When Lou (Reed) Met Edgar (Allan Poe) – Music Meets Literature

There was time when being a writer and being a musician were two completely separate things. Writers were solitary, reclusive individuals who shuffled around in their pyjamas mumbling to themselves, while musicians were rock gods who strutted the stage, ingested massive quantities of illegal substances, and … well, shall we say, got better acquainted with their fans. No more. Now writers are rock stars and rock stars are writers.

Some examples of musicians-turned-writers include Bob Dylan, Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen and Patti Smith. On the flip side, there aren’t as many examples of writers-turned-musicians, but there are a few, such as Michel Houellebecq and Neal Pollack. (And, there was a also a band called the “Rock Bottom Remainders”, that featured Stephen King, Amy Tan and Rick Moody, amongst others).

The same applies when it comes to music inspired by literature, and vice versa. Literature has inspired many songs and even entire albums. Led Zeppelin wrote a number of songs inspired by Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings; Peter Gabriel’s “Mercy Street” is based around the work of the poet Anne Sexton; and then, there’s the most obvious example, Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights”. Not to mention the wonderfully-titled song by the late Warren Zevon, “Lord Byron’s Luggage”.

Another writer who has been a great source of inspiration to musicians is Edgar Allen Poe. Lou Reed released a double CD concept album called The Raven in 2003 that featured a number of musical and spoken-word interpretations of Poe. And, unsurprisingly, many heavy metal bands have made reference to Gothic Horror-writer Poe in their recordings, including Iron Maiden and the wonderfully-named Agathodaimon.

But again, on the flip side, there aren’t as many novels inspired by a specific piece of music. There are many books about music in general, Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity being one great example. There are, however, plenty of novel titles inspired by songs: everything from Douglas Copeland’s Girlfriend in a Coma and Eleanor Rigby to Bret Easton Ellis’s Less than Zero (an Elvis Costello song). (And, disclaimer: I do it too. I stole the name of my blog – “Rant, with Occasional Music” – from Jonathan Lethem’s first novel, Gun, with Occasional Music)

Of course, many people would say that performers such as Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen are songwriters and poets, musicians and writers. Others – mostly poets – take great umbrage with the idea that a mere pop song could be considered poetry. And while this may be the case with a song like Jedward’s ‘Lipstick’, what about the staggering oeuvre of someone like Dylan?

So, there is certainly a cross-fertilisation between music and literature, and this is becoming increasingly more so. Kurt Cobain and William Burroughs made an album together; writer Alan Moore has performed spoken-word pieces live on stage with musical accompaniment, as has writer Neil Gaiman, with the added accompaniment of illustrations by artist Eddie Campbell projected on the wall behind him.

With the increasingly easy access to recording equipment and the ability to self-publish or put your writing on the internet, this is only likely to increase. There are plans to release e-books with soundtracks, and authors have started compiling “soundtracks” to their novels – the songs that inspired their novels or even original music – and posting them on their websites. It is an exciting time for both music and literature. It has been said many times in recent years that albums and books are dead; they’re not dead, they’re just evolving.

If you have any thoughts on this subject or any suggestions of other writing/music combos, please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

(Image: Click the pic for credits)

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*New Music Monday* My Version of Blondie’s “Call Me”

257. Blondie

Welcome to New Music Monday! This week, it’s my stripped down, acoustic version of the Blondie classic “Call Me”:

Call Me

Colour me your colour, baby, colour me your car
Colour me your colour, darling, I know who you are
Come up off your colour chart; I know where you’re coming from

Call me on the line,
Call me, call me any anytime
Call me I’ll arrive,
You can call me any day or night, call me!

Cover me with kisses, baby, cover me with love
Roll me in designer sheets, I’ll never get enough
Emotions come, I don’t know why; cover up love’s alibi

Call me on the line,
Call me, call me any anytime
Call me I’ll arrive,
When you’re ready we can share the wine, call me

Ooh, she speaks the languages of love
Ooh, she speaks the languages
Ooh, she speaks the languages
Anytime, anyplace, anywhere, anyway!
Anytime, anyplace, anywhere, any day!

Call me on the line,
Call me, call me any anytime
Call me au revoir,
Call me, call me for some overtime

Call me in my life,
Call me, call me any sweet desire
Call me, call me for your lover’s lover’s alibi, call me

Written by Debbie Harry and Giorgio Moroder

(Click on image for credits)

The Validation Generation: The Dangers of Living in a Social Media World

O' Neill

Over the past week, you may have read the story of Essena O’Neill, an 18-year-old Australian who quit Instagram, YouTube, and Tumblr, despite having half a million followers and lucrative financial rewards. She did this, she said, because the images and videos on these sites are “contrived images and edited clips ranked against each other.”

“Without realising, I’ve spent majority of my teenage life being addicted to social media, social approval, social status and my physical appearance. Social media, especially how I used it, isn’t real … It’s a system based on social approval, likes, validation in views, success in followers. It’s perfectly orchestrated self absorbed judgement. I was consumed by it.”

