The (Fangirl) Guide to Literary Musicians

This story originally appeared in Paper Darts magazine.

I try to join any conversation I hear that name-drops David Byrne. It doesn’t happen often just because of my total lack of tact, or chronic fangirl-itus when it comes to The Talking Heads. It’s also because I’ve signed my heart over to anything Byrne touches. The man has not only collaborated with folks like St. Vincent to Arcade Fire, he’s also produced more than twenty-five-some art installations and interactive projects. In 2008 he designed nine custom bike racks for the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT), a series which notably included racks in the shape of a liquor bottle, a high heel, a dollar sign, and a dog.

The DOT sadly passed on the liquor bottle design, deeming it to be “in bad taste.”

But more to the point (at least, of my fandom), Byrne has also become a respected writer. In 2009 he published The Bicycle Diaries, a collection of essays that chronicled his experience traveling with a folding bike to meetings and gigs throughout the world, including in Buenos Aires, Manila, and New York City.

It’s one of my favorite reads. I don’t think I wave my fangirl flag about this because Byrne just wrote something I liked, though. It’s kind of a feat to be genuinely respected by both critics and fans alike outside your one breakout thing.

I mean, for every artist that’s done it successfully, there’s always a James Franco or (more frequently), a Corey Feldman.

But there are also many musicians who have gained genuine traction as authors and critics. They’ve written everything from creative nonfiction to YA and (so very much adult) post-apocalyptic fiction.

Laurie Lindeen

Heartbreaking and funny and sad are basically all the adjectives I like to feel in nonfiction. Laurie Lindeen accomplishes all of that in Petal Pusher: A Rock and Roll Cinderella Story, a memoir that portrays her take on the eighties music scene and her experience as the frontwoman of Zuzu’s Petals. To be fair, she also wins a lot of points for living in my hometown.

Alex Kapranos

Better known as the frontman for the band Franz Ferdinand, Alex Kapranos is also a former assistant cook and chef. He talks up both in Sound Bites, a book of fairly tightly-written essays about what he eats on the road and what he’s had to prepare in the back of a kitchen. I promise the book doesn’t just rely on the commercial appeal of Kapranos eating weird food or being a celebrity. It’s like, real literature, y'all.

John Darnielle

This is definitely a man whose songs have a special place in the hearts of all writers feeling lonely, childlike, hopeful, or drunk. Darnielle is the fairly brilliant author of the Black Sabbath-focused book Master of Reality as well (for the 33 ⅓ book series). His writing additionally appears in the anthology Topograph: New Writing from the Carolinas and the Landscape Beyond.

Richard Hell

Despite his wide recognition as the frontman of the eponymous punk band Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Hell actually “retired” from music all the way back in 1984. He has since published a (sometimes bizarrely) diverse range of work, and for two years between 2004 and 2006 he was a film critic for BlackBook magazine. I read Hell’s debut novel, Go Now, from cover to cover at the age of 17. To be brief, it was awesome.

Tim Kinsella

You might already be in love with this guy for his involvement in bands like Cap’n Jazz and Joan of Arc. In the past, writing by Kinsella has included the similarly-lovely, music-themed novel The Karaoke Singer’s Guide to Self-Defense. But it gets even better. His second novel, Let Go and Go On and On, is actually forthcoming from Curbside Splendor in 2014.

Colin Meloy

Given that Meloy studied creative writing at the University of Montana and his band The Decemberists are kinda famous for complex storytelling, it’s probably not a surprise that he can actually write. But did you know he wrote a YA novel starring a seventh-grade girl obsessed with bikes and birds? I didn’t. I am, however, a sucker for anything with a bike and/or bird slapped on it, and ordered it immediately after finding out. It’s called Wildwood.

Nick Cave

If (perhaps instead of seventh grade girls) you generally favor stories about the post-apocalypse and sex and violence, there’s a novel for you by Nick Cave. It’s called The Death of Bunny Monro. The book wasn’t released with any accompanying soundtrack. But you can definitely make that happen. Just put together a playlist that includes songs like “Red Right Hand” and “Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man,” and suddenly you’ve got the perfect Nick Cave-flavored night on your hands.

Patti Smith

No matter what, everyone should have a crush on Patti. She once referred to her work as just “three chords merged with the power of the word,” but with stuff like her 2010 memoir Just Kids, statements like that sound awfully modest. She’s your feminist famous author dream girl, and I welcome her to visit me and read bedtime stories about life in the ’60s with Robert Mapplethorpe any night. She also agreed to be a friend’s valentine once, but that’s really neither here nor there.

Other Reads

The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll The Story of Pines by A Fine Frenzy’s Alison Sudol The Progressive Patriot by Billy Bragg