Thursday, 3 July 2014

My Top Ten Songs About American Writers

This post was originally called "My Top Ten Songs About American Authors"... but then I discovered a band called American Authors and thought that would be too confusing for their fans.

And naturally, this one's about American Writers because I'm saving Oscar Wilde and Willy Shakespeare for another day. Actually, Bill will probably get a Top Ten all his own. I'm relying on Deano to do a Top Ten Songs About Australian Writers in reply...

Special mentions to Harold Robbins (in the innuendo-laden Pulling Mussels From A Shell by Squeeze) and Dr. Seuss (in The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite by REM).

10. The Beautiful South - Danielle Steele (The Enemy Within)

Let's start with the most successful American writer ever. No, I'm not joking. With an estimated 800 million books sold, no one else comes close. Not even Dan Brown(!)

Paul Heaton doesn't appear to be a fan though...
And even photo love
With its pages filled with sin
Couldn't lick the boots of the enemy within
It can only be a chapter
'till her heart will give in
The enemy within
Nothing is as phallic
As a moaning violin
To Danielle Steele
The enemy within
9. Kenny Chesney - Hemingway's Whiskey

Although The Old Man & The Sea and For Whom The Bell Tolls are bloody good reads, neither are as insanely exciting as Hemingway's life story... you have to wonder how far Kenny Chesney will got to find inspiration?

Ah, it's tough out there, a good muse is hard to find
Living one word to the next, one line at a time
There's more to life than whiskey, there's more to words than rhyme
Sometimes nothing works, sometimes nothing shines

Like Hemingway's whiskey

Sail away, sail away, three sheets to the wind
Live hard, die hard, this one's for him...
8. The Go-Betweens - The House That Jack Kerouac Built / 10,000 Maniacs - Hey, Jack Kerouac

Couldn't decide between these two so I called it a draw. Natalie Merchant's is the more direct, biographical take (love the opening where she feels sorry for Jack's mum) but the Go-Betweens capture some of the Beat spirit - with beats.

7. Modest Mouse – Bukowski

More critique than tribute, yet somehow perfectly fitting for the work and reputation of the writer in question...

Woke up this morning and it seemed to me,
that every night turns out to be
A little more like Bukowski.
And yeah, I know he's a pretty good read.
But, God, who'd wanna be?
God, who'd wanna be such an asshole?

See also Charles Bukowski Is Dead by the Boo Radleys...

You'll never touch the magic if you don't reach out far enough...

6. Billy Bragg & Wilco - Walt Whitman's Niece

Woody Guthrie's misremembered meeting with a (possible) relative of one of his literary heroes, brought to life by Billy Bragg and Jeff Tweedy.

5. Lou Reed - Edgar Allen Poe

Lou recorded a double album of songs based on the writings of the master of the macbre, including a dark reworking of Perfect Day.

These are the stories of Edgar Allan Poe
Not exactly the boy next door
The diabolic image of the city and the sea
The chaos and the carnage that reside deep within me
Decapitations, poisonings, hellish not a bore
You won't need 3D glasses to pass beyond this door

Love that final line!

4. Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians - Raymond Chandler Evening

The top male author on my list (yes, equality fans, my top three songs are all about women writers!) is also one of my own personal favourites. Chandler struggled with his reputation as a "pulp" writer, desiring instead the recognition of a "serious" novelist. History has judged him far more fairly, with many critics now treating him with almost the same respect as Fitzgerald or Hemingway. Personally, I'd rather re-read Chandler than either of those, much as I enjoyed Gatsby and The Old Man & The Sea. There's something about the classic 40s L.A. noir of Philip Marlowe that provides perfect escapism... and Chandler's much funnier than any of his more revered contemporaries.

Robyn Hitchcock's tribute was quoted word for word in a famous sequence from Jim O'Barr's comic The Crow.

See also Raymond Chandler Said by Michael Anderson... if you can find it anywhere online. 

3. Ryan Adams - Sylvia Plath

As literary girlfriends go, Sylvia Plath strikes me as the sort of woman you'd fall for as a miserable teenager. Being much older than that, I'd steer well clear, no matter how much Ryan Adams might romanticise her...

2. Prince - The Ballad of Dorothy Parker

A night on the town with Dorothy Parker, on the other hand, would surely be a blast (though she'd probably cut you down to size in the process). She even makes Prince take a bubble bath with his pants on. (That may be a euphemism... one, I'm sure, Ms. Parker would approve of.)

1. Little Green Cars - Harper Lee

I only recently discovered this band but I've fallen in love with this particular song and quite a few others from their debut album. If I had to describe them, I'd say they sounded like an Irish Fleet Foxes, though others might churlishly compare them with the Mumfords. Lyrically they're far more interesting than either, as demonstrated by their excellent "tribute" to the author of To Kill A Mockingbird.
I put mice in the kitchen to see if you’d kill them
Oh no, you let them live now there’s twelve thousand kids
Oh yeah, you let them breed now I’ve got mouths to feed
Oh yeah, you let them stay now they have taken my place
Oooh yeah, you left them alone now they’re eating our home...
Maybe that was the unpublished plot of Lee's second novel? She was probably right to quit while she was ahead... To Kill A Mockingbird has been an influence on more than one rock band, however... just ask the aforementioned Boo Radleys, for a start!

Which one gets your Pulitzer Prize?


  1. Replies
    1. Why did Gertrude Stein say "that's enough?"

  2. Bugger. All I had to bring to the party was Prince but you beat me to it.

    I'll be getting my coat, then.

    1. Don't get Prince's coat by accident... it'll be far too small for you and covered in all kinds of dubious stains.

  3. Malcolm X - No Sell Out

    forgotten how much I liked that record, lead me on a youtube safari! Found Harry Belafonte singing Mark Twain ! (appears it's not actually about Mark Twain but mark the twine)

    1. Thanks, KV, I seem to have lived 42 years without ever hearing that. My life is much richer now.

  4. HI Rol, top ten Aussie writers - let me have a think, not sure I have ten songs at the moment (can only think of one so far)

    Things pretty busy at the moment, so I will be coming back to this list properly later (I am going to be one of those people that don't read it properly at the moment)

    I LOVE Walt Whitman's niece, my fav song on that album, which did get a go in my top 25 favourite albums.

    I often just skim over the lists, but I acutally want to listen to it this time around because there are some artists I know, but not the songs you mention, and the Beautiful South I am unfamiliar with but have been recommended by a few people now, so I must check it out,.

    Will also have a think about some suggestions of my own, again a list that I think I should have a lot to contribute, but can't think of many at the moment.

    I am off to come up with my Aussie writers list!

    1. Thanks, Deano, looking forward to hearing what you come up with.

      I'm a huge fan of the Beautiful South, but that's a pretty obscure track from them... probably not that representative of their output as a whole... although a line of cynicism runs throughout their work.

    2. well, I did it, I had a go, here is the list:

      Still find it funny that its the most clumsy title for a list that I have made to date, when it is really supposed to be a celebration of the written word!

      When you set me challenges like that I just have to have an attempt!

    3. Top marks, Deano! Everybody - go check that list out now!

  5. Ok, lets try again - my comments disappeared. I have just finished listening to all the tracks, other than the Prince one (its either been pulled or region issues prevent me from seeing it) and I enjoyed it immensely. Great list. Loved the first two (9 and 10), the Modest Mouse, the Lou Reed and the number one, but as I said previously, my top choice would have to be Billy Bragg and Wilco.

    1. Glad you liked 'em, Deano. Prince has probably been pulled. He spends his life these days trawling the internet getting his music removed... it's like he's trying to erase all trace of himself from history.


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