Incubus’ “Talk Shows on Mute” Alluded to George Orwell’s & Philip Dick’s novels

Incubus' single "Talk Shows on Mute," released in the album A Crow Left of the Murder.

Incubus’ single “Talk Shows on Mute,” released in the album A Crow Left of the Murder.

English writer George Orwell’s 1984 has inspired many artists; from David Bowie to Radiohead.

But Incubus’ 2004 single “Talk Shows on Mute” stands out, not just for the lyrics’ homage to the book but also because the song’s music video’ takes a similar theme to the dystopian 1949 novel.

“The book scared me, but in a good way,” Incubus’ singer Brandon Boyd said, according to an article. “It scares you into vigilance. A lot of people don’t get it. They’re like, ‘That’s so passé, 1984. I mean, it’s 2004.’ But I think that right now, it has a poignancy that it otherwise wouldn’t have because it definitely seems like Big Brother is watching closer than he ever has. And television culture is at an all-time high or low, depending how you look at it.”


Even though Boyd sings in the ballad “Come one, come all, into 1984,” it was his own dystopian thoughts that reminded him of Orwell’s most famous novel. The singer was mocking a talk show on a plane ride and as the TV was on mute he “decided to start narrating for the people.”

“I realized a time will probably come when television will watch us if we’re watching it,” Boyd told “If that hasn’t already happened, figuratively or literally. It sounded like some sort of pseudo-Big Brother nightmare, so I wrote it down.”

A 2013 Penguin Books edition of George Orwell's classic novel 1984.

A 2013 Penguin Books edition of George Orwell’s classic novel 1984.

Of course 1984 takes a place in a society where the government known as Big Brother is watching its citizen through televisions.

To continue the Orwellian theme, the single’s music video has an animal-operated TV show where humans are used as pets. This reversed role also exists in Orwell’s short novel Animal Farm.

“Floria Sigismondi did this video. And she gave the song her interpretation, and she created this Orwellian kind of scene,” the band’s bass player Ben Kenny told a Netherlands music journalist. “It is in a world of animals, the world is controlled by animals and the humans are the pets.

“We are doing a performance shot on one of the animals’ talk shows. It is just like a human talk show, just a disgusting way for people to look down at other people that are worse of than them. And in the story, the host turns into a human and that is one of the worst things that could happen in that world: you turning into human. It is a little abstract.”

Another factoid is that Boyd made a reference to Philip K. Dick’s science fiction novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Boyd penned similar lyrics as he sings, “the electric sheep are dreaming of your face,” and “the electric sheep are dreaming up your fate,” in the second and fourth verse respectively.


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Nirvana’s “Scentless Apprentice” Inspired By Kurt Cobain’s Favorite Book

Nirvana's last studio album released in 1993.

Nirvana’s last studio album released in 1993.

Kudos to Canadian music journalist Erica Ehm for asking grunge pioneer Kurt Cobain if his music was inspired by literature.

Indeed, it was. In a 1993 interview with Ehm, Nirvana’s singer-songwriter Cobain stated that his favorite book was Patrick Suskind’s Perfume and “as a matter a fact…used that very story in ‘Scentless Apprentice.’”


“I read Perfume by Patrick Suskind about 10 times in my life, and I can’t stop reading it. It’s like something that’s just stationary in my pocket all the time. It just doesn’t leave me,” Cobain told Ehm at the time. “Cause I’m a hypochondriac (and) it just affects me–makes me want to cut off my nose.”

Suskind’s Perfume, originally written in German, was published in 1985. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the historical novel’s protagonist, is a perfume apprentice with hysperosmia, which gives a person a strong sense of smell, but ironically was born without a body scent.

Patrick Suskind's novel originally published in German in 1985.

Patrick Suskind’s novel originally published in German in 1985.

Jean was abandoned at birth and raised by wet nurses. At one point a wet nurse explains that most babies “smell like fresh butter.” But because Jean was scentless it became an issue for a wet nurse. That same wet nurse even claims baby Jean is possessed by the devil because of the lack of body odor.

 “I want this bastard out of my house.”
“But why, my good woman?” said Terrier, poking his finger in the basket again. “He really is an adorable child. He’s rosy pink, he doesn’t cry, and he’s been baptized.”
“He’s possessed by the devil.”

“He doesn’t smell at all,” said the wet nurse.
“And there you have it! That is a clear sign. If he were possessed by the devil, then he would have to stink.”

It’s in the first two verse of the song that Cobain hoarsely yells about babies smelling like butter and Jean being passed around from wet nurse to wet nurse.

Like most babies smell like butter
His smell smelled like no other
He was born scentless and senseless
He was born a scentless apprentice
Every wet nurse refused to feed him

The interview with Canada’s TV channel Much Music was done nine months before Cobain committed suicide. In remembrance of his birthday, which he would have been 46 today, watch the complete 23-minute clip of a tranquil Cobain.

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PJ Harvey Inspired by J.D. Salinger’s “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”

A New Yorker 1948 cover were J.D. Salinger's story was published.

A New Yorker 1948 cover were J.D. Salinger’s story was published.

Like PJ Harvey’s “Angelene” the 1998 single “A Perfect Day, Elise” is loosely based on a J.D. Salinger New Yorker story.

Released in the album Is This Desire? the song alludes to Salinger’s short story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” which was originally published in 1948, but later collected in the author’s 1953 book Nine Stories.

