Updated on October 13, 2016
10 bands with literary names
The worlds of music and literature have long drawn inspiration from each other. To celebrate this enduring artistic crossover, here are 10 (or so) bands with literary names
The 90s was a great decade for female fronted bands, with the Riot Grrrl movement – outspoken feminist musicians in skater skirts and Mary Janes – in full swing and brilliant songwriters such as Tanya Donelly, Björk and PJ Harvey at the fore. Veruca Salt – a little girl who (nearly) always gets what she wants while dressed in sparkly clothes (from Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” of course) – was kind of the perfect name for a band of that era, and their songs were awesome. PS: they reformed recently, have a new album, and are touring again!
“The Fall” (“La Chute” in the original French) is a 1956 novel by Albert Camus, in which a wealthy lawyer confesses to and reflects upon the faults and mistakes that ultimately drove him to crisis point. It’s dense, philosophical and tricky to understand, which makes it a pretty apt name for this prolific, uncompromising post-punk band.
Tears for Fears and Primal Scream
What do 80s pop geniuses Tears for Fears and Scottish electro-rockers Primal Scream have in common, you might ask. In fact both get their names from works by American psychologist and primal therapy creator Arthur Janov. In his 1980 book “Prisoners of Pain” he describes “tears as a replacement for fears”, while his first book, “The Primal Scream”, recounts his primal therapy sessions with patients in the 1960s. Primal therapy involves re-experiencing traumatic episodes in order to release suppressed pain, and I would say it was Tears for Fears whose songs most reflect their Janovian name. Their first album, “The Hurting”, is sometimes described as a concept album based around primal therapy, while it can hardly be coincidence that single “Shout”, from second album “Songs from the Big Chair” (ie, therapist’s couch), while ostensibly a song about political protest, features the immortal line, “Shout, shout, let it all out”…
Belle and Sebastian
“Belle et Sébastien” was a children’s book by French actress Cécile Aubrey, about the adventures of an orphaned boy who lives in the French Alps with his adopted family, and the dog he befriends and protects. It was made into a TV show in the 60s, a cartoon in the 80s, and a film in 2013, but its name is perhaps most widely associated with excellent Scottish indie band Belle and Sebastian.
This newish London-based band are named after the most significant character in Jeffrey Eugenides’ cult novel “The Virgin Suicides” – the beautiful, enigmatic, unknowable Lux. Stifled by their strict, religious parents, Lux and her sisters struggle to assert their individuality and fully express themselves, eventually losing hope and hatching their own, terrible plan of escape. Lux’s tendency to self-destruction coupled with her ability to find ever more inventive ways to retain some kind of control over her life fascinates the neighbourhood boys to the point of obsession, but they never work her out. The band’s Stuart Rook has said he partly chose the name because X is his favourite letter – although I think The xx might have one up on them there…
Ahh, who doesn’t love a bit of Marillion? “Misplaced Childhood” is a classic concept album, and its narrative songs, nightmarish visions and overriding theme of lost innocence make it no surprise that the band is named after a story collection by fantasy author JRR Tolkien. “The Silmarillion” is a five-part book that sets the scene for both “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings”, describing – in epic detail – the ancient history of a mythical universe whose peace and beauty will later be threatened by the Dark Lord Sauron.
An entirely underrated Northern Irish band who released two brilliant albums, “Mute” and “Stooping to Fit”, in the mid-90s. There’s not much about them on the internet but I’m sure I read that they were named after “The Catcher in the Rye”, JD Salinger’s 1951 coming-of-age classic. And certainly they were very young – possibly teenagers – when they started out, so that would make sense. Singer Dale Grundle now has a new band, The Sleeping Years, who sound great, too.
The Divine Comedy
Also from Northern Ireland, and now on their 11th album, The Divine Comedy take their name from Dante’s 14th-century epic poem about the afterlife. It includes his famous description of the nine circles of hell, each one featuring increasingly terrible punishments for increasingly terrible sinners until we encounter Satan at the very core of the earth – sounds hilarious, no? In classic terminology a comedy is a work that starts in misery and ends in elation and, happily, “The Divine Comedy” moves through purgatory and into the nine celestial spheres of heaven, where Dante sees God and experiences divine love. Phew!
The Boo Radleys
Back in my teens I went to an NME Brats gig (remember those?) at The Forum in North London. The Boo Radleys were the headline act, supported by an up-and-coming band called… Pulp! No need to tell you who stole the show. The Boo Radleys’ music might not have been especially memorable but their name certainly was, and no list of literary band names would be complete without this one. Boo Radley was the misunderstood neighbour in “To Kill a Mockingbird”, and his unforgettable name was pretty much begging to be used by a band.
Plus! Some honourable mentions:
Moloko, from the milk/drug cocktail Moloko Plus in Anthony Burgess’s “A Clockwork Orange”
The Doors, from Aldous Huxley’s 1954 essay “The Doors of Perception” (in turn borrowed from William Blake’s poem “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”
Velvet Underground, the title of Michael Leigh’s 1963 book on aberrant sexual behaviour
Empire of the Sun, JG Ballard’s semi-autobiographical account of his boyhood experience of the Second World War – although the band themselves say their name is “about travelling to all the places where the sun has been kind of a figure of worship since ancient times”
Moby – his nickname is a reference to “Moby Dick” author Herman Melville, to whom he is related
Who would you add to this list?