Lit Riffs is the first book involving music to be published by MTV Books, an imprint in conjunction with Simon and Shuster's Pocket Books.
It's an anthology with a twist: different authors choose different songs to "cover" in prose. While not exactly a new concept, it's also not a common form of adaptation (tho there are a few exceptions, most notably James Joyce).
Musical groups have been borrowing from authors much more often, but that's perhaps another node altogether. I will, however, mention as a further digression that Nabokov did a short story called "Music" and Gershwin wrote something for the violin and piano called "Short Story".
Probably the first "modern" author to have attempted to recreate a single pop song as a short story would be the man who more or less created rock journalism, Lester Bangs. His story Maggie May is in the book. It's alright, faithful enough, but I liked the song more. Except for the one by Lester Bangs, all the stories were commissioned specifically for this book.
Most of the stories have a little note by the author, stating why they chose the song they did and their relationship with the music.
Many of the stories in this collection are absolutely stellar. Others, not so much. Some are pitch-perfect distillations of the sounds they consider. Others are simply not what you might expect, leaving you wondering if the author was listening to the same song as you.
- Lester Bangs does Rod Stewart's Maggie May
- Jonathan Lethem's "The National Anthem" inspired by Daniel Johnston's "Speeding Motorcycle" as performed by Yo La Tengo
- Amanda Davis does "Blue Guitar" by the Cowboy Junkies
- JT LeRoy did an untitled story inspired by "Everlong" by The Foo Fighters
- Tom Perrotta "Dirty Mouth" inspired by "I won't back down" by Tom Petty
- Tanker Dane riffs on Jeff Buckley's take on Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah
- Lisa Tucker has "Why Go" after the Pearl Jam song
- Aimee Bender "All the Security Guards By Name" inspired by Jane Siberry's "The Lobby"
- Anthony DeCurtis "She Once Had Me" inspired by "Norwegian Wood (This Bird has Flown)" by the Beatles
- Hannah Tinti's Milestones was inspired by the Miles Davis tune
- Neal Pollack's "Death in the Alt-Country" inspired by Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried"
- Touré does Bob Marley's "I shot the Sheriff"
- Victor LaValle's "A Simple Explanation of the Afterlife" is inspired by "Aluminum" by the White Stripes
- Heidi Julavits's "The Eternal Helen" is inspired by Cat Power's performance of the Velvet Underground's "I found a Reason"
- Arthur Bradford's "Swampthroat" is inspired by AC/DC's Highway to Hell
- Jennifer Belle's "Bouncing" was inspired by Paul Simon's Graceland
- Ernesto Quiñonez's "Graffiti Monk" was inspired by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's "The Message"
- Darin Strauss "Smoking Inside" inspired by Remedy by the Black Crowes
- Judy Budnitz's "The System" inspired by "Way Down in the Hole" by Tom Waits
- David Ebershoff's "Four Last Songs" was inspired by the lyrics Herman Hesse wrote for Richard Strauss's final composition
- Elissa Shappell's "Dying on the Vine" was inspired by the John Cale song of the same name
- Zev Borow's "Rio" was inspired by the Duran Duran classic
- Nelson George's "King Heroin" was inspired by the James Brown song
- Julianna Baggott's "The Bodies of Boys" was inspired by Springsteen's Spirit in the night
The book was edited by Matthew Miele. MTV also released a CD collecting all the music behind the words. This book is not that hard to find and most of the stories are worth the effort, especially if you happen to love the songs in question. The intro to this collection's a decent proximation of how modern literature and pop music interact also.
Published in 2004.
Two years later Miele edited a second athology, Lit Riffs Volume 2. This second volume is much more difficult to track down.