“It seems very pretty”, she said when she had finished it, “but it’s rather hard to understand! Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas – only I don’t exactly know what they are!…”
– Alice, upon reading the “Jabberwocky” poem in Alice in Wonderland
Of all the children’s literature published in the last two centuries or so, Lewis Carroll‘s Alice in Wonderland has been the most influential. It’s been the most influential on other writing, on film, but also (for our purposes) on music. From classical to jazz to pop and more, most styles of music have a generous helping of Carroll-inspired works.
There were some music works directly owing to Alice in Wonderland in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, but it was in the psychedelic 1960’s that we find the influence exploding. Though Carroll, by all accounts, was not a user of hallucinogens, his works are so surreal and imaginative that the counterculture latched on almost instinctively. It didn’t hurt that one could find real or imagined drug references throughout his works. “White Rabbit“, by Jefferson Airplane is perhaps the most famous Alice in Wonderland inspired song. According to this website listing musical compositions inspired by Lewis Carroll, well over 30 songs recorded in the 1960’s were directly influenced by Carroll’s writings (I started to try and count them, but there’s just too many). Some other more recent notable entries include Tom Petty’s 1985 video for “Don’t Come Around Here No More“, which featured an “Alice” motiff, the Stevie Nicks track “Alice” from her Alice-titled “The Other Side of the Mirror” album, an entire thematic album called “The Mad Hatter” by jazz pianist Chick Corea, and the Tom Waits-composed music for the musical “Alice”.
Above all, we find many songs inspired by the poem “Jabberwocky” (from Alice in Wonderland also). There was even a band in the late 60’s composed of future members of The Steve Miller Band and Journey that was called Frumious Bandersnatch after a phrase in the poem. “Jabberwocky” is often considered “the greatest of all nonsense poems in English” and Carroll’s use of language and metre here lends itself especially well to musical interpretation. Some of the more successful ones include:
1968’s ultra-obscure, but far-out “Jabberwock” by Boeing Duveen & The Beautiful Soup. This song, posted by my fellow blogger friend Sean on his Rick Wakeman’s Cape blog, got me started on this whole Jabberwock songs exploration.
Essra Mohawk‘s “Jabberwock Song”, from 1970. A song which I’ve always felt should have been a hit, but is little known to this day. It’s more of an indirectly Carroll-inspired song, urging the listener to “Beware the Jabberwock that each of us must slay”.
From 1991, an effective rendering of the poem by Canadian duo Anderson & Brown, called (what else?) “The Jabberwock”:
Lastly, who better to put the poem to music than pyschedelic folky bard Donovan, from his 1971 album “H.M.S. Donovan”, which also included a musical version of Carroll’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter”:
Oh, and uh, The Muppets acted out “Jabberwocky”: