It’s easy to forget that writers are real people. By the time you’ve finished reading the last page of your new favorite novel, you’re far more likely to imagine the author as some sort of demigod than a middle-aged dude who eats TV dinners. But novelists have lives outside their writing, and part of those lives include listening to their favorite bands, whether it be while they’re going for an inspirational run (like Jennifer Egan below, who swears by Lady Gaga) or hanging out with the family.
Check out this list of authors’ favorite music to listen to when they’re not busy whipping up your next favorite book. Who knows, maybe tuning into the sounds of “The Elvis of Afghanistan” like Kite Runner author Khaled Hosseini is the inspiration you’ve been searching for to write your own literary masterpiece.
1. Rachel Kushner: Roxy Music
In an interview with KCRW, the author of The Flamethrowers explained why she calls Roxy Music’s first five albums “masterpieces”: “It was just a full glam, art rock, extravaganza and it reminded me of being in my 20’s and I guess choosing life and experience over anything else.”
If that photoshoot of the author sporting sunglasses didn’t convince you that Kushner is the one of the coolest women in the literary world, her love of the ‘70s art rock band definitely should.
2. Jonathan Franzen: The Mekons
You might be tempted to hate anything Franzen professes to love (after all, he’s attempted on multiple occasions to ruin Twitter for the rest of us), but give The Mekons a listen and you’ll be forced to grudgingly admit that you’d listen to a Franzen-curated playlist. “If you feel like ... the rest of the world is going over to the dark side, they’re the band for you,” Franzen said of the band in a documentary, Revenge of The Mekons. “And I say that not because they give you hope of ever winning the battle, but they teach you how to be gracious and amusing losers.” Their music is also great to tweet to.
3. George Saunders: John Prine
Saunders had musical aspirations before his literary ones; in high school, he played in a “jazz fusion band” of which he said, “We’d sort of clean it up a little and play little cocktail parties.” Saunders cites Prine as one of the singers of whom the author was “a student of songwriting,” and said of Prine’s “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You into Heaven Anymore,” “My friend and I used to listen to this over and over.”
4. Khaled Hosseini: Ahmad Zahir
All you need to sell Hosseini’s favorite artist are four words: “The Elvis of Afghanistan.” Hosseini grew up listening to Zahir, whom he compares to not only Elvis, but Bob Dylan and The Beatles as well. The author says Zahir’s songs are still some of his favorite to listen to and discusses listening to Zahir’s songs over single malts with his brothers. If a love of Zahir is really as universal as Hosseini articulates, you might want to grab a drink and sit down yourself.
5. Jennifer Egan: Kings of Convenience
Though in her youth she was a Who fan (“I had a consuming crush on Roger Daltry!” Egan has admitted), Egan’s current favorite bands are Mumford & Sons, Jenny Owen Youngs and Kings of Convenience, of whom she says she is “pretty crazy about.” When she goes running, though, Egan admits that her music taste shifts a little. “Telephone” by Lady Gaga is apparently a favorite.
6. Eleanor Catton: Gordon Lightfoot
The Booker Prize-winning author of The Luminaries admits that, although it’s “not very cool ... by far the most played artist on my computer is actually Gordon Lightfoot.” She cites Canadian Railway Trilogy as the musician’s best album. And though Lightfoot is Catton’s favorite artist, she has a soft spot for a fellow New Zealander of recent popularity: “I feel like it’s me and Lorde against the world.”
7. David Sedaris: Abbey Lincoln
The way everyone feels about Sedaris is how the author feels about jazz singer Abbey Lincoln: “You know people say that all the time — ‘I have to be your biggest fan.’ But I have to be her biggest fan. I really have to.” You know a musician has to be good when talking about her renders a man who writes for a living speechless. In trying to describe his favorite singer, Sedaris simply says, “Abbey Lincoln is ... oh my goodness.”
8. Stephen King: Creedence Clearwater Revival
Though he’s given Creedence Clearwater Revival the title of his favorite band, Stephen King has been known to be a lover of many different kinds of music. In 2007, the author curated a playlist for Entertainment Weekly that included tracks by Thelma Houston, The Gothic Archies and LCD Soundsystem (which he called “funk”). King’s love for LCD Soundsystem goes deep enough that he name-dropped them in his 2009 novel The Dome, writing “LCD Soundsystem was playing — ‘North American Scum’ — and Jack was singing along when a small voice spoke his name from behind him” — though, to be fair, there’s a line about a 50 Cent T-shirt, too. When CBS created a spin-off series of King’s novel, they tried to get James Murphy’s track for a scene, but the music supervisor for the show admitted, “We just couldn’t afford it!”
Do any of these authors’ favorites surprise you? Does learning about their favorite bands give you any insight into a writer’s body of work? Having read Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers, for example, Roxy Music seems like the perfect soundtrack — if she listed Billy Ray Cyrus, though, I might have to re-think the hours I spent reading her novel.
Let us know if you share any favorite musicians with the writers listed above, and be sure to mention anyone we didn’t include on this list!
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.
(Image Credit: Wikipedia)
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