Don Henley/Drivin’ With Your Eyes Closed
Brooke Fraser/Jack Kerouac
The author who inspired Brooke Fraser’s “Jack Kerouac,” from her 2010 album Flags, doesn’t turn up until near the end of the song, when she sings about being far from home (and manages to work in a reference to Kerouac’s best-known work):
Winter in the west coast cool
Out by the sea where no one knows my name
I’m on the road like Jack Kerouac
Like Jack, Jack Kerouac
"The final refrain of ‘Jack, Jack Kerouac’ is sung in a fun, catchy manner," says Glide Magazine, while the BBC noted “‘Jack Kerouac’ sings of escape, of hitting the road like the titular author, and shimmies to a funky guitar motif that wouldn’t sound out of place coming out of a Kingston café.”
For more songs inspired by Kerouac, visit Classics Rock!
Talking Heads/I Zimbra
Hugo Ball was a founding member of the Dada movement in early 20th century Germany. Talking Heads used the first verse of Ball’s poem Gadji beri bimba, verbatim, as the lyric for the song I Zimbra, the opening track of their 1979 album Fear of Music. The poem consists solely of nonsensical phrases—or, as Ball put it “verses without words.” Still, Talking Heads gave Ball a songwriting credit, raising the unrealistic hopes of obscure Dadaist poets everywhere.
An account of Ball’s first public reading of the poem can be found in Dada: Art and Anti-Art by Hans Richter.
Thanks to Tom Barnwell for the guest post.
The Beach Boys/California Saga: California
The Beach Boys cite Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning author John Steinbeck in their song California Saga: California, from their 1973 album Holland:
Have you ever been down Salinas way?
Where Steinbeck found the valley
And he wrote about it the way it was in his travelin’s with Charley
Steinbeck grew up in Salinas, California and revisited the area as part of the cross-country trip he made with his French poodle, recounted in his 1962 travelogue Travels with Charley: In Search of America. Given their fondness for surfing, perhaps the band thought it was Travels with Gnarly.
"Death metal usually has some kind of obscurantist content, secret messages to reward the listener’s desire to belong. In the Australian band Portal’s case, it’s the Cthulhu Mythos of H. P. Lovecraft’s fiction, which inspires a great deal of the lyrics heaved out in guttural bursts by its singer, known as the Curator," writes Ben Ratliff in today’s New York Times, reviewing Portal’s new album Vexovoid.
Lovecraft, an American writer of horror fiction from the early twentieth century, has inspired any number of bands, from Black Sabbath to Iron Maiden to Metallica to the eponymous band H.P. Lovecraft. Ratliff seems unimpressed by the writer’s work, however, suggesting that you might want to focus on the sound of Portal’s record rather than the lyrics—“assuming, let’s say, that you have a total lack of interest in amoral fantasy novels loosely derived from Sumerian myth.”
Stevie Nicks/Annabel Lee
What do Stevie Nicks, Lou Reed, Judy Collins and Joan Baez have in common? Probably lots of things, but here’s what we’re driving at: Each of them has recorded a musical version of Edgar Allan Poe’s 1849 poem Annabel Lee. Nicks’ is the most recent, appearing on her album In Your Dreams, released in 2011.
When Kelly Clarkson sings What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, she is paraphrasing (whether she knows it or not) German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who wrote “What does not kill me, makes me stronger” in his 1888 work The Twilight of the Idols.
To see how Nietzsche’s phrase has inspired other “lazy musicians,” check out this video montage from Slackstory.
We’re hoping there will soon be a pop hit based on Descarte’s observation, “Cogito ergo sum.”
The Young Fresh Fellows/Back Room of the Bar
For Cinco de Mayo we look to Mexico, where the volcano Popocatépetl has been rumbling and spewing clouds of ash and steam for about three weeks now. Popocatépetl is one of the two volcanoes featured in Malcom Lowry’s 1947 novel Under the Volcano (the other is Ixtachihuatel, or Ixta).
The band The Young Fresh Fellows recorded a song inspired by Lowry’s semi-autobiographical novel called “Back Room of the Bar.’
For another song inspired by Under the Volcano, as well as songs inspired by other volcanoes from literature, visit our longform blog Classics Rock!
Sheryl Crow/Run, Baby, Run
Warren Zevon/Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School