Friday, November 19, 2004

Music as an education.

David Eggers has an amusing column up in The Guardian about how pompous references in pop songs get us to scramble to the library or dictionary. He claims the British drop literary references more often than American artists do, but I'm not sure that's the case. I just think overall the Americans are a bit subtler.

In Ballad of a Thin Man, Dylan sings :

With great lawyers you have
Discussed lepers and crooks
You've been through all of
F. Scott Fitzgerald's books
You're very well read
It's well known
Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

And anyone who has been following the surge of "research" into Dylan's lyrics should know by now that most of his songs are chock full of literary references, prompting one critic to call him a "magpie poet." Dylan's album Time Out of Mind has a great song called I'm Sick of Love. That title was taken straight from the Songs of Solomon in the Bible. And earlier this year there was a kerfuffle over Dylan's having snatched a few lines from an obscure Japanese writer Junichi Saga for the song Floater on his 2001 album Love and Theft.

And what about Lou Reed? I mean a song called The Sword of Damocles?

While Randy Newman may not drop names from the stacks, he has opened up listeners eyes to historic figures and events across the American landscape. There's an Austin, Texas band that named itself after a William Faulkner novel. There's more, but this is too long already.

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