We writers are a masturbatory bunch, if you don't mind me saying so. We love to talk about our own work, the works of others, and generally just get into a huge hubbub over the art of the written word. So I don't think it should come as any surprise that some of our favorite musicians are also acclaimed authors in their own right.
And hey, it comes with the territory. In every great lyricist resides a conflicted artist torn between two loves: writing and music. Well, why can't you have your cake and eat it too? Many have tried, some should probably just stick to music, but there's a good few who have a pretty good fallback career if they ever get tired of the whole music business.
5. Jesse Sublett Austin native Jesse Sublett was a member of the Skunks in the ye olde punk scene of Texas circa 1977 when punk was fresh and brimming with ideas; the exact place you'd expect a rebellious literary-minded person full of piss and vinegar to end up (see: Rollins, Henry).
These days Sublett is more subdued musically, playing bluesy murder ballads, but his sardonic wit and visions of a dystopian future full of liars, losers, and whores has remained unabated in his recent novels, including his newest one Grave Digger Blues. Sublett himself described it to the Austin-American Statesman as a mix of punk and pulp fiction. You can hear the theme song he wrote for the book above.
4. Lee Ranaldo Lee Ranaldo may have been the quiet one in Sonic Youth, but his role as its emotional center was crucial. He usually wrote one song per album and it was always a standout, musically and lyrically. (Consider him their George Harrison.) But outside of music, Ranaldo is the band's most prolific author. In the past decade he's been hard at work on poetry book after poetry book, including his lauded Road Movies, a book of his poetry written while on tour with Sonic Youth.
In the vein of the '50s Beats, it's a vision of life on the road distorted through the camera lens of a forward thinking, spaced out author whose mind is working on a whole other plane of existence. Reviews have it that the experience is especially captivating when performed live, where Ranaldo reads his poetry over guitar squeals and a backdrop of his wife Leah Singer's photography and home movies.
3. Claudio Sanchez Progressive rock band Coheed and Cambria didn't just get their name from out of a hat. Front man Claudio Sanchez is actually a prolific writer, having handcrafted an elaborate science-fiction saga that has spanned their discography. It's the tale of the titular characters, Coheed and Cambria.
Since beginning the epic story in their records, Sanchez has branched out into writing a graphic novel of the adventure titled The Amory Wars as well as a full length novel to accompany their 2010 album Year of the Black Rainbow. The narrative is currently being adapted into a film starring Mark "Marky Mark" Wahlberg, bringing music, film, and literature full circle in the most bizarre way possible.
2. Nick Cave Nick Cave is one of the most versatile artists of our time, jumping from project to project and medium to medium to present his art, seamlessly and effortlessly translating his perennial ideas, obsessions, and themes to entirely different worlds of creation. Most are familiar with his music, many know his films like last year's acclaimed Lawless, but you might have missed his forays into the world of literature.
In actuality, Cave's been at it since the '80s, it's just not often all that publicized. So far he's produced two novels and two books of poetry. It's a shame that Cave's writing hasn't been more prolific over the years, however, because his novels perfectly capture in expanded form the heart of what makes Cave's songs so melodramatic and captivating.
1. Leonard Cohen Like I said in the beginning, it figures that one of rock's greatest lyricists would also be one of its greatest authors. The truth is that Leonard Cohen began as an author and a poet long before he picked up a guitar. His first book of poetry, Let Us Compare Mythologies, was released in 1956. His first novel, The Favorite Game, hit shelves in 1963. It wouldn't be until 1967 that his first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, would be recorded and released.
After his breakthrough in music, Cohen gave up writing novels. His only other novel remains 1966's brilliant Beautiful Losers, a stunning mindfuck following in the footsteps of the jazz poets, Burroughs, Ginsberg, and Kerouac. Cohen still kicks out the poetry every now and then though, releasing his latest one, Fifteen Poems, as an e-book last year.
What makes Cohen's writing so special is that as an author he can suck the reader in with the power and beauty of only his words. As in his music where his plain, flat voice serves to highlight the words he is speaking and reels the listener in with them instead, he can absorb a reader into the world he writes about even when nothing is happening, even when he's only establishing the mood and the setting.
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And if that doesn't work for you, there's plenty of Cohen's razor-sharp, wry wit and immense, introspective meditations on sex, religion, and death to simultaneously confuse and force the reader to think. His music condenses those themes to a trickle, but the overflowing honesty in Cohen's novels will make readers blush and look within themselves for the deeper truth of it all.