Coincidentally, while thinking about this, I heard an interview about mental health on the “Today with Sean O’Rourke” show on RTÉ Radio 1. Dr. Harry Barry, spoke about what he calls “the world of rating”:

“The world of rating is what it’s all about … we have the highest rate of suicide in young girls, between 2009 and 2011, and the second highest of young boys. And, of course, they are all living [in] this world of rating … girls at the age of 10 and 11 are already spending hours wondering what kind of post will I put up, how will I look, etc, etc.”

This is backed up by O’ Neill herself, who admits she was doing this from the age of 12. And she’s not alone:

“Actually, it was a serious hobby for a lot people in my life. Girls would upload together and have sleepovers revolving around ‘watching their photos’. People would gossip about likes at school, over text, to teachers, to parents… ‘She got 200 likes, she’s basically a model now’. ‘I can’t believe he only gets like 4 likes a photo, it’s embarrassing’ ‘ look at her photos, she looks nothing like that in person’ ‘she’s such a try hard’ ‘she’s so weird’ ‘she’s so fake’ ‘she’s so boring.’”


Writing in The Guardian, June Eric Udorie had this to say about the pressures of social media:

“It’s becoming more and more obvious how the pressures of social media disproportionately affect teenage girls. I can see it all around me. Pressure to be perfect. To look perfect, act perfect, have the perfect body, have the perfect group of friends, the perfect amount of likes on Instagram. Perfect, perfect, perfect. And if you don’t meet these ridiculously high standards, then the self-loathing and bullying begins … What is really worrying is that time and time again, these studies pop up and demonstrate that the mental health of teenagers, especially teenage girls, is on the line.”

Unfortunately (but perhaps not unexpectedly) O’ Neill’s comments have generated a backlash, with many claiming that her newfound epiphany is merely another way of stroking her ego and garnering attention. I don’t know whether or not this is the case, but I would like to give her the benefit of the doubt. Either way, it hardly matters. What matters is that she has started a conversation. Her story has gone viral and people are beginning to discuss the issues she raises and are hopefully starting to recognise some of the dangers inherent in this kind of obsessive need for validation.

Teenagers (or adults for that matter) seeking validation is not a new phenomenon. But the level that it has reached through social media most certainly is. And we all do it. New technologies can become so pervasive in our lives that we don’t notice the changes they bring about. But if we stop and think about it for a moment, when did we get to the stage where our happiness – our mental health – is predicated on a ‘Like’ button?

sad woman sitting alone in a empty room

There is no simple solution to this situation. Social media sites such as Instagram are not going away. Instead, we – as a society – have to learn how to live with them. These issues badly need to be addressed in schools, as well as by parents. Posts by the likes of O’ Neill and others need to be shared as widely as possible, and parents and teachers need to showcase them. Every child from the age of 10 upwards should be shown these posts and encouraged to talk about them and any issues that they raise. It might not be an ultimate solution but it would be a start.

*New Music Monday* Derek Does Cole Porter!

253. Cole Porter

It’s New Music Monday! This week, a classic Cole Porter tune covered by Ella Fitzgerald and Kirsty McColl, amongst others. This is my version of “Miss Otis Regrets”:

Miss Otis Regrets 

Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today, madam
Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today
She is sorry to be delayed
But last evening down in Lover’s Lane she strayed, madam
Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today

When she woke up and found
That her dream of love was gone, madam
She ran to the man who had led her so far astray
And from under her velvet gown
She drew a gun and shot her love down, madam
Miss Otis regrets, she’s unable to lunch today

When the mob came and got her
And dragged her from the jail, madam
They strung her upon the old willow across the way
And the moment before she died
She lifted up her lovely head and cried, madam
Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today
Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today

(Written by Cole Porter)

(Click on image for credit)

*New Music Monday* My Version of ’90s Classic “The Rhythm of the Night”

252. Rhythm of the Night

The Rhythm of the Night

This is the rhythm of the night, the night, oh yeah
The rhythm of the night
This is the rhythm of my life, my life, oh yeah
The rhythm of my life

You could put some joy upon my face
Oh sunshine in an empty place
Take me to turn to and babe I’ll make you stay
Oh I can ease you of your pain
Feel you give me love again
Round and round we go, each time I hear you say

This is the rhythm of the night, the night, oh yeah
The rhythm of the night
This is the rhythm of my life, my life, oh yeah
The rhythm of my life

Won’t you teach me how to love learn
There’ll be nothing left for me to yearn
Think of me burn and let me hold your hand
I don’t wanna face the world in tears
Please think again I’m on my knees
Sing that song to me no reason to repent

This is the rhythm of the night, the night, oh yeah
The rhythm of the night
This is the rhythm of my life, my life, oh yeah
The rhythm of my life

Written by Francesco Bontempi, Annerley Gordon, Giorgio Spagna, Peter Glenister & Mike Gaffey

(Click on image for credits)

*New Music Monday* My Version of “My Funny Valentine”

251. My Funny Valentine

It’s #NewMusicMonday! Today, it’s a timeless jazz standard that has appeared on over 1300 albums performed by over 600 artists. No pressure then! This is my version of “My Funny Valentine”:

My Funny Valentine

My funny valentine
Sweet comic valentine
You make me smile with my heart
Your looks are laughable
Yet you’re my favorite work of art

Is your figure less than Greek?
Is your mouth a little weak?
When you open it to speak
Are you smart?

