Lit Hum Study Guide: A Semester In Song

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Last year Bwog brought you a Limerick Lit Hum study guide, and this year Procrastinator Extraordinaire Carolyn Ruvkun provides you with a playlist of songs with references to glorious works of our literary past from the second semester of the Lit Hum syllabus. ‘Njoy!

The Beatles, “I Am the Walrus
This Beatles classic sparked the “Paul is dead rumor” about whether John was grieving over Paul’s death in the song. Some claim John purposely packed nonsensical images into “I am the Walrus” to confuse those who dissected every Beatles’ lyric so seriously. Still, this hasn’t deterred die-hard fans from looking for “Paul is dead” clues. (People have actually written books about this. For serious.) As the song fades out, you can faintly hear the following recorded lines of Shakespeare’s King Lear:

Slave, thou hast slain me: villain, take my purse:
If ever you wilt thrive, bury my body;
And give the letters thou find’st about me
To Edmund Earl of Gloucester, seek him out
Among the British part: O, untimely death.
(Oswald dies)

Is this “matter and impertinency mixed” or “reason in madness”? Well, for the record, Paul is still alive and kickin’

The Mountain Goats, “Love Love Love
The Mountain Goats’ “superman” lyricist, John Darnielle, weaves dozens of random references into this gentle and nostalgic track, conveying the difficulty of coping with conflicting emotions.  One lyric even features Crime and Punishments’ Raskolnikov: “Raskolnikov felt sick, but he couldn’t say why, when he saw his face reflected in his victim’s twinkling eye.”

Radiohead, “Pyramid Song
Lead singer Thom Yorke has cited Dante as a tremendous influence. The lyric, “and we all went to heaven in a little row boat,” refers to Charon ferrying our favorite voyager across the river Styx.” The song also appropriately mentions the “black-eyed angels” and “a moon full of stars.”

Bob Dylan, “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine
Factually correct? Not so much. Augustine wasn’t “put out to death;” he died of illness. But Dylan has said that he heard voices. Maybe a neighboring child chanted to him too.

And here are a few less intentional references:

After the jump, special contributor Gareth Williams, Chair of Literature Humanities, suggests some tunes (marked with asterisks). Who knew the composed gentleman who resisted the urge to eviscerate Miss “the Iliad is like gangster rap” also had such good music taste?

The Smiths, Girlfriend in a Coma** for Aeneid

Soft Cell, Tainted Love** for Aeneid

James Brown, This is a Man’s World** for Aeneid

David Bowie, Changes** for Metamorphoses

Usher, Confessions Part II for Confessions. Both involve pregnancies… spiritual, literal whatevs.

Jimi Hendrix, Are you Experienced? for Essays

Tallest Man on Earth, King of Spain for Don Quixote…close enough

Lil’ Wayne, Got Money for Pride and Prejudice

Any others? Leave them in the comments.

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  1. coldplay  

    has a song called don quixote!

  2. patrick wolf

    "to the lighthouse"

  3. Anonymous  

    um...Galaxie 500's King of Spain, Part 2, for Don Q, Part II
    <3 Galaxie 500 <3

    reCAPTCHA: and tremolos

  4. less intentional:

    augustine: daniel johnston, "premarital sex"; joanna newsom, "peach, plum, pear"

  5. JOANNA  

    go na na na na na na na na na na
    na na na na na na na na na na
    na na na na na na na na

  6. In Defense of Dylan

    the reference to being put out to death is to Jesus....Dylan, confronted by Augustine, feels that he is guilty of the ultimate basis of all sin, the death of christ. He dreamed he was among the oens who put Him out to death.

    Also, Viva la Vida by Coldplay is King Lear. Period. Old king who lost power, is motivated by regret and a feeling that he did something wrong, and people want him dead? Lear.

  7. Isn't  

    Viva La Vida about the sun king?

  8. Anonymous  

    It was actually the cover of Abbey Road that sparked the "Paul is dead" rumor. People found the references to death in "I Am the Walrus" only retrospectively.

    Sorry, I had to.

  9. Gareth Williams  


  10. Mark Lilla


  11. Anonymous  

    Decameron: The Rolling Stones, "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"

  12. lol  

    only at columbia

  13. actually  

    To The Lighthouse: LMFAO and Lil John-"Shots"

  14. Anonymous  

    Was The Inferno this semester? I recommend Trapped Under Ice by Metallica, from their Ride the Lightning album.

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