Literary Notions (In Eight Chapters)

Little tickles intellectual narcissism like a well-placed literary reference in a song.

Little tickles intellectual narcissism like a well-placed literary reference in a song. It is just the sort of acknowledging wink that can make you forgot those long hours deconstructing favorite works of literature into political and cultural bait. We’ve left behind the lands of Mordor, the tales of the Cthulhu, and Tori Amos’ constant name-checking of Neil Gaiman, and found a handful of songs for a literary sing-along.

   1.  Killing an Arab | The Cure

        The song title Robert Smith wishes he could live without, and the existential lyrical anxieties that are pure Camus.

   2.  Le Pastie De La Bourgeoisie | Belle and Sebastian

        From Judy Blume to the allure of Catcher in the Rye, bookish romanticism beckons.

   3.  Time’s Arrow | The Weakerthans

        Someday the world will wakeup to poetic richness of J.K. Samson’s lyrics. Until that time, enjoy this Martin Amis–inspired tune, or one of the group’s other songs referencing everything from Derrida to P.G. Wodehouse.

   4.  Don’t Stand So Close to Me | The Police

        As Diane Keaton’s character says in Woody Allen’s Manhattan: “Somewhere Nabokov is smiling.”

   5.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Sea of Tears) | Destroyer

        Dan Bejar said he once had an idea to name each song on an album after a major publishing house, and we’re pleased he chose to keep this one—after all, it could have been (Jann) Wenner Books. Bonus points to Bejar for having a song on the same album referencing the work of Werner Herzog in this line: “Was it the movie or the making of Fitzcarraldo.”

   6.  Dead Souls | Joy Division

        Fitting that Ian Curtis would find a muse in Russian satirist Nikolai Gogol, the man who listed his country’s two problems as “fools and roads.”

   7.  I Should Be Allowed to Think | They Might Be Giants

        The canonical Beat masterpiece “Howl” is given an irony-laced send-up by the two Johns, who capture the woes of an adolescent scorned by his powerlessness to glue posters and “leave paper stains on the grey utility pole.”

   8.  Ghost World | Aimee Mann

        With his comic, Daniel Clowes brilliantly captured the feeling of being lost in inertia, a sentiment Mann infuses into this tune.

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