Playlist: “Lift up your skirt and fly!” — Shakespeare400


This month marks the 400th year since William Shakespeare shuffled off this mortal coil. Vanessa Wheeler remembers the great man in the most rock ‘n’ roll way possible…

Over the next few days, you’ll be hearing a lot about William Shakespeare. Events are being held across Britain to by the literary organisation Shakespeare 400 to remember The Bard; who inspired not only generations of writers but musicians too. After all, as written by the wordsmith himself in Measure for Measure: “Music oft hath such a charm, to make bad good, and good provoke to harm.”

In my ode to Will, rapper-turned-activist Akala (pictured, above) declares: “I’m similar to William, but a little different”. He suggests that rap lyrics are the contemporary evolution of poetry, similar to how Shakespeare evolved the language of his time by creating new words and phrases. However, Akala does more than just rhyme; he founded the Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company which provides artistic education for young people through poetry and music.

On the note of activism, Shakespeare’s Sister by The Smiths was named after the hypothetical sister from A Room of One’s Own; Virginia Woolf’s feminist essay in which she delineates that a female equivalent to Shakespeare would have received no recognition for her work – mainly due to lack of education and recognition for women during the Elizabethan era. On a positive note, the song’s title did inspire Siobhan Fahey to form the pop-rock duo of the same name.

Stockholm’s latest garage rock band, Cardboard Villains, sing about the love for Desdemona that Othello felt before the relationship ended — in true Shakespearean style — via a murder-suicide. Although seeming lighthearted and breezy upon first listen, the lyrics and bass melody sets the scene for the tragedy that is to come.

John’s Children (below) step into the shoes of Othello and flirt with Desdemona, with the controversial hook “Lift up your skirt and fly” getting them banned from being played on the BBC. The psychedelic tune elaborates upon Shakespeare’s canon by outlining the sexual side of the relationship, and has even been covered by bands such as T. Rex and The Jam.

Drum and bass rock band Pendulum tackle The Tempest, which is widely believed to be the last ever play Shakespeare wrote alone; revolving around a magician who has been stranded on an island for 12 years. Pendulum’s track sings about both a literal tempest of the skies and an emotional tempest, meaning a shitstorm of emotions and personal troubles; cleverly mirroring the play.

John's Children

“I’m too high, ego’s too high, I had to calm down”, says rapper Sam Lachow as he embodies King Lear; referencing the hamartia of the Shakespearean character, whose self-importance gets him into a downward spiral of trouble — which ultimately leads to his death. Lachow highlights some of the subtle lessons taught to us by The Bard and how they apply to everyday life.

Dan Bern decides to completely transform the legend in Shakespeare’s Got A Gun, who’s character gets pissed off at his job as a playwright and trades it in for life as a disgruntled musician. Carrying a submachine gun and hanging out with a prostitute named Susie, Bern imagines a world where Shakespeare gets so sick of his own work that he just might shoot someone if he ever hears a Hamlet quote again.

It’s all about Romeo and Juliet from here on out, and this ‘80s rock classic by Dire Straits pays homage to the lovestruck couple. The gentle guitar and descriptive lyrics create a melodic complement to what is arguably Shakespeare’s most famous work, and while it is unlikely that Juliet ever said “Hey la, my boyfriend’s back”, the sentiment is there.

Lou Reed painted a modern image of the star-crossed lovers in his 1989 track Romeo Had Juliette, which unravels in a similar way to Baz Luhrmann’s later reinterpretation of the classic in 1996. Reed chirps in his cursively cool style about a slick greaser-style Romeo as he tries to woo Juliette (who now sports two extra letters to her name), in a drug-ridden downtown Manhattan…

Romeo and Juliet (1996)

… Yet Blue Öyster Cult retold the same story from a completely different angle. (Don’t Fear) The Reaper pinpointed the morbid theme of death from the romantic tragedy and spun it in an eerily positive light, with lyrics encouraging the reader to join Romeo and Juliet “together in eternity”. Lead guitarist Buck Dharma allegedly wrote the song whilst imagining himself dying young. If you need cheering up after listening to this, watch humble Vine superstar Mapel the Golden Retriever do a charming cover!

“You and me, always, and forever”, an extract from You and Me Song by The Wannadies, was a rather darkly humorous version of a pathetic fallacy used in the soundtrack for the aformentioned Luhrmann film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. This happy-go-lucky song expresses the joy and endearment felt by the lovers just before everything that could go wrong, does.

Written specially for this cinematic favourite, Radiohead wrote Exit Music (For A Film) to express the tender heartbreak felt after the lovers commit suicide. Gentle vocals, desolate lyrics, and a carefully executed crescendo make this song genuinely chilling, and perfectly fitting for the tragic end scene. It’s just a shame they didn’t name it ‘Exit, pursued by a bear.’

Vanessa Wheeler

See our Culture Diary PICK OF THE WEEK on Saturday 23 and Sunday 24 April 2016 — The Complete Walk @ Venues Across Liverpool & London– FREE

Check out all the Shakespeare400 events on their website

Posted on 22/04/2016 by thedoublenegative