By way of introduction, let me establish my lack of credentials for writing a piece concerned with the interplay between reality, literary pursuits, radio broadcasts, and late 20th century electronic music. My work for the NFSA is centred around tending to the needs of a database and its users rather than saving an obsolete format from oblivion in the nick of time or discovering rare gems in the national audiovisual collection and showing them to the world.
I am, however, a word nerd of the first order. This can be a curse or blessing for those around me (depending on their reaction to impromptu explanations of gerunds and use of the case system for English pronouns). Being a word nerd also means that when I am listening to songs it’s the lyrics, more often than not, that are to the forefront rather than the rhythm and melody. I sometimes wonder if I decided that I liked The Clash just because they correctly used ‘whom’ in ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’ (1982).
So how did a flat white lead to a murder?
After a general staff meeting, I wandered through the exhibition Great Adaptations: Words to Image on my way to the café in search of coffee. As I checked out the posters from Australian films and compared the text of the original works with the screenplays, my mind wandered from great to not-so-great translations of books to screen (why is it so hard to get a John Irving novel to work on film, for instance?) then to thinking about songs I knew that had literary antecedents. Skipping the more obvious candidates (Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ and Led Zeppelin’s ‘The Battle of Evermore’), the first five songs that came to mind were: ‘Killing an Arab’ by The Cure (Albert Camus – The Stranger), Nirvana’s ‘Scentless Apprentice’ (Patrick Sűskind – Perfume: The Story of a Murderer), ‘Shadows and Tall Trees’ by U2 (William Golding – Lord of the Flies), ’2+2=5’ by Radiohead (George Orwell – 1984) and the Crash Test Dummies’ ‘Afternoons and Coffee Spoons’ (TS Eliot – The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock). Another line from Eliot’s poem served as the title for Patricia Rozema’s 1987 film I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing.