At Paste, we look for “Signs of Life” in all forms of art. And while we value each artform for its unique merits, it’s always a treat when they overlap. So we decided to take a look at bands that derived their names from literature. The works that inspired several of the entries are probably obvious, but a few of them will most certainly surprise you. It may also surprise you to see which genres favor the written word. (Who knew metalheads were such scholars?)
Photo by Max Blau
Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare
New Jersey punks Titus Andronicus take their name from the greatest wordsmith of them all, William Shakespeare. Titus Andronicus is thought to be the famous playwright’s first tragedy. It is also his bloodiest and most violent work.
The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley
When The Doors formed in 1965, they decided to name themselves after Aldous Huxley’s book detailing the author’s experiences with taking mescaline. The Doors of Perception’s title was inspired by a William Blake quotation: “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.”
The Velvet Underground by Michael Leigh
Michael Leigh’s book about the secret sexual subculture of the early ‘60s became the inspiration for The Velvet Underground’s name when a friend of John Cale showed the book to the group. The band considered the name to be evocative of underground cinema.
Source: “The Mark on the Wall” by Virginia Woolf
Indie-rock outfit Modest Mouse derived their name from a passage in Virginia Woolf’s “The Mark on the Wall,” which reads “I wish I could hit upon a pleasant track of thought, a track indirectly reflecting credit upon myself, for those are the pleasantest thoughts, and very frequent even in the minds of modest, mouse-coloured people, who believe genuinely that they dislike to hear their own praises.” “I chose the name when I was fifteen,” frontman Issac Brock explains in Modest Mouse: A Pretty Good Read By Alan Goldsher. “I wanted something that was completely ambiguous , but it’s really candyesque sounding. But it meant something to me. And I could identify with that.”
Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
Bet you never knew about this one. The band’s name was taken from Steely Dan III from Yokohama, a strap-on dildo from William S. Burroughs’ non-linear narrative Naked Lunch.
Belle et Sébastien by Cécile Aubry
Belle et Sébastien was a famous French novel about a boy and his dog living in a small French Alps mountain village. It spawned a French live-action television series in the 1965, a Japanese anime series in the ‘80s and the name of a popular indie-pop group in the ‘90s.
Source: Esben and the Witch – Danish Fairy Tale
Three piece indie-rock band from Brighton, England Esben and the Witch takes its name from the Danish fairy tale about a boy’s encounters with a murderous witch. The name is fitting considering the dark tone of the band’s music.
Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse
Frontman John Kay decided to name his band after German-Swiss author Hermann Hesse’s 10th novel after a suggestion from Gabriel Mekler, the producer for the band’s debut album. In the book, the title refers to the protagonist’s low, animalistic nature represented as a “wolf of the steppes”
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
In Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book, Veruca Salt is a spoiled rich girl, whose bratty greed causes here to fall down an incinerator shaft. In 1993, Louise Post and Nina Gordon used the name for their alternative rock band.
Source: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Named after Margaret Atwood’s post-apocalyptic speculative fiction novel, Atlanta’s Oryx and Crake “offer lyrics that are influenced by both real life stories and overly active imaginations, and music that juxtaposes sounds of the past, present and future.”
The Romany Rye by George Borrow
George Borrow’s The Romany Rye tells the story of a learned young man who is thrown in with a band of Gypsies. Luke MacMaster’s was inspired to use the name his folk-rock project after falling in love with the protagonist, who gives up his money for life on the road. The name translates from the Romany language to mean “The Gypsy Gentleman.”
Source: Nikolai Gogol
Speaking of Gypsies, Gogol Bordello didn’t take their name from a particular literary work, as most of the groups on our list, but from Ukrainian-born Russian author Nikolai Gogol. The author serves as serves as an ideological influence for the band because he “smuggled” Ukrainian culture into Russian society, paving the way for other famous writers like Dostoevsky and Kafka. The band intends to do same sort of “smuggling” with Gypsy/East-European music in the English-speaking world.
The Fall by Albert Camus
Camus’ philosophical novel focuses on themes such as innocence, imprisonment, non-existence, truth and man’s fall from grace, as presented by the novel’s protagonist Jean-Baptiste Clamence. The Fall bassist Tony Freil came up with the name when the post-punk band formed in 1976.
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
English alternative-rock band The Boo Radleys named themselves after a character in Harper Lee’s only book, the masterpiece To Kill A Mockingbird. In th novel, Boo Radley is a quiet, reclusive character who watches over most of the events of the story from the outside until he is forced to intervene.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Here begins the Clockwork Orange portion of our list. Anthony Burgess’ 1962 dytopian novella has served as inspiration for several bands over the years. Heaven 17’s name was taken from a fictional band mentioned in the story.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
In the flim version of Clockwork, the word “vellocet” appears written on the wall of the milkbar in the film’s opening. The term refers to a brand of milk laced with opiates. Much of the artwork and vocabulary used by the indie-rock band was also influenced by Nadsat, the way of speaking popular among the teenagers in the novel.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Moloko is a Nasdat word that translates to “milk.” The drink, commonly laced with a variety of different drugs, is popular among teenagers in the story.
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Several metal-core bands seem to find literature to be a treasure-trove of material for band names. Although As I Lay Dying stole their name from William Faulkner’s famous novel, frontman Tim Lambesis has said that there is no correlation between the meaning of the novel and the meaning of the band.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
While As I Lay Dying simply borrowed their name from literature, fellow metal-core group Of Mice & Men read a little more into things. “The book _Of Mice and Men _says ‘the well laid plans of mice and men often falter,’” frontman Austin Carlile said. “You make plans, and they get screwed up. [Bassist Jaxin Hall] and I both had plans for life, and they both got screwed up, so now we’re making the most of what we can.” Hall has said “The American Dream” is an important theme in the book, a phrase he has used to describe the band.
The Sunbird by Wilbur Smith
This death-metal band derived their name from the word “Opet” from Wilbur Smith’s 1972 novel The Sunbird. In the novel, Opet is the name of a fictional Phoenician city in South Africa.
Art of Noises by Luigi Russolo
The name of avant-garde synth pop group Art of Noise alludes to noted futurist Luigi Russolo’s essay “The Art of Noises.” Aside from writing his futurist manifesto, Russolo was also perhaps the first noise composer. He was also one of the first theorists of electronic music.
The Bible, King James Version
Stryper was a 1980s glam-metal group that became the first Christian rock band to be recognized by the mainstream. Their name comes from Isaiah 53:5 in the King James Version of The Bible. The verse reads: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”
The Silmarillion by J.R.R Tolkein
Marillion originally formed as Silmarillion in 1979 named after J.R.R. Tolkein’s collection of stories from Middle Earth. The band shortened the name to avoid potential copyright issues.