What does that song mean?

This Album Links Duran Duran, Andy Warhol, and Kurt Vonnegut

Posted Aug 31st 2023, 15:32 by Penguin Pete

Tiger got to hunt. Penguin got to find Vonnegut references in music.

What is Welcome to the Monkey House? Well, it depends on your advanced search options: are you looking in music or literature? If you’re looking in literature, you’re talking about the short story collection by legendary and much-missed author Kurt Vonnegut, he of Slaughterhouse Five and Slapstick fame, to name just two attempts at book-to-film adaptations I’ve reviewed.

It’s no mere chance that I pounce on any media linked to the Bard of Indiana. I’d been reading him since I read novels at all; in fact, I wasn’t alone in being a teenage reader of novels. Generation X, despite being the first digital natives at the primitive Radio Shack and Atari home consoles, still found the time to read novels. Vonnegut was one of those edgy counterculture novelists that we little punk anarchists sought out. True story: I’d bring my copy to school and guys would stand around in a circle taking turns reading out loud, laughing at the misadventures of Billy Pilgrim and Kilgore Trout. But Vonnegut was not parent-teacher-sanctioned reading because – gasp! naughty words! - so of course we smuggled Vonnegut novels like they were hash oil.

When Papa Kurt passed away in 2007, it hurt. He had felt to me like one of my childhood heroes, one of the main reasons you are reading this right now because I chose the keyboard-bound career path. This was a day when I lost a voice more important to me in my childhood than any parent, priest, or teacher.

But I digress (you notice how much digressing you get away with when you’re a blogger?)…

Meet The Dandy Warhols

The Dandy Warhols are an alt-garage rock band out of Oregon, drenched in acid-washed Cascadian coziness. They are the ones who made the album Welcome to the Monkey House, named after Kurt Vonnegut’s short fiction collection.

As some of you sharper tacks have already noted, the band itself is named in tribute to legendary and much-missed Andy Warhol, and there we go obsessing about Andy Warhol’s influence on music again! But don’t worry, this isn’t one of those weird arthouse bands based on the FLUXUS side of Andy Warhol. They’re good ol’ rockabilly garage rock, like this:

… with only the mildest passing reference to Velvet Underground. I’ll say, some of their sets at least sound like something legendary and much-missed Lou Reed might have written. But then they get more modern-style glam with “We Used To Be Friends,” to a degree that maybe Lou Reed would have dismissed as too showy. But hey, it’s the theme to the TV teen-detective series Veronica Mars, so they score those points right back.

But wait a minute, Duran Duran was supposed to be part of this story… Nick Rhodes did the mixing on Welcome to the Monkey House, at the direct choice of Capitol Records execs who preferred Rhodes’ over the original mix by veteran record producer Russell Elevado. So yes, this is another one of Nick Rhodes’ side projects. Nick Rhodes, affectionately dubbed “the Controller” by band-mate Simon Le Bon, is notorious for his perfectionism at the keyboard and in the studio, and that penchant for dour micromanagement makes for an excellent album mixer.

This is the part where I remind you that Rhodes’ mixing was behind such side projects / supergroups as Power Station and Aracdia. To say nothing of his many diverse projects, because Nick Rhodes gets so restless that he’ll even voice a South Park character just for something to do. And for a nice full circle to end this tale, Rhodes did hang out with Andy Warhol and his Factory crowd, where the visual art side of that scene inspired Rhodes to get into photography – yet another enduring side hobby for Rhodes.

Are There More Vonnegut Tributes In Music?

Well, yeah, here and there. We’ve covered some literary influences on music before, often enough to know it happens, but even then Vonnegut seems to be an acquired taste for musicians. The New Order song “Blue Monday” refers to a joke from Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions, Al Stewart’s song “Sirens of Titan” is nearly a lyrical retelling of the KV novel of the same name. So there’s nickel-dimey tributes sprinkled around.




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