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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20 thoughts on “When Lou (Reed) Met Edgar (Allan Poe) – Music Meets Literature

  1. Wow.. what a great post. I’ve loved music since I was a baby (yes an actually baby – too long of a story).
    In this new digital age, it seems musicians (most of who are writers – lyrics and such) have to do more writing as far as keeping up on a blog, informing would be listeners and such.

    By the way, I love Poe. So now I must go check out this Lou Reed concept album.

    Have a great day.

  2. If William Faulkner wrote music I imagine his tunes would be something like the theme song to FX’s Justified, hah. Hemingway would write for an orchestra no doubt…or a mandolin. Something lonely but poignant. Fun imagining you’ve inspired here. 🙂

  3. Derek, that is a fascinating piece. I am hearing of more and more writers posting their playlists to accompany their books.

  4. Really interesting, Derek. I’ve just tried integrating elements of music in my own novel. I think references to music can definitely help create mood and tension in writing. I agree music can inspire stories. Both music and books contain narratives. Both are ways of storytelling. Fab post, by the way 🙂

  5. Hmm, interesting. I recently wrote a post about musicians as writers also (I only focused on two – Adele and Tori Amos). They aren’t writers, they are Writers. Some are better than others, some have more talent. I’m speaking lyrically, of course (though Tori writes her own music, as well). It pains me when someone like Britney Spears releases a song and her name is attached to 6 other names under the “written by” label. Really? It takes 7 people to write a song about dancing or sex? I guess that’s the distinction between “performer” and “artist.” Same with actors. Most shouldn’t turn to writing. Anyway, I’m rambling. Sorry. 🙂

  6. Every time I read your posts I learn a tonne of stuff I never knew about. This one will take a while to permeate the grey matter. For some reason it’s got me thinking of The Who and Quadrophenia.

    Meantime, I have to say that is an incredibly sexy Lou Reed image you chose to use. I certainly wouldn’t throw him out of bed for crumbs.

  7. I did not know this about Lou Reed! Your posts are like little puzzle boxes, opening secret compartments, sending me around the Internet.

  8. Very interesting. I never much thought about the crossover between music and literature. Great post, as always. Thanks Derek.

  9. Great post and food for thought…
    I can truly see Lou Reed in that light.
    Another who might be interesting to look up is Leon Russell. Saw him perform 4 times and walked away amazed every time. Those were the days…

    Thanks Derek.

  10. Hi there! Excellent post!

    I came across your blog by accident while trying to find avenues to market myself. Us authors have got to get into the nitty-gritty ourselves these days! 🙂

    I feel silly mentioning my own work here … but I guess it would be silly not to as it seems you would have an interest in it! My novel, String Bridge, comes with an all-original soundtrack, written and performed by me, too. It’s about a musician, who funnily enough, is influenced by Nick Cave and Patti Smith. Care to take a gander? http://www.stringbridge.com. Hope I’m not imposing, by posting this! So great to find your blog, btw. I shall be following your posts! Cheers, Jessica

  11. Good post. I don’t music much because I work way too hard and don’t have the time. Two months ago, I started writing a book (go fig) now listening to music uh, gets me over the humps if you will, creatively. I have a double vinyl Lou Reed live somewhere that I absolutely love. Might listen to that tonight. Thx.

  12. Sorry to change the subject, but I need your help. Heard a great segment on NPR this morning called When Outsider Art Became In: Obama’s Cultural Excellency. At one point heard a wonderful song I believe was called A Stellar Smile by Bayreuth (sp?), with great brass section. Online, it has been cut, and I can’t find it anywhere. Also, my 13-year-old grandson can’t find it, and he can find anything. Any suggestions?

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