I confess, this is a bit of a phone-it-in post: the majority of what follows is a writing sample I put together for Book Riot (which obviously didn’t make their cut, since I’m posting it here and not there – womp womp). I was reminded of this piece upon hearing some other bookish music on the radio this morning — namely, The Decemberists’ “The Engine Driver,” which features lyrics like:
I am a writer, writer of fictions / I am the heart that you call home / And I’ve written pages upon pages / Trying to rid you from my bones
WXPN’s morning show host also mentioned The Jayhawks’ forthcoming album, with the equally literature-inspired title, Paging Mr. Proust.
Onto the recycled bit:
It’s hard to say which came first: my love of books or my love of music. I started to both read and play piano around age four, but enjoyed having books read to me and music played to me long before that. So, it’s a bit of a “chicken and egg” conundrum.
But lucky for me, I’ve never had to pick one love over the other, and neither have these equally bookish bands:
- The Police, “Don’t Stand So Close to Me”
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. This classic is one giant ode to Lolita, culminating in the unambiguous lyric, “Just like the old man in / That book by Nabakov.”
- Bright Eyes, “Four Winds”
This is the song that started it all (“it” being the idea for this post). I was driving the other day when it came on the radio, and the line “slouching towards Bethlehem” (which can be seen as a reference both to Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming” and Joan Didion’s same-named essay collection) jumped out at me. The references don’t stop there: midway through the song, Oberst mentions the three Big Books of christianity (the Bible, the Torah, and the Qur’an) in quick succession. And the Bible makes another appearance via “the whore of Babylon,” who debuted back in the day in the Book of Revelation.
- Death Cab for Cutie, “You Are a Tourist”
This one is more of a general bookish reference, describing that feeling of not quite fitting in that we’ve all experienced at one time or another: “when you find yourself the villain in the story you have written…”
- The Both, “Bedtime Stories”
When you form a supergroup of two talented songwriters and card-carrying nerds like Aimee Mann and Ted Leo, you’re bound to encounter some bookish goodness somewhere on the album. Track ten of The Both’s debut hits the mark right out of the gate: “Bedtime stories just got the hook / Allegories that stay in the book.” The theme continues throughout the whole some, alluding to story arcs along with “poetry and prose.”
- The Lonely Island, “Lazy Sunday”
Okay, so this is technically about a theatrical adaptation of a classic children’s series, but close enough. Who doesn’t remember when Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell debuted this little ditty as a digital short on SNL? Along with its plethora of fantastic historical and cultural references, it doesn’t get much more gangsta than getting “taken to a dream world of magic.”
What literary lyrics would make your list?