Tuesday, January 27, 2015


There have been scores of songs about literature—from “Paperback Writer” to “Tom Sawyer” to “Holden Caulfield” (by a Newfoundland punk band named Mopey Mumble-Mouse). There have been albums, too. The Steve Miller Band’s third album, for instance, was called “Brave New World.” But the most profound paean to authorship is certainly naming your band after a book. So this installment of the Why Not 100 focuses on 56 of them.

On this list you’ll find bands named after book titles (from Steppenwolf to Supertramp), characters (from Dorian Gray to the Dead Milkmen), and various other literary references (from Mott the Hoople to the Ministry of Love). You’ll find Faulkner and Fitzgerald, Hesse and Huxley, Steinbeck and Salinger, Dahl and Dickens.

And we’re not even including Bob Dylan (Bobby Zimmerman chose the name in reference to poet Dylan Thomas) and Moby (electric dance music pioneer James Hall got his nickname from being a distant descendant of Herman Melville). Enjoy the bands:


1. The Velvet Underground
Michael Leigh’s early ‘60s book about a secret sexual subculture became the name of the band co-founded by Lou Reed, managed by Andy Warhol, and eventually elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
2. Steppenwolf
The band that had late ’60s hits like “Born to be Wild” and “Magic Carpet Ride” took its name from the title of a book by German-Swiss author Herman Hesse. Before then, they called themselves The Sparrows.
3. Supertramp
They took their name from a 1908 book called The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp by Welsh writer W.H. Davies. They reached superstardom with their 1979 Breakfast in America album, which included “The Logical Song” and “Goodbye Stranger.”

4. Genesis
The Hall of Fame band (which included Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins and sold more than 150 million albums worldwide) recorded its first album in 1969. Befitting its Bible origins, the album was called From Genesis to Revelation.

5. Manhattan Transfer
The group, named for a 1925 John Dos Passos novel, has had several incarnations. Appropriately, perhaps, its biggest hit was a cover of “The Boy from New York City.”

6. New Riders of the Purple Sage
The original lineup of this country rock band, named after Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage, included a few members of the Grateful Dead.

7. Of Mice and Men
One of this California metal-core band’s founders, Austin Carlile, explained that he and co-founder Jaxin Hall “both had plans for life, and they got screwed up, so now we’re making the most of what we can.” Sort of like Steinbeck’s George and Lennie.

8. As I Lay Dying
Another metal-core band from California offering a nod to a classic novel, a title that William Faulkner took from a passage in The Odyssey. Another Faulkner novel, Pylon, inspired the name of an oft-reincarnated alternative rock band.

9. Paradise Lost
John Milton’s epic 17th-century poem inspired English heavy metal band Paradise Lost, and its first album, in 1989, was called “Lost Paradise.” To confuse matters more, there’s also an album called Paradise Lost by progressive metal band Symphony X.

10. The Brave New World
The psychedelic Seattle band, named after Aldous Huxley’s futuristic novel, survived from 1966-73. The indie rock band the Feelies is named after a fictional entertainment device in the book. And another Huxley novel, Eyeless in Gaza, is the name of an English musical duo.

11. Nine Stories
It was the title of J.D. Salinger’s collection of short stories, published in 1953, and Lisa Loeb’s first band, formed in 1990.

12. A Confederacy of Dunces
The band may or may not have been familiar with a passage in the book, when author John Kennedy Toole describes “a small band of young men” who “stood before the phonographs as if it were an altar.”

13. The Grapes of Wrath
The Canadian folk rock band formed in 1983, disbanded in 1992, and reformed in 2009. Supposedly, when they chose the name, none of the band members had actually read John Steinbeck’s book.

14. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Hunter S. Thompson’s novel had a subtitle: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. But the band (formed in 2008) is described as a “Japanese scream/digital hardcore” group.

15. Fear of Flying
A New York progressive rock band named after Erica Jong’s sexually-charged 1973 novel.

16. Ubik
It’s the name of a Seattle band and a 1969 sci-fi novel by Philip K. Dick, which critic Lev Grossman described as “a deeply unsettling existential horror story, a nightmare you’ll never be sure you’ve woken up from.”

