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

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Down/Pearl Jam, and more

Howard Zinn, who died on January 27 at the age of 87, is probably best known as the author of A People's History of the United States, published in 1980. However, he wrote more than twenty books altogether, including a 1994 autobiography called You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train. The title comes from a line Zinn used in his teaching to get his students to understand that they would be getting his point of view in the classroom.  "I didn't pretend to an objectivity that was neither possible nor desirable," he wrote in the book.  "Some were baffled by the metaphor. . . . Others immediately saw what I meant: that events are already moving in certain deadly directions, and to be neutral means to accept that."  The line appears in the lyrics of the Pearl Jam song Down, available on the 2003 album Lost Dogs, acknowledging the band's friendship with Zinn.  In a note on the Pearl Jam website, Eddie Vedder wrote of Zinn's passing: "We have lost a truly bright light, and a wisdom seemingly unparalleled.  Fortunately he has left us with a body of work so extraordinary that it will be drawn upon for centuries to come..."  Vedder also notes that Zinn "was a true and constant source of inspiration for myself and countless others.  For me, he was the true embodiment of hope...And a living reminder to keep that hope alive.  I'm so grateful for his friendship..."

System of a Down's song Deer Dance, from their 2001 album Toxicity, also references the title of Zinn's autobiography with the line We can't afford to be neutral on a moving train.  Another of the band's songs, A.D.D., from their 2002 release Steal This Album, features the line There is no flag that is large enough/To hide the shame of a man in cuffs--a reference to a famous line of Zinn's:  "There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people for a purpose which is unattainable."

Zinn himself is mentioned in the song Franco Un-American, from the 2003 album War on Errorism by punk band NOFX: I never looked around, never second-guessed/Then I read some Howard Zinn now I'm always depressed.

A 2005 album called You Can't Blow Up A Social Relationship by the band Resident Genius features twelve tracks:  Six songs and six audio excerpts from several of Zinn's lectures.

Finally, You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train is the title of a documentary about Zinn, released in 2004.

J.D. Salinger 1919-2010

In honor of J.D. Salinger, who passed away yesterday at the age of 91, Classics Rock! is reprising our post from June 5, 2009--a roundup of songs about The Catcher in the Rye:

Green Day's Who Wrote Holden Caulfield? from their 1992 album Kerplunk, is named for the novel's protagonist. Apparently the book is a favorite of the band's lead singer, Billie Joe Armstrong.

In answer to Green Day's query, Screeching Weasel released I Wrote Holden Caulfield on their 1994 album How to Make Enemies and Irritate People. The song includes the suit-provoking lines: I wonder if you'll ever come to realize what I always knew/I wrote Holden Caulfield and so did you.

The definitive statement on the question of authorship comes from the Shy Guys 2006 album Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, with their song J.D. Salinger Wrote Holden Caulfield.

The Guns 'N' Roses song "The Catcher in the Rye" appears on their Chinese Democracy album from 2008. It seems to have as much to do with John Lennon's murder as with Salinger's novel--Lennon's killer, Mark David Chapman, had a copy of The Catcher in the Rye in his possession when he was apprehended.

William Holden Caulfield, from Too Much Joy's 2005 album From All of Us to Both of You, includes the lyrics: I'm afraid of people who like Catcher in the Rye/Yeah I like it too but someone tell me why/People he'd despise say I feel like that guy.

Bodi Bill expresses a sentiment we can all get behind in their song I Like Holden Caulfield.

There are also songs called Holden Caulfield from a variety of artists, including Tom Freund, Stefan Couture and the Campfire Orchestra, Harris Eisenstadt, Paul Kotheimer, and the Green Pajamas.

Songs with the title Catcher in the Rye have been recorded by a number of artists as well.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Where Eagles Dare/Iron Maiden

Iron Maiden's 1983 album Piece of Mind features a song called Where Eagles Dare, based on the 1967 thriller by Alistair MacLean.  Or is it based on the 1968 film version?  Hard to tell--MacLean reportedly wrote the novel Where Eagles Dare at the same time he was writing the screenplay.  There are some differences between book and movie (most notably in the level of violence:  moderate in the novel, considerable in the film).  However, the characters and plot are essentially the same: During World War II, a group of commandos parachutes into Bavaria to rescue an American general who is being held by the Nazis in a seemingly unassailable castle, accessible only by cable car.  The song's lyrics reflect both the rising action of the story (They're closing in the fortress is near/It's standing high in the sky/The cable car's the only way in/It's really impossible to climb) and the thrilling climax as the heroes escape from the castle (The panicking cries the roaring of guns/Are echoing all around the valley/The mission complete they make to escape/Away from the Eagles Nest).  However, in MacLean's hands the straightforward rescue mission becomes complicated with multiple plot twists and surprises that the song couldn't hope to replicate.  On the other hand, the song features a vigorous performance by drummer Nicko McBrain that MacLean probably couldn't have pulled off.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Vendela Vida/Dinosaur Feathers

A recent headline in the publishing industry newsletter GalleyCat:  "Novelist Vendela Vida Immortalized in Indie Rock Song."  Editor Jason Boog describes how he came across Dinosaur Feathers' 2009 song Vendela Vida while browsing on a music blog and chased down band member Greg Sullo to find out more.  As it turns out, the song is named for Vida but it isn't actually about her.  "We started calling it Vendela Vida out of laziness I guess--because it's the first lyric basically," Sullo says.  "When I wrote the song, I had just seen her do a reading of one of her short stories at a benefit for 826NYC.  So the lyric at the beginning was informed partially by that reading."  Vida is a co-founder of 826NYC, a nonprofit devoted to nurturing creative writing skills in children ages 6 to 18.  She is the author of three books, most recently Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name (2007).  Her new book, The Lovers, is due out later this year.  She is married to writer/publisher Dave Eggers.