Celebrate Kurt Vonnegut’s 100th birthday with a collection of songs based on his work
There is a passage from Kurt Vonnegut Breakfast of champions that crosses our desk a lot at this time of year. This is the one in which he declares sacred the day of the armistice, which coincidentally falls on his birthday:
What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for example.
And all music is.
Hopefully Shakespeare won’t take umbrage if we jump on his doomed teenage lovers to celebrate Kurt Vonnegut’s 11/11 centenary with songs inspired by his work.
Take Kilgore Trout Experience’s tribute to the Sirens of Titan, above.
The driving force behind the KTE Tim Langsford, a drummer who mentors students with autism at Plymouth University, was looking for ways to help his “foggy mind remember key concepts, characters and memorable lines that occur in each” of Vonnegut’s 14 books. .
The solution? Community and responsibility for an ongoing mission. Langsford launched the Plymouth Vonnegut Collective in 2019 with a typescript manifesto, inviting interested parties to read (or re-read) the novels in the order they were published, and then come together for monthly discussions.
His highest goal was for the members of the book club to work collaboratively on a 14-track concept album inspired by their readings.
They stuck to it, with efforts spanning a variety of genres.
Mother Night could cause your ears to bleed.
The psychedelic God bless you, Mr. Rosewater mixes quotes from the book with edited clips of the collective’s discussion of the novel.
The project brought Langsford out from behind the drums, as well as out of his comfort zone:
It took me a long time to get comfortable with the songs I sing on. However, I tried to invoke The meaning of creating KV as if no one was watching. It’s okay so do it for yourself…. Although I contradict this by sharing these things on the Internet rather than throwing them without seeing or hearing them? !
Ah, but isn’t this one of the most beautiful uses of the Internet as a tool for discovering what we have in common with our fellow human beings?
Congratulations to our fellow Vonnegut fans in Plymouth, who will be celebrating their achievement and the legendary author’s 100th birthday with an event featuring poetry, art, music and film inspired by the boy’s novels. ‘anniversary.
Folk rocker Al Stewart is another who “was drawn to the Titan Sirens.” The lyrics make perfect sense if the novel is fresh in your mind:
But here in the yellow and blue of my days
I wander in the endless Mercurian caves
Watching the signs the Harmonians make
The words on the walls
The lyrics to Nice, Nice, Very Nice by Stewart’s peers at Ambrosia are taken directly from the scriptures of Bokononism, the religion invented by Vonnegut in The cat’s cradle.
The band gave the author writing credit. He repaid the compliment with a fan letter:
I was at my daughter’s last night, and the radio was on. By God if the DJ didn’t play our song, and said it was number ten in New York, and said how good you guys are in general. You can imagine the pleasure it gave me. Luck has played a huge role in my life. People who know pop music keep telling me how lucky I am to be related to you. And I myself am crazy about our song, of course, but what do I know and why wouldn’t I be? What I always knew, anyway: music is the only art that is really worthwhile. I envy you guys.
If that’s not nice, we don’t know what is.
Vonnegut’s best-known work, the time-traveling, eternally banned anti-war novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, presents an irresistible songwriting challenge, judging by the number of tracks that have sprouted from its fertile soil.
Susan Hwang is uniquely immersed in all things Vonnegut, as the founder of the Bushwick Book Club, a loose collective of musicians who meet monthly to present songs inspired by a shortlisted title – including nearly every novel by Vonnegut’s work, as well as the news in Welcome to the Monkey House and trials including A man without a country.
She was a 2022 Kurt Vonnegut Museum & Library Banned Books Week Artist-in-Residence.
She titled her recent Vonnegut-inspired five-song EP, Everything is Satina nod to the Sateen Dura-Luxe house paint that Vonnegut abstract expressionist Rabo Karabekian favors in Blue Beard.
We’re pretty confident that Hwang’s No Answer, offered above as a thank you to backers of a recent tour, will be the most dynamic adaptation of Slaughterhouse-Five you will hear all day.
Sweet Soubrette, aka Ellia Bisker, another Bushwick Book Club figure and one half of goth-folk duo Charming Disaster, delved into the horrors of Dresden for her Slaughterhouse-Five contribution, name-checking rubble, barbed wire, and the breath of “mustard gas and roses” born from one night’s heavy drinking.
My Blue Heaven: The Love Song of Montana Wildhack by musicologist songwriter Gail Sparlin – seen here in a library performance – is as feminine and sweet as Valerie Perrine’s take on the character in George Roy Hill’s 1972 film Slaughterhouse-Five.
In 1988, Hawkwind’s The War I Survived permeated Slaughterhouse-Five with very New Wave synths…
The chorus of Sam Ford’s melancholy So It Goes taps into the time travel aspect of the novel and evokes the challenges many soldiers face when trying to reintegrate into their pre-combat lives:
It’s not the way back
Who said I wanted to go home?
I’m always at home
I am still at home.
Having invoked Vonnegut’s evergreen phrase, it’s impossible to walk away without mentioning Nick Lowe’s 1976 power pop hit, however tenuously that may create a connection.
Still, tenuous connections can count as connections, especially when you count all references to The cat’s cradleThe government’s secret weapon, Ice Nine, in lyrics and band names.
Then there are submerged references. We may not notice them, but we’re ready to believe they’re there.
Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder wrote that “books like Cat’s Cradle, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, piano player…they’ve had as much influence on me as any record I’ve ever owned.
He also won a permanent place in the karass by distributing copies of Blue Beard to attendees of the 4th Annual Kokua Festival to benefit environmental education in Hawaii.
A memorable Breakfast of champions The artwork would have ignited a flame with New Order, propelling Vonnegut onto the dance floor.
And Ringo Starr blasted his way to Beatles favorite status when he tipped his hat at Breakfast of championsdedicating his 1973 solo album to “Kilgore Trout and all the beavers”.
There are dozens more we could mention – you’ll find a few in the playlist below – but without further ado, let’s welcome Special K and his crew to the stage!
Yes, that’s Phish drummer (and huge Vonnegut fan) Jon Fishman on vacuum.
But who is this mysterious leader, spitting Chaucer Canterbury Tales?
Happy 100th, Kurt Vonnegut! We are happy that you were born.
Kurt Vonnegut maps the shape of all stories in a master’s thesis rejected by U. Chicago
Kurt Vonnegut offers 8 tips on how to write great short stories (and amusingly depicts the forms these stories can take)
Kurt Vonnegut gives advice to aspiring writers in a 1991 TV interview
Kurt Vonnegut: Where do I get my ideas from? My distaste for civilization
– Ayun Halliday is the chief primatologist of East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Little Potato Manifesto. Join her for a free Vonnegut Centennial Fanzine workshop at the Kurt Vonnegut Museum & Library on November 19. @AyunHalliday.