Friday Five: Favorite Songs that Mention Writers


Thank god it's friday, eh? After spending the day on more serious things, I get to bring you a top five list in no particular order of no great importance. Today's topic? Songs that mention writers.

The rules are simple. The song must reference the author by name, it cannot allude to the author, or simply reference one of the authors' works (which unfortunately rules out a whole bunch of Led Zeppelin, Rush, and other prog-rock).

I tried to represent a number of different styles (this list could too easily have been all-folk).

Weigh in in the comments, of course.

Patti Smith - "Land"

I don't even pretend to know what this song is about, I just know it's great. It references Arthur Rimbaud, the great literary love of Smith's life:

"And I fill my nose with snow and go Rimbaud, go Rimbaud, go Rimbaud."

If you haven't read Just Kids yet, you really need to get on that. It's probably my favorite book of the past 2 years (and is now being made into an inevitably horrid feature film).

Here's a great live performance of the song:

Manic Street Preachers - "Faster"

This is just a fucking great song. It's an anthem for the nihilist, which I certainly loved in my youth (though I doubt I'd like it so much if I came across it today). I cannot possibly do it justice in words, so I'll quote you their own:

"I am stronger than Mensa, Miller and Mailer, I spat out Plath and Pinter".

Elsie Carlisle - "Pu-leeze Mr. Hemingway!"

The reference is right there in the title, but there are some very cheeky references within the song (this song was frequently banned in the 1930's):

"I love a brave man
With big he-man stuff,
But not a caveman,
So remember not to play too rough!"

Simon and Garfunkel - "A Simple Desultory Philippic"

I think every other Simon and Garfunkel song ever written has literary references, but I narrowed it down to "The Dangling Conversation" and "A Simple Desultory Philippic." For humor's sake, the latter won. Written to be a spoof of Bob Dylan, this song is pretty much the masterpiece of random author mentions, such as:

"I've been Ayn Randed, nearly branded Communist, 'cause I'm left-handed."

And my personal favorite lyric (actually this is one of my favorite lines from any song ever):

"He's so unhip, that when you say Dylan, he thinks you're talking about Dylan Thomas, whoever he was. The man ain't got no culture, but it's alright, ma, everybody must get stoned."

I couldn't find a live performance, sadly, but you can at least listen to the song here:

Tori Amos - "Tear In Your Hand" and her many Neil Gaiman mentions

Tori Amos' long friendship with Neil Gaiman has been noted in detail elsewhere, but for now I'm just gonna note the songs that mention him.

From "Horses," off Boys for Pele

"Will you find me if Neil made me a tree"

From "Space Dog," off Under the Pink

"Seems I keep getting the story twisted, so where's Neil when you need him?"

From "Carbon," off Scarlet's Walk

"Get me Neil on the line. No, I can't hold. Have him read 'Snow Glass Apples,' where nothing is what it seems."

There are a number of other references to Gaiman's work, but there's only one specific reference to him left, my favorite, the first, made before they even knew each other:

"If you need me, me and Neil'll be hangin' out with the Dream King. Neil says hi, by the way."

That's "Tear In Your Hand," off of Little Earthquakes.

Here's one of my favorite live performances of the song (at Glastonbury 1999, if I'm not mistaken?) (stay tuned for a super-hot guy singing along in the crowd):

Runners up include: "Hey, Jack Kerouac" by 10,000 Maniacs, and "Rave On, John Donne," by Van Morrison.

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8 Responses to “ Friday Five: Favorite Songs that Mention Writers ”

  1. I can't think of one! I honestly didn't know any of these songs on your list either, which is saying something because I am WAY into music. Yikes!

    Oh wait! There's an Indigo Girls song called Virginia Woolf.

    (My latest blog post is about the power of music--check it out!)

  2. Good call on Faster. I remember Q magazine doing a special on Radiohead about ten years ago that picked over their lyrical influences. One journalist declared that "only Manic Street Preachers fans had a more challenging reading list."

    Anyway, my top five. Kind of pleased that I found more than five to pick from.

    Bob Dylan - Desolation Row
    Easy one this, it's in my all-time top ten. Though I feel a bit guilty about that when I don't understand more than 10% of the lyrics. For the purposes of this list it's enough that Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot are fighting; why they are doing so and how they got into the captain's tower in the first place is the concern of Dylanology blogs.

    Dylanology Bloggs sounds like a Martin Amis character. Don't make that face at me.

    The Hold Steady - Stuck Between Stations
    The Devil and John Berryman they took a walk together and they ended up on Washington talking by the river...
    Plenty to pick from in Finn's lyric sheets but this is the one that always thrills me. Hell, I'd never even heard of John Berryman before I bought this album. Lesson here: if you want to get people interested in a poet, tell them a story about the time he met Satan.

    Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - There She Goes, My Beautiful World
    John Wilmot penned his poetry riddled with the pox
    Nabokov wrote on index cards at a lectern in his socks

    See what I mean? They should teach this shit in English class.

    Magnetic Fields - I Don't Want to Get Over You
    I could make a career of being blue
    I could dress in black and read Camus
    Smoke clove cigarettes and drink
    Like I was 17
    That would be a scream
    But I don't want to get over you

    Like a lot of Magnetic Fields songs it becomes exponentially better once you've been through the process yourself.

    Divine Comedy - The Lost Art of Conversation
    Lots of literary allusions, though he only mentions Bram Stoker by name. If this doesn't put a spring in your step you're in deep trouble. Or reading Camus. Or both.

  3. Great choices! It's a fun little exercise, eh? Now I might have to make a spotify list with all of them...

  4. When I saw the title to this post the song that popped into my head was Run Baby Run by Sheryl Crow.  Long before "All I Wanna Do" hit the airwaves I heard this song titled Leaving Las Vegas by Crow and liked it enough to pick up the Tuesday Night Music Club album.  The very first song on the album is Run Baby Run, and the very first lyrics are "She was born in November 1963, the day Aldous Huxley died."  It made me sit up and take notice for a couple reasons.  One, that's not a usual writer association for your average singer to make; and two, that's also the day John F. Kennedy died (C.S. Lewis, too), but she didn't reference this much better known event.  If you're not familiar with the song, here is the Youtube video:

  5. That's a great song! Can't believe I forgot about that.

    Sheryl Crow used to be so good...she was one of the cheap inspirations for my picking up a guitar in the first place.

  6. Very old thread, but I can't believe you missed...

    1) DON'T STAND SO CLOSE TO ME - THE POLICE ("Just like the old man in that book by Nabokov)

    2) I AM THE WALRUS - BEATLES ("Man, you should've seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe")

    3) EVERY PICTURE TELLS A STORY - ROD STEWART ("I couldn't quote you no Dickens, Shelley or Keats")

    4) SHAMROCKS & SHENANIGANS - HOUSE OF PAIN ("I kicks the flavor, like Stephen King writes horror. If I was a Jew, then I'd light a menorah.")

    5) THE DANGLING CONVERSATION - SIMON & GARFUNKEL ("And you read your Emily Dickinson, and I my Robert Frost")

  7. I just revisited this comment for some reason, and it occurred to me that not only is that line a reference to Aldous Huxley, it's a play on the first line of Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath.


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