But don’t change a hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little valentine stay
Each day is Valentine’s day

Is your figure less than Greek
Is your mouth a little weak
When you open it to speak
Are you smart?

But don’t change a hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little valentine stay
Each day is Valentine’s day

Written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart

(Click on image for credit)

When Writer’s Attack … Part II!

If you haven’t read it, you can check out the original “When Writer’s Attack …” post here and then strap yourself in for some more pithy author put-downs.

What’s interesting about author put-downs is that many are not afraid to go for the big hitters. Cervantes’ Don Quixote is regarded as a classic. Unless you’re Martin Amis: “Reading Don Quixote can be compared to an indefinite visit from your most impossible senior relative, with all his pranks, dirty habits, unstoppable reminiscences, and terrible cronies. When the experience is over … you will shed tears all right; not tears of relief or regret but tears of pride. You made it, despite all that ‘Don Quixote’ could do.”

24. Paradise Lost

John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”, according to Samuel Johnson, “… is one of the books which the reader admires and lays down, and forgets to take up again. None ever wished it longer than it is.”

On the subject of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte asked her friend, Sir Walter Scott, “Why do you like Miss Austen so very much? I am puzzled on that point. What induced you to say that you would rather have written Pride and Prejudice … than any of the Waverly novels? I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses.”

35. edgar-allen-poe

Poor old Jane (as well as Edgar Allan Poe) came in for more stick from Mark Twain: “To me his (Edgar Allan Poe’s) prose is unreadable – like Jane Austen’s. No there is a difference. I could read his prose on salary, but not Jane’s. Jane is entirely impossible. It seems a great pity that they allowed her to die a natural death.”

Of course, authors can console themselves with the fact that this whole “slagging authors” lark is a game of swings and roundabouts. Mark Twain too had his critics. William Faulkner called Twain, “A hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tricked out a few of the old proven sure fire literary skeletons with sufficient local colour to intrigue the superficial and the lazy.”

In turn, Ernest Hemingway said of Faulkner: “Have you ever heard of anyone who drank while he worked? You’re thinking of Faulkner. He does sometimes – and I can tell right in the middle of a page when he’s had his first one.”

Of course, Ernest would know.

And on it goes. Tom Wolfe’s opinion of Hemingway: “Take Hemingway. People always think that the reason he’s easy to read is that he is concise. He isn’t. I hate conciseness – it’s too difficult. The reason Hemingway is easy to read is that he repeats himself all the time, using ‘and’ for padding.”

We can probably include George Meredith’s opinion of Charles Dickens in the “Slightly Wide of the Mark” column: “Not much of Dickens will live, because it has so little correspondence to life … If his novels are read at all in the future, people will wonder what we saw in them, save some possible element of fun meaningless to them.”

Meredith wasn’t alone though. The great wit, Oscar Wilde, on Dickens’ Old Curiosity Shop: “One would have to have a heart of stone to read about the death of little Nell without laughing.”

Although, not everyone was a Wilde fan either. Noel Coward: “Am reading more of Oscar Wilde. What a tiresome, affected sod.”

One would think that William Shakespeare – regarded by many to be the greatest writer in the English language – would be immune to such slights. Think again. George Bernard Shaw said: “With the exception of Homer, there is no eminent writer, not even Sir Walter Scott, whom I can despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare when I measure my mind against his …” adding that, “it would positively be a relief to me to dig him up and throw stones at him.”

Samuel Pepys was not a fan of Shakespeare’s either: “…we saw ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ which I had never seen before, nor shall ever again, for it is the most insipid ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life.”

Even Shakespeare’s supposed friend, Ben Jonson, got in on the act: “I remember the players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakespeare that in his writing, whatever he penned, he never blotted out a line. My answer hath been, ‘Would he had blotted a thousand.’”

Flaubert said of Balzac, “What a man Balzac would have been if he had known how to write.”

One might think that those who write in the same genre might be sympathetic to their brethren. One would be wrong. Doyenne of crime, Ruth Rendell: “To say that Agatha Christie’s characters are cardboard cut-outs is an insult to cardboard cut-outs.”

25. David Letterman

And just to prove that the art of the literary put-down is still very much alive and well, David Letterman’s on Sarah Palin’s effort: “It’s an excellent book … for standing on when you’re reaching for a better one.”