10 Rockers With Serious Literary Cred
It should come as no surprise that many rockers have crossed over into the literary world. After all, many musicians have written beloved lyrics that surface in our Facebook status updates and AIM away messages, and some diehard fans even get tattoos of their favorite lines. While it’s not uncommon for artists to pen autobiographies, documenting adventures in the studio and on the road, those belonging to a rarer breed look outside themselves and dream up works of creative fiction and poetry. What follows are some of our favorites: 10 Rockers With Serious Literary Cred.
Will Sheff (Okkervil River)
Okkervil River produces songs that are both poetic and thoughtful, so it figures that frontman Will Sheff has also tried his hand at creative writing. His website features his various published works, including his contribution to McSweeney’s Issue 31 in 2009, which explored extinct literary forms. Sheff tackled the Norse “Fornaldarsaga,” a style traditionally used for epic adventure tales, and while he stayed true to the tradition, he added a modern twist. The outcome: ‘Black Metal Circle Saga,’ an epic narrative filled with Vikings, violence and — yep, that’s right — black metal. In 2013, he wrote on his website that he hopes to expand upon it in the future.
Pete Wentz (Fall Out Boy)
Somewhere between Fall Out Boy’s debut album, ‘Take This to Your Grave,’ and their sophomore effort, ‘From Under the Cork Tree,’ bassist and songwriter Pete Wentz penned ‘The Boy With the Thorn in His Side.’ The title is a nod to the Smith’s song of the same name, but the prose is inspired by the pop-punk bassist’s childhood nightmares. More recently, Wentz co-wrote ‘Gray’ with James Montgomery, which was published back in February.
Ryan Adams has been churning out inspired song lyrics since the mid-’90s, both as a solo artist and with bands like Whiskeytown and the Cardinals, but in 2009, he put down the guitar and published his first collection of poetry, ‘Infinity Blues.’ Although it and his follow-up, ‘Hello Sunshine,’ have received mixed reviews, his poetry, like his songwriting, is filled with profound imagery and honesty.
Lee Ranaldo (Sonic Youth)
If you’ve been missing Sonic Youth since the 2011 announcement of their indefinite hiatus, you might pick up guitarist and vocalist Lee Ranaldo’s solo album, ‘Between the Times and the Tides,’ or you might try something completely different and delve into his collection of poetry. ‘Road Movies,’ published in 2004, explores life on the road and is accompanied by photographs taken by his wife, Leah Singer. Ranaldo’s rhythmic writing perfectly captures the whirlwind existence of a perpetual traveler.
David Berman (Silver Jews)
Back in 2009, when David Berman announced the dissolution of his band Silver Jews, he wrote on a message board, “I guess I am moving over to another category. Screenwriting or Muckraking.” Disappointed fans were left to console themselves with the band’s six albums, and some may have shed tears over copies of Berman’s 1999 collection of poetry ‘Actual Air.’ The effort received high praise, as critics applauded Berman for his sharp, smart, witty reflections on seemingly ordinary events and objects.
Patti Smith is one of the most influential figures in punk rock, but she’s also renowned for her creative writing. While ’70s contemporaries like the Sex Pistols wrote songs brimming with aggression, Smith has always been more poetic in her style, and that has lent itself well to her literary efforts. She’s perhaps best known, at least in literary circles, for her 2010 memoir ‘Just Kids,’ which received the National Book Award for Nonfiction, but her 2005 collection of poetry ‘Auguries of Innocence’ should not be overlooked. The poems find Smith drawing on various influences, chief among them William Blake, author of the 1803 poem this collection is named for.
Tom Waits has been described as the musical equivalent of Charles Bukowski, so it was only a matter of time before the singer-songwriter crossed over into the literary world. That time finally came in 2011 with the publication of ‘Hard Ground,’ a collection of Waits’ poems inspired and accompanied by Michael O’Brien’s photos depicting homelessness. The partnership was a smart one, as Waits has been writing music exploring what it means to be society’s outcast throughout his career.
Colin Meloy (The Decemberists)
The Decemberists’ catalog is filled with songs that are quite literary in nature, many of them telling complete and vivid stories from beginning to end. In fact, the band’s 2009 album ‘The Hazards of Love’ stretches one coherent narrative over its 17 tracks. Therefore, it wasn’t a stretch for frontman Colin Meloy to make the move into literature. His debut effort, ‘Wildwood,’ is a children’s fantasy novel about two kids who enter a magical forest. While this may seem to be in the same vein as C.S. Lewis’ ‘Chronicles of Narnia,’ Meloy’s writing incorporates the same folklore style he uses in Decemberists’ songs. A sequel, ‘Under Wildwood,’ was released in 2012, and Meloy says he intends to add at least one more novel to the series.
Nick Cave’s music is famous for intense lyrics that reflect on themes such as religion, violence and man’s inhumanity (to name just a few), and those topics are present in his literary endeavors as well. His distinguished bibliography includes two collections of lyrics, poetry and plays, as well as two novels. His first novel, ‘And the Ass Saw the Angel,’ has led to comparisons with such literary giants as William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor, and his second, ‘The Death of Bunny Munro,’ was also well received.
Canadian singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen’s creative writing actually precedes his first album, ‘Songs of Leonard Cohen,’ which came out in 1967. ‘Let Us Compare Mythologies,’ a collection of his poems he wrote while studying English literature at McGill University, was published in 1956, and since then, he’s only expanded his repertoire. Subsequent works include the 1993 collection of poetry ‘Stranger Music’ and his two novels: ‘The Favorite Game’ (1963) and ‘Beautiful Losers’ (1966). His literature mirrors his music, addressing themes of love, sex and power. The Academy of American Poets praised Cohen as “a Renaissance man who straddles the elusive artistic borderlines.”