Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Musicians Show Off Book Smarts in Song Lyrics

Listening to music, it's easy to get caught up in the beat or the overall feel of the song. Yet, if you stop and really listen to the lyrics of some songs, you might be surprised to discover some serious literary references being dropped.
The Rolling Stones performing in 1968.
Image via

Take, for instance, the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil." It's pretty much common knowledge that the song, from the Stones' 1968 album Beggars Banquet, was inspired by The Master and the Margarita, a book by Mikhail Bulgakov that Mick Jagger had read. However, Jagger has also gone on record as saying he was influenced by the French poet Charles Baudelaire in writing "Sympathy for the Devil." Jagger told Rolling Stone magazine in a 1995 interview, "I think that was taken from an old idea of Baudelaire's, I think. But I could be wrong. Sometimes when I look at my Baudelaire books, I can't see it in there. But it was an idea I got from French writing. And I just took a couple of lines and expanded on it."

Including the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil," the people at ShortList Magazine have come up with "25 Songs That Reference Books." Another obvious choice comes from the music of Led Zeppelin. "Ramble On," from the 1969 album Led Zeppelin II, mentions names that will be familiar to fans of J.R.R. Tolkien. Here is a lyric from the song: "'Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor/I met a girl so fair/But Gollum, and the evil one crept up/And slipped away with her." These references are from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books. (In the comments section of the ShortList article, readers suggested additional artists who were inspired by Tolkien, among them the German metal band Blind Guardian.)

ShortList also makes it known that David Bowie's 1974 album Diamond Dogs is chock-full of references to the George Orwell novel 1984. At least three songs on the album refer to 1984, including "We Are the Dead," and more obviously, "Big Brother" and "1984." Case in point, here are lyrics from the song "1984": "They'll split your pretty cranium and fill it full of air/And tell you that you're eighty, but brother, you won't care/Beware the savage jaw of 1984." (One commentor pointed out that, besides Bowie, Rage Against the Machine also repeatedly referenced 1984 in their 1999 album The Battle of Los Angeles, with three songs on the album - "Testify," "Sleep Now in the Fire," and "Voice of the Voiceless" - featuring mentions of Orwell's novel.)

Other musicians who've shown off book smarts in the lyrics of their songs are, according to ShortList: Radiohead ("Dollars & Cents"), The Strokes ("Soma"), Joy Division ("Atrocity Exhibition"), the Velvet Underground ("Venus in Furs"), Nirvana ("Scentless Apprentice"), the Pixies ("Dead"), Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds ("Red Right Hand"), Leonard Cohen ("Hallelujah"), and more. Readers of the article added: Jefferson Airplane ("White Rabbit"), the Mountain Goats ("Love Love Love"), MGMT ("The Handshake"), Noisettes ("Atticus"), Kate Bush ("Wuthering Heights"), Regina Spektor ("Baobabs"), Panic! At the Disco ("Time to Dance"), and lots more.

To see all "25 Songs That Reference Books," and the many more that music-loving commentors said were missed, go to the ShortList article at THIS LINK.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Kim Gordon Opens Up in New Memoir

I first learned of Kim Gordon when I was a teenager, poring over the pages of Sassy magazine, which I immediately subscribed to after getting the premier issue free in the mail in March 1988. As one of the founders of the experimental rock band Sonic Youth, Kim Gordon came across as the epitome of cool.
Kim Gordon.
Image via

Gordon played guitar, bass, and sang in the band, and she just seemed like an all-around badass. As the 1980s segued into the 1990s, a new music emerged from the Pacific Northwest region of the United States and got the attention of the mainstream media, which called it "grunge." Many in the new music scene cited Sonic Youth as an influence, and some looked upon them as mentors. Soon, Kim Gordon came to be seen as the "Godmother of Grunge."

