Famous Edgar Allan Poe Stories Read by Iggy Pop, Jeff Buckley, Christopher Walken, Marianne Faithful & More

In