Songs Inspired by Pets: a-muse-ing

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For creative people, inspiration can strike at any time, anywhere.

And the muse is not only found in breathtaking sunsets, spellbinding tomes and one’s human mate. She could also be slinking between the shelves of your pantry. Or flying after a stick thrown into a lake. Or perched on your shoulder, nibbling your ear lobe.

Across many centuries, humans have been inspired by their animal companions. For some, that inspiration has extended beyond just becoming a better person. It was not enough for artists to simply love those companions back - they had to forever enshrine that companion in song.

A few companions even helped their composer parents along. Italian Baroque master, Domenico Scarlatti (1865-1757), had not even sat down at his harpsichord when his beloved cat, Pulcinella, jumped on the keyboard and padded out the main motif for “Cat’s” Fugue in G Minor. Legend has it that the first ever “cat walk” became the theme around which one of Scarlatti’s hallmark pieces was written.

Flash forward to England’s rolling countryside, circa 1899. Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934) was five years away from penning the Pomp and Circumstance Marches. Walking along the Wye river, a friend’s bulldog named Dan fell into the torrent, paddled upstream and pulled himself out of the water. The event was reportedly the creative flashpoint for The Enigma Variations, a stirring musical tribute to the beings who most inspired Elgar.

Indie rock band, Pinback, wrote an ode to its bass guitarist’s pet goldfish. Zach Smith was heartsick that his beloved Penelope struggled inside her bowl and was constantly floating to the top. He learned that she either swallowed excess air and might expel it in a day or so, or had contracted dropsy, a fatal kind of fish pneumonia. Sadly, Penelope passed in December, 2002. This one hits close to home for my wife and me as we has a betta fish that died from dropsy in 2004.

Hundreds of popular and lesser-known songs and longer musical tributes have been penned about pets and other animals. Many who heard Martha My Dear by the Beatles’ Paul McCartney speculated that the song was about his longtime love interest, Jane Asher. In reality, it was dedicated to his adopted Old English sheepdog. Carnival of the Animals by French Composer Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) brilliantly ascribes musical tones to a veritable Noah’s Arc of wild creatures in probably the greatest anthropomorphic exercise ever.

My personal favorite is a song that was not even written about a pet. Hairshirt by R.E.M. (lyrics by Michael Stipe) has been interpreted to mean the composer’s relinquishing of guilt and the need to pay penance for his desires. But I draw another association: a dog “speaking” to his human about how lonely it can be to be a dog and yet how easy it is to be loyal to the human he loves - and grateful for the life he has:

I am not the kind of dog

That could keep you waiting

For no good reason

Run a carbon black test on my jaw

And you will find

It’s all been said before

 

I can swing my megaphone

And long arm the rest

It's easier and better

To just beat it from the chest

Of desire

 

I could walk into this room

And the waves of conversation are enough

To knock you down in the undertow

So alone, so alone in my life

Feed me banks of light

And hang your hairshirt on the lowest rung

 

It's a beautiful life

And I can hang my hairshirt

Away up high in the attic of

The wrong dog's life chest

Or bury it at sea

All my life I've searched for this

 

Here I am, here I am

In your life

It's a beautiful life

My life

It's a beautiful life

Your life


What pet song do you love the most?