hearts and heads actually were rather than where they ‘should be’ according to some ideological angry theory.”
Ginsberg was inspired by Dylan to use his voice to convey his writing in addition to having an impact on his words. He said, “He turned me on to actually singing, I remember the moment. It was a concert with [folk singer] Happy Traum that I saw in Greenwich Village. I suddenly started to write my own lyrics.”
He continued, “Dylan’s words were so beautiful, The first time I heard them, I wept. Dylan [was] singing ‘Masters of War’ from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, and I actually burst into tears. It was a sense that the torch had been passed to another generation.”
Listen to “Vomit Express” from their unreleased album ‘Holy Soul Jelly Roll’.