Literature maintains a powerful influence over music. As a composer I owe a lot of my development as a lyricist, even with my minimal but insightful exposure, to books and great literary works. I gain inspiration from a lot of my readings and most often pairing its relevance to my personal life and experiences.
Matching this inkling of a grasp in literature with the faculties of music and compostion, the results are (as I oftentimes refer to it), “magical and nostalgic”.
Kismet or not, I feel very fortunate to discover in my youth, an unusual liking for two very important bands that turned into a zealous fanaticism over the years, greatly influencing my musical career. None other than The Beatles and The Smiths. These two bands combined produces five prominent songwriters, three seasoned vocalists, and one iconic guitarist. Enough to keep me busy in my teens and early 20s. Years of serious emulation.
Morrissey once claimed “Oscar Wilde and James Dean were the only two companions I had as a distraught teenager. Every line that he wrote affected me so enormously. As I get older the adoration increases. I’m never without him… It’s like carrying your rosary around with you“. In the song “Cemetery Gates“, you can hear Morrissey sing near the end, “Keats and Yeats are on your side, but you lose, because Wilde is on mine.”
The Beatles conceived popular music as an art form and introduced Eastern philosophy in Western society. John Lennon was tagged the “literary Beatle” having written two books plus a number of poems. Lennon named Oscar Wilde and Lewis Caroll among his literary influences. His 1967 song “I Am the Walrus” borrowed imagery from Lewis Carroll’s poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” and words from James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake.”
The Beatles and The Smiths encouraged me to assert myself in a way that is not common in OPM or music in the Philippine setting. And I embrace it like it was part of my genetic being. Until now I still consider myself as an apprentice in the world of music and literature. I cannot deny the literary references and influences in my work:
- In the song “Ignore My Weakness, Don’t Ignore Me” I wrote references to Hans Christian Andersens characters in his children’s stories “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” and “The Little Match Girl”.
I should be a toy soldier
Hans little tragic tale
Eaten and beaten and silently delivered to his dame.
Ignore my weakness, don’t ignore me.
I’d happily die in the fire
As long as the wind blows you beside me
Remembering the little match girl
Another tragic tale
Outside the cold world she shivers but illuminates her faith
Ignore my weakness, don’t ignore me
I’d happily light you a fire
And let the Universe conspire with me.
- Pablo Neruda prompted me to write and read poetry on record with “700 Miles”, eventually including the recording in Orange & Lemon’s last album – Moonlane Gardens.
My eyes have yet to cast a look upon you
In distances that will allow me a touch of your hand,
a taste of your precious lips,
a moving scent.
My other senses are useless
Your voice is enough,
Multiplied with hundreds of messages and images
to ensnare me in such a short period of time.
I am yours now, as you are mine
700 miles away
In three full moons
All sweetness and light
Our lives have engaged.
And when the time comes
my other senses finally find you
my love will then be multiplied,
- Paulo Coelho’s novel “Eleven Minutes” inspired me to write a song of the same title. This track can also be found in Moonlane Gardens album by Orange & Lemons.
Can I be your friend tonight?
Can I fill the spaces between your eyes
And the chair beside you
I maybe a stranger but so are you
So tell me your name
Pretend that I am someone you can possibly, likely spend
Eleven minutes of masquerading madness
- Jose Rizal’s poem “Canto De Maria Clara” from his novel “Noli Me Tangere” ended up in The Camerawalls’ debut album.
Dulces las horas en la propia patria
Donde es amigo cuanto alumbra el sol,
Vida es la brisa que en sus campos vuela,
Grata la muerte y más tierno el amor!
Ardientes besos en los labios juegan,
De una madre en el seno al despertar,
Buscan los brazos a ceñir el cuello,
Y los ojos sonríense al mirar.
Dulce es la muerte por la propia patria,
Donde es amigo cuanto alumbra el sol;
Muerte es la brisa para quien no tiene
Una patria, una madre y un amor!
- I told a story based on Chinese literature and the Forbidden City in “The Emperor, The Concubine and The Commoner”.
Hundreds of years ago when emperors rule
The most beautiful girl was torn apart
An honour to her family but death to her heart
A mistress she will be, the emperor’s concubine.
I was a commoner, a slave to the rules
Inside the Forbidden City, I was rooted
With a glimpse of her peach blossom eyes
Caught, imprisoned and beaten
Oh, what a grave sin it is to stare at the emperor’s concubine
- “Bread and Circuses”, a phrase that originated from a satirical piece by Roman poet Juvenal in his disgust for politicians devicing ways to win votes of the poor by giving out cheap food and entertainment. It is now the title track of The Camerawalls new EP.
I’m tired of being fed with bread and circuses
This world view seems incredibly conservative
With passion just like mine
Will you gravely read my stones
When I should die
These are just some of the more obvious references that I can readily share. It is hard to imagine music as an art without literature. Inseparable and intertwining. It’s ironic that with the birth of videoke and music channels that flashes lyrics, it’s such a bore and a sore to find mediocrity and cliche in some (if not most) contemporary music that are being aired and featured commercially. After all, as English author Stephen Fry observed in his novel “The Liar” — “Sophistication is not an admired quality. Not only at school. Nobody likes it anywhere.”