Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.
Since this week’s Top Ten Tuesday is a free-for-all, I thought I’d go back in the archives and do a topic I missed a while ago, “Books and Music.” Below is a list of songs that, for one reason or another, I associate with certain literary works. Some were directly influenced by said works, and some have no relation to them whatsoever except in my own mind.
Let’s see how this goes.
1: “On Raglan Road” by Glen Hansard
We start off with a song whose connection to literature is strong indeed, on account of the fact that its lyrics are Patrick Kavanagh’s poem “On Raglan Road.” It was first set to music by the Irish folk singer Luke Kelly, as Hansard explains in the video.
2: “Carry the Fire” by Andrew Peterson
According to an article on Peterson’s site The Rabbit Room, the line “I will carry the fire / Carry the fire for you” was inspired by Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road. Writing about the creative process behind the song, Peterson said:
Right away, for reasons I don’t know, I thought of Cormac McCarthy’s book The Road. It’s an amazing (and amazingly dark) book about a father and son trying to survive the apocalypse. They’re traversing the wasteland of America with hunger at their heels and man-eating wretches on their heels, too, trying to reach the ocean where the father believes they’ll find help. Along the way, he tells his little boy again and again that they have to “carry the fire.” It’s a simple, beautiful metaphor that can mean quite a few things.
3: “Great Expectations” by The Gaslight Anthem
Obviously, this song shares its title with one of Charles Dickens’s best-known and best-loved novels. I thought the similarities would end there, until I listened to the second verse, which goes:
And I never had a good time.
I sat by my bedside
With papers and poetry about Estella.
I confess that I only made it halfway through Great Expectations, but I did read enough to know that Estella is the name of the beautiful and haughty young girl whom the main character Pip falls in love with. Of course, the song isn’t about Pip, but the singer certainly seems to be comparing his love for an unattainable woman to Pip’s love for Estella.
That’s close enough for me.
4: “Running for Cover” by Ivan and Alyosha
True, there’s nothing especially literary about the song itself. The band, however, is named after Ivan and Alyosha Karamazov, two of the main characters in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.
5: “Winter 1” by Antonio Vivaldi and Max Richter
Late last year, I talked a friend into reading Hamlet about the same time he introduced me to Max Richter’s “recomposition” of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. At some point, he mentioned that the menacing tone of the first movement of “Winter” seemed perfectly suited to Hamlet. Ever since, I’ve associated this version of the song with foggy battlements and princes draped in black.
6: “Shadowfeet” by Brooke Fraser
Before she got her new sound, Brooke Fraser wrote pretty singer-songwriter stuff like this. According to the artist herself, she was inspired to write this song after reading C. S. Lewis’s novel The Great Divorce. She pointed to this passage specifically:
“Will you come with me to the mountains? It will hurt at first, until your feet are hardened. Reality is harsh to the feet of shadows. But will you come?”
7: “Calamity Song” by The Decemberists
The Decemberists are known for their quirky, sometimes challenging lyrics, but on this track, they outdid themselves.
“Calamity Song” was written shortly after The Decemberists’ lead singer Colin Meloy finished reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Although Meloy claims the song isn’t exactly about Infinite Jest, it does contain an oblique reference to the book at the end of the second verse, when Meloy sings: “On the road / It’s well advised that you follow your own bag / In the year of the Chewable Ambien Tab.” Wait, what?
As it turns out, Infinite Jest takes place in a future American dystopia where, among other odd features, every calendar year is sponsored by a different corporation and is named after one of that corporation’s products. So one year becomes “The Year of the Whopper” whereas another is “The Year of the Perdue Wonder Chicken.” Following Wallace’s lead, Meloy set his song in “the Year of the Chewable Ambien Tab,” which is purely his own invention and not mentioned in the book.
But wait, there’s more! The music video for this song—directed by Infinite Jest super-fan Michael Schur—also recreates a scene from the novel, in which (if I understand correctly) students at a tennis school act out a nuclear war on a tennis court.
8: “Dandelion Wine” by Gregory Alan Isakov
As far as I know, this song is not related to Ray Bradbury’s novel Dandelion Wine. But with that title, I can’t help but think of Green Town, Illinois in summer.
9: “Ulysses” by Josh Garrels
As one might expect, references to Homer’s Odyssey are scattered throughout. Indie rock meets Greek mythology? You bet I’m into it.
10: “Ghetto Defendant” by The Clash
For young’uns like me who aren’t too familiar with ’80’s music, “Ghetto Defendant” is one of two songs that came out of a famous collaboration between the British punk rock band The Clash and American poet/Beat Generation superstar Allen Ginsberg. (The other song was called “Capital Air.” It was performed once at a concert and never released on any of The Clash’s albums.) In addition to writing much of the lyrics, in tandem with The Clash’s lead singer Joe Strummer, Ginsberg also performs the spoken word portions of the song. I have to admit that I’ve never been a huge fan of Ginsberg or The Clash, but nevertheless, I love the idea of a rock band collaborating with one of the most influential poets of his day.
That’s it for me. Do you have any favorite songs with literary connections? Let me know what they are in the comments.