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

Monday, April 25, 2011

Saskia Hamilton/Ben Folds & Nick Hornby

For the 2010 album Lonely Avenue, Ben Folds collaborated with author Nick Hornby, whose books include High Fidelity (1995), About a Boy (1998), and most recently Juliet, Naked (2009). Hornby provided the lyrics, Folds supplied the melodies and recorded the songs. "Each track is a story," Time Magazine wrote of the album. "And in every story, there's something relatable. In fact, the album almost comes across as a short-story collection put to music. Perhaps this is the benefit of asking a novelist to co-write the songs."

One of the tracks on the album is called Saskia Hamilton, named for the poet whose collections include As for Dream (2001), Canal, and Divide These (both 2005). She also edited The Letters of Robert Lowell.The song is less about Hamilton herself, however, and more about her name. (I've only ever seen her name on the spine but that's enough. I want to make her mine!) "One night I just found myself thinking about what a fantastic name she has for her line of work," Hornby wrote in the liner notes. "The song's narrator is a teenage poetry nerd. There are some, still."

One final note: The album's name was inspired by Lonely Avenue: The Unlikely Life and Times of Doc Pomus, Alex Halberstadt's 2008 biography of the blues musician. There's a song called Doc Pomus, inspired by the book, on the album.

High Fidelity (Kindle Edition)

About a Boy (Kindle Edition)

Juliet, Naked (Kindle Edition)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Like a Great Gatsby/Elliott Murphy, and more

As reported yesterday by CBS News Sunday Morning, the Long Island mansion that inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel The Great Gatsby was demolished on Saturday. The current owners could no longer afford the upkeep, and the once-elegant building had been condemned. The story moved us to repost our item about Elliott Murphy's song "Like a Great Gatsby," inspired by the novel, supplemented with a word about Reg & Phil's song "Daisy Buchanan," named for the object of Gatsby's desire.

Elliott Murphy's 1973 debut album Aquashow features the song "Like a Great Gatsby," a reference to F. Scott Fitzgerald's Jazz Age novel The Great Gatsby, published in 1925. The song opens with the lines: Waiting for some dream lover like a great Gatsby/And then I look in the mirror and it's only me--a reference to the novel's rich and mysterious title character. Gatsby lives in the wealthy-with-new-money Long Island community of West Egg and pines for Daisy Buchanan, who lives across the bay in the wealthy-with-old-money community of East Egg. Gatsby fell for Daisy before he became wealthy, and social constraints kept them apart. Everything he has done--acquiring a fortune, throwing extravagant parties--has been designed to attract her attention. But Daisy is married now and lost to Gatsby, just as the narrator of the song seems to be addressing a woman beyond his reach (Use to follow you home/Hold on to you at dancing school and call you on the phone forever/But now your world begins with never).

The line Do you ride on ancient ships under Dr. Eckleburg's eyes to heaven alludes to one of the key images in the novel, a fading billboard on the road into New York City featuring a huge pair of blue eyes behind enormous yellow spectacles. ("Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens," speculates the narrator, Nick Carraway.)

On his web site Murphy talks about the album's cover art: "I suggested that we shoot in the Palm Court of the Plaza Hotel because that’s where part of The Great Gatsby took place. . . . The white suit I had bought not far from Gatsby land on the north shore of Long Island. It was made in France and I still have it hanging in my mother’s closet. Maybe I should give it to the Hard Rock Hotel."

For another musical take on Gatsby, there is Daisy Buchanan by the duo Reg & Phil, from their self-titled 2010 album. Here the narrator (or possibly a series of narrators) tries to convince Gatsby of the futility of his obsession with Daisy.

Mr. Gatsby, I know how this feels.
I won't forget her name; 
You're right, she's a steal. 
But this Saturday's one hundred; 
It's the one hundredth party. 
You'll want hundred more 
days and house filled. 
you'll need a lifetime 
of days and house filled.

A free download of the song is available on the Reg & Phil website. The video features stills from the 1974 film The Great Gatsby, adapted from the novel.

The Great Gatsby (Kindle Edition)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Scientist/Coldplay

WikiColdplay states that the song The Scientist, from Coldplay's 2002 album A Rush of Blood to the Head, "shows strong allusion to the short story The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne." The story appears in Hawthorne's 1846 collection Mosses from an Old Manse.

Hawthorne's tale concerns Aylmer, a dedicated scientist who marries a young woman named Georgiana. Georgiana's beauty is very nearly perfect, except for a small birthmark on her cheek. She is accustomed to the mark and gives it no thought, but Aylmer feels that it keeps his wife from attaining true perfection. He becomes increasingly obsessed with removing the birthmark, and it soon becomes a source of discord between them. In the end, Georgiana agrees to submit to Aylmer's treatment and he prepares a solution for her, which she drinks. It successfully removes the birthmark, but kills Georgiana in the process.

The narrator of the song seems to also be a scientist (I was just guessing/At numbers and figures/Pulling the puzzles apart) and who also seems to have lost a loved one (It's such a shame for us to part), perhaps as a result of his devotion to science:

Questions of science,
Science and progress,
Do not speak as loud as my heart.

Tell me you love me,
Come back and haunt me,
Oh, what a rush to the start.

So the song certainly seems to share some themes with the story, but there is nothing to specifically link the two. Unfortunately, WikiColdplay offers no documentation for the claim that the one alludes to the other, and we have been unable to locate any supporting evidence.

Chris Martin is one guy who would know for sure, but his explanation of the song isn't very helpful. ""That's just about girls," he said in Billboard. "It's weird that whatever else is on your mind, whether it's the downfall of global economics or terrible environmental troubles, the thing that always gets you most is when you fancy someone."

Mosses From An Old Manse (Kindle Edition)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Hey Ahab/Elton John and Leon Russell

Stereo Subversion wrote that the 2010 Elton John-Leon Russell collaboration The Union "could have done without Hey Ahab, which attempts to put the Moby Dick dilemma into song. A large book did the story justice. A short pop song just isn’t enough bandwidth for the epic."

To be fair, we don't think that's what Elton and Leon and lyricist Bernie Taupin were trying to do. Ahab, the monomaniacal whaler from Herman Melville's 1851 novel Moby-Dick, provides the central image of the song:

Hey Ahab can you tell me where 
I can catch a ride out of here 
Hey Ahab hoist that sail 
You gotta stand up straight 
When you ride that whale

And the object of Ahab's vengeful fury, the albino whale Moby Dick, puts in an appearance:

When you're clinging onto a driftwood boat 
You pray a great white whale might come your way

But the Old Testament prophet Jonah also appears--he who was swallowed by a whale (OK, a "big fish" for you biblical sticklers)--and there are also references to "freeway traffic" and "a chain link fence" that are anachronistic in the context of Moby-Dick. So while the lyrics use the novel as a point of reference, this was never an attempt to encompass all the themes and action of the book in a five-and-a-half-minute pop song.

Besides, it's hard to quibble when a song rocks like this one. We think the Financial Times (of all places) got it right when it described "Hey Ahab" as "a boogie-woogie tribute to Moby-Dick with superb lyrics by Elton’s long-term collaborator Bernie Taupin and a storming momentum, like Captain Ahab’s mad pursuit of the great whale."

Moby-Dick (Kindle Edition)