Great Writers Whose Lives Have Inspired Songs, Plus A Hunter S. Thompson Question

First, the HST question: I recall a song that he contributed vocals to. There would be music and lyrics, and then in the middle, HST would join in on some kind of non-singing rant, and then the musician would finish the song.

I’ve spent two days racking my brain over this. I thought it was something by Warren Zevon, but a search of my collection (and general Google-Fu) proved fruitless. It’s really bugging me.

This led, naturally, to songs that have been inspired by great writers. Not those that namecheck an artist, but one that the artist inspired. Here’s a few I came up with.

Okkervil River has a great song, “John Allyn Smith Sails” that mashes the suicide of poet John Berryman (who took a header off a Minneapolis bridge one snowy day) with “The Sloop John B.” (the name in the title was Berryman’s birth name, before he was adopted).

So, after singing about the poor guy’s life and its downward spiral, such as

The band breaks into the Beach Boys hit. Really neat song.

I also came across these goodies:

  • Frank Black named an album “The Cult of Ray” after Ray Bradbury, and the song of the same title riffs on the guy:
  • I also found “Mercy Street” from Peter Gabriel’s “So” which is dedicated to Anne Sexton and named for a play she wrote, as well as a book of poetry. It’s a heartfelt song with a lovely verse:

It turns out that Sharon Oreck, an '80s video producer, helped produce the video for that one (and wrote a book about her experiences called Video Slut, and has a copy of it on her web site

  • Then there’s 10,000 Maniacs’ “Hey Jack Kerouac” that riffs off of beat poetry:

So what songs did I miss?

I think the HST song you’re looking for might be Nixon’s Spirit by Paul Oakenfold.

A couple Pogues songs: “Hell’s Ditch” riffs on images and words from the life and writings of Jean Genet;“Lorca’s Novena” does the same with Spanish poet Frederico Lorca.

Then there’s “Alan Watts Blues” by Van Morrison.

I’ve always like that song “Hey Jack Kerouac”. It’s a little nerdy, but when she sings

she hits it.

And don’t forget Van’s Rave on , John Donne, where he also praises a bunch of other authors. He does it all the time, another example would be Summertime in England, in which he mentions William Blake, T. S. Eliot, Wordsworth, Joyce and Yeats.

Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit. A nod to Lewis Carroll.

ETA: Loudon Wainwright III’s School Days mentions Keats and Blake. That’s the first song of Lou’s I ever heard and I haven’t thought of it in decades.

The Cure had a song called “Killing an Arab” which was based on Albert Camus’ The Stranger.

In Van’s “Cleaning Windows” he namechecks “Kerouac’s Dharma Bums and On The Road”…

Also from the Airplane: “the Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil” and “the House at Pooneil Corners” - ‘pooneil’ refers to songwriter Paul Kantner’s two biggest influences - A.A. Milne’s “Winnie the Poo(h)” stories and folk singer/songwriter Fred Neil.
Not to mention “ReJoyce”, again by the Airplane (but written by Grace Slick) that excerpts James Joyce’s “Ulysses.”
10,000 Maniacs have a song called “Hey Jack Keroauc.” (Allen Ginsberg & William “Billy” Burroughs get name-checked in that song too.)

Tori Amos has a song called “Tear In Your Hand” which is kind of an ode to Neil Gaiman.

The song that springs to mind for me is Bukowskiby Modest Mouse. Not exactly about Bukouski as much as inspired by Bukowski. Still, it’s a good song.