17. Oryx and Crake
Margaret Atwood says her critically acclaimed 2003 post-apocalyptic novel is “speculative fiction.” The Atlanta band named after it has been described as “indie-rock” and “orchestral-pop.” Two songs “Oryx” and “Crake” also appears on a 2013 album by The Knife.

18. Soft Machine
These  British progressive rock pioneers took their name from a William Burroughs novel, published in 1961.

19. Blood Meridian
It’s a Canadian alternative country band named for Cormac McCarthy’s 1985 novel.

20. The Tommyknockers
Contemporary New Orleans rock-and-rollers named for Stephen King’s 1987 science fiction novel. It was also the name of a song by a German metal band.

21. The Devil Wears Prada
Things happen fast: In 2003, Lauren Weisberger had a bestselling chick lit novel. Two years later, it became the name of a Christian metal-core band.

22. Catch 22
What genre of music haven’t we touched upon? How about ska punk. The band was formed in 1996, 35 years after Joseph Heller published his classic novel.

23. Titus Andronicus
It’s unlikely that when William Shakespeare was writing his first tragedy, set during the last days of the Roman Empire, he thought it would someday be the name of a New Jersey punk rock band.

24. Hot Water Music
Another punk band, this one from Florida and now disbanded. The name came from the title of a 1983 collection of short stories by Charles Bukowski.

25. Wreck of the Hesperus
Incongruity? How about this being the name of a 19th-century narrative poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and a 21st-century Irish doom metal band that put out an album called Eulogy for the Sewer Dwellers.

26. Marillion
There are literally dozens of bands named after J.R.R. Tolkien’s universe—bands with names like Angmar and Isengard, Rohan and Rivendell, Mirkwood and Mordor, Gandalf and Arwen, Sauron and Smaug. But the neo-progressive rock band Marillion—which originally called itself Silmarillion after Tolkien’s epic collection of stories from Middle Earth, but shortened it to avoid potential copyright issues—has put out 17 albums.


27. Big Brother and the Holding Company
They were named (by concert promoter Chet Helms) after George Orwell’s enigmatic dictator from 1984. When Janis Joplin joined as lead singer, their sound became bigger.

28. Uriah Heep
This seminal hard rock band of the ‘70s sold more than 40 million albums worldwide. In 1969, they changed their name from Spice to the name of a character from David Copperfield, in part because Charles Dickens was ubiquitous around Christmas that year.

29. Veruca Salt
The spoiled rich girl from Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory became the name of a Chicago alternative rock band in 1993.

30. Holden Caulfield
J.D. Salinger’s rebellious teenager from The Catcher in the Rye is an icon of literature—and the namesake of a band with an album called The Art of Burning Bridges.

31. Dorian Gray
In Oscar Wilde’s only published novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, the title character sells his soul so that only a painting of him ages, not the man himself. That’s one way to stay young. Or you can simply start a rock band named Dorian Gray—as two groups (one in Germany, one in Yugoslavia) did.

32. The Boo Radleys
The English alt-rock band of the 1990s—named for the reclusive and unforgettable character from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird—had one top ten single called “Wake Up Boo!”

33. The Artful Dodger
The pickpocket from Dickens’s Oliver Twist lent his name to an American power rock band. Their second album was called Honor Among Thieves.

34. Augie March
An Australian pop rock band named after the protagonist in Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March.

35. Billy Pilgrim
An American folk rock duo based in Atlanta (not to be confused with art rock band Sweet Billy Pilgrim), named for the antihero of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.

36. Fu Manchu
Discordance? How about a Southern California stoner rock band named after an enduring criminal genius from the early 20th century.

37. Weena Morloch
In H.G. Wells’s Time Machine, Weena is a love interest in the future, and the Morlocks are cannibalistic hominids. An electronic band combined the names.

38. The Dead Milkmen
Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon featured a character known as Macon “Milkman” Dead III. The satirical punk rock band re-worked the name

39. Grace Pool
Alterna-folkies who took their name from a minor character in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.

