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 Leonard Cohen’s “So Long Marianne”

leonard-cohen

It’s New Music Monday! This week, Uncle Leonard is back. This is my version of Leonard Cohen’s “So Long Marianne”:

So Long Marianne

Come over to the window, my little darling
I’d like to try to read your palm
I used to think I was some sort of gypsy boy
Before I let you take me home

Now so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began
To laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again

Well you know that I love to live with you
But you make me forget so very much
I forget to pray for the angels
And then the angels forget to pray for us

[Chorus]

We met when we were almost young
Deep in the green lilac park
You held on to me like I was a crucifix
As we went kneeling through the dark

[Chorus]

Your letters they all say that you’re beside me now
Then why do I feel so alone
I’m standing on a ledge and your fine spider web
Is fastening my ankle to a stone

[Chorus]

For now I need your hidden love
I’m cold as a new razor blade
You left when I told you I was curious
I never said that I was brave

[Chorus]

Oh, you are really such a pretty one
I see you’ve gone and changed your name again
And just when I climbed this whole mountainside
To wash my eyelids in the rain

Written by Leonard Cohen

(Click on image for credit)

*New Music Monday* My Version of “Tom Traubert’s Blues” by Tom Waits

246. Tom WaitsIt’s New Music Monday! This week, it’s my version of “Tom Traubert’s Blues” by Tom Waits:

Tom Traubert’s Blues

Wasted and wounded, it ain’t what the moon did
I’ve got what I paid for now
See you tomorrow, hey Frank, can I borrow a couple of bucks from you
To go waltzing Mathilda, waltzing Mathilda,
You’ll go waltzing Mathilda with me

I’m an innocent victim of a blinded alley
And I’m tired of all these soldiers here
No one speaks English, and everything’s broken
And my Stacys are soaking wet
To go waltzing Mathilda, waltzing Mathilda,
You’ll go waltzing Mathilda with me

Now the dogs are barking and the taxi cabs parking
A lot they can do for me
I begged you to stab me; you tore my shirt open,
And I’m down on my knees tonight
Old Bushmills I staggered, you’d bury the dagger
In your silhouette window light go …

No, I don’t want your sympathy, the fugitives say
That the streets aren’t for dreaming now
And manslaughter dragnets and the ghosts that sell memories,
They want a piece of the action anyhow …

And you can ask any sailor, and the keys from the jailor,
And the old men in wheelchairs know
And Mathilda’s the defendant; she killed about a hundred,
And she follows wherever you may go …

And it’s a battered old suitcase to a hotel someplace,
And a wound that will never heal
No prima donna, the perfume is on an
Old shirt that is stained with blood and whiskey
And goodnight to the street sweepers, the night watchmen flame keepers
And goodnight to Mathilda, too

Written by Tom Waits

(Photo Credit: Colm Henry)

*New Music Monday* My Version of Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space”

245. Taylor Swift

It’s New Music Monday! This week it’s my version of Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space”:

Blank Space

Nice to meet you where you been, I can show you incredible things
Magic, madness, heaven sin, saw you there and I thought
Oh my God, look at that face, you look like my next mistake
Love’s a game, want to play?

New money, suit and tie, I can read you like a magazine
Ain’t it funny rumors fly and I know you heard about me
So hey, let’s be friends, I’m dying to see how this one ends
Grab your passport and my hand
I can make the bad girls good for a weekend

So it’s gonna be forever or it’s gonna go down in flames
You can tell me when it’s over if the high was worth the pain
Got a long list of ex-lovers, they’ll tell you I’m insane
Cause you know I love the players and you love the game

Cause were young and we’re reckless, we’ll take this way too far
It’ll leave you breathless, or with a nasty scar
Got a long list of ex-lovers, they’ll tell you I’m insane
But I got a blank space baby and I’ll write your name

Cherry lips, crystal skies, I could show you incredible things
Stolen kisses, pretty lies, you’re the queen, baby, I’m your king
Find out what you want, be that guy for a month
Wait the worst is yet to come, oh no

Screaming crying perfect storms, I can make all the tables turn
Rose garden filled with thorns, keep you second guessing
Like “Oh my god who is he?” I get drunk on jealousy
But you’ll come back each time you leave
Cause darlin’ I’m a nightmare, dressed like a daydream

