When The Rock Bottom Remainders called it quits in 2012 after 20 years of playing together, the literary world wept — but the musical world may have been a bit less teary-eyed. (One of the band’s FAQs is “How often does the band practice?” The answer: “Practice?”) The Remainders were made up of some of the literary world’s big names — Stephen King and Amy Tan were just two of many — and were more of an authorial get-together than an attempt at achieving musical genius.
While most authors don’t share Tan’s affinity for on-stage all-leather get-ups, plenty of other writers have dabbled in music, collaborating with other musicians and authors. Check out this list of eight authors’ musical accomplishments and find out if your favorite writer also happens to be in your new favorite band. And listen to The Rock Bottom Remainders while you’re at it. They’re not half bad.
1. J. Robert Lennon: The Starry Mountain Sweetheart Band
You probably know Lennon as the author of novels like The Funnies or from the credits of CBS’s Unforgettable. (It’s based off his short story “The Rememberer.”) You might be less familiar with the guitar-wielding version of Lennon who strums along with fellow writers (and a lawyer) to tunes like “Club Amnesia” in The Starry Mountain Sweetheart Band.
2. Rick Moody: The Wingdale Community Singers
Don’t tell Moody that the Wingdale Community Singers are a band. In an article called “I’m in a Band — and I’m Not Ashamed,” Moody explained, “A band, in my view, is a group of young men … who go for weeks without showering, who daily labour with the transportation of amplifiers, and who have gargantuan appetites for drugs and alcohol. ... But the Wingdale Community Singers are no such organisation.” Fortunately, you don’t need an amplifier (or the “band” label) to make some damn good folk music.
3. Willy Vlautin: Richmond Fontaine
There’s nothing to make you feel bad about your cat video addiction like an author/musician who’s spent the last 20 years releasing nine studio albums and writing four novels. Vlautin was a successful musician before he took up writing, but don’t shelve his written work next to any old Britney Spears memoir. His novels have earned serious praise, and his first book, The Motel Life, was made into a film starring Emile Hirsch and Dakota Fanning. If the phrase “alternative country” makes you anxious, check out Richmond Fontaine’s “You Can Move Back Here” and let Vlautin change your mind.
4. Miranda July: Miranda July with The Need
July has dabbled in every art form you can think of, so it only makes sense that she recorded music in the ‘90s with the band The Need. If you thought her short story collection No One Belongs Here More Than You was weird, then her 1996 album Margie Ruskie Stops Time might not be for you, but serious July fans should start Googling.
Bonus: July’s musical work is not to be confused with the ode to her existence that Australian band Regurgitator composed, “Miranda July.”
5. Daniel Handler: The Gothic Archies
When writing A Series of Unfortunate Events, he’s Lemony Snicket; when playing the accordion alongside Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields in The Gothic Archies, he goes by Daniel Handler. Though the Archies were around before Handler’s popular series was released, he joined to perform Merritt-composed songs about the books. At least Merritt didn’t have to change his aesthetic to fit Handler’s works’ dark undertone: “What makes this band different from The Magnetic Fields is that any glimmer of hope is absolutely extinguished,” the band’s website reads.
“Soft” and “gentle” aren’t words that one would normally use to describe Houellebecq, but if you can get over the fact that the man has offended literally everyone, they are words you’ll probably find yourself thinking when you listen to his music. Houellebecq’s tracks feature the notorious writer singing softly over cello and ukulele that sound more like the soundtrack to French love stories than the musical musings of a man who was sued for hate speech.
7. Jonathan Lethem: I’m Not Jim
After boldly displaying his inner fanboy-dom for the band The Silos by offering to mail singer-guitarist Walter Salas-Humara free copies of his books, Lethem found himself collaborating with Salas-Humara on an entire album under the band name I’m Not Jim. The duos webpage unfortunately informs visitors, “This was a one-time collaboration. Ain’t gonna be any tour dates,” but at least we can listen to their Nick Drake-esque tunes online.
Lethem also posts his lyrical compositions free for use on his website under the banner “Promiscuous Songs,” so if you were hoping for a musical collaboration of your own with the author, you may be in luck.
8. Nick Hornby: Ben Folds/Nick Hornby
Hornby has written plenty about music, but in 2010, he finally sat down and wrote some himself, collaborating with Ben Folds to create the album Lonely Avenue. The duo’s tracks feature music by Folds and lyrics by Hornby, resulting in a collaboration that brings out the best of each man’s work.
One of their popular songs is an ode to poet Saskia Hamilton called, of course, “Saskia Hamilton.” Hamilton happens to be an English professor at Barnard, and I can attest that she is every bit as awesome as Folds croons.
Which author’s tracks were your favorites? Were you surprised that so many writers double as musicians, or do their dual artistic abilities make sense? If any of your favorite authors’ bands aren’t on this list, add them below in the comments!
Adina Applebaum is Michigan native studying English and creative writing at Barnard College. Her crowning achievements in life are memorizing all the lyrics on The Slim Shady LP and eating an entire gallon of chocolate-covered raisins during orientation week of college.
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