“A Man of Genius Makes No Mistakes”: A Joycean Playlist Just in Time for Bloomsday 2015

“I think of you so often you have no idea.”

James Joyce’s epic novel Ulysses is roughly 265,000 words long. It has eighteen sections and nearly fifty characters that flow throughout Leopold Bloom’s life and Joyce’s signature stream-of-consciousness prose. To sit down and read the entire work—first published as a full novel in 1922—is a massive undertaking that usually takes people weeks, months, or even years (and that’s assuming they finish it at all). Not bad for a story that takes place over the course a single day day in Dublin.

Two years after Ulysses was published in its entirety, fans of the book started celebrating the fictitious events of June 16, 1904. Now, ninety-one years later, the holiday simply known as Bloomsday is celebrated all over the world with special readings, exhibits, and even menus for the literary occasion.

While it’s no secret that Joyce’s influence can be seen throughout almost all aspects of culture—just pop in Richard Linklater’s Slacker, pick up Rob Berry’s graphic novel Ulysses Seen, or think about how Two Gallants got its name—we thought that we would get in the Bloomsday spirit by providing you with a musical playlist that features some of our favorite Joyce references and nods to the legendary author.

Listen at Spotify.

Franz Ferdinand, “Ulysses”
Tonight (2009)

“Am I Ulysses? Am I Ulysses? / “No, but you are now, boy”

While the track mostly alludes to the main character of The Odyssey, Franz Ferdinand’s frontman Alex Kapranos was inspired by Joyce’s landmark work when writing and titling Tonight’s lead single.

Kate Bush, “Flower of the Mountain”
Director’s Cut (2011)

“He said I was a flower of the mountain, yes / So we are flowers on a woman’s body, yes”

Kate Bush’s musical homage to James Joyce and Ulysses’s Molly Bloom was a twenty-two-year journey in the making. Originally planned as a musical interpretation of Bloom’s last speech in the novel, Bush had to alter the lyrics after Joyce’s estate wouldn’t allow her to use his words. That track became 1989’s “The Sensual World,” but in 2011 (after the Joyce estate finally realized how amazing the singer-songwriter is) she was granted a license and rereleased the track in its true form as “Flower of the Mountain.” It is more than worth the wait.

Lou Reed, “My House”
The Blue Mask (1982)

“I missed your jokes and the brilliant things you said / My Dedalus to your Bloom, was such a perfect wit / And to find you in my house makes things perfect”

On the opening track of his 1982 album The Blue Mask, Lou Reed warmly references the two main protagonists of Ulysses: Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus.

Van Morrison, “Summertime in England”
Common One (1980)

“And James Joyce wrote stream of consciousness books”

In his tribute to the English countryside, Van Morrison ironically name drops the Irish author among several Anglo-Saxon literary greats, including William Wordsworth, W. B. Yeats, and T. S. Eliot.

Jimmy Buffett, “If It All Falls Down”
Floridays (1986)

“My life’s an open book / by James Joyce and Agatha Christie / Sometimes I get confused / Somewhere around page two”

That shaker of salt isn’t the only thing that got lost. To be fair to Jimmy Buffett, though, Joyce’s disorienting style is half of his appeal; it’d be stranger if you didn’t get lost.

Jefferson Airplane, “Rejoyce”
After Bathing at Baxter’s (1967)

“Mulligan stew for Bloom, / The only Jew in the room / Saxon’s sick on the holy dregs / And their constant getting throw up on his leg.”

True to its name, the entirety of “Rejoyce” is Jefferson Airplane’s psychedelic four-minute retelling of the story of Ulysses. Grace Slick sets scenes from the novel against one of the world’s grooviest bass lines.

Syd Barrett, “Golden Hair”
The Madcap Laughs (1970)

“Lean out your window / Golden hair / I heard you singing / In the midnight air”

Syd Barrett’s “Golden Hair” isn’t just a track inspired by James Joyce—it’s actually one of James Joyce’s own poems sung over acoustic instrumentation.

Califone, “VIII”
Chamber Music: James Joyce (2008)

“Who goes amid the green wood / With springtide all adorning her? / Who goes amid the merry green wood / To make it merrier?”

“VIII” is Califone’s interpretation of Joyce’s poem of the same name. The words are sung against sparse piano chords and light guitar melodies that transport you to the very woodland scene that Joyce describes.

U2, “Breathe”
No Line on the Horizon (2009)

“16th of June, 9:05, doorbell rings”

The track’s opening mention of June 16 is an allusion to Bloomsday and a subtle shout-out to Joyce from his fellow Irish lads.

Minutemen, “June 16th”
Double Nickels on the Dime (1984)

The alt-rock band’s instrumental track was written and recorded in the meandering style of Joyce’s writings as a tribute to the Ulysses author.

John Cage, Roaratorio (2002)

Roaratorio is an hour-long Joycean fever dream complete with bagpipes, barking dogs, and Celtic music. It’s all layered under John Cage’s ghostly voice as he reads “Writing for the Second Time Through Finnegans Wake,” his deconstruction of Joyce’s 1939 novel. If you’ve ever wondered what the inner workings of James Joyce’s mind sound like, you’ve found it.


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