Girls only want love ’cause it’s torture
Don’t say I didn’t, say I didn’t warn you
Girls only want love ’cause it’s torture
Don’t say I didn’t, say I didn’t warn you

Written by Taylor Swift, Max Martin and Shellback

(Click on image for credit)

*New Music Monday” My Version of Frank Sinatra’s “It Was a Very Good Year”

244. Sinatra

It’s New Music Monday! This is my version of Frank Sinatra’s “It Was a Very Good Year”

It Was a Very Good Year

When I was seventeen, it was a very good year
It was a very good year for small town girls
And soft summer nights, we’d hide from the lights
On the village green, when I was seventeen

When I was twenty-one it was a very good year
It was a very good year for city girls
Who lived up the stair, with all that perfumed hair
And it came undone when I was twenty-one

When I was thirty-five it was a very good year
It was a very good year for blue-blooded girls
Of independent means, we’d ride in limousines
Their chauffeurs would drive, when I was thirty-five

But now the days are short, I’m in the autumn of the year
And now I think of my life as vintage wine
From fine old kegs, from the brim to the dregs
It’s oh sweet and clear, it was a very good year

Written by Ervin Drake

(Click on image for credit)

What’s Wrong with the Live Music Scene (And How to Fix It)

241. Live band

Bars and clubs in Ireland are in trouble. That won’t be news to anyone – outside of the major cities – who has been in one on a Saturday night recently. One of the reasons for this is that many have stopped booking live music. Now, I understand the dilemma bar and club owners face: they can’t afford to pay X amount of Euros to a band only to have two people sitting at the bar watching them. But, conversely, if there isn’t live music in a pub, people are not going to go out.

So, they have tried to come up with a quick fix solution: replacing live music with DJs. Because DJs are cheaper. But the big difference between the DJ and the live musician is that, while people will listen to a DJ in a bar, they’ll listen to the music as background music while they chat. But live music will actually bring people into a pub. A DJ won’t do that. People faced with the prospect of getting ready, booking a taxi (and possibly a babysitter), and heading out to a pub to listen to a DJ playing songs they’ve been listening to all day on the radio will oftentimes just buy a couple of bottles of plonk in Lidl and opt to stay home.

So … venues need live bands. But there are two major problems with this.

Problem Number One: Money

Or the lack thereof. Because – for some bizarre reason – bar and nightclub owners don’t want to pay bands. I say bizarre because, in any other business, where would expect to get a service supplied to you free of charge? As a case in point, the following is something that has been doing the rounds on social media for some time.

240. Craigs List Musician

The reply is funny but the original ad is 100% genuine. And it proves the point.

Problem Number Two: Expecting the band to supply the crowd

Jazz musician, Dave Goldberg, addressed this in An Open Letter to Venue Owners

This is where the club owner needs to take over. It is their success or their failure on the line, not the musician. The musician can just move on to another venue. I’ve played places where for whatever reason only a few people have walked in the door on a Saturday night. The club owner got mad at me, asking where are the people? I turned it around on him asking the same thing? Where are all the people? It’s Saturday night and your venue is empty. Doesn’t that concern you? What are you going to do about it? Usually their answer is to find another band with a larger following. This means the professional bands get run out of the joint in favour of whoever can bring in the most people.

But here’s where the club owner doesn’t get it. The crowd is following the band, not the venue. The next night you will have to start all over again … The goal should be to build a fan base of the venue. To get people that will trust that you will have good music in there every night.

So, what’s the solution? Venue owners have to bring the music back but it means being creative. And this applies equally to musicians. There needs to be a much more proactive approach by both musicians and venue owners at getting the word out about their respective gigs and venues. Venue owners and musicians became complacent during the boom times. The owners thought they could book any old band to entertain the crowds and musicians thought they could just turn up without any advertising and there would be a ready-made crowd there. And that was often the case. Not anymore.

