Sung Any Good Books Lately?

AFTER READING ANGELA’S ASHES by Frank McCourt, Deborah Pardes
couldn’t get the central character, Frankie, out of her head. So
Pardes, a singer-songwriter and indie label owner in San Francisco,
wrote a song in the voice of the struggling young Irishman and
called it ‘7th Step.’ After she performed the song on a local radio
show, listeners called to ask about the book.’It dawned on me that
music inspired by books would be a great bridge between those who
have read a book and those who haven’t,’ she says. Then she took
her thinking a step further and realized that unlike movies, which
give away books’ stories entirely, songs inspired by literature
could ‘connect those who cannot read books at all with the magic
locked inside the pages.’

Researching literacy, Pardes learned that of the 156 countries in
the United Nations, the United States ranks 49th in its citizens’
ability to read. She learned that 20 percent of American adults
‘cannot curl up inside a good book, let alone read to their
children or participate fully in the voting process.’ So Pardes
founded the Songs Inspired By Literature Project (SIBL;
www.siblproject.org). With a songwriting contest, a CD, and a
program that promotes reading, this nonprofit group aims to raise
awareness of adult literacy.

The project’s first CD, Chapter One–Songs Inspired By
Literature
, came out last February. Filled with literate lyrics
inspired by Homer, Beckett, Tolstoy, Steinbeck, and many others,
the CD features songs donated by Bruce Springsteen, Grace Slick,
and Aimee Mann, as well as 10 winners of SIBL’s international
songwriting competition. San Franciscan Jill Tracy won the Grand
Prize with ‘Evil Night Together.’ Inspired by Luc Sante’s Low
Life,
the song conjures up the underbelly of early-20th-century
New York. ‘Tell Your Story Walking,’ from Massachusetts artist Deb
Talan, was inspired by her emotional response to Jonathan Lethem’s
Motherless Brooklyn. ‘No joke, I laughed, I cried,’ Talan
says.

SIBL’s new documentary film, Tell Your Story Walking: Literacy
and Power in America
, is planned for PBS broadcast in 2003. And
SIBL’s next CD, Chapter Two, is due to be released in March.
Tom Waits is already on the playlist, with ‘A Good Man Is Hard to
Find,’ based on the Flannery O’Connor novel. And Pardes is working
on more ways to get the word out. ‘Storytelling is crucial to the
survival of our humanity,’ she says.

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