"Classics Rock! is the best of both worlds--music and books."
-- CNBC.com "Bullish on Books" blog

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

All I Wanna Do/Sheryl Crow

Sheryl Crow's breakthrough hit All I Wanna Do, from her 1993 debut album Tuesday Night Music Club, is based on a poem called Fun by Wyn Cooper, from his 1987 collection The Country of Here Below.  Crow, her producer Bill Bottrell, and their collaborators struggled for months with the song, which at one point was called "I Still Love You."  Then Bottrell came across Cooper's collection at a used bookstore near the recording studio.  "Way at the end, I pulled out a Wyn Cooper poem which provided all the verses, and Sheryl sang or spoke that right into the mic, and I made a chorus out of the line about just wanting to have fun," Bottrell says in Richard Buskin's 2003 book Sheryl Crow: No Fool to This Game.  Buskin also quotes Cooper:  "I wrote the poem in Salt Lake City in 1984.  It was based loosely on a bar there called The Twilight Lounge, although that didn't look out onto a car wash.  It was mostly made up, utilizing a line that a friend of mine had said to me the night before; 'All I want to do is have a little fun before I die.' The next day I wrote that line down and kept going, and I wrote the whole poem in just a couple of hours."  Cooper earned royalties from the song and its popularity helped keep his book in print.  He even recited the poem on stage at a few of Crow's concerts.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Drowning Man/The Cure

The Gormenghast Novels by Mervyn Peake take place in the remote kingdom of Gormenghast and focus on the intrigues that unfold within the huge, isolated Castle Gormenghast and its environs.  The three novels--Titus Groan (1949), Gormenghast (1950), and Titus Alone (1959)--follow the main character, Titus Groan, from birth to manhood and chronicle his role as the reluctant ruler of Gormenghast.  Titus's closest relative is his sister, Fuchsia, who has an erratic nature and is given to melancholy since the death of their father.  In the second novel, Fuchsia learns that the man she loves--the villainous Steerpike--is a murderer, and briefly contemplates suicide.  Standing on a window ledge above rising flood waters, she is startled by a knock on the door, loses her footing, and falls, striking her head on the way down.  Unconscious, she drowns in the water below.  This scene is depicted in the song The Drowning Man, from The Cure's 1981 album FaithStarting at the violent sound/She tries to turn/But final/Noiseless/Slips and strikes her soft dark head/The water bows/Receives her/And drowns her at its ease.  The lyrics even mention her by name: Oh Fuchsia!/You leave me/Breathing like the drowning manThe Gormenghast Novels are usually referred to as a trilogy because only three were published (the third book, Titus Alone, was unfinished at the time of Peake's death and was completed by another hand).  However, Peake wrote a novella called Boy in Darkness (1956) that relates a short episode involving Titus as a young boy.  He also planned at least two more volumes in the main series, tentatively titled Titus Awakes and Gormenghast Revisited.  Peake's heirs recently discovered a draft of Titus Awakes written by the author's widow during the 1970s, and are planning to have it published in 2011.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Mr. Lear/Al Stewart

Al Stewart, one of the more literate singer/songwriters working today, makes another appearance on Classics Rock! with a song called Mr. Lear, from his 2005 album A Beach Full of Shells.  The song is about Edward Lear, the Victorian illustrator, author, and poet.  Lear is perhaps best known today for his nonsense poetry, notably "The Owl and the Pussycat" (see The Complete Nonsense of Edward Lear). The album's liner notes state: "'Mr. Lear' inspired in part by 'Incidents in the Life of My Uncle Arly' by Edward Lear," and some of Stewart's lyrics are closely adapted from that poem: Oh my aged Uncle Arly, sitting on a heap of barley/On his nose his faithful cricket/In his hat a railway ticket/But his shoes were far too tight.  But the song alludes to other works by the author as well.  The repeated line How pleasant to know Mr. Lear is the title of Lear's ironic verse self-portrait, and another poem, "The Pobble Who Has No Toes," is mentioned.  There's even a reference to Lear's beloved cat Foss, who turns up in several of his drawings.  The only thing missing is a runcible spoon.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Salinger Feedback: Bananafishbones/The Cure, and More

In response to last week's re-posting of our Catcher in the Rye song list, a number of readers weighed in with additional musical references to author J.D. Salinger, who died on January 27th.  Most of them bend our Ground Rules, but they're fun anyway.

JustinBoston reminded us that The Cure's 1984 album The Top features a song called Bananafishbones. Robert Smith, the band's primary songwriter, confirmed the song's connection to Salinger's story "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," from his collection Nine Stories, in an issue of the fanzine Cure News: "the title, for some no-reason, from 'a perfect day for bananafish' - a short story by j d salinger .. again me hating myself..." [Capitalization and punctuation courtesy of Mr. Smith and Cure News].

Vanessa Wieland wrote to say "Pre-My Chemical Romance, the rhythm guitarist was in a band called Pencey Prep.  They had a song called The Secret Goldfish."  The guitarist in question is Frank Iero.  The name of the band and the name of the song both derive from The Catcher in the Rye.  Pencey Prep is the fictional school from which Holden Caulfield is expelled; and "The Secret Goldfish" is the title of a short story referred to in the novel, written by Holden's brother D.B.  The song appears on the band's 2001 album Heartbreak in Stereo.

Anonymous pointed out that the 2005 debut album from We Are Scientists is called With Love and Squalor--a reference to Salinger's story "For Esmé with Love and Squalor," available in the Nine Stories collection.

thevoiceofenergy points out that a song called Polar Bear, from Ride's 1990 album Nowhere, mentions Salinger's Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters. The same story lent its name to "a delightful Chicago-based band," according to Adam.

Michial recalled a song by the Old 97's called Rollerskate Skinny, from the 2001 album Satellite Rides. The song's title comes from Holden Caulfield's description of his sister, Phoebe, in The Catcher in the Rye: "She's quite skinny, like me, but nice skinny. Roller-skate skinny. I watched her once from the window when she was crossing over Fifth Avenue to go to the park, and that's what she is, roller-skate skinny."

Chris Kubica called attention to the name of Lisa Loeb's band--Nine Stories--and to an album by the Winona Ryders called J.D. Salinger.

Finally, Paul Wilner suggested a song called "My Foolish Heart," from the 1949 film of the same name--the only film to date to be based on Salinger's writing (it was adapted from his story "Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut," another selection from Nine Stories).  The song was nominated for an Academy Award and has been recorded by many artists; Paul favors Bill Evans' version.