Thursday, February 6, 2020

A Secret Love Of Chaos

This post is something of a hymn to serendipty or the butterfly effect or maybe just the way one things leads to another. I can't really remember how it started even though I only began planning it a week or so ago.

I know I was thinking it was about time I did another music post, not so much because I imagined anyone wanted one but because I really enjoy doing them and it would be a fun thing to do on my week off work.

What peg to hang it on, though? With nothing much in mind I started thumbing through cover versions on YouTube, where I chanced upon a sliver of diamond:

Not only is it one of the most awe-inspiring JAMC covers I've ever heard (and I've heard a few) but the band is called The Caulfield Sisters. Now, I guess that could be a co-incidence but not when you consider this:

Back when I used to write and publish apazines, I had an occasional series where I would review books I'd found. Just the ones whose cover copy or blurb proclaimed them to be the spiritual successors of Catcher In The Rye in particular or J. D . Salinger in general. I hunted for them and found quite a few.

I wrote in the persona of an unnamed, ethereal entity, trapped unwillingly in an empty house on some transcendental plane. These texts would mysteriously appear for her; her only form of amusement or entertainment, her only relief from the close, unending stasis of her afterlife. She reviewed them for me. What else was there for her to do?

I never came right out and said it but it wasn't hard to work out that the girl in question was the spirit, the ghost, the transdimensional echo of Phoebe Caulfield, Holden's little sister. The fact that I used to publish my zines under the rubric "Another fit from The House of Phoebe" made the connection hard to miss.

I was in my twenties. Bite me. 

Three or four decades later I'm afraid to say I still think that was a cool set up. "Catcher In The Rye" is still my favorite novel and Salinger still my favorite writer, closely followed by "The Bell Jar" and Sylvia Plath in either second or third place depending on my mood. Yes, I am familiar with the term "arrested development", thank you very much. Good band, too.

I watched a bunch more videos by The Caulfield Sisters and I liked them so much I bought the MP3 album. Then I spent several hours bumming around YouTube trying to find enough Salinger-related tunes to put a post together.

It turns out a lot of people write songs about Salinger and Holden Caulfield and most of them aren't any good at all. Who'd have guessed? Well, I should have, for one. After all, I'm the idiot who bought a CD just because it was called "J.D. Salinger" and it was by a band called "The Wynona Riders". I mean, it had to be great, didn't it? Judge for yourself.

I did manage to find a couple of gems. Well, "gems" is pushing it. Songs that don't totally suck, that would be closer.

The one above has a superb title - "You're Not Salinger. Get Over It" and it's a good mosh pit filler. The band also get points for naming themselves after a somewhat Salingeresque and almost equally fondly-remembered T.V. show - The Wonder Years. Unfortunately, although there are literally dozens of live versions out there, every one of them seems to have been filmed from said mosh pit on a phone and they're all pretty damn close to unlistenable.

Maybe it's better not to get too carried away by a band's name. I certainly wasn't expecting much from an outfit calling themselves Retrospective Soundtrack Players. I mean, what even is that? But this is a pretty good tune and a creditable attempt to embody the spirit - and even the plot - of Catcher in a four minute pop song. Extra credit for wearing the Holden Caulfield hat!

While we're on the subject of band names that don't inspire confidence, give a thought to The New Hampshire Love Song Warriors, which actually sounds like one guy and a piano. The title, "I Want a Cornish Girl (& To Live Like JD Salinger)", misled me at first. I was wondering how Cornwall came into it but it turns out Cornish is a town in New Hampshire. 

The whole idea of a post based around popular songs based on Salinger and his works wasn't really going anywhere so I put it to one side. Then Everett True just happened to put up this about Grrrl Gang, a C86-obsessed trio from Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Everett seemed surprised and delighted that twentysomethings in Indonesia would be obsessed with Heavenly and Talulah Gosh but from what I've seen online there's a big twee/indie scene in that part of the world.

Grrrl Gang are excellent, as I found when I flipped through their back catalog, where one of the first things I came across was the provocatively titled Guys Don't Read Sylvia Plath (patently untrue although maybe not in Indonesia).

That put me back on the trail of author-inspired songs I could hang a blog post on. It occured to me immediately that the names of certain authors would be far more prone to theft or inspiration than others. I didn't think there was much chance of my finding some of my favorites - Ysabeau Wilce, say, or Robert B Parker - immortalized in song. And I was right.

