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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Charlotte Sometimes/The Cure

Charlotte Sometimes, a single released by The Cure in 1981 and available on the 2005 reissue of the album Faith, is based on the 1969 YA novel Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer. The story concerns Charlotte, a girl residing at a boarding school in 1963, who somehow exchanges identities with a girl named Clare, who lived at the same school in 1918--so, she is Charlotte sometimes, Clare others. Things get complicated when Charlotte becomes trapped in the past as Clare (and vice versa). The lyrics of the first verse approximate the novel's opening paragraph, and the song captures Charlotte's confused sense of identity (Sometimes I'm dreaming/So many different names) and emotional turmoil (She was crying and crying for a girl/Who died so many years before). Two other songs by The Cure, "Splintered in Her Head" (the B-side of the "Charlotte Sometimes" single) and The Empty World, are also said to have been inspired by the book. (The novel also provided the stage name for the performer Charlotte Sometimes--real name Jessica Charlotte Poland.)

Submitted by Jake Byrne

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I Am the Walrus/The Beatles

"I Am the Walrus," from The Beatles' 1967 album Magical Mystery Tour, was actually created out of three songs that John Lennon was working on. Unable to finish them, he combined them into one. The idea for the walrus came from Lewis Carroll's poem "The Walrus and the Carpenter," found in his 1871 book Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, a sequel of sorts to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. In a 1980 Playboy Magazine interview, Lennon said: "It never dawned on me that Lewis Carroll was commenting on the capitalist and social system. I never went into that bit about what he really meant, like people are doing with the Beatles' work. Later, I went back and looked at it and realized that the walrus was the bad guy in the story and the carpenter was the good guy. I thought, Oh, shit, I picked the wrong guy. I should have said 'I am the carpenter.' But that wouldn't have been the same, would it?" And we always thought the walrus was Paul. (Let's not overlook the other literary reference in the song: Man, you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe.)

Submitted by William Scheckel

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Nostradamus/Al Stewart

Al Stewart's 10-minute song Nostradamus, from his 1973 album Past, Present & Future, is based on a book about the 16th century seer, but Stewart hadn't read the book, and in fact it hadn't even been published at the time he wrote the song. The album's notes read: "The book on which the song 'Nostradamus' is based is 'The Centuries of Nostradamus' by Erika Cheetham, to be published by Neville Spearman Limited, London, and Putnam, NY." In an Acoustic Storm interview, Stewart describes a meeting with Cheetham in her home, where she "had bits of this book all about her room; I mean pages were hanging everywhere. So I was walking around the room saying 'this sounds great, what does it mean?' And she’d say, 'Oh, that’s an anagram of Napoleon,' and I just sort of picked up about 11 or 12 references that came out of the book that she translated, and I put them all together into a song." The song is roughly divided into two sets of Nostradamus' prophecies, one listing predictions that seem to have been fulfilled (e.g., Hitler, Napoleon), and the other featuring things that have not yet happened (at least not as of 1973). Cheetham's book was ultimately published as The Prophecies of Nostradamus. Stewart remains neutral regarding the accuracy of Nostradamus' predictions, noting "I tend to be very skeptical about it."

Friday, June 19, 2009

Scentless Apprentice/Nirvana

Scentless Apprentice, from Nirvana's 1993 album In Utero, was inspired by the 1985 novel Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind. Originally published in German, the story concerns a man who is born without body odor of any kind but with a heightened sense of smell (the song's lyrics say: Like most babies smell like butter/His smell smelled like no other/He was born scentless and senseless). Even as an infant, his lack of personal scent is disturbing to the people around him (Every wet nurse refused to feed him) and he becomes a misanthropic figure who finds his calling as a perfumer's apprentice. He sets out to create the perfect perfume, and in pursuit of that goal he murders several virginal women to capture their scent. Kurt Cobain had cited Perfume as one of his favorite books.

Submitted by Jake Byrne

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Romeo and Juliet/Dire Straits

Romeo And Juliet, from Dire Straits' 1980 album Making Movies, translates the balcony scene from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet into a modern setting and idiom (Juliet says hey its romeo you nearly give me a heart attack/he's underneath the window she's singing hey lay my boyfriend's back/you shouldn't come around here singing up at people like that/Anyway what you gonna do about it?). The song also includes a subtle allusion to another adaptation of Shakespeare's play with the line: there's a place for us you know the movie song--a reference to the song Somewhere from West Side Story, which was itself an updated version of the Romeo and Juliet story. The two lovers pop up in many other songs too--e.g., (Just Like) Romeo & Julietby the Reflections--and of course Blue Oyster Cult's (Don't Fear) The Reaper is always there to remind us that Romeo and Juliet are together in eternity.

