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Ten Fantastic Songs Brought to You By Books

August 24, 2009  |  7:00am
Anyone decrying the death of books has only to check out the music world to see that literature is still alive and kicking, even if the authors of said work aren’t. For example, just recently we spoke to Ben Gibbard and Jay Farrar about their collaborative album based solely on beat-poet and alt-culture icon Jack Kerouac’s novel Big Sur. While the duo’s record, the October-release One Quick Move or I’m Gone, is an ode to the written word, it’s hardly the first. Here are 10 fantastic songs brought to you by books:

1. “Song for Myla Goldberg” by The Decemberists
Although Decemberists scribe Colin Meloy might as well be a librarian of classic folklore, this tune from the band’s Her Majesty is about the contemporary author of 2000’s Bee Season. Let’s hope Meloy doesn’t follow it up with “Ode to Stephenie Meyer.”

2. “Stuck Between Stations” by The Hold Steady
The lead track on The Hold Steady’s whiskey-fueled Boys and Girls in America cops its best line from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. “Boys and girls in America have such a sad time together” could be The Hold Steady’s entire catalog pared down to one line.


3. “2+2=5” by Radiohead
Thom, you sly dog, you. The title of this Hail to the Thief tune is lifted from George Orwell’s 1984, in which it represents a false idea that the government could push on the public as fact. He’s not saying that George W. Bush…oh, wait, yes he is.


4. “Sylvia Plath” by Ryan Adams
Adams has had his fair share of odd love interests in his day (namely, former pop princess and current Lady Adams Mandy Moore), but none so down in the dumps as Sylvia Plath. Adams’ haunting piano ballad is nearly as gorgeous as Plath’s writing, just, you know, not about how his dad is a Nazi.



5. “Blood and Thunder” by Mastodon
Not every metal band has the balls to write a whole album about a whale, but Mastodon isn’t every metal band. Although the entirety of Leviathan is a retelling of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, “Blood and Thunder” is the pummeling introduction to the storm.


6. “Bukowski” by Modest Mouse
One grumpy guy singing about another grumpy guy. Sounds like just the song to brighten your day. Now, somebody get this man a drink.

7. “The Small Print” by Muse

While playing for several million people per venue on their tour with U2 this fall, Muse will slip in some knowledge alongside all that rock. This guitar jam from Absolution is sang from the perspective of the Devil in Christopher Marlowe’s The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus.

8. “Saul Bellow” by Sufjan Stevens

This gentle ode to the Nobel Prize winning author didn’t make the cut for Illinois, but appeared on Stevens’ b-side follow up The Avalanche. Includes a challenge, too: “Get in trouble with Saul Bellow.”

9. “The Tain” by The Decemberists
Two Decemberists picks? Really? Yes, really. The band isn’t called “literate” by a journalist every other day for nothing. This five-song suite is based on the Irish epic poem “Tain Bo Cuailinge.”

10. A healthy portion of Led Zeppelin’s catalog
Although his long, blonde locks and groupie-baiting ways may have suggested otherwise, Robert Plant was a big nerd. Many of Zeppelin’s most beloved songs, including “Misty Mountain Hop,” “Ramble On” and “The Battle of Evermore” are based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings books.

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