News and notes from Fredericksburg's entertainment scene
Equalizer: The Story In The Song
BY JONAS BEALS
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Seeking entertainment over the Easter weekend, I perused the bookshelves in my wife’s childhood bedroom. I found “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain.
I read the first couple of chapters, savoring the language and the vague middle-school memories it resurrected from the first time I read it.
It also reminded me of the Rush song “Tom Sawyer.”
Rush’s catalog is filled with songs based on literature, and they’re not the only band inspired by the written word.
Iron Maiden practically made a career of turning novels into song. Their entire album “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” is based on the sci–fi book “Seventh Son” by Orson Scott Card.
In similar fashion, Anthrax songified a number of Stephen King stories. Led Zeppelin had an embarrassing J.R.R. Tolkien fetish.
Like in movies, it’s hard to beat the book. But plenty of popular musicians tried.
“Catch–22” by Pink
Released on the International version of Pink’s “M!ssundaztood” album, the song is supposedly based on Joseph Heller’s satirical World War II novel of the same name.
Pro: Pink plays a flight attendant reading the pre-flight safety instructions, perhaps paying homage to airplanes and Capt. John Yossarian’s job as a B–25 bombardier.
Con: A missed opportunity to rhyme anything with Yossarian—the title character is never mentioned by name in the song.
Verdict: Pink gets kudos for her interpretation, but she didn’t stand a chance against this literary masterpiece. The book is better.
“Tales of Brave Ulysses” by Cream
A classic rock tune that incorporates themes from Homer’s classical epic “The Odyssey.”
Pro: Unequaled in its descriptions of being helplessly trapped in the clutches of love.
Con: The song’s tight focus on the Sirens can’t meet the sprawling entertainment value of the most famous story in western literature.
Verdict: In a surprise upset, the song wins thanks to Eric Clapton’s use of a wa-wa pedal—a first in popular music.
“Moby Dick” by Led Zeppelin
A brutally long vehicle for live John Bonham drum solos, based on the white whale from the Herman Melville novel of the same name.
Pro: An ambitious (and somewhat successful) attempt to instrumentally capture the essence of a violent and vengeful sperm whale.
Con: You learn nothing about quality clam chowder or sperm squeezing from the song. If only there were lyrics.
Verdict: Sorry, Zep-heads, but there’s no way the band should have taken on the greatest book in American history. They should have stuck with the song’s original title: “Pat’s Delight.”
“The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” by Leonard Nimoy
When Spock wants to sing about Hobbits, you get him to a recording studio STAT.
Pro: See above paragraph. Also, the video is a cinematic masterpiece.
Con: It’s only about 2 minutes long.
Verdict: I was tempted to call this a tie, but the more I listen, the more unbelievable the song becomes. Let’s be honest—stories about trolls and dragons are a dime a dozen, even if they’re written by Tolkien. Lyrical interpretations of said stories by Star Trek first officers are extremely rare. The song wins by an ear-tip.
JONAS’ IN-TOWN PICK: Kenny Rogers with the University of Mary Washington Philharmonic
at the William M. Anderson Center. Why the heck not? It’s Kenny Rogers! Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
OUT-OF-TOWN PICK: Mayer Hawthorne & The County at the Jefferson Theater in Charlottesville. A young singer and throwback showman in the Motown soul tradition. Monday at 7 p.m.
LISTENING TO: “Fat Man” by Jethro Tull. I don’t care what everyone else says. Tull was, and is, totally awesome. I was sure there would be more rockin’ flautists by now.
Jonas Beals: 540/368-5036