(“Killing an Arab” by The Cure is not available on Spotify)
As a lover of the arts, you may find yourself splitting your love between literature and music. However, there’s no reason to feel yourself being pulled in different directions, because the two are often connected in so many different ways. Not only is the line between poetry and lyrics often blurred, but many music artists have been inspired by various literary works. This results in plenty of songs for book lovers to resonate with.
“Breezeblocks” by alt-J
The first single from the synth-infused indie rock band directly references the children’s book, “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak. The book’s presence in the song is clear, from the asking of “Do you know where the wild things go?” to passionately declaring “Please don’t go, I’ll eat you whole / I love you so” repeatedly before the song ends. The latter is pulling from a line said by the beasts at the end of the novel. Speaking to Interview Magazine, the band discusses being drawn to the idea of “threaten(ing) cannibalism to have that person — it’s a powerful image.” The upbeat tempo and cyclical rhythmic quality reflect the desperation of running after and trying to grasp something you feel yourself losing.
“I Wanna Be Yours” by Arctic Monkeys
This soothing yet electric closing track of the band’s most recent album, AM, is not actually the work of lyricist Alex Turner. Instead, the singer is directly stating the lines written by John Cooper Clarke in his poem of the same name. In Clarke’s poem, the speaker addresses his lover, using a list of metaphors to declare his devotion, ranging from a Ford Cortina that will never rust to a Teddy Bear to be taken with everywhere. Two of the stanzas from the poem are used for the verses, while Turner adds in the line, “Secrets I have held in my heart / Are harder to hide than I thought” and emphasizes the key line of “I wanna be yours” with added repetition. By transforming this poem into a song, a voice is given to the pleading speaker. Turner’s voice presents a surprising calmness that contrasts the urgency that the poem seems to embody, adding a complexity that doesn’t exist when the text stands on its own. Clarke’s poem can be read in full here.
“Killing an Arab” by The Cure
This early single by The Cure is blatantly inspired by Albert Camus’ “The Stranger,” a book you likely had to read in high school, but also probably loved. “The Stranger” follows the emotionless character of Meursault as he finds himself killing an Arab in a senseless murder and the aftermath that follows. The lyrics to The Cure’s take on this text directly reference the events of the plot, starting with the opening of the song, “Standing on the beach / With a gun in my hand.” The song goes on to address the key detail of Meursault’s act — the sun being in his eyes — as well as the existentialist element of the novel with the lines, “Staring at the sky / Staring at the sun / Whichever I choose / It amounts to the same / Absolutely nothing.”
“It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)” by Arcade Fire
In the well-known Greek myth, Orpheus tries to retrieve his love, Eurydice, from the Underworld. The one condition given to allow Eurydice to leave is that Orpheus must not look back at Eurydice until they are out of the Underworld. Orpheus is unable to do so and looks back at Eurydice anyway, which cements her place in the Underworld, directly clashing with what Orpheus set out to do. Arcade Fire’s six minute rendition chronicles the tale, taking on the perspectives of both lovers, starting with Eurydice pleading to her lover, “I’m behind you / Don’t turn around.” She tells him again and again to “Just wait until it’s over / Wait until it’s through.” And with Orpheus’s fateful move of looking back at her comes the realization for both of them that “It’s never over.”
“Soma” by The Strokes
If you’ve read “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley, you have probably caught onto The Strokes referencing a key component of the novel with its song, “Soma.” The title refers to the fictional drug that is highly prevalent within the 1932 novel. From the first line, “Soma is what they take when / Hard times opened their eyes,” through the rest of the song, listeners find themselves pondering how the reference to the novel connects to what is being expressed through the lyrics of the song. By not including any other direct references to the novel outside of the title, The Strokes seem to be merging this fictional drug with the real world of the listener.
“This Book is a Movie” by Spoon
This song off of Spoon’s Girls Can Tell is entirely instrumental with a consistent mellow rock sound throughout. As a song with no lyrics, the only indication that it is literary-inspired in any way is its title. Not only does it bring together two art forms of literature and music, but brings in a third: film. The listener is left to analyze this convergence however they please, based only on the title given and the music itself. Whether the song evokes interpretive thought in the listener or results in mere listening absorption, Spoon provides three-plus minutes for listeners to get lost in their own minds, whatever that may mean. And what’s more literary than that?
Contact Nikki Munoz at [email protected].