40. Benny Profane
A rock band from Liverpool! But short-lived. In Thomas Pynchon’s debut novel V, Profane is a discharged U.S. sailor with a sidekick named Pig Bodine. The band’s first song was called “Where is Pig?”

41. Fiver
Lost the Plot was the first album by Fiver, a pseudo-solo act (Simone Schmidt) named for the fictional rabbit from Richard Adams’s Watership Down.

42. The Ophelias
In “Hamlet,” William Shakespeare’s Ophelia is a noblewoman of Denmark. In San Francisco, the Ophelias put out three albums in the late ‘80s.

43. Oberon
A free-form Oklahoma band that writes songs about space—named after the duplicitous king of the faeries in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Go figure.

44. Frumious Bandersnatch
The 1960s psychedelic rock band (which later splintered into the Steve Miller Band and Journey) took its name from the frumious (adjective) Bandersnatch, a creature in Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem “Jabberwocky” from Through the Looking-Glass.

45. The Mugwumps
According to William S. Burroughs in Naked Lunch, “Mugwumps have no liver and nourish themselves exclusively on sweets. Thin, purple-blue lips cover a razor sharp beak of black bone with which they frequently tear each other to shreds.” Sounds like a rock band, in this case a short-lived ‘60s version whose members later formed the Mamas & the Papas and the Lovin’ Spoonful.


46. The Doors
In 1965, Jim Morrison and his mates chose to name themselves after Aldous Huxley’s book, Doors of Perception, about an afternoon mescaline trip. Huxley took his title from a line in a William Blake poem, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.”

47. Steely Dan
Something you may wish you didn’t know: These Hall of Fame rockers named themselves after a prominent sex toy in Naked Lunch.

48. Forty Nine Hudson
Jack Kerouac drove a 1949 Hudson cross country in his journey for On the Road. Forty Nine Hudson mixes acoustic strumming with bombastic rocking.

49. Ministry of Love
In George Orwell’s 1984, the Ministry of Love enforces loyalty through fear and brainwashing. The female-fronted Las Vegas punk-pop band just uses music.

50. Gatsby’s American Dream
This Seattle band has a lead vocalist named Nic Newsham, which would have been a great character name in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

51. Pooh Sticks
A Welsh indie pop band of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, named for the dropping-sticks-from-a-bridge game, their song “I Know Someone Who Knows Someone Who Knows Alan McGee Quite Well” sounds like a declaration from the Hundred Acre Woods.

52. This Mortal Coil
Surely, when Shakespeare was writing this in “Hamlet”—“For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil”—he was envisioning a pop supergroup four centuries later.

53. Heaven 17
This new wave synth-pop band took its name from a fictional band mentioned in Anthony Burgess’s 1962 dystopian novella A Clockwork Orange.

54. Modest Mouse
In “The Mark on the Wall,” Virginia Woolf writes about “the minds of modest, mouse-colored people.” Modest Mouse’s frontman, Isaac Brock, said, “I chose the name when I was fifteen. I wanted something that was completely ambiguous.”

55. Mott the Hoople
The British rock band is best known for “All the Young Dudes,” written for them by David Bowie in 1972.  While in prison on a drug offense, record producer Guy Stevens read the novel Mott the Hoople by Willard Manus—about an eccentric who works in a circus freak show. It became the name of a band and its first album.

56. Love Craft
H.P. Lovecraft was an American horror fiction writer who only became famous posthumously, dying in poverty in 1937. But his work inspired songs and lyrics by the likes of Metallica and Black Sabbath. In 1967, a Chicago psychedelic rock band named itself H.P. Lovecraft and played haunting, eerie music inspired by his writings. They soon shortened the name to Lovecraft and eventually Love Craft.

Saturday, January 17, 2015


There was a boy in the early 18th century who was a bit of a precocious writer. As a 16-year-old, he attempted to write for The New-England Courant, one of the first newspapers in the American colonies. The Courant had been founded by his older brother, who rebuffed his younger sibling’s attempts at publication. So the teenager adopted an alias. Under the name Silence Dogood, ostensibly a middle-aged widow, he wrote a series of well-received, tongue-in-cheek letters to the newspaper—essays, really. It was his first taste of some measure of fame, albeit under a pseudonym.

