Video Killed the Literary Star? 10 Music Videos Inspired by Books


There are so many good songs that have been influenced by novels. For instance, Gang of Four’s, “We Live as We Dream, Alone” — a quote from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which Beth Orton also references in Trailer Park, is a twofold example. There’s also Syd Barrett’s “Golden Hair” from The Madcap Laughs, where the former Pink Floyd frontman makes haunting music from James Joyce’s “Poem V.” And who could forget The Cure’s “Killing an Arab,” a riff on Albert Camus’s absurdist opus, The Stranger? Following this tack, we decided to do a roundup of ten music videos influenced by novels, from established artists to young upstarts.

Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights” and Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

“Heathcliff, it’s me, Cathy, come home…” Kate Bush recorded this song in 1978, when she was only 19 years old, and it stayed at the top of the UK charts for weeks. In this video, Kate plays many roles, but mostly she is a possessed mime, trying to kick through the cold mist and climb up to Heathcliff’s window by any means necessary. The last 30 seconds are spent waving desperately with one white-clad arm, like an insane teapot. And then she is gone.

The Police’s “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” and Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Sting is no Humbert Humbert; he is an attractive Latin teacher with wild hair like a porcupine, and then, through the magic of video, he is also a cap-and-gown wearing graduate, complete with a striped tie over an English Beat t-shirt, waving some sort of wicker racket. Seriously, what is that thing? Help us out here. In a curious twist, the viewer becomes the high school girl with whom Sting is in love, and the whole band is shouting at us to not stand so close to him. And, as long as he’s waving that racket, we won’t. Nabokov is mentioned in the third verse, and ever since then, children of the ’80s have casually mispronounced his surname.

Tom Petty’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More” and Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

We all know Tom Petty is a weird guy, but this video goes to new levels. Alice appears as an adult, eyes rimmed in dark black, and falls down a series of mushrooms, only to end up in the Mad Hatter’s lair. It’s tea time! Instead of leaving the party, Alice shrinks into a coffee cup -size girl, only to wake up and find that her body is made of delicious cake. “Curiouser and curiouser” indeed.

Metallica “One” and Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo

“One” is based on the 1939 anti-war novel in which Joe Bonham, a soldier, wakes up to find that a mortar shell blasted almost all of his body away, leaving only his mind intact. Though overwhelmed by powerlessness and loss, he is unable to commit suicide, and is left to the waking nightmare which is his existence. This was Metallica’s first video, and it heavily borrows from the 1971 movie adaptation of the book. Kirk Hammett’s fingers command the fretboard, and all of the band members headbang in unison at 4:39. Double kick drum: check.

Guns N’ Roses’s “November Rain” and the short story “Without You” by Del James

Amazon’s description of Del James’ oeuvre: “Offers a collection of fifteen short stories that explore the dark side of the human experience, including that of a heavy metal star locked in a war with his TV set, and a married man about to murder his wife at the behest of a dial-a-porn hooker.” FYI: “customers who bought this item also bought” Slash by Slash. (Of course they did. What we want to know is: who didn’t? That would be the real surprise.)

This video is nine minutes long! Nine minutes! And a statue of Christ cries real blood! Axl and Stephanie Seymour get hitched as an orchestra plays, and Slash steps outside to deliver a killer guitar solo on a windy day outside the church with the prerequisite cig hanging from his lips, as if both it and the guitar are an extension of the man. The real action takes place seven minutes in, however. But you knew that already.

Shawn Rosenblatt (AKA Netherfriends)’s “Bret Easton Ellis Novel” and any Bret Easton Ellis novel

Though the beginning is mesmerizing, this video doesn’t have anything to do with Bret Easton Ellis’s work, really, except for a gratuitous shot of a Samsung cell phone spinning on a table halfway through. When Rosenblatt sings, “I am a Bret Easton Ellis novel,” it’s ultimately confusing. Where are the dead hookers, designer drugs, celebrities, and pressed suits? In their place is a slice of pizza and a dude wearing jeans and moccasins in his apartment. Patrick Bateman would not wear jeans and moccasins in a dirty apartment. Maybe Rosenblatt isn’t aware that being in a Bret Easton Ellis novel would be either incredibly scary or mind-blowingly boring. Nevertheless, we hope he’ll never have to find this out.

CocoRosie’s “Noah’s Ark” and the best-selling book of all time

“Noah’s Ark came to my house one day…” and all you got were bouffant hairdos and a drawn-on moustaches? Girls, we need to talk. You’re supposed to get on the boat, not play on a swing set or stroke the poles of a topless carousel. Two by two, except for you, Bianca and Sierra. Sorry! Our guess is that Noah left them to fend for themselves, and they coped by creating a fantasy world as their dystopian reality began to unfold. Brooklyn is in a flood zone, you know. It could happen.

Nada Surf’s “Popular” and Penny’s Guide to Teen-Age Charm and Popularity by Gloria Winters

“Popular” is based on a ’60s etiquette guide for impressionable girls, written by actress known for her role as “Penny” in the TV series Sky King. Matthew Caws shouts lines like “Being attractive is the most important thing there is” to a classroom full of bored students as he wildly gesticulates at the projector while wearing a brown corduroy blazer (two-buttons, of course). At one point, he slams his hands on a nearby cheerleader’s desk and then proceeds to violently tug up his pants while jerking down his red vest in the next shot. There’s a lot of nerd rage in this video, to be sure.

MC Lars’s “Ahab” and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick

This video is the most literal of the bunch by far, from the self-proclaimed “post-punk laptop” artist. We’ve got a shout out to Queequeg, the harpooner, as well as the embarrassing line, “Hey Ishmael, can I call you annoying?” Plus, the set is handmade, there are children present, and MC Lars is fully-equipped with a tied-on beard and a jaunty keyboard loop. He even mentions the Mariana Trench, which may be a first in hip hop. Just try not listen to this song twice, or else it will be in your head the whole week.

Insane Clown Posse’s “Hall of Illusions” and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

It may be wrong to end on ICP, but the Detroit horrorcore duo does a crazy twist on Dickens in this video. (Or “Twiztid,” more like it.) Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope recount a cautionary tale of an alcoholic man who beats his toothless wife and scares his two children enough so that they eventually become crackheads. The deadbeat dad takes a ride on ICP’s time-traveling roller coaster, and it scares the bejesus out of him. In this way, it’s pretty much the same as A Christmas Carol …but Juggalo-style.