Crass – Bloody Revolutions (song). For bands that singlehandedly and effectively challenged my way of thinking through well argued writing, Crass takes the cake. I didn’t have older brothers or friends with records so I really just grabbed the first 5 things that happened to be on the rack that looked cool at the record store in my town. Luckily for me, Crass was one of them. This song in particular summed up the way revolutionary types inevitably and self-defeatingly end up recreating the exact thing they’re railing against (a system) and like all Crass’ work it was just the right combination of intelligent, pissed and anti-dogmatic to truly affect and direct the way a young, alienated person with utopian leanings goes forward realistically with that in their life. I was 16, and the sentiment of this is still always in the back of my head at nearly 38.
Paul Bowles – Next To Nothing. This is technically a poem, and my favorite piece of writing in the world (it can be found in a number of Bowles’ collections). Bowles was a bit ahead of the beat generation, he moved to Morocco and never came back. His thing was about travelers vs tourists, and that you should be able to be anywhere regardless of cultural comforts, the more alien the better, and he put his money where his mouth was, and to me he makes Kerouac and Co just look like brats. He nails the universality of confusion and randomness of the intersection of lives, and the ethereal but heavy significance of things and people that pass into and back out of each others lives with no warning and no promises. I love him. I’ve sampled this on Cursed records and I’ve got a line from it on dog tags around my neck. It’s powerful enough as a piece of writing, but there’s also an album called Baptism of Solitude, which includes Bowles reading this himself in his early 90s, shortly before he died, with an ambient drone behind it that just makes everything stop dead in its tracks. In the same way as Leonard Cohen, Bowles has a rare direct line on the simultaneous beauty and heartbreak of the volatility of life. I can’t explain it but would highly, highly recommend it.
Camus – The Stranger. Pretentious, right? I read books that were way too serious and existential way too young, but this one definitely impacted my way of thinking more than all the rest, notably the part near the ending where Meursault freaks out on the priest who’s trying to force a last minute confession out of him before being executed. I was growing up in a religious home and struggling between the opposing ideas of liberating yourself and the deeply ingrained idea of damning yourself, and this was about as bold as it gets for ammunition.
Orwell – 1984. I was a fucking born paranoiac. And typical or not, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t read this at least 20 times growing up. And I’d be lying if I said that pretty much every word of it (from digital-age totalitarianism to misinformation) didn’t eventually come true and then some.
Salinger – A Perfect Day For Bananafish (from 9 Stories).
I know Catcher in the Rye is an obvious one for people, but 9 Stories really got me, at a young age too when I could really tap into the characters. Bananafish in particular, well I don’t want to ruin it for anyone, but it’s my favorite short story (next to Edward Albee’s “The Zoo Story”). It features an encounter between a handsome soldier who comes home from war with a screw loose, and a totally oblivious and fragile little girl on a beach. And the whole horror of the thing plays out via a phone call with his fiancee and her justifiably nervous mother in a nearby hotel room. It’s really menacing in just the right way, in terms of normal daily life barely concealing or avoiding disaster. This affected me a lot.
Chris Colohan is singer for Burning Love. For more information: burninglove416.blogspot.com