A quarter-century later, by which time he had become a famous author, he hoped to draw attention to the injustice of blaming women only when children were born out of wedlock (something with which he was well familiar). So he dressed in female literary garb once more, publishing “The Speech of Polly Baker” in an issue of The Gentleman’s Magazine. He also wrote letters to The American Weekly under the names Caelia Shortface and Martha Careful, as well as a gossip column under the name Alice Addertongue.

So what was his real name? Benjamin Franklin. January 17th is his birthday. Happy birthday, Silence Dogood.

Ben Franklin was not the last famous writer to opt for a literary disguise, of course. Either they later became famous using their real names or they were already famous before adopting a pseudonym. 

Here’s a list of two-dozen-plus-one and their less-famous pen names: 

1. Ben Franklin (Silence Dogood, Polly Baker, Alice Addertongue, Caelia Shortface, and Martha Careful)

2. Charles Dickens (Boz)

3. Stephen King (Richard Bachman)

4. J.K. Rowling (Robert Galbraith, Newt Scamander and Kennilworthy Whisp)

Wednesday, January 7, 2015



One of the goals of the Why Not 100 is to clue literature lovers in to facts they might have missed. Sort of the way Sherlock Holmes did. Sure, you’re probably aware that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s books were told from Dr. John Watson’s point of view, that Holmes lived at 221B Baker Street, and even that Holmes was addicted to cocaine and morphine. But did you know...
  1. He was this close to being called “Sherringford” Holmes.
  2. Dr. Watson was originally named “Ormand Sacker.”
  3. While Holmes and Watson are generally considered to be—and portrayed—as middle-aged, they were actually in their late twenties for most of their adventures.
  4. Among Conan Doyle’s inspirations for the character was Edgar Allen Poe’s fictional detective C. Auguste Dupin.
  5. Not once in any of the Conan Doyle stories did Holmes ever utter the exact words “Elementary, my dear Watson.” He said, “Elementary.” And he said, “My dear Watson.” But never together
  6. The phrase was actually first known to be used in a 1915 P.G. Wodehouse novel called Psmith, Journalist (which was actually first serialized in 1909).
  7. The first well-documented time that Holmes uttered the phrase was in the 1929 film The Return of Sherlock Holmes.
  8. Clive Brook, the British actor who said the line, played Holmes in two subsequent movies.
  9. In fact, Holmes only says “elementary” seven times in all of Doyle’s works.
  10. A Study in Scarlet was the first story to feature the mystery-solving Sherlock Holmes character. It had been rejected by many publishers and originally appeared in a Christmas book, Beeton’s Christmas Annual, in 1887.
  11. Conan Doyle was paid 25 pounds for it.
  12. It was a bit of a commercial flop.
  13. The author wrote the story at age 27. It took him three weeks to finish it.
  14. At a dinner party in 1889, Conan Doyle was convinced by Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine editor Joseph Stoddard to serialize a second Sherlock Holmes novel, which became The Sign of Four.
  15. Oscar Wilde was also at the party and was also convinced to serialize a novel—his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray.
  16. It wasn’t until the Sherlock Holmes stories began to appear in The Strand Magazine that they became a global sensation. The magazine continued to publish the stories for more than four decades.
  17. Conan Doyle based much of Holmes on one of his professors, Dr. Joseph Bell.
  18. He was said to have based Holmes’s nemesis, Professor James Moriarty, on a fellow named Adam Worth.
  19. Conan Doyle was a doctor. He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and wrote stories during study breaks.
  20. After graduating from medical school, he served a stint as a ship’s doctor. He went on a voyage to West Africa.
  21. Conan Doyle was also an amateur sleuth who, like Holmes, once helped free two men who were wrongly charged with murder.
  22. He was a good athlete who, after he became famous, played goalkeeper for a soccer team under a pseudonym.
  23. One of Conan Doyle’s pals was iconic American magician Harry Houdini.
  24. Holmes wasn’t perfect (witness the morphine addiction), and neither was the man who created him. In the well-known story “The Speckled Band,” a doctor trains a snake to kill at the sound of a whistle. Snakes are deaf.
  25. Sherlock Holmes has appeared in at least 226 different films.
  26. There also have been two musicals, as well as a ballet called “The Great Detective.”
