Friday, July 01, 2005

AMERICAN LIT ROCKS! (19th Century Edition)

In continuation of my last post (Walt Whitman Set to Music) here are some questions to ponder from the Pop Culture Desk, re: iconic authors, titles and characters set to music.

1. Is there something in Emily Dickinson's poetry that makes her anathema to Rock and Popular music appropriations? Other than the operetta CD "Oh No Not Emily" by Totally Honest Productions, I can't find any music about her.

2. I'm not a professor of American Literature. Let me get that out of the way before I say that Huckleberry Finn is, in my opinion, a much better novel than Tom Sawyer. I was pretty sure the literary establishment agreed, but musicians seems to prefer Tom Sawyer over Huckleberry Finn. Once again, is there something in Huck that is resistant to popular consumption? The most famous song of the bunch is "Tom Sawyer" by Rush, which paints Tom like a mean mother with a mean stride. It includes lyrics like: "A modern-day warrior/Mean mean stride,/Today's Tom Sawyer/Mean mean pride." Wow! And this is a popular anthem; it has been re-recorded by Deadsy, Mindless Self Indulgence and Dominic Cifarelli. Other songs on Tom include Sam Swaim's instrumental "Sawyer's Dream," which can be heard here ; the bouncy banjo piece with a great Americana feel "Mississippi Sawyer," which Tom Adams has recorded; and "Tom Sawyer and the Man By His Side" by Jeremy Schonfeld, which is moody and melancholy in a piano kind of way.

Incidentally, Mark Twain seems to inspire a more profound and somber kind of stance from musicians. Michale Joy's "Mark Twain" is folksy and profound-like, while Rob Henke and the Washington Street Players make their "Mark Twain" classy and jazzy. "Mark Twain" by Dyllan Young rocks, but in a somber kind of way and "Mark Twain" by the Kingston Trio sounds like gazebo music from DisneyLand (it actually makes you want to buy a peach ice cream cone and prance around in white pants.) It is nice that Bryan Clark's Mark Twain song deals with its subject matter indirectly, like Deep Blue Something's "Breakfast at Tiffany's; Clark titles his song "Hotel Mark Twain" and the lyrics may be found on his homepage (in the music section).

Finally, did you know that there's a cool band called Mark Twain's Dog!

3. Is there something inherently edgy about Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter? Because Jag Panzer's "The Scarlet Letter" (lyrics)and "Scarlet Letter" by Leslie Nuss really ROCK in a head-banging kind of way. Other songs include "Scarlet Letters" by Kiss Offs and Jon Gorey's anthem-like "The Scarlet Letter" (lyrics, scroll down) is a great Boston Red Sox song that has little to do with Hester Prynne (which perhaps explains why it's pretty good). Maybe there's something softer and more New-Age out there, but I haven't found it yet. Hawthorne seems to rock. Why?

Interesting patterns.


At 10:53 AM, Blogger ABDmom said...

Why does Hawthorne rock? Because Hester is a rebel. She challenged the rules of established society, much like rock is *supposed* to do. :)

At 7:20 PM, Blogger What Now? said...

You know, I *am* a professor of American literature, and I don't know most of this music, but I'm going to make a note of these. Thanks for doing my musical homework for me!

At 3:50 PM, Blogger bryan clark said...

Hi there...thanks for blogging about my song "Hotel Mark Twain". The song is actually based around a real place in Hollywood called "hotel mark twain - permanent and transients" I wrote the song with the idea of someone who was looking back on a period on his life and how things have changed. How did you come across my music? I'd like to invite you to check out the web site -if you haven't done so already and listen to some new music that I have that will be on my new CD. You also might be interested in 'Pupil Pen' (many Shakespeare inspired images - the song was a finalist in the performing songwriter magazine contest) and also 'Lost and Found'. This has plenty of Voltaire ala Candide themes.

Bryan Clark

At 2:06 PM, Anonymous dan mclaughlin said...


Let me add my thanks to that of Bryan. and his curiosity as to how you found me.

My name is Dan McLaughlin of "On No, Not Emily" the show that uses the fact that every Emily Dickinson poem can be sung to the Yellow Rose of Texas. The muscial was originally just about academia and theory as seen through the prisim of a fictional english department which buys a forged Emily Dickinson poem. after one the read throughs, one of the actresses said something like "i can't believe you haven't made use of the fact that every ED poem can be sung to the yellow rose of texas." and she then demonstrated using "because i could not stop for death...."

recognizing dramatic gold, this soon became an essential plot point. for a summary of the plot with sound clips one can go to this page for a full length mp3 version of the song try this page

again, thanks for the mention, and if anyone would care to use the show for an academic gathering, please let me know and I would be delighted to discuss.

Dan McLaughlin


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