October 25, 2003

More Title-ological Free Association Football

It's a long-standing tradition for songwriters to snatch titles from novels-- "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden" and "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" are the most famous examples I can think of now. You don't necessarily have to read the book, nor even really know what it's about: in fact, it helps if you don't. I've done it many times, that's for sure.

A great title (of a song, book, movie, anything I suppose) is one that implies a story or a set-up that sounds interesting enough that it makes you want to find out how everything turns out. Or, with regard to songs, it could simply be one that makes you wonder "how the hell did that guy manage to get a song out of that?" Most of the "how to songwrite" books that are out there eventually get around to suggesting that blocked writers take a trip to the library and browse for free titles. It often works, and I imagine it happens quite a lot.

I'm guessing the reverse situation (i.e., a novel or other sort of book written from the title of a song) is a bit less common. But I'm not sure. Sometimes, of course, it's just coincidence. Some small, mischievous part of me would like to think that there's a deliberate Ann Coulter-Naked Raygun connection, but I don't so. Not really.

In that regard, it can be another angle on the "Another Yesterday Club" phenomenon I've written about before. Songwriters who share titles are connected in what you might call a suggestively superficial way. I just checked Amazon to see if there were any books with the title Another Yesterday. I didn't find any, but now that Amazon searches content, I did turn up a few that contain the phrase. The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron. And Shibumi ("he survived the destruction of Hiroshima to emerge as the world's most artful lover and its most accomplished assassin..." There's definitely at least one additional song in there somewhere.) I don't think the Extended Another Yesterday Club should properly include this, even though the reference to "local musician Ted Nicely, another Yesterday and Today alumnus" is too great not to quote. I mean, obviously.

I once wrote a pop song called "The Dustbin of History." Greil Marcus wrote a book with that title. They are otherwise totally unconnected with each other-- they don't refer to each other in any way, but rather to something else. (I wouldn't rule out the possibility that there might have been a similar bathetic intent behind the choice of title, but I'll admit it right here: his is better than mine.) I very much doubt Mr. Marcus has ever heard my song; I've read the book, but that's neither here nor there. The fact is, though, that we are in a little Dustbin of History Club now, comprising anyone who ever thought that "The Dustbin of History" would be a cool title for something or other. So every time anything to do with Greil Marcus pops up, however briefly, in my mind's front window, there's a little grayed out tab somewhere in the background that says "Dustbin of History Club Member since 1995." A distant echo of the tune swells up, fades out, and disappears when my scattered mind turns to some other piece of trivia, as it is wont to do.

Anyway, Michele has decided to use the title of my song "Everybody Knows You're Crying" for her NaNoWriMo novel. I remember when that title materialized, with a little mental picture of a character and an entire life story and self-perceived relationship to the world suddenly snapping into focus almost as soon as I said it aloud. I showed a tiny edge of it by condensing a small scene into three verses and a bridge, in the form of a sad young woman addressing a sung soliloquy to herself in the mirror. (Or it could be a character study by a third person who "gets" the character's self-view better than anyone else-- good character studies usually have a fluid point of view, because even when they are attacks, they have to begin with a kind of empathy.) There's much, much more that didn't make it into the song. I imagine that character will return to narrate or appear in other songs. I'm interested to see what Michele does with her or some other character related to her only by title.

As far as I know, the Everybody Knows You're Crying Club is currently only me and Michele and this guy. We are an elite group, but the membership requirements are pretty lax, so join if you want.

Posted by Dr. Frank at October 25, 2003 05:40 PM | TrackBack

I had always wondered about the Greil Marcus connection. There's a sort of William Gibson-esque quality about this "Another Yesterday Club" business, where pieces of art are elevated to MacGuffin status as incarnate symbols of a secret history (Marcus again). Then again, the literalness of shared lyrics or titles smacks more of a Vonnegutian granfalloon.

On the novel-to-song concept, you omit a couple of MTX extra credit exercises, namely the interestingly misspelled "Bridge to Taribithia" (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0064401847/qid=1067114652/sr=8-2/ref=sr_8_2/002-4184313-6508806?v=glance&n=507846) and the instrumental homage to Daniel M. Pinkwater, "Weekend in Hogboro" (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0374423296/qid=1067114971/sr=8-1/ref=sr_8_1/002-4184313-6508806?v=glance&n=507846).

And how about this one? http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0679736220/qid=1067115014/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/002-4184313-6508806?v=glance&s=books
Just kidding.

Posted by: Wes at October 25, 2003 09:51 PM

I always wondered if Dr. Frank actually read "Are you there God? It's me, Margaret."

Posted by: Stephanie at October 26, 2003 02:22 AM

This isn't so much about a song to novel connection as a song to work connection.

I work on an Asian news show and I call our inbox where the completed stories get dumped into the "Hell of Dumb" not so much as the inbox represents a breakup (at least that's what I thought the song meant) as the stories are subject to many changes because my Japanese boss is an utter fool and that day's director feels like he's living in the Hell of Dumb.

If I ever wrote a book about working at a Japanese tv station, that would be the title.

Posted by: Jason May at October 27, 2003 08:37 AM

dr. frank is awesome. so there.

Posted by: velveeta at April 15, 2004 03:51 AM