Years later, I saw Sonic Youth play what would be - unbeknownst to all - their last show in the United States. The show was in August 2011, at an outdoor venue that was right on the waterfront in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It was a stunningly bright and beautiful summer day, and concert-goers were kept cool by a steady breeze blowing in off the East River. Once the sun set, Sonic Youth emerged from the sides of the stage and played an amazing set. No one in the audience that night would have ever guessed that trouble was brewing among the bandmates.
Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore playing in Sonic Youth in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, August 2011.
Photo courtesy of the author of this blog

Shortly after that New York concert date, news reports surfaced that Sonic Youth were breaking up after 30 years together as a band. Rumors swirled that behind the breakup were marriage problems between Gordon and her husband and Sonic Youth bandmate and cofounder, Thurston Moore, who was believed to have been having an affair with a younger woman. The news not only shattered fans of the band but also admirers of Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, who were long viewed as an indie rock "It" couple by many. It was a weird time.

Gordon will be talking about that weird time and brighter periods in Sonic Youth's history in her forthcoming memoir, Girl in a Band. "Often described as aloof, Kim Gordon truly opens up in Girl in a Band. Telling the story of her childhood, her life in art, her move to New York City, her love affairs, her marriage, her relationship with her daughter, and her band, this is a rich and beautifully written memoir. At the heart of the book is the examination of what partnership means - and what happens when it dissolves," reads one description of the book.
The cover of Kim Gordon's forthcoming memoir, Girl in a Band.
Image designed by the interwebs

To be published by HarperCollins imprint Dey Street Books, the memoir is further described as an "atmospheric look at the New York of the '80s and '90s that gave rise to Sonic Youth, as well as the Alternative revolution in popular music that Sonic Youth helped usher in, paving the way for Nirvana, Hole, Smashing Pumpkins and many other acts." It will be released on February 24, 2015, according to the HarperCollins website, and will be available in hardcover for the retail price of $27.99. Fingers crossed that Kim Gordon will go on a book tour to promote it.

To keep up with Kim Gordon's current goings-on, follow her on Twitter HERE.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Reading Is Good for You! Here's Proof

Infographic via

Marilyn Monroe's Bookshelf: What She Read

Back in 1999, the office building where I worked was down the street from Christie's, the world-famous auction house specializing in high-end collectibles. In October 1999, Christie's was auctioning off items from the estate of Marilyn Monroe. But before the date of the auction, Christie's allowed the general public to come in and view the items. I decided to go during my lunch break.
Marilyn Monroe was a great collector and lover of books.
Image via Booktryst

Viewing the personal possessions of Marilyn Monroe, I marveled at many things: her driver's license, the well-preserved cosmetics still in their cases, 1950s electronics that included a small television set, movie scripts, and of course her many clothes, among them luxurious furs and elegant evening gowns. But what surprised me the most were the many, many books that made up her home library. There was a great abundance of books in her library, quite a few of them first editions, such as a copy of On the Road by Jack Kerouac. I also remember seeing books by Proust, Dostoevsky, and Chekhov. This was the collection of a well-read, erudite person.

I was struck that someone who found fame by playing a "dumb blonde" was in actuality an incredibly sharp person who devoured books, some of which would be considered far too "academic" and "tough" for the average man in the street. That Marilyn Monroe owned and very likely read these books illuminates a whole other, lesser-known side of this pop culture icon. It shatters what you thought you knew about her and adds a greater, deeper dimension to her public persona, taking you beyond your perception of Monroe as a child-like, none-too-bright woman who reveled in an almost wholesome sensuality and who was the rumored sexual plaything of those in the upper strata of society. Marilyn was an intellectual.

