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Sonic Youth, Kim Gordon Inspired by Philip Dick & Other Dystopian Writers

girilinabandcoverIn her memoir, Girl in a Band, Kim Gordon explained the inspiration to name Sonic Youth’s album Sister and lyrics to a song in her band’s subsequent album Daydream Nation.

Gordon, 63, was a singer and bassist for the band Sonic Youth, which hailed from New York City and eventually split sometime in 2011. Between 1983 and 2011 the band released 16 studio albums.

Among them include Sister and Daydream Nation, the band’s fourth and fifth albums respectively, which had inspirations from writers such as Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, and Denis Johnson.

Shortly before the release of Sister in 1987, Gordon wrote in her book that she and her then-husband and bandmate, Thurston Moore, had been reading science fiction writer Philip K. Dick.

“Philip Dick had a twin sister who died shortly after she was born and whose memory plagued him his whole life–which is maybe how and why our new album ended up being called Sister,” Gordon wrote. “We never decided this, of course; everything between us always had an air of undiscussed ambiguity about it.”

For the song “The Sprawl,” of Daydream Nation, Gordon has said she got the title from William Gibson’s novel, Mona Lisa Overdrive, the third book of the author’s trilogy known as “The Sprawl,” according to the band’s website. The website also provides a note that part of the song’s lyrics are based on the novel The Stars at Noon, a book by Denis Johnson.

But, Gordon provided a specific answer in her memoir to what book inspired the song.

fiskadoroIn chapter 27 of her memoir, Gordon wrote that she had read one of Denis Johnson’s books titled Fiskadoro, a book that she described as “a haze-filled dream world of a novel about the survivors of nuclear fallout attempting to rebuild their lives and society.”

“The whole time I was writing [“The Sprawl], I was thinking back on what it felt like being a teenager in Southern California, paralyzed by the still, unending sprawl of L.A., feeling all alone on the sidewalk, the pavement’s plainness so dull and ugly it almost made me nauseous, the sun and good weather so assembly-line unchanging it made my whole body tense,” she wrote. “The nutmeg headband of smog floating above my hometown reminded me of Fiskadoro, as if L.A. were already surviving its own nuclear fallout.”


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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 MTV.com 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.”

[audio http://music2.xialala.com/wawa/incubus/Talk-Show-On-Mute.mp3]

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 MTV.com. “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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Filed under George Orwell, Philip K. Dick