The Meaning Behind Zach Bryan’s Jack Kerouac-Inspired “Burn Burn Burn”

Before too long into his career, Zach Bryan rapidly established a name for himself, receiving an Academy of Country Music Award and a nod from the Grammys well before his 30th birthday.

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What makes Bryan so intriguing is his introspective music, much of which is either highly conceptual or deeply personal. He writes about themes like youth, loss, forgiveness, and purpose. But he also has mainstream appeal, as evidenced by “I Remember Everything,” his duet with Kacey Musgraves.

It didn’t take long for Bryan to establish a reputation as a talented songwriter, either. He draws on poetry, philosophy, and literature to inspire his lyrics, making him a true standout in country music. 

In 2022, Bryan released the live album All My Homies Hate Ticketmaster. The album, geared toward working-class people who the singer felt were being cheated by companies like Ticketmaster, included the song “Burn Burn Burn.” This highly philosophical track continues the theme that life is about things that are simple and pure, not commercial or simply attainable. Let’s dive into the meaning behind “Burn Burn Burn” and what makes Zach Bryan such a refreshing young star.

The Inspiration Behind “Burn Burn Burn

Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road inspired Bryan to write “Burn Burn Burn.” The novel includes the following passage: 

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or saw a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” 

Bryan shared the song on his Instagram with a tribute to Kerouac. He drew inspiration from the author not just in the sentiment of the music but also in its avant-garde structure. Kerouac frequently wrote in a stream-of-consciousness style, eschewing traditional punctuation. “Burn Burn Burn” also has an unusual arrangement of seven verses interspersed by repetitions of the chorus. 

To “Burn” as a Way of Life

In Kerouac’s novel, the word “burn” is used to describe the way some people live. These people live passionately and follow the path they want to. They also aren’t attached to or controlled by consumerism or greed. Bryan uses the word similarly, speaking of living for the things that matter while we still can:

Let me go
Down the line
We all burn, burn, burn
Then die

[RELATED: The War and Treaty on Working with Zach Bryan: “It’s Changed Our Lives”]

Consumerism vs. Simplicity

The first part of “Burn Burn Burn” discusses Bryan’s frustration with the greed and vanity of modern life. He says that its pointlessness exhausts him; he wants something real. 

We get dressed up just to go downtown
In some ego-filled late-night crowd
It seems that’s where I feel the most alone

Bryan goes on to describe the simple life he wants: 

I want to be a child climbing trees somewhere
Breathing in the fresh, outside air
Before I knew this life was unkind
I want a well-trained dog on a couple acres
A kind kind lady and a place to take her
And a few good friends I can count on one of my hands

Some of the things Bryan lists in his ideal life are not necessarily pleasant—he mentions contemplating death, feeling lonely, and even getting into fights in far-off lands. But the point is that, even when that life isn’t happy, it is still authentic. 

He emphasizes this again in the repeated chorus, which occurs in the song’s second half. During this section, Bryan turns his attention to his eventual death and what he hopes to have accomplished by then. 

So let me go
Down the line
Let me feel it all
Joy, pain, and sky
Let me go
Down the line
We all burn, burn, burn
Then die

The Legacy of “Burn Burn Burn”

As we write, Zach Bryan is still in the early days of his career, so we have yet to see where the next years will take him. But he is a talented songwriter who thinks deeply about his experiences before putting them to music. “Burn Burn Burn” may very well go down as one of the most poignant tracks in his discography.

Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images for Stagecoach

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