The All-Time Coolest Author/Musician Collaborations


Collaborations between musicians and authors seem obvious, like they should happen all the time, but the truth is, good ones don’t come along that often. Earlier this month, however, author, poet, and memoirist Mary Karr released her first album, Kin , in collaboration with country singer/songwriter Rodney Crowell, and boy is it good. Though we might be a little biased since we’ve always been die-hard Mary Karr fans, we love the album, which combines Karr’s sublime poetry with Crowell’s formidable musical talent. Inspired by their collaboration, we got to thinking about other fantastic author/musician pairs, from the time Kurt Cobain and William S. Burroughs recorded a Christmas album together to the time Bono hacked a Rushdie novel for lyrics. Click through to see a few of our favorites, and let us know if we’ve missed one of yours in the comments.

Mary Karr and Rodney Crowell

Before their collaboration, Crowell had long been a fan of Karr’s — even name-checking her in his 2003 song “Earthbound.” Eventually, the two artists met up and began writing songs together, many — in true memoirist and country music star form — about their families. The resultant album, Kin, is wonderful — not only is it star-speckled (Norah Jones, Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris and Rosanne Cash all feature, among others), but it is as painfully honest and simply beautiful as any of Karr’s memoirs. Well worth a listen, even if you don’t like country. Or memoirs.

Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer

While working on her first solo album, Amanda Palmer (of The Dresden Dolls and Evelyn Evelyn) was introduced to fantasy author Neil Gaiman, who ultimately agreed to write the back cover notes on the album, entitled Who Killed Amanda Palmer? after the question that plagued the townspeople of Twin Peaks. Later, the album turned into a coffee table book, also entitled Who Killed Amanda Palmer? filled with “photographic evidence” of Palmer and accompanying short stories by Gaiman. But last year, the two did all of their collaborations one better — they got married. Say it with us: awww.

Kurt Cobain and William S. Burroughs

Cult author William S. Burroughs has influenced scores of other artists, particularly musicians, and has collaborated with everyone from Laurie Anderson to Tom Waits to Ministry, but our favorite is definitely The “Priest” They Called Him, a 1992 holiday album in which Kurt Cobain plays dissonant guitar interpretations of Christmas songs while Burroughs reads his story out in a steely deadpan. Happy Holidays to one and all.

Allen Ginsberg and The Clash

In 1981, Ginsberg went to see The Clash at the Bonds Club in New York, and when Joe Strummer invited “President Ginsberg” to the stage, he gave an impromptu performance of his poem “Capitol Air” with a special Clash backing. Later, he and Strummer co-wrote “Ghetto Defendant” for the classic album Combat Rock. Sure, it wasn’t as big a hit as “Rock the Casbah,” but we still think it’s pretty cool.

Alan Moore and Doseone

Crook&Flail, the production due of art-rapper Doseone and Fog’s Andrew Broder, composed a score to go along with legendary graphic novelist Alan Moore’s 2010 multimedia box set — novel, spoken word performance, photographs, music — entitled Unearthing. As Doseone told Pitchfork, ” it’s now become this big, organic sort of collaboration between the four of us. We basically did two hours of reading when we first got it, and it’s extremely dense. I remember the first time I read it, I was like, “What the fuck! Should I just beatbox now?” I didn’t know what the fuck to do with myself. But as we listened to it, it’s full of recurring themes, and all this recurring writing breaks and reconstructs its phrasings over and over again throughout. So we kinda found those motifs, brought them all in and out, and then made holes in it, where we made things recur and then patched the holes.”

The Mekons and Kathy Acker

In 1988, kick-ass feminist icon Kathy Acker borrowed a song title from British punk band The Mekons for the title of her novel Empire of the Senseless. Nearly a decade later, and a year before Acker’s death from breast cancer, the band recorded an album based on Acker’s final novel Pussy, King of the Pirates with the author’s narration in between tracks.

Ben Folds and Nick Hornby

Anyone who has read anything by Nick Hornby knows that this is a man who knows his music (only a true geek could write a book like High Fidelity), so it’s not surprising that he paired up with Ben Folds to produce Lonely Avenue in 2010. The pair actually first made contact when Hornby wrote an essay about “Smoke,” one of Folds’ songs, and later co-wrote the track “That’s Me Trying” on William Shatner’s 2004 album Has Been. Their collaboration is a triumph for niche nerds everywhere.

Salman Rushdie and U2

We have a hard time putting Bono on a list of coolest anything, but here goes. After reading Rushdie’s 1992 novel The Ground Beneath Her Feet, a spin on the Orpheus/Eurydice myth where Orpheus is a grieving rock star, Bono asked the author for permission to turn main character Ormus Cama’s ode to his dead lover into an actual song. Sure, it’s pretty cheesy, but however much it hurts to admit, we kind of like it.