Five Songs Inspired by Literature

by R.C.

1. Astronaut by Amanda Palmer

In Palmer’s haunting last verse to the first track on her début solo album Who Killed Amanda Palmer? she references, quite fittingly, Robert Frost’s Acquainted With the Night: “I have been one acquainted with the night./ I have walked out in rain — and back in rain./ I have outwalked the furthest city light.”

2. Holland, 1945 by Neutral Milk Hotel

                                                                                                                                                                                            The entirety of Neutral Milk Hotel’s 1998 album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, has been quite noticeably influenced by Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl. Holland, 1945 stands out above the rest of the tracks (for the purposes of this list) not only because Mangum’s allusions to the Holocaust are startlingly clear, but because he succeeds in reviving the poignancy of a book that has perhaps been read so much that we have become desensitized to its message.

3. Sonnet 20 by Rufus Wainwright

                                                                                                                                                                                        Rufus Wainwright has put a number of Shakespeare’s sonnets to music, three of which appear on his album All Days Are Nights. The lyrics aren’t exactly inspired by literature, they are literature but despite these songs not quite meeting the proper criteria, they certainly deserve a place on the list.

4. The Swan by Bishi

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              The Swan appears on Bishi’s 2007 album Nights at the Circus, the title of which (and the album’s first track) is taken from Angela Carter’s novel of the same name. Though I can find no confirmation, I’m taking the album’s title as a free pass to imagine Fevvers, Carter’s protagonist, as the subject of the song. If you like this track you may want to check out its successor on the album, Grandmother’s Floor, for some Alice in Wonderland references.

5. Scentless Apprentice by Nirvana

                                                                                                                                              Patrick Süskind’s novel Perfume: The Story of a Murderer served as inspiration for Nirvana’s Scentless Apprentice from their 1993 album In Utero. The plot follows a man without his own scent and with an incredibly acute sense of smell, as he tries to capture and preserve the scent of young women.