There now needs to be a partnership between the owners and the musicians. And it needs to be more than just a band turning up to play a gig. There needs to be some fresh new ideas. Come up with themed nights: if it’s a bar that likes rock music have an AC/DC or a Rolling Stones night; if it’s a bar that likes Irish music, have a Christy Moore tribute night. Have a request night where the musician passes around a book of songs and the audience get to choose which one the musician plays. Or – if you like your improv – just do what Springsteen does and have the crowd shout random covers at you. You might not be able to play all the requests but, sometimes, trying to is half the fun.

And that’s what it should be about these days: fun. There are so many venues in this country that look like a morgue on a Saturday night. It’s time to bring the fun – and the live music – back into them.

© Derek Flynn 2015

 (Click on images for credits)

*New Music Monday* My Mash-Up of Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” & The Doors’ “5 To 1″

242. The Doors243. Talking Heads

It’s New Music Monday! This week it’s a mash-up of Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” & The Doors’ “5 To 1″:

Five to One/ Psycho Killer

Five to one, baby
One in five
No one here gets out alive, now
You get yours, baby
I’ll get mine
Gonna make it baby if we try

The old get old
And the young get stronger
May take a week and it may take longer
They got the guns but we got the numbers
Gonna win, yeah, we’re takin’ over

Psycho Killer
Qu’est-ce que c’est
Fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-far better
Run run run run run run run away
Psycho Killer
Qu’est-ce que c’est
Fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-far better
Run, run, run, run, run, run, run, away

You walk across the floor
With a flower in your hand
Tryin’ to tell me no one understands
Trade in your hours for a handful of dimes

Get together one more time

I can’t seem to face up to the facts
I’m tense and nervous and I
Can’t relax
I can’t sleep ’cause my bed’s on fire
Don’t touch me I’m a real live wire

“Psycho Killer” written by David Byrne, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth

“5 To 1″ written by The Doors

Click on images for credits

And Then They Came For The Buskers …

239. Busking

No matter where you live in the world, you will probably at sometime – whether in your own country or whilst travelling – have encountered buskers. If you’ve ever been in any major city in Ireland, you will certainly have seen some. If you’ve visited Dublin, you can’t have avoided them. They are very much a part of Dublin’s heritage and culture.

And now, it seems, there are some people who would like to ban them. Or, at least, ban them from using amplifiers. Now, while there might be an argument for this in a residential area, this is not the case here. This ban is being suggested for Temple Bar and Grafton Street, two of the most built-up shopping streets in Dublin, filled with pubs and shops blasting out music that equals anything the buskers produce.

In Ireland we have an unfortunate and very particular type of amnesia. We like to – rightly – celebrate and promote the talents of our various singers, writers, artists and so on. However, we often forget where they came from. Glen Hansard has built a global career as a singer-songwriter, as well as starring in (and scoring) a movie about buskers in Dublin called “Once”. “Once” went on to win an Academy Award for “Best Original Song”, an amazing achievement for a small Irish film. Irish people were immensely proud. However, a lot of them perhaps didn’t know or had forgotten that Glen – as so many Irish bands and singers have done – cut his teeth on the streets of Grafton Street as a young busker.

237. Once

Another band who is doing this is Keywest. Without the help of a record label or a PR machine, Keywest have carved out a career for themselves largely though busking on Grafton Street and selling their CDs. They now have a huge following on Facebook and Twitter, and videos of their performances on Grafton St. have been viewed over a two million times on YouTube.

238. Key West

“The busking pays for everything really,” Andy (lead singer) admits. “It’s crazy. We have funded all our records, marketing , publicity, this way. It is a godsend. It’s an amazing thing to have stumbled upon because it is the dilemma for every artist and band, how do we put a hundred per cent of ourselves into our music, whilst keeping the band together? … Something like busking, (which we still love and do to this day) is a great way to make money while you can play your songs, test new material and hopefully see your fan base increase with everyone that is kind enough to pick up a CD … It is the fans that make it for Keywest … It is all very much built from the ground up, with the busking feeding into the club gigs and the radio.”

Keywest are at the forefront of a new campaign to save busking in Dublin called ‪#‎saveirishbusking‬You can watch a video and find out more about it on their Facebook page.

At a time when music (and especially live music) is becoming more homogenised and bland, artists who can stand in the street and belt out songs without the aid of auto tune and huge production values should be hailed not hindered. Hands off our buskers!