Musical Storytelling: Musicians Turned Authors
By Hayley Cadel, Mary Karayel, Aisling O’Mahony and Alexandra Constable
The music industry frequently intersects with the world of book publishing, in more ways than we might expect. The poetic lyrics of Lana Del Rey, for example, prompted her to publish Violet Bent Backwards over the Grass, her first collection of written verse without musical accompaniment. Other musicians, such as Gerard Way and Jason Derulo, have similarly tried their hand at writing short stories and graphic novels, making their own mark on the publishing industry. In this article, we will take you through various examples of musicians turned authors and the numerous crossovers between two industries that each contain a plethora of talented writers.
In recent years, we have seen the rising popularity of lyric books being published. In this, we see publishers capitalising on an existing fanbase to bring something new to the market. As there is potentially a creative crossover of interests, it arguably makes sense that this market has been identified and accommodated, with publishers making assumptions that this fanbase will also buy these books. In this growing trend we are seeing a rebranding of the typical autobiography, with musicians using their lyrics as the springboard to discuss their life and career. Recently, Penguin published Paul McCartney’s The Lyrics – which became part of Waterstones’ Books of the Year 2021 – where he embellishes his lyrics with autobiographical detail and photographs. This autobiographical aspect can harness nostalgia and be used to celebrate an artist’s work. We see this with Jarvis Cocker’s upcoming release Good Pop, Bad Pop which is posed under the premise of “clearing out his loft.” We have also seen this in action posthumously, with Faber and Faber’s The Work, a book of lyrics by Scott Hutchison enhanced with his illustrations. Finally, lyric books can be a relevant way for publishers to mark key milestones in a band’s history, Canongate, for example, published Radiohead’s Kid A Mnesia to coincide with the album’s 20th anniversary.
Perhaps the most popular way in which musicians turn to literature is by writing poetry. Writing lyrics and poetry are often interchangeable and not mutually exclusive. For example, Irish folk singer Christy Moore used the poetry of Northern Irish hunger striker Bobby Sands to create the songs 'Back Home in Derry' and 'McIlhatton'. Other notable singers who wrote poetry, as well as lyrics, include John Lennon, Joni Mitchell, Kurt Cobain and Tupac. In 2018, Florence Welch, the lead singer of Florence & The Machine released Useless Magic: Lyrics and Poetry, a "prophetic" piece of work, offering readers an insight into her creative process. Another musician baring her soul through poetry is pop icon Halsey in her book I Would Leave Me If I Could: A Collection of Poetry. Grappling with her bipolar disorder, her sexuality and the lows of relationship breakdowns, the collection has been praised for its brave confessional paired with rhythmic rhymes. Most recently, in September 2021, Ryan Hennessey, the lead singer of the Irish pop rock band Picture This released his debut collection Syncopated Blue. Hennessey has always been candid about growing up in Kildare, feeling different to the other “laddish” boys. This is something he explores across the collection alongside what it means to be a man, as well as young love and subsequent heartbreak.
It is not just their lyrics being turned into books, we’re seeing more and more musicians turning to fiction writing. Due to be released by Cornerstone in March this year, Dolly Parton has joined James Patterson to co-write Run, Rose, Run, a thriller set in Nashville. While previously celebrities have often sought the help of ghostwriters, this style of collaboration could be a step in a new direction. By combining their work and fanbases, they both have the potential to create a unique story as well as appealing to a wider audience.
Moreover, several musicians have also tried their hand at creating graphic novels and comic books with great success. For example, Gerard Way from My Chemical Romance created the comic miniseries The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys with Shaun Simon, as well as The Umbrella Academy which was adapted into a Netflix series. The comic The Twisted Tales of the Ritalin Club was created by the English singer, YUNGBLUD. Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine created the comic book series Orchid. Similarly, the comic The Ghost of Ohio was created by Andy Biersack from Black Veil Brides. Jason Derulo also created a graphic novel called Uzo featuring a superhero he first introduced the world to via Tiktok. Judging from the success of these examples, the artistic expression necessary to create music certainly seems to translate well into creating graphic novels.
There has always been a strong crossover of popular culture and the book market. It seems musicians have proven particularly adept at utilising this. Looking at the success so many musicians have experienced when they turned their talents to the world of publishing, this is definitely a trend we anticipate will continue to grow. With Stormzy’s #Merky imprint, perhaps we’ll even see more musicians turning their hand to publishing!