  27. Basil Rathbone starred as Holmes in 14 films between 1939 and 1946. He became frustrated at being typecast.
  28. Five of the actors who played Holmes on stage or screen were better known for playing General Patton, Moses, James Bond, J.R. Ewing, and Iron Man.
  29. In fact, among the scores of actors who have played Holmes—besides the above George S. Scott, Charlton Heston, Roger Moore, Larry Hagman, and Robert Downey, Jr.—are John Cleese, Peter O’Toole, Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer, John Gielgud, Peter Lawford, Frank Langella, John Barrymore, Christopher Lee, and Benedict Cumberbatch
  30. Christopher Lee also played Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft, in a film. 
  31. Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit films) plays Dr. Watson opposite Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock, the TV series. Cumberbatch was also the voice of Smaug in The Hobbit.
  32. The show films its Baker Street scenes about a half-mile away from Baker Street.
  33. The series pilot was titled “A Study in Pink.”
  34. In that show, unlike in the books, the characters don’t refer to one another by their surnames. They call each other “Sherlock” and “John.” 
  35. Both Mr. Spock from Star Trek (Leonard Nimoy) and Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation (Brent Spiner) have appeared as Sherlock Holmes.
  36. Oh, and you can add Peter Cushing (Grand Moff Tarkin) from Star Wars to the list, too.
  37. The only fictional character who has appeared in more films is Count Dracula.
  38. Holmes has also appeared on postage stamps all around the world, including the United Kingdom, Canada, South Africa, Nicaragua and San Marino.
  39. The official address of the Sherlock Holmes Museum in London is 221B Baker Street.
  40. It actually sits between buildings at 237 and 241 Baker Street, making it unofficially 239 Baker Street.
  41. From 1932 to 2002, Abbey National occupied the 221B Baker Street address, eventually employing a secretary to handle the correspondence that arrived from all over the world.
  42. Though Holmes is so often portrayed wearing a deerstalker hat, he really only wore it while visiting the rural countryside during his investigations.
  43. It has been estimated that more than 40,000 fan-fiction versions of Sherlock Holmes stories have been created.
  44. Although the vast majority of Sherlock Holmes stories (four novels and 56 short stories in all) were narrated by Dr. Watson, two of them—“The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier” and “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane”—were told by Holmes himself.
  45. Two other stories—“The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone” and “His Last Bow”—were written in the third person.
  46. Sherlock Holmes first appeared on film in the year 1900—in a minute-long story titled “Sherlock Holmes Baffled.”
  47. In an effort to get closer to a villain whom he is trying to expose in “The Adventures of Charles Augustus Milverton,” Holmes becomes engaged to a housemaid. After he solves the case, he simply leaves her.
  48. In “The Adventure of the Dying Detective,” he tricks Dr. Watson into thinking he is dying of a deadly disease. Why? Because he doesn’t think his best friend would be able to keep the secret that he’s faking it.
  49. Toward the end of his life, Arthur Conan Doyle became a spiritualist who attempted to use a medium to contact long dead friends and family members.
  50. Aside from his detective stories, Conan Doyle published everything from poetry to historical novels to a series of books about the British during World War I.
  51. Winston Churchill was a big fan of his historical novels.
  52. Conan Doyle also published a 1912 book called The Lost World about dinosaurs still alive on an island. Sound familiar?
  53. It inspired Michael Chrichton’s Jurassic Park and Steven Spielberg’s film sequel to it, which he called The Lost World.
  54. Arthur Conan Doyle became Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—that is, he was knighted—not for his fiction, but for his journalistic work during the Second Boer War.
  55. Six years after Holmes’s first appearance, Conan Doyle actually killed him off in a story called The Final Problem.
  56. His readers protested, so eight years later he brought him back in “The Hound of the Baskersvilles.” The period in between is known as “The Great Hiatus.”
  57. Conan Doyle once said, “If in one hundred years I am known only as the man who invented Sherlock Holmes, then I will have considered my life a failure.”