I thought I might get a result with another of my top three all-time favorite authors, F. Scott Fitzgerald, but no such luck. My search wasn't helped by some prat called Scott Fitzgerald, who represented the U.K. at the 1988 Eurovision song contest. And came second. By one point. To Celine Dion. Singing for Switzerland. I'm not making this up. I wish I was.

Zelda Fitzgerald, however, is a different story. Unsurprisingly, her doomed, desperate grandeur still resonates down the years. Maybe one day I'll read her only published novel, Save Me The Waltz. If I don't, God knows it won't be for lack of trying. I must have started it half a dozen times.

Whereas I think most of the authors mentioned in this post would be either mortified or driven to homicidal rage by the songs bearing their names, I suspect Zelda would have enjoyed this one, if only for what has to be the most hipster video I've ever seen. The Fitzgeralds had a lot of hipster in them.

That was My Kind Of Karma. Well, it wasn't. It really wasn't. That's just what they call themselves. Bands, eh? Hipsters, eh? What are they like?

Much safer to dress down and name yourself after a children's T.V. show. It worked for Belle and Sebastian. I love them, even if they are the indie equivalent of National Treasures. When I saw they'd namechecked Sylvia Plath (yes, we're back to her again) I knew we were in safe hands.

Not sure about that keytar though. Or the hat.

If Belle and Sebastian and Sylvia Plath seem like a natural fit, this next one comes from somewhere to the left of left field. (Not Leftfield. I don't think they ever worked a quote from The Bell Jar into their prog house/trip hop ouevre). 

That said, rap and Plath's poetry share considerable common ground. I wish there was a completed version of this on YouTube. And I wish it was Ted Hughes chanting "You may be crazy but I love you baby". I'd pay good money for that.

Another obvious candidate for lionization in song is Jack Kerouac. Any of the beats, really. I've never been a big fan. I did read most of On The Road but that's about it. And I never quite finished it.

I also never got far with 10,000 Maniacs. On paper they're the kind of thing I ought to like and I do, a bit. Just not all that much. This is good, though. I wonder if it was her idea to start with the reading? She seems quite uncomfortable about it.

Sonically, I prefer the next one, by Madrugadas, which means "early mornings" in Spanish according to Google Translate. I have no clue what it's about but it's called "Kerouac". It sounds like three songs stuck together and I'm not convinced the last one is even supposed to be there.

Which brings us to our finale. When I was a teenager, before I discovered Salinger, Fitzgerald and being pretentious, my favorite author was Philip K. Dick. He's still in the top five. Or thereabouts.

I took a punt on his name turning up in a few song titles and boy, was I right! He would have hated it. He liked classical music, mostly; a bit of jazz. Maybe The Beatles at a push.

Some of the horrors perpetrated in his name would have appalled him, I'm sure, and this, by the oddly-named Barn Owl, in particular. Perhaps he'd have been mollified by their evident close reading of the text. Dick in later life believed a number of unusual things, including that history ended in 50 AD, everything since being a simulacrum. The title of this one is "Philip K. Dick's Nightmare (The Roman Empire Never Ended)" and you can't say fairer than that.

It's a good title but it can't compete with Man or Astroman. Few can. Today's final entry is the magnificently named "Philip K Dick in the Pet Section of a Wal Mart". Don't you want to hear that?

Naturally, being who they are, it's an instrumental. Except, wait, what's this? A fuzzy version with vocals, ripped from an old tape and put up by one of the band themeselves. They've lost the DAT master because of course they have.

We're lucky to have even this barely audible fragment and happily the lyrics are in the description. It really is about running into the visionary author in the animal foodstuffs section of a supermarket: "I was startled by the sight Of Philip K. Dick browsing at... The Hamster Turrets". Well, you would be, wouldn't you?

So there we are. Just a skim off the top of a very deep pond. Except for one more thing. Not a song this time. It's a game.

As I was scrolling down the search results from "Philip K. Dick Music" my eye fell across this:

It's a walkthrough for a game called Californium, based on the works and ideas of the man himself. I took a quick glance and it looks intriguing. And bright. Very bright. 

I checked and it's on Steam. I still have my winnings from last year's IntPiPoMo in my Steam Wallet. As soon as I finish this post I'm off to buy it. If it's any good - and even if it's not - no doubt a post or two will follow.

And that's how we get here from there. Serendipity. All you need is a seed.


  1. "Holden Caulfield" is an instant favorite for me. Thanks! Nice post.

    1. Thanks! I think it's fair to say i mainly do these music posts to amuse myself but it's always good to hear someone enjoyed one and even better to know they actually watched some of the videos.


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