There are perks to being a New Yorker. Despite roaches, subway harassment, expensive everythings, and rough commutes, New York is still a hub for the arty, the literate, and the curious. Sure, appearing world-weary and jaded is as essential to local hipsterdom as skinny jeans and macrobiotic smoothies. But last night's event at the NYPL was proof that sometimes, every now and again, living here is plain heavenly—no irony allowed. I attended Music & Words, a Young Lions event at the NYPL, where wine and cupcakes accompanied Ezra Koenig, lead singer of Vampire Weekend, in conversation with author John Wray (check out his latest novel, Lowboy, here). The two appeared together to discuss the intersection of music and literature, or rather, the uncanny impact of books on lyrics.
Despite the fact that his band’s last album debuted at #1, Koenig was markedly modest. He talked about using short story material for VW’s self-titled debut, his now-public love for Sugar Hill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight, and the necessity of specifics, which ground writing in a sense of time and place. He also noted that while you aren’t apt to find many teenagers performing close readings of poetry, they seem to be reading lyrics that way, which is a wonderful thing.
I’ve been thinking a bit about literary references in music, from Joni Mitchell quoting Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (“I am as constant as the Northern Star”) to The Police and Lolita (see “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.”) Do you have a favorite literary/musical allusion? Leave a comment with your pick, and I’ll send you a copy of Please: Fiction Inspired by The Smiths (limited to the first 20). And for more information on joining The Young Lions, click here.