Literature In Lyrics: The Stand

by Amanda Flinner

In our Literature In Lyrics series, we look at how famous books have inspired songwriters and worked their way into song lyrics. Here, it's The Stand by Stephen King.

He's called himself "the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries," but Stephen King has churned out a number of horror classics that have inspired musicians for decades (we even have a category about it: Songs inspired by the works of Stephen King). One of the most prominent is his 1978 novel, The Stand - a post-apocalyptic nightmare about the rise of a supernatural villain named Randall Flagg. In the second installment of our Literature in Lyrics series, we show how King's story unfolds in song, starting with Anthrax's "Among The Living."
Disease! Disease! Spreading the disease
With some help from Captain Trips
He'll bring the world down to his knees
Power, yes Power! He'll show them all his power

- "Among the Living" by Anthrax

Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian is a die-hard Stephen King fan, and many of the heavy metal band's tunes are inspired by the horror master's works. "Among the Living," the title track of their 1987 album, is a retelling of The Stand. At the beginning of the novel, a weaponized superflu, nicknamed Captain Trips, is accidentally released from a US Army facility and wipes out 99% of the world's population. The remaining survivors are in need of a leader, which leaves them vulnerable to the nefarious Flagg. In the Anthrax thrasher, he introduces himself as the all-seeing "Walkin' Dude" and issues the warning, "Among the living, follow me or die!"

You're one microscopic cog
In his catastrophic plan
Designed and directed by
His red right hand

- "Red Right Hand" by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

"Red Right Hand," an ominous groove from Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, is rumored to be about The Stand's sinister villain. On the 1994 track, Cave witnesses his arrival on the edge of town and warns people not to get ensnared in his "catastrophic plan." In the book, Flagg begins to reestablish civilization in Las Vegas and summons the survivors with the skills he needs to build his tyrannical society. He infiltrates their dreams (Cave: "You'll see him in your nightmares, You'll see him in your dreams") and seduces them with false promises. The image of his red right hand was taken from John Milton's epic biblical poem Paradise Lost, and it symbolizes the vengeful hand of God.

He gave them a dream
He seduced everybody in the land
The fire in his eyes
And the fear was a weapon in his hand
So they let him play
Play their minds away

- "The Piper" by ABBA

Likewise, ABBA wasn't fooled by Flagg's charisma on their dark, medieval-influenced song "The Piper" (1980). King's book successfully frightened Bjorn Ulvaeus, one quarter of the Swedish quartet, who realized how easy it is for real-life dictators to trick people into following them. "The lyrics deal with the fear that there will come a time when people will want such a leader again," he explained.

The survivors in The Stand are fortunate that Flagg isn't the only leader to emerge in the aftermath of the pandemic. A 108-year old Nebraskan woman named Mother Abagail also has a vision for humanity and, like Flagg, shares it with like-minded folks through their dreams. While the virtuous are drawn to Abagail and her plan for a democratic society in Colorado, the unscrupulous are led to Flagg's warzone in the desert.

Flash before my eyes
Now it's time to die
Burning in my brain
I can feel the flames

- "Ride The Lightning" by Metallica

Flagg especially likes unsavory types who are easy to manipulate. One of them is Lloyd Henreid, a criminal who lands in prison after a murder spree. When the pandemic hits, he's abandoned in an Arizona prison until Flagg shows up and springs him.

Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett was reading The Stand when he came across the phrase "Ride The Lightning," an allusion to the electric chair, which became the name of the band's 1984 album and its title track.

When Lloyd meets with his lawyer, Andy Devins, he's having trouble understanding the gravity of his situation. Devins tries to explain the appeal process to his dim-witted client and how he'll likely be found guilty without hope for appeal. When Lloyd asks what will happen next, the frustrated lawyer responds, "Why, then you go on to Death Row at state prison and just enjoy all that good food until it's time to ride the lightning."

I said that, was the craziest game of poker that I ever saw
But I'm not gonna quit and I'm not gonna stop
I don't give a shit cause I got the drop

- "That Was A Crazy Game Of Poker" by O.A.R.

Once Flagg has his hooks in you, it's hard to resist his manipulation. O.A.R. singer Marc Roberge - a Stephen King devotee - met up with the Dark Man on the band's 2000 track "That Was A Crazy Game Of Poker," where the narrator tries to outwit the Devil in a card game. He told Songfacts: "It just went along with the story, this guy is losing all his money, all his gold, all his possessions, but in the end, the Devil couldn't convince him to give up his soul, so he decided to walk on his own."

Stephen King is a big music fan. Some of his musical credits include playing guitar in the rock band Rock Bottom Remainders (a charity group made up of authors), writing the 2012 musical Ghost Brothers of Darkland County with John Mellencamp, and owning three local radio stations in his native Maine.

The horror author also uses music to help set the tone for his spooky stories. In the epigraph for The Stand, King chose Bruce Springsteen's "Jungleland," Blue Oyster Cult's "(Don't Fear) The Reaper," and Bob Dylan's "Shelter From the Storm" to prepare readers for the ravaged world they were about to enter.
Come on down and meet your maker
Come on down and make the stand

- "The Stand (Prophecy)" by The Alarm

The Walking Dude also appeared on the 1983 track "The Stand (Prophecy)" by the Welsh alt-rock band The Alarm. One of Flagg's primary henchmen is Donald Merwin Elbert, a schizophrenic pyromaniac known as Trashcan Man, who abandons his plans to burn down the US to follow Flagg. But Flagg doesn't reciprocate his loyalty; when Trashcan destroys valuable weapons, the tyrant orders his execution.

Meanwhile, Mother Abagail prepares her followers to take a stand against Flagg and finds an unlikely ally in Trashcan. He discovers a nuclear warhead Flagg intends to use to destroy his enemies:

Hey! Trashcan where you going, boy
Your eyes are feet apart
Is that the end you're carrying
Shall I play the funeral march

In the end, Flagg is thwarted by "The Hand of God," which detonates the bomb and decimates Las Vegas.

Up next: Lolita
Previous entry: Wuthering Heights

December 19, 2019
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Comments: 2

  • Mr. Q from Alameda, CaAmazing! I just discovered this site and this is the first article I've read on here and I'm really happy to have you here writing this. Keep up the good work!
  • Farthngdr from North CarolinaSong lyrics inspired by literature is a brilliant idea for your site. I've enjoyed reading these, and I hope this will be a regular feature.
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