10 musical works inspired by Ray Bradbury's writing
It's common knowledge that science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury, who died Tuesday at age 91, was an inspiration to writers and filmmakers, both of whom used his remarkable ideas as rocket boosters to propel their imaginations. Less obvious, but no less numerous, are the musicians who've drawn on Bradbury's work to fuel songs and concept albums.
Like the space travelers invited to play "white xylophones" -- the ribcages of dead Martians -- during "The Martian Chronicles," musicians can't resist cosmic inspiration. The below list of works inspired by Bradbury no doubt extends much longer than 10 -- but that's what the comments section is for. Feel free to chime in with music we missed.
"Rocket Man" by Elton John and Bernie Taupin
Based on the Bradbury short story "The Rocket Man," John and Taupin's 1972 classic features thematic elements that the writer addressed throughout his work, including the ways in which humans react to the isolation of space travel. "She packed my bags last night pre-flight," sings John, an echo of Bradbury's plot, in which an astronaut leaves his wife and son on Earth as he travels through outer space.
"The Veldt" by Deadmau5
Canadian mouse-helmeted beatmaker Deadmau5 named his recent single "The Veldt" after Bradbury's short story. A bouncing, four-on-the-floor electro-house ditty, the track describes a world in which technology has so consumed culture that the world outside has virtually vanished. "Look what they made/They made it for me, happy technology/Outside the lions roam feeding on remains/We'll never leave look at us now/So in love with the way we are." The song's chorus co-opts Bradbury's original title of the story when first published in 1961, "The World the Children Made."
Frankie Rose, "Interstellar" album
New York singer Frankie Rose's recent album, "Interstellar," was inspired by Bradbury, whose work not only defined science fiction but also the futuristic ideals of Los Angeles. "A lot of the songs are inspired by old Ray Bradbury sci-fi stories," Rose told Spinner.com in April. "Nobody knows because it's not obvious. It's definitely tracked in a certain order. It was planned in my mind that way." Best known for her work with Crystal Stilts and Vivian Girls, Rose on "Interstellar" channels the cosmos.
Pearls Before Swine, "The Rocket Man"
John's writing partner Taupin acknowledged the influence of the Pearls Before Swine song, also called "The Rocket Man," on their better-known composition. Composed by the psychedelic folk band on its 1970 album "The Use of Ashes," this earlier version mirrors much more closely Bradbury's narrative. Songwriter Tom Rapp introduces the mother and son early in the lyrics, and over wistful cello and keyboard, he sings of his father, who "loved the world beyond the world, the sky beyond the sky."
Royal Hunt, "The Mission"
"We are on a mission right now to save rock and roll!," screams lead singer John West during this above live version of the title track to Royal Hunt's 1999 release, "The Mission," a concept album based on "The Martian Chronicles." The release's 13 tracks follow the narrative, with the Danish metal band pounding out fast guitar rock and West belting ridiculous lyrics like, "We gave this pain to the world which we can't understand/Blood disappears like the raindrops when hitting the sand." (Hey, nobody ever said all inspiration is quality inspiration.)
Rush, "The Body Electric"
Canadian power trio Rush draw on Bradbury's collection of short stories from 1969, "I Sing the Body Electric," itself inspired by a Walt Whitman poem, during their song "The Body Electric." Taken from the band's 1984 album "Grace Under Pressure," the song, written by avowed Bradbury fan/drummer Neil Peart, features androids, humanoids, system breakdowns, data overloads, lots of random sci-fi terms and "the mother of all machines," a reference to the plot line of the Bradbury story.
Steel Prophet, "Dark Hallucinations" album
Steel Prophet is a Connecticul heavy metal band (yes, there is such a thing) born in the 1980s and whose 1999 album, "Dark Hallucinations," follows the storyline of Bradbury's "Farenheit 451." Like Royal Hunt's concept album -- apparently, 1999 was a good year for Bradbury/metal marriages -- songs on "Dark Hallucinations" adapt chapters to create their drama.
"Medicine Man" by Barclay James Harvest
"Medicine Man,' written by British folk rock band Barclay James Harvest in 1971, was inspired by "Something Wicked This Way Comes," Bradbury's strange 1962 novel about a cursed carousel in a traveling fair. In the group's version, which of course features the sound of a calliope, singer John Lees refers to the cursed merry-go-round by wondering, "Didn't anybody want to ask the calliope to call the tune the flying horses crooned but did not know?"
Frank Black, "The Cult of Ray" album
In 2005, the Pixies' lead singer, Frank Black, wrote about the experience of interviewing Bradbury for the magazine Alternative Press. In the introduction, Black spoke of the writer's influence on his music. "When my high school English teacher said I could write short stories instead of doing homework, Ray Bradbury was my main source of inspiration. Years later I would absorb what Ray had to say at personal appearances he made at libraries and gymnasiums. I named a record after him [1996’s 'The Cult of Ray'] and squeezed as much of him as I could into my own work. Once I got an autograph and mumbled garbled, humbled praise." The record's Bradbury influence is much less obvious than the metal records above.
Rachel Bloom, "... Me, Ray Bradbury"
This not-safe-for-work song by L.A. based comedian Rachel Bloom captures the essence of many Bradbury fanatics' feelings toward the writer's output. She's shockingly direct -- and very funny -- in her desires.
-- Randall Roberts
Photo: Ray Bradbury at the 2003 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times