10 Musicians Who Should Really Write Novels


Last week, we read about Alina Simone, who published her first book, a collection of essays, this past year. However, what’s fascinating about her story is that her editor (at big-name publishing house FSG, no less) didn’t discover her in a small literary journal, in a magazine article, or pluck her from an MFA program, but instead found her music on internet radio service Pandora and approached her to suggest that she write a book.

“It seemed like he already viewed music and literature as part of one continuum,” Simone has explained. “Certainly, the best songs out there read like the best poems or short stories.” Though we think there’s some room for argument on that point, we can definitely think of quite a few lyricists who we really wish would write novels — whether we think they’ve got the life experience or imagination to write a fascinating story or just enough chops slapping words together that we want to roll around in ever sentence they assemble. Click through to check out which musicians we think should write novels — and our first imaginings of what those novels would be like — and let us know who you’d like to see transition into fiction in the comments.

Craig Finn (of The Hold Steady)

Sample Lyrics: She’s got a cross around her neck that she ripped off from a schoolgirl in the subway on a visit to the city She likes how it looks on her chest with three open buttons She likes the part where one brother kills the other She has to wonder if the world ever will recover ‘Cause Cain and Abel seem to still be causing trouble

She said I was seeing double for three straight days, after I got born again It felt strange, but it was nice and peaceful And it really pleased me to be around so many people Of course, half of them were visions, half of them were friends from going through the program with me Later on we did some sexy things, took a couple photographs and carved them into wood reliefs

The Why: Many of Craig Finn’s albums are already verging on novels themselves — The Hold Steady’s Separation Sunday and Lifter Puller’s Fiestas + Fiascos in particular — so it seems only natural he should expand into prose. The closest we’ve come, however, is news that he is co-writing a screenplay to adapt Chuck Klosterman’s Fargo Rock City — though since we haven’t heard anything about this in a dishearteningly long while, we’re not pinning our hopes on it.

Our Dream Novel: Finn pens cyclical story-songs about druggies, hoodrats, and other miscreants misspending their youth in suburban Minneapolis, getting in and out of trouble and each other’s pants, getting in over their heads, or at least pretending to. We think his novel would be equally gritty, a dark look at the underside of teenage life, the story of one little girl lost in a pack of wolves. Hallelujah was a hoodrat, after all. Alternately, he could just write out the full and uncut story of the Nice, Nice so we can finally find out what happened to Charlemagne.

Patti Smith

Sample Lyrics: Oh the story’s told been told retold From the sacred scriptures to the tabloids All the fuss and fight none above a whisper The soul of gold the belly of a boy

Well they drew him from the forest Like they draw blood Tied him to a tree like st. sebastian And he turned his head and let the arrows fly Through the trees, the trees The ornamental leaves

The Why: Well, if being a top-class poet and lyricist wasn’t enough, we already know that the lady can write prose. In case you’ve been living under a rock, her memoir Just Kids won a National Book Award last year, and her recently reissued first work, Woolgathering , is a gorgeous fragmented mini-memoir. We’re dying to read more.

Our Dream Novel: We’ve heard she’s writing a detective novel — but we can’t help but imagine the punk poetess’ first work of fiction to be a whimsical (if secretly deep and dark) romp through golden forests and steaming lagoons, filled with rock ‘n’ roll fairies and at least one badass heroine in combat boots, perhaps holding a broadsword. We wouldn’t put the whole thing being an allegory past her — and in fact, we’d be for it. We’re more than ready to see the magical unicorn version of Robert Mapplethorpe.

Kevin Barnes (of of Montreal)

Sample Lyrics: Coquet coquette, you know I won’t forget How you kissed me strange to prove you were mythical My coquette, you used my voice as your ugly vehicle Coquet coquette, you know I won’t forget How you hurt me twice to prove you were cynical My coquette, you are the death, you are the pinnacle

With you I can only see my black-light constellations And other shit I don’t think I have the language to say I don’t want to catch you with some other guy’s face under your eyelids Something must be wrong, you give me emotional artifacts that can find no purchase

The Why: In his long career leading one of the most theatrical bands performing today, Barnes has woven both the personal and the fictional into his music, going back and forth until the distinction becomes a blur, adding elements of French literature, avant-garde cinema, and mythology for good measure. Which sounds like the makings of a great novel to us.

Our Dream Novel: We picture Barnes penning a novel about the actors, animals, and shady businessmen of a deranged circus in a dystopic near-future. Right? Especially if he stays in the new, intensely darker mood that the most recent album betrays, we think it could be a wonderful book that dazzles in the dark. Maybe literally as well as figuratively — his publisher would definitely have the budget.

Laurie Anderson

Sample Lyrics: I met this guy And he looked like might have been a hat check clerk At an ice rink. Which, in fact, he turned out to be. And I said: Oh boy. Right again.

Let X=X. You know, it could be you. It’s a sky-blue sky. Satellites are out tonight. Let X=X.

You know, I could write a book. And this book would be thick enough to stun an ox. Cause I can see the future And it’s a place about 70 miles east of here. Where it’s lighter. Linger on over here. Got the time? Let X=X.

