10 Pieces of Incredibly Inspiring Art

I was asked to create a list of influences on Populace — shameless plug: out now on Amazon, in paperback and on Kindle. I think of Keith Richards in times like these, who said, “Everything you hear comes out in what you play.”

I imagine ads for hair regrowth and strip clubs along the Chicagoland superhighways influenced Populace — they create a unique sense of despair and, while catering to a vain patriarchy, also manage to satirize it in their bland badness.

But since I can’t point to any specific highway billboard or cheesy used car salesman as an influence, I’m forced to stick to stories, which will come in video games, novels and films.

  1. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley — the perfection of the world he created cannot be overstated. He made a logically complete and symmetrical universe, which was haunting in how true it was to real life. After reading this book, I didn’t want to leave my room for a week.

  2. Final Fantasy VII, Square Enix — For an adolescent boy, this game blew my mind. I became completely lost in the story, and likely spent more than 100 hours finding every piece of materia for the final battle with super soldier Sephiroth, who was an artificially created being. There’s something about a comet that’s his mother. I can’t remember, but the scene when the main character learns about his past, I’ll never forget.

  3. The Road, Cormac McCarthy — There’s a deep loneliness in Cormac McCarthy’s persistent prose. And he was the first to teach me the power of leaving something out, and, more importantly, how to do it right.

  4. I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, Bright Eyes — This is the influence for the name of this very site and the reason why the book is set in Omaha. Oberst, the front man for Bright Eyes, kicked a heroin addiction and created this album, which is soulful, redemptive and unflinching. He chronicled the things he saw with such movement and life that it made me ashamed to listen to.

  5. Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace — He presents the surreal as real, because it so often is. But it is through Infinite Jest that I learned how we stigmatize loneliness, which is so pervasive that our homegrown cures are also pervasive, such as alcohol, exercise, drugs, infomercials and so on.  

  6. Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut — The jester who can’t help but cry at his own jokes, Vonnegut was stunning in Cat’s Cradle, which remains one of my favorite books of all time.

  7. Fight Club, Chuck Palahuniuk — First the movie, then the book, provided this primal scream toward the inadequacies of modern life, and while subverting them, it taught valuable lessons on how to cope with them.

  8. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley — Humans creating something beyond their control played a tremendous influence on this book. One of the characters in my book, Joe Ikowski, is my Dr. Frankenstein.

  9. The Aenied, The Odyssey, Virgil, Homer — I dropped in references to them both throughout the book, as a way of winking at my professor parents. And, they informed the adventure structure, which was purposefully classic — a classic chassis to fit a subversive narrative.

  10. It’s Alright, Ma (I’m only bleeding), Bob Dylan — This 11-minute song stands out as Howl did in the decades before it — a stunning rebuke on the perspective of America. The lines in this will humble you, both as a writer and a human being — “It’s easy to see, without looking too far, that not much is really sacred.” When writing about America, Dylan crystallized so many of its problems, which were never really addressed, but that’s another issue.

I realize upon looking at the list that I only have one woman and no African Americans, which shames me greatly, because would I have the courage to chronicle the inequities of America without Langston Hughes? I doubt it. Would I have loved the narrative and weaving together of fiction and reality without J.K. Rowling? There’s no way.

This list, while being inadequate, is a best guess at the places I returned to while looking for inspiration. Feel free to disagree. Or let me know your list — I’m at a.m.wilsonwideawake@gmail.com.

Alex Wilson