Dire Straits submitted by Bob McLeod
The Reflections and Blue Oyster Cult submitted by Carrie Jennott

Monday, June 15, 2009

For Bloomsday: Rejoyce/Jefferson Airplane, and More

All of the events in James Joyce's 1922 novel Ulysses take place on June 16th. To celebrate Bloomsday (so called after Joyce's protagonist, Leopold Bloom), here are some songs with ties to the book and the author.

Jefferson Airplane's Rejoyce, from their 1967 album After Bathing at Baxter's, is an homage to Ulysses and includes specific references to characters from the book, e.g.: Mulligan stew for Bloom/The only Jew in the room and Molly's gone to blazes/Boylan's crotch amazes (Mulligan is a rowdy medical student in the book; Bloom's wife Molly begins an affair with a character known as "Blazes" Boylan in the course of the novel).

Kate Bush's The Sensual World, from her 1989 album of the same name, is drawn from the 18th and final episode, or chapter, of the novel. Often referred to as Molly Bloom's Soliloquy, it recounts the largely unpunctuated stream-of-consciousness thoughts running through Molly's mind as she lies in bed at the end of the day. The song employs the conceit of Molly leaving the fictional setting of the novel behind and entering reality (Stepping out of the page into the sensual world). The Joyce estate denied Bush the right to use wording from the book, so she revised passages for the song.

Also drawn from Molly Bloom's Soliloquy is Amber's song Yes!, from her album Naked. The word "yes" both begins and ends the soliloquy, and is the final word in the book. The lyrics hew closely to Joyce's original, and repeat virtually word for word the closing lines of the novel: I put my arms around him, yes/And draw him down to me so he can feel my breast/And his heart was going like mad/I mean yes, I said yes, I will yes. No word on whether Amber got permission from the Joyce estate, or whether Kate Bush was ticked off about it.

The Florida band PopCanon recorded a song called Bloomsday for their 2000 album The Kingdom of Idiot Rock. It juxtaposes Bloomsday observances with images of a crucifixion. It would be nice to think the crucifixion was metaphorical, but the band insists it actually happened--part of a birthday celebration that got out of hand. (You can get the whole story here.) The lyrics include the lines: In the land of the Lotus-Eaters Leopold Bloom said/"Iron Nails Ran In"--a reference to Bloom's explanation of the notice INRI that was posted above Christ on the cross.

Songs called "Bloomsday" are also available from Four Men and a Dog (from the 2009 album Wallop The Spot), Andy West (from 2002's Rama 1), and the Plague Monkeys (from the 1999 album Surface Tension).

Lou Reed's song My House (making it's second appearance in these pages), from his 1982 album The Blue Mask, alludes to characters from Ulysses in describing Reed's relationship to his mentor, Delmore Schwartz: My Dedalus to your Bloom, was such a perfect wit.

Roger Waters, a co-founder of Pink Floyd, alludes to Ulysses' main character in the song "Flickering Flame," found on Flickering Flame: The Solo Years, Vol. 1, with the line: On a back seat in a court room/Sat Molly Malone and Leopold Bloom/Until the police came down with a new broom/And swept them clean.

Alan Munde has an instrumental called Molly Bloom, from the 2009 album Festival Favorites Revisited, that seems appropriate to the day.

A song called Golden Hair by another Pink Floyd co-founder, Syd Barrett--found on his 1969 solo album The Madcap Laughs--has lyrics taken verbatim from Joyce's poem Lean Out the Window.

In 2008, Fire Records released Chamber Music: James Joyce, in which a variety of alt-rock bands perform musical adaptations of all 36 of the poems featured in Joyce's 1907 collection Chamber Music.

Van Morrison's song "Summertime in England," from the 1980 album Common One, notes: And James Joyce wrote streams of consciousness books. Another Morrison song, Too Long In Exile, from the 1993 album of the same name, includes the lines: Too long in exile, been too long in exile/Just like James Joyce, baby.

Jimmy Buffett's If It All Falls Down, from 1986's Floridays, also mentions Joyce (My life's an open book/By James Joyce and Agatha Christie).

On the morbid side, we have James Joyce In Memoriam by Mikel Laboa (from 2005's Xoriek 17), and Looking for James Joyce's Grave by Andy White (from his 2000 album Andywhite.compilation). Individual listeners will have to decide if I Got Laid on James Joyce's Grave by Black 47 (from their 2000 release Trouble in the Land) strikes the proper note for their Bloomsday celebration.

Finally, Breathe by U2--from No Line On The Horizon, released earlier this year--has no particular link to Joyce or Ulysses, but as the lyrics make clear, the song takes place on the 16th of June, a significant date for any Irish rock band.