Edgar Allan Poe, Still Wicked After All These Years
Today we celebrate the birthday of one Edgar Allan Poe, a man whose influence on music simply cannot be overstated. In fact, Rocks Off is going to go on record and say that Poe's writings have influenced more music than any other written work except the Bible, and when you're second place to God you are what they called in our youth hot shit.
How important is Poe to musicians? Well, he gets name-dropped like no other. Goth cello rockers Rasputina claimed him as their daddy in their song "Our Lies." Big deal, you say, what goth band doesn't love Poe?
All right, how about Rocky Horror Picture Show writer Richard O'Brien? In his one-man show, Disgracefully Yours, he (as the devil) plugs hell as a happening nightclub you have to be really cool to get into, and lists reading Poe as a criteria for getting in in the song
Oh, and The Beatles. Is that good enough for you? The Fab Four name-dropped the man in one of their most famous songs, "I am the Walrus,": "Man you should've seen kicking Edgar Allan Poe." Among their many other heroes, Poe was also on the cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band; the band loved his romantic, melancholy, emo-kid attitude.
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Of course, one of the most talented musicians of the late '90s and early '00s was called Poe. Why? Because as a child she once dressed as him for Halloween. You'd hear more about her, but she and Andrew Eldritch of Sisters of Mercy are in a corner somewhere bitching about their record labels and not releasing awesome music like they should. Sorry, got off on a tangent there.
Poe gets all this simply for being Poe, not even for the recognition of his works. Granted, Poe was pretty rock star. He drank himself to death (shades of Jimi Hendrix), married his 13-year-old cousin (shades of Jerry Lee Lewis), and a lot of people think he may have killed Mary Rogers in a psychotic, drugged out haze (shades of Sid Vicious).
The amount musical tributes to and adaptations of Poe's works is huge, with no less a legend than Lou Reed himself dedicated an entire double album to his famous long-form poem "The Raven," a record that features readings by Steve Buscemi and Willem Defoe.
A song based on The Raven was included on an Alan Parsons Project album of tunes based on Poe's work, of which "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether" made it into the Top 40. Even Iron Maiden and 30 Seconds to Mars have done tributes to "The Raven."
Then there's his famous poem "Annabel Lee," which most of us read in high school. Popular recordings of "Annabel Lee" span more than 60 years of music, starting with Frankie Laine and including country legend Jim Reeves, folk singer Joan Baez and indie-rock band Draught.
And that's just the people who performed "Annabel" whole and unaltered. The number of acts that have done versions simply based on the sad heroine is even longer.
You may also consider this. Without Poe there never would have been H. P. Lovecraft. Without Lovecraft, there would never have been a whole branch of heavy metal dedicated to Cthulhu and the other elder gods, and we would have lost a pretty big chunk of Metallica's catalog. The good part!
So where would the music world be without the dark world of mystery and horror that Edgar Allan Poe left for us to read with a candle and a bracing shot of absinthe by our arm? Well, everything would probably sound like the Jonas Brothers.
For the love of God, Montresor! Happy birthday, Edgar!
Jef With One F is the author of The Bible Spelled Backwards Does Not Change the Fact That You Cannot Kill David Arquette and Other Things I Learned In the Black Math Experiment, available now.
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