The short story is about Seymour who just returned from World War II and his socialite comely wife Muriel vacationing at a resort. But his spouse seems to be oblivious to the vetaran’s mental health. Coming back from the war you can see that it has affected his personality negatively as a pale-faced Seymour has a hard time getting along with adults around him. But he gets along just fine with children as he befriends Sybil a 3-year-old blond-haired girl he meets at the resort.

PJ Harvey's 1998 single "A Perfect Day, Elise."

PJ Harvey’s 1998 single “A Perfect Day, Elise.”

Harvey mentions Sybil in the song’s second verse as she sings “the water soaked her blonde hair black.” But it’s the last two paragraphs of the story that PJ Harvey gets her muse from:

He got off at the fifth floor, walked down the hall, and let himself into 507. The room smelled on new calfskin luggage and nail-lacquer remover.

He glanced at the girl lying asleep on one of the twin beds. Then he went over to one of the pieces of luggage, opened it, and from under a pile of shorts and undershirts he took out an Ortgies caliber 7.65 automatic. He released the magazine, looked at it, then reinserted it. He cocked the piece. Then he went over and sat down on the unoccupied twin bed, looked at the girl, aimed the pistol, and fired a bullet through his right temple.

Harvey adjusts her lyrics changing the room number from 507 to 509.

He got burned by the sun.
His face so pale and his hands so worn
Let himself in room 509,
Said a prayer pulled the trigger and cried,
‘It’s a perfect day, Elise’


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PJ Harvey Alluded To J.D. Salinger’s 1951 New Yorker Story


The cover for The New Yorker cover, where J.D. Salinger’s short story “Pretty My Mouth and Green Eyes” was published in July 1951.

A two-time Barclaycard Mercury Prize winner PJ Harvey gave a subtle tribute to the late novelist J.D. Salinger in her album Is This Desire?

In fact, the English singer-songwriter has a few literary allusions in the album, which was released in 1998.

But in the second verse of the album’s opening track “Angelene” you hear Harvey achingly singing, “Rose is my color, and white / Pretty mouth and green my eyes.” [audio]

You can read similar lines in “Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes,” a Salinger story originally published in The New Yorker  in 1951

The short story, later collected in Nine Stories, is about Arthur, a New York lawyer, whose wife is cheating on him. In a phone conversation, Arthur hysterically tells his friend about a poem he dedicated to his wife Joanie.

“Or I start thinking about–Christ, it’s embarrassing–I start thinking about this goddam poem I sent her when we first started goin’ around together. ‘Rose my color is and white, Pretty mouth and green my eyes.’ Christ, it’s embarrassing–it used to remind me of her.”

In contrast to the song, Harvey is singing about a prostitute named Angelene who is searching for love. Either way, her allusion to Salinger’s story can’t be mistaken.


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Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” Inspires Iron Maiden

It’s a world free of pain and troubles. Emotional distress is encouraged to be suppressed with a recreational drug known as soma. Relationships are looked down upon on, and you can be as promiscuous as you’d like. But you give up your freedom in exchange for all the happiness in the world.


A 1932 first-edition book cover of Brave New World.

This dystopia society that the English writer Aldous Huxley created in his 1932 novel “Brave New World” is what inspired Iron Maiden’s song by the same name. The song was released in the English band’s 2000 album titled “Brave New World.”

It recounts the story of John the Savage, a white man who grew up outside the trouble-free country known as the World State. When he is taken to there he notices a moraless civilization, and he sees himself as a misfit. He choses to exile himself to a lonely place and as a result he commits a tragedy.

Bruce Dickinson sings: “Dying swans with twisted wings, beauty not needed here.”


Iron Maiden’s 2000 album Brave New World.

“I don’t recall there being any dying swans in Brave New World the book. But I wanted an image that represented tragedy and sadness, as Brave New World had done,” the singer explained to Classic Rock Magazine in 2000. “‘Dying swans, twisted wings’, you know, the agony, the death ‘Brave New World’ doesn’t want to see that, it has no use for either the life or the death, all it has use for is the image.”

But it’s the irony of a man being emotionally distraught in a flawless world that attracted Dickson.

“I reread it [Brave New World] a couple of times and some of the lyrics were based upon my feeling about the book,” Dickinson said to Phoenix New Times. “There’s an element of irony to it.”

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Albert Camus’ “The Stranger” Inspires The Cure’s “Killing an Arab”

When the Cure released the album “Boys Don’t Cry” in 1980 the English band always dealt with having to explaining a song that was deemed racist by many at the time.

The cries to censor the rock band’s first single “Killing an Arab” came from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, a civil-rights organization, when a radio deejay confused the song with an anti-Arab anthem.


A 1946 first-edition cover to “The Stranger” by Albert Camus.

With incendiary lyrics “I’m alive…I’m dead…I’m a stranger…Killing an Arab,” a lot of music fans overlooked the fact that the tune simply retold a scene in the short novel “The Stranger” by French writer Albert Camus.

“If there’s one thing I would change, it’s the title,” lyricist Robert Smith told Chart Attack, a Canadian music online publication, in 2001. “I wrote it when I was still in school and I had no idea that anyone would ever listen to it other than my immediate school friends.”

But many did.


The disclaimer labeled on the album “Standing on a Beach.”

So, in order to clear the negative connotations from the song the record company labeled the 1987 album “Standing on a Beach,” which started of with the “Arab” song, with Smith’s statement:

“The song ‘Killing an Arab’ has absolutely no racist overtones whatsoever. It is a song which decries the existence of all prejudice and consequent violence. The Cure condemn its use in furthering anti-Arab feeling.”

Till the day, you can still find rare copies of the album with the disclaimer label.


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