I love music – not quite as much as I love books, but just about. I can’t imagine life without music – classical and contemporary. How could the world be what it is without Bach’s keyboard and choral music, without Schubert’s B flat piano sonata, without Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (let alone Tallis himself), without Elvis, without Bob Dylan, without our own Warwickshire-born genius Nick Drake?
Books and music sort of go together. I can’t read with music on, as my mind wants to concentrate on both and so ends up not enjoying either (I think I enjoy both with my mind, as well as with other parts of my being…). But they go together in a complementary way – they do similar things in very different ways.
When it comes to songs, they both of course use words. My three favourite pop/rock musicians are him and the other Nick (Drake) and Bob Dylan – all writers of their own material, all alchemists with words, all superlative performers with unusual but extraordinary voices. The great Nick Cave, one of the finest lyricists of the last few decades, makes a distinction between poetry (he is often called a poet by his admirers) and songs, because the song is about that magical fusion of words, music and performance, all three equally important.
He should know, he’s brilliant at all three, a pianist as well as a songwriter and a mesmerising performer. He has also written songs inspired by books – two in particular spring to mind. I’m writing this on, apparently the anniversary of the day in 1859 when Mark Twain, as he became, was licensed as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi; his novel Huckleberry Finn is one of the very finest, and inspired the song Saint Huck by Nick Cave, performed here live in an astonishing gig in France a few years ago:
Another inspiration was Milton’s Paradise Lost (Nick’s reading habits are clearly highbrow!), from which comes the phrase ‘red right hand’, in turn the theme of one of Nick and the Bad Seeds’ most enduring songs – he says he can’t remember a concert where they haven’t performed it. This is from the same concert in Lyon – I have the DVD, and the whole gig really is fabulous!
It has got me thinking about other songs inspired by books. Another favourite is Killing an Arab by The Cure, based of course on Albert Camus’ Existentialist novel The Outsider:
And of course Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush, major nostalgia from my teenage years:
Editing this on 20 June, as Bruce Springsteen is at the Ricoh in Coventry, and I remembered I hadn’t included this, inspired of course by Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and its resonance in contemporary society.
Any other favourites? Let me know!