The people at Open Culture, the self-proclaimed "best free cultural & educational media on the web," have listed "The 430 Books in Marilyn Monroe's Library" and asked: "How Many Have You Read?" In addition to works by Kerouac, Proust, Dostoevsky, and Chekhov, the books that Open Culture says were in Monroe's possession include:

  • The Fall, by Albert Camus
  • Camille, by Alexander Dumas
  • Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
  • The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • From Russia with Love, by Ian Fleming
  • The Prophet, by Kahlil Gilbran
  • Ulysses, by James Joyce
  • The Last Temptation of Christ, by Nikos Kazantzakis
  • Sons and Lovers, by D.H. Lawrence
  • Long Day's Journey into Night, by Eugene O'Neill
  • Once There Was a War, by John Steinbeck
  • A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams
  • The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemmingway
  • The Magic Christian, by Terry Southern
  • A Death in the Family, by James Agee
  • The Family of Man, by Carl Sandburg
  • The Summing Up, by W. Somerset Maugham
  • Bound for Glory, by Woody Guthrie
  • Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert
  • The Dubliners, by James Joyce
  • Poet in New York, by Frederico Garcia Lorca
  • Das Kapital, by Karl Marx
  • Democracy in America, by Alexis De Tocqueville
  • Common Sense and Nuclear Warfare, by Bertrand Russell
  • Out of My Later Years, by Albert Einstein
  • Men and Atoms, by William Laurence
  • From Hiroshima to the Moon, by Daniel Lang
  • The Actor Prepares, by Konstantin Stanislavsky
  • The Importance of Living, by Lin Yutang
  • Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke

It was determined that these books were in Monroe's personal library based on research conducted by Everlasting Star, an online Marilyn Monroe fan club whose members studied photographs, interviews, and the catalog from Christie's October 1999 auction. Booktryst, an online site that's "A Nest for Book Lovers," compiled Everlasting Star's findings, and Open Culture presented this list of Monroe's books. If you would like to see "The 430 Books in Marilyn Monroe's Library," go to the Open Culture article at THIS LINK.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Kansas City Library Boasts Burlesque Collection

When the Folly Theater in Kansas City, Missouri, cleaned out its basement, it uncovered a treasure trove of items from its colorful past. The Folly, which originated as a vaudeville house when it first opened in 1900, offered a variety of entertainment over the years, including burlesque.
Folly Theater, in Kansas City, Missouri, circa 1970.
Image via

Burlesque performers Gypsy Rose Lee, Tempest Storm, Suni Daye, Cherry Smash, Sally Rand, and others graced the stage of the Folly. Some of the materials from their performances were left behind at the legendary venue, among them publicity photos, posters, and more.

Coming across these materials in the basement, the Folly's staff knew what they had was of historical importance. But the question arose: What should be done with all of this stuff? Talking to the Kansas City Star, Gale Tallis, executive director at the Folly, said, "We considered whether we wanted to let go of our archives. Our realization was that we had no way to take care of those archives."

The nearby Central Library branch of the Kansas City Public Library presented a clear solution. "We wanted them [the archives] close by, and we felt they [the library] had a team to take care of them the way we would like and to have them available to the general public," Tallis told the Kansas City Star.
Kansas City Public Library archivist Kate Hill inspects a poster of burlesque star Tempest Storm.
Image via Pinterest via the Kansas City Star

On their part, the Kansas City Public Library was excited to receive the archives, knowing that it would greatly increase the visibility of the library's Missouri Valley Special Collections. And indeed it has. "We've had a lot of interest in the collection since we received it," Lucinda Adams, senior archivist for the Missouri Valley Special Collections, told the Kansas City Star.

The Kansas City Public Library is currently seeking grants that would allow for hiring a full-time archivist for a period of two years, the time it would take to process all 150 boxes brought over from the Folly Theater. According to the Kansas City Star, "A preliminary inventory has already uncovered a treasure. There are about 80 player piano rolls, including one dating to World War I called 'The Tickle Toe.'" An exhibit of these materials is in the works.

For more on the Kansas City Public Library's new burlesque collection, including a slideshow of some of the items, see the Kansas City Star article "Risque Business: KC Library Collections Relics from Folly Theater's Burlesque Past" at THIS LINK.