As the previous post pointed out, Oscar Wilde’s witticisms were what made him famous in Victorian culture. However, beyond his cutting wit in both stories and plays is an overlooked aspect of Wilde’s writing: his poetry, essays, journalism, lectures and letters.
My favorite poem of his is “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” written after Wilde served two years of hard labor after being convicted of “gross indecency.” It is absolutely heartbreaking.
I also have a soft spot for “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” because it was the first of Wilde’s works that I ever read. Which brings me to the true purpose of this post: to introduce you to one of my favorite bands, which sparked my interest in Wilde.
The Virgin Prunes were an 80’s avant-garde/experimental Irish punk/rock band. Their song “Theme For Thought” includes the first three stanzas of Wilde’s “Reading Gaol.”
From explosion to implosion the Virgin Prunes lasted about seven years, it was one hell of a mental and surreal journey. Wilde was always there with us, our touchstone, the aesthetic godfather to the bastard sons of Dorian, Ziggy and Johnny Rotten. (source)
The lead singer, Gavin Friday, later had a solo career, and his debut album was titled “Each Man Kills the Thing He Loves” – a line taken from, again, Wilde’s “Ballad of Reading Gaol.” Friday also put stanzas seven – nine of the poem to music.
The next time I turned to Wilde, things were different, I was older, in my late 20′s and working on my debut solo album ….I was looking for something real, trying to articulate the inarticulations of my past musical adventures. Once again Wilde opened a few doors for me. It wasn’t in his plays, short stories, or witty one-liners, but in the two monuments of his tragedy – “De Profundis” and “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” – both products of his imprisonment. Here I found the real Wilde. No pretence! No art! Just Oscar. All his life Wilde tried to escape reality and ended up being beaten over the head with it. The mad paradox of Wilde’s tragic end is that it achieved his greatest ambition… He always wanted his life to resemble a work of art. (source)
Gavin Friday explained his fascination with Wilde:
`I believe that Oscar Wilde is as relevant today as he was one hundred years ago, whereas rock and roll culture is made up of hair-brained Americans. He was this wonderful aesthetic who let beauty exist. The whole Narcissus thing in Dorian Gray got my head flying, but it wasn’t just the sexuality like Each Man Kills… those words sum up any relationship, you have two people who decide they love each other, they’re taking something away from each other. We go around chipping bits off each other, every day.’ (source)
On a personal note: I never would have thought that an 80’s Irish punk band would lead me to a Victorian author who would, essentially, inspire me to become the English major that I am today.