Here at Flavorpill, we’re huge fans of genre crossover, particularly when one artist we love pays tribute to another one we hold dear. This week, Vol. 1 Brooklyn pointed us towards a new song by Diehard called “Steinbeck,” after, of course, the famous author. After listening, we were inspired to dig up a few more sonic odes to famous writers — not just songs inspired by their works, mind you, though there are many of those, but songs actually devoted to or inspired by the authors themselves, which are a little less common. Click through to listen to ten songs we love about famous writers we love even more — or just stream the entire playlist here — and let us know if we’ve missed any of your favorite sonic odes to authors in the comments!
“Sylvia Plath” — Ryan Adams
“I wish I had a Sylvia Plath/ Busted tooth and a smile/ And cigarette ashes in her drink/ The kind that goes out and then sleeps for a week…”
We’re sure Sylvia is the dream girl of a lot of weepy singer/songwriters’ dream girl, so we’re not too surprised to hear Ryan Adams crooning about how he wants a lady just like her. Then again, we think he might not know just what he’s getting into.
“Song for Myla Goldberg” — The Decemberists
“Myla Goldberg sets a steady hand upon her brow/ Myla Goldberg hangs a crooked foot all upside down/ It comes around it comes around/ It comes around it comes around/ Pretty hands do pretty things when pretty times arise/ Seraphim and seaweed swim where stick-limbed Myla lies…”
Seeing as they might or might not be the most literary band around (remember that video about Eschaton?), it’s a wonder The Decemberists don’t have an entire album dedicated to their favorite authors. Considering how much we like this gentle track, we think it would be a winner.
“The Ballad of Dorothy Parker” — Prince
“Well, earlier I’d been talkin’ stuff in a violent room/ Fightin’ with lover’s past/ I needed someone with a quicker wit than mine/ Dorothy was fast…”
We know this seems like a weird pairing, but if you think about it for a while, it starts to make sense.
“Bukowski” — Modest Mouse
“Woke up this morning and it seemed to me/ That every night turns out to be/ A little more like Bukowski./ And yeah, I know he’s a pretty good read/ But God who’d wanna be?/ God who’d wanna be such an asshole?”
This may not be the most flattering song, but we doubt Bukowski would have much of a problem with being questioned in the same breath as God.
“Hey Jack Kerouac” — 10,000 Maniacs
“Hey Jack, now for the tricky part/ When you were the brightest star who were the shadows?/ Of the San Francisco beat boys you were the favorite/ Now they sit and rattle their bones and think of their blood stoned days/ You chose your words from mouths of babes/ Got lost in the wood/ The hip flask slinging madman, steaming cafe flirts/ nights in Chinatown howling at night…”
This song, sung in the dulcet tones of early Natalie Merchant, is a pretty straightforward ode to the beat poet, wondering after his mother and decrying his death. There are also melancholy shout outs to Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, if you listen.
“ee cummings” — Timesbold
“Me up at does/ Out of the floor/ Quietly stare/ A poisoned mouse/ Still who alive/ Is asking/ What have I done/ That you wouldn’t have…”
The lyrics of this dreamy song are actually sniped directly from cummings’s poem “Me up at does,” which is about as reverent as it gets. We couldn’t find a video version of this track, so check out our Spotify playlist to listen!
“Graham Greene” — John Cale
“You’re having tea with Graham Greene/ In a colored costume of your choice/ And you’ll be held in high esteem/ If you’re seen in between/ Stiffly holding umbrellas…”
This boppy ode to the prolific writer will inevitably put a smile on your face — even if The End of the Affair did not.
“Brush Up Your Shakespeare” — Kiss Me Kate
“But the poet of them all/ Who will start ’em simply ravin’/ Is the poet people call/ The Bard of Stratford on Avon/ Brush up your Shakespeare/ Start quoting him now/ Brush up your Shakespeare/ And the women you will wow…”
Okay, we know this one is completely dorky, but we couldn’t help ourselves. Just watch the Shakespeare-touting clip above and try not to smile.
“The Jean Genie” — David Bowie
“A small Jean Genie snuck off to the city/ Strung out on lasers and slash back blazers/ Ate all your razors while pulling the waiters… The Jean Genie lives on his back/ The Jean Genie loves chimney stacks/ He’s outrageous, he screams and he bawls…”
Bowie called the title “a clumsy pun” on Jean Genet, who was famously a wayward vagabond, thief and prostitute in his teens and early ’20s. He even wrote his first poem, “Le condamné à mort,” in prison for such offensive. Outrageous indeed.
“Girl Who Wanted to be God” — Manic Street Preachers
“There are times when you feel hopeless/ Just for once for no-one else we are blameless/ The dawn is still breaking its heaven is so high/ She told the truth, told the truth and then she lied…”
We know, we know, another song about Sylvia Plath — but hey, the woman is inspirational. “I think I would like to call myself ‘the girl who wanted to be God,'” Plath once wrote. “Yet if I were not in this body, where would I be — perhaps I am destined to be classified and qualified. But, oh, I cry out against it.”