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 ’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.”

An Editor’s Guide to the Worst Writing Mistakes


Editor and Creative Writing teacher Dr. Stephen Carver wrote a blog post recently outlining the top writing mistakes he encounters. First off, he quotes Newman and Mittelmark from their book How Not to Write a Novel: “We are merely telling you the things that editors are too busy rejecting your novel to tell you themselves, pointing out the mistakes they recognize instantly because they see them again and again in novels they do not buy.”

“However good the idea behind a novel,” Carver says “when the author is still learning the craft of writing – like any other apprenticeship – the same mistakes do come up again and again. If we were discussing, say, learning to drive, I don’t think anyone would have a problem with this type of analysis. Personally, I wouldn’t attempt to service a gas boiler or walk into an operating theatre, scalpel in hand, without years of training, but plumbers and surgeons and all manner of specialists in other fields routinely presume they can do the job of a professional author without any prior knowledge whatsoever.”

He then goes on to give ten examples of the most common writing mistakes. These are a sample:

Starting Too Slowly

“You need to hook your reader from the first line. Following this startling and intriguing opener, make the first scene a good one. Consider starting your story in medias res – in the middle of things – and introduce a compelling character at a moment of crisis … establish your primary character, set the scene, state the dramatic premise, and start the story.”

Bad Dialogue and Too Much Of It

“Bad dialogue … is usually the result of a poorly planned character. In this case, you’ll probably find that all your characters sound the same, probably like you, with little difference in tone from the narrative voice of the text itself. Another common issue is superfluity. If dialogue does not tell us something important about the speaker or move the plot forward, then cut it. Don’t chat.

The biggest mistake I see in dialogue, however, is the quantity. Even though novelists have all the tricks and tools of narrative prose available to them, many still insist on writing screenplays by mistake … Break it up and cut it back.”

Minimal Scene Setting or Purple Prose

“In many ways this relates to my point on the overuse of dialogue, in which very little scenic detail is provided, let alone stylishly conveyed … Practice describing the essence of people or places, and be aware of your genre while you’re doing it: horror stories and thrillers, for example, rely more on atmosphere and suspense, while historical fiction seeks to recreate a vanished era, and science fiction to build worlds and civilisations … Be vivid but do not overdo it. You are not in advertising, so avoid ‘Purple Prose’ – anything that is overly ornate, sentimental, or rhetorically extravagant draws attention to itself and interrupts the flow of the narrative.”

Failure to Understand Dramatic Pacing

“Maintaining a strong, page-turning momentum requires an understanding of narrative pace. Basically, you have two gears: ‘Mimetic’ narration is a ‘slow telling,’ which dramatically stages events for the reader, creating the illusion that these events are unfolding in real time. ‘Diegetic’ narration is rapid, panoramic, and summary, communicating essential or linking information efficiently, without the illusion of reality. The diegetic narrator says what happens, without trying to show things as they happen. Prose narratives necessarily use both modes of telling: a fully mimetic story would last forever while a totally diegetic one would just be a plot summary. Aim for balance, ebb and flow; don’t get stuck in one gear. I have read many novels in which far too many trivial and tangential scenes are portrayed mimetically, like the live stream of a reality TV show, in which both primary and secondary characters randomly display and repeat their typical behaviour. Equally, I’ve read many primarily diegetic novels, with much of the plot told and not shown, as they say, in which the prose feels more like an essay than a story.”

Too Long or Too Short

“[Some] novels … are as rambling and digressive as a family anecdote related by your grandmother at Christmas; the real story does not start for several hundred pages, if at all, while similarly ending only when the protagonist dies of old age. If you have that much good material, consider a trilogy, because most publishers will not touch a novel by an unknown author over an absolute maximum of 100,000 words.

Similarly and conversely, some ‘novels’ are more accurately ‘novellas’ or ‘novelettes,’ and only 40 – 50,000 words in length. This is fine if the average age of your intended audience is twelve, but a bit thin otherwise.”

Lack of Editorial Revision

“Most manuscripts that land on my desk aren’t ready … The first draft of anything is just that, the beginning of the creative journey, never the finished product. The first draft is all about getting the ideas down, and this is why I always stress the importance of writing every day and just adding new words to a big project. A common misconception at this point is that the job is now done. Not true. You have only built the house; now you have to decorate. This should be fun, but the process is no less important or involved than the original composition. If you want your book to be any good, then expect the redrafts to go into double figures.”

You can read the entire blog post here

*New Music Monday* My Version of “Runaway (U & I)” by Galantis

248. Runaway (U & I)

It’s #NewMusicMonday! Today it’s my version of “Runaway (U & I)” by Galantis

Runaway (U & I)

Think I can fly, think I can fly when I’m with U
My arms are wide, catching fire as the wind blows
I know that I’m rich enough for pride,
I see a billion dollars in your eyes
Even if we’re strangers til we die

I wanna run away
I wanna run away
Anywhere out this place
I wanna run away
U and I
U and I, I, I, I, I
U and I, I, I, I, I
U and I, I, I, I, I
Just U and I

I wanna run
Catch the morning sun when I’m with U
Give it all away
Catching fire as the wind blows
I know that I’m rich enough for pride,
I see a billion dollars in your eyes
Even if we’re strangers til we die

I wanna run away
I wanna run away
Anywhere out this place
I wanna run away

U and I
U and I, I, I, I, I
U and I, I, I, I, I
U and I, I, I, I, I
Just U and I


Click on image for credits

Brutally Honest Writing Advice from Brutally Honest Writers

Getting Started

Dorothy Parker

“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favour you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” – Dorothy Parker

Following the Rules

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” – W. Somerset Maugham

First Drafts


“The first draft of everything is shit.” – Ernest Hemingway

“Get through a draft as quickly as possible. Hard to know the shape of the thing until you have a draft. Literally, when I wrote the last page of my first draft of Lincoln’s Melancholy I thought, Oh, shit, now I get the shape of this. But I had wasted years, literally years, writing and re-writing the first third to first half. The old writer’s rule applies: Have the courage to write badly.” – Joshua Wolf Shenk

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” – Mark Twain

Taking Criticism


“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” – Neil Gaiman

“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.” – Harper Lee

Be You

“Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that — but you are the only you.” – Neil Gaiman

And Finally

“Don’t take anyone’s writing advice too seriously.” – Lev Grossman