The Why: We think our favorite experimental art rocker isn’t exploiting her talents to their full potential, what with only being a sculptor, performance artist, instrument inventor, director, musician, and singer. Basically, we think she’s a genius, and that’s all we need.

Our Dream Novel: Anderson would definitely write a sparse, contained novel about the human condition in all its banality and beauty — avant-garde and piercing, but infused with her irrepressible sense of humor.

Stuart Murdoch (of Belle & Sebastian)

Sample Lyrics: I got married in a rush to save a kid from being deported Now she’s in love I was so touched, I was moved to kick the crutches from my crippled friend She was not impressed, ’cause I cured her on the Sabbath I went to confess When she saw the funny side, we introduced my child bride To whisky and gin

The priest in the booth had a photographic memory For all he had heard And he took all of my sins and he wrote a pocket novel called “The State I Am In”

And so I gave myself to God There was a pregnant pause before he said ‘OK’ Now I spend my day turning tables round in Marks & Spencer’s They don’t seem to mind

The Why: Because there are millions of girls out there just dying for an excuse to pull out their “Twee as Fuck” t-shirts again. Plus, we need something good to gaze wistfully at in the bathtub.

Our Dream Novel: Murdoch would definitely not disappoint with a series of nebulous, loosely connected dreams, each one whispering of the next, building a greater picture of a collective mindset in, say, 1960s London. One of the dreams might possibly include horses.

Joanna Newsom

Sample Lyrics: Bury this bone To gnaw on it later, gnawing on the telephone And ’til then we pray and suspend The notion that these lives do never end

And the mealy worms In the brine will burn In a salty pyre Among the fauns and ferns

And the love we hold And the love we spurn Will never grow cold Only taciturn

The Why: The reigning queen of freak folk is already the perfect image of a bookish pixie dream girl, and we know she can turn a phrase, so why shouldn’t she?

Our Dream Novel: We imagine a long, twisted fairy tale set in the Appalachian mountains, the heroine dressed in furs and hunting with a spear, searching for her lost family in the wild.

Stephin Merritt (of The Magnetic Fields)

Sample Lyrics: A pretty girl is like a minstrel show It makes you laugh It makes you cry You go It just isn’t the same on radio It’s all about the makeup and the dancing And the Oh!

A pretty girl is like a violent crime If you do it wrong, you could do time But if you do it right it is sublime

The Why: Not only is Merritt definitely a literary snob (he named his band after the first work of literary surrealism, André Breton’s Les Champs Magnétiques), we all know he’s a master of the simile. Plus, any guy who can think up 69 love songs for just one album (double-disc or no) is bound to have at least as many plot ideas in his head, just itching to be translated into prose.

Our Dream Novel: Why, a romance of course. A nerdy, shy and awkward one, set in coffee shops and across slim streets, or called from dusty windows before the curtain falls back into place.

Honus Honus aka Ryan Kattner (of Man Man and Mister Heavenly)

Sample Lyrics: I want to sleep for weeks like a dog at her feet Even though I know it won’t work out in the long run So I burn down the walls, breathe like a shadow Those arms I once knew hold me like ghosts I learn how to speak forgotten language I fall in the sea but forget how to swim

When anything that’s anything becomes nothing that’s everything And nothing is the only thing you ever seem to have

But only time will tell if I’ll allow The scenery around to eat me alive

The Why: Because if there’s any songwriter who so obviously loves words — their strangeness, their meaning, the very sound of them in his mouth — more than Honus Honus, we’d like to hear who it is.

Our Dream Novel: A lush, meaty tale of madness, every paragraph dripping with weird and gorgeous language — something like Jesus’ Son mixed with The Orange Eats Creeps, sans vampires. But maybe with werewolves.

Matt Berninger (of The National)

Sample Lyrics: I think the kids are in trouble I do not know what all the troubles are for Give them ice for their fevers You’re the only thing I ever want anymore We’ll live on coffee and flowers Try not to wonder what the weather will be I figured out what we’re missing Tell you miserable things after you are asleep

The Why: Because Berninger’s lyrics can move from heartbreaking to deadly ominous in a moment, and he easily wrenches the listener along with him — we think he’d do even better with the density of prose. You know the man reads — his wife was once the fiction editor for The New Yorker. And finally, because he’s a confident liar, of course, which can’t hurt.

Our Dream Novel: The best book about the bumbling, drifting confusion of a 40-something man-child ever written.

Bianca and Sierra Casady (of CocoRosie)

Sample Lyrics: I don’t mean to close the door But for the record, my heart is sore You blew through me like bullet holes Left stains on my sheets and stains On my soul You left me broke down begging for change Had to catch a ride with a man who’s deranged He had your hands and my father’s face Another western vampire different time same place

The Why: Perhaps more than any other artist on here, we feel like these sisters — whose father took them on vision quests and whose mother thought they would learn more about art from life than high school, who recorded their first album in a Parisian bathroom — have stories to tell.

Our Dream Novel: A semi-autobiographical novel alternating between two distinct characters, a mythical adventure quest set in the American Southwest, channeling Cormac McCarthy and Jennifer Egan all at once.