Grant Morrison is a renowned writer who explores the underbelly of pop culture and modern society through the prism of comic books. His music tastes are just as thoughtful, with a track that proves parodies can be as good as the original, some psychedelic hip-hop and a song he considers the theme to his cult favorite comic series The Invisibles. Grant’s most recent release is a book analyzing superheroes called Supergods: Our World in the Age of the Superhero.
For more: http://grantmorrison.com/
1 - The Queen Is Dead - The Smiths
2 - Mogadishu - Baader Meinhof
3 - The Heater - The Mutton Birds
4 - Blue Flowers - Dr. Octagon
5 - Joe Public - The Rutles
EJL: Hi! I'm Eric J. Lawrence, and I'm here with acclaimed comic book writer Grant Morrison, who's worked on such titles as Animal Man, Doom Patrol, the new X-Men and Batman & Robin, as well as authoring the non-fiction book “Super Gods: a Meditation on the History of Superheroes”. Today we're going to talk about songs that have inspired him over the years, as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. Grant, thank you for coming down!
Grant Morrison: Thank you!
EJL: What's the first song you've got for us?
GM: The first song I want to choose is from The Smiths, and it's “The Queen Is Dead”, the title track from the album. And I guess, I'd been a Smiths fan as a kid. You know, it was a real big deal for me, when this working-class kid came along and talked about the same kind of feelings that I felt growing up in Britain in the dark days of the 1970's, and the whole Thatcher regime. Morrissey was a very big role model for us at the time. He had this kind of sense of humor, he was into the same black and white movies that I was into. So it was really nice to find someone who was that smart, and whose band was that great, who'd suddenly appeared on the scene.
Song: The Queen Is Dead – The Smiths
GM: I got into the first albums, but then I really was worn down by the depression, you know that Manchester sniveling rain that Morrissey could do so well. And what I loved about this one was that it was the first time the sense of humor really took over. Really, it was the sharpness of the lyrics, and this just summed up how it felt in Britain at the end, as Thatcher's reign was coming to an end, and this triumphant flag waving song appeared.
EJL: That was The Smiths with "The Queen Is Dead" as selected by our guest, Grant Morrison. What's the next track you've got for us?
GM: The next one is a song called “Mogadishu” by Baader Meinhof, which is one of Luke Haines's projects, and obviously it was a concept album about the Baader Meinhof terrorist group in Germany in the early 70's. But this particular song is just so cool, for me it's this is the essence of cool, this song, and it's a really sexy, slow, kind of iconic song. And what it made me feel, it was very much of a time where I was doing The Invisibles comic, which was about a group of sexy terrorists, you know occult terrorists. And this would have been the theme song of The Invisibles. You know I think it says everything about that outlaw glamour, the life lived on the fringes of the law, and on an international scale, and I really love it for that. It's the sexiest song about terrorism that you will ever hear.
Song: Mogadishu -- Baader Meinhof
EJL: Are there similarities between songwriting and comic book writing, do you think?
GM: Well, I think so. The thing about comic book writing, I mean the writer Denny O'Neil once said, ‘It's headlines written by a poet’ which I thought was a great description. It's about the same idea of compressing a big idea into the smallest amount of words. You know a comic balloon, you can't really have more than 35 words in it or it starts to over balance the artwork.
In the same way, that in a song, you've got meter, you've got your lines, and you really have to make sure that what you're saying is honed down to an essence. So yeah, I mean definitely I think there's a lot of similarities between them, and I think the best comic writers do take a lot from lyricists and, you know, even from beat poets. I think my favorite lyricists took a lot from Ginsberg and from Burroughs and those guys as well.
EJL: That was Baader Meinhof with the song “Mogadishu”, as selected by our guest, comic book writer Grant Morrison. What's the next track you've got for us?
GM: Well, this is one of my favorites. This song is called “The Heater”, and it's by a band called Mutton Birds. They're from New Zealand, and even as I've listened to this song a dozen times, I still don't know what it's about! Those are the kind of songs I love best. The lyrics are so elusive. It suggests a situation that's so bizarre, it's really hard to figure.
It's about a guy, basically, falling in love with an electric heater that he buys for his apartment. And the heater starts to tell him stories. You have to listen to the song, it's very strange indeed, but having heard this I recently managed to get a hold of the band's album, and every track on it is genius.
Song: “The Heater” by Mutton Birds
EJL: That was Mutton Birds, with the song "The Heater" selected by our guest, Grant Morrison. What's the next song you've got for us?
GM: The next song is “Blue Flowers” by Dr Octagon, and this one's here to represent Hip Hop, because I do listen to quite a bit of Hip Hop. But this one was kind of what got me into it back in the 90's. And it came out at the time when I was working on Invisibles and we had a character in Invisibles called Jim Crow. He was kind of a master of voodoo Hip Hop, or trip hop, and someone wrote to me and said, ‘You know, you've got this Jim Crow character, and this is the music he would make.’ And they sent me this album, and I just was blown away by it.
Again, to hear something so intelligent, it was a Sci-Fi album but it was Hip hop. It sounded like comic books, it sounded like my favorite science fiction, it sounded like the weirdest television show you'd ever seen. So again, it's on the psychedelic theme, I mean, this is Hip Hop's finest expression of psychedelia, “Blue Flowers”, and the bizarre trip to the park is very much in the Lennon mold, but for a new generation.
Song: Blue Flowers -- Dr Octagon
EJL: Talking about, surreal. Music can certainly do that, and it can evoke it with not only lyrics, but sonically. How does surreality fit in comic books and in the way that you write your books?
GM: Just trying to evoke a feeling, in comics it's very easy to use just a small amount of language and a very telling image to create really weird juxtapositions of ideas in people's minds. You know, as I said, I grew up loving psychedelic music as a kid, it was my era, so that's what I heard all the time when I was growing up as a child. It was always my favorite and I think I liked to listen to very elusive lyrics which give me ideas, and which may not necessarily be the idea behind the song. But certainly there's such a crossover between music and comics.
EJL: That was Dr Octagon, with “Blue Flowers” as selected by our guest, comic book writer Grant Morrison. What's the last track you've got for us?
GM: The last track is a big favorite, it's called “Joe Public” by The Rutles. And obviously The Rutles were the parody group for The Beatles. It was created by Eric Idle and Neil Innes, who was his collaborator. But Innes took the idea farther. When The Beatles released the Anthology record in the 90's and suddenly got back into the charts with the new recordings, Innes and his collaborators brought out this Archeology album. But he took the idea so far beyond Eric Idle's kind of Python-esque original into what, for me, was a parody that's as good as the original, and in some cases better because Innes is such a genius song writer. He's actually better than any of the song writers in The Beatles, as regards lyrics.
Song: Joe Public -- The Rutles
GM: The notion of him parodying my favorite Beatles’ track “Tomorrow Never Knows”, and what he did with it is turn it around, because “Tomorrow Never Knows, it's kind of the ultimate psychedelic song, it's the ultimate song of transcendence, with the Buddhist and the Tibetan Book of the Dead. He turns it on its head and makes it a song about Joe Public, the man in the street, the everyday guy who believes in the perils that be. And so he's taken this entire concept and reversing it. And, again, with the most clever, brilliant lyrics. And that led me and you know sometimes in my work I love to pastiche other writers. I kind of learned it all from Innes and The Rutles. So, this one kind of showed me that, you know, the parody of something could be as good as the original.
EJL: It's The Rutles with their masterpiece, Joe Public, as selected by our guest Grant Morrison. Grant, I want to thank you for coming down and sharing some of your selections with us.
GM: Well thanks very much, that was great. I really enjoyed it.
EJL: For a complete track listing and to find these songs online, go to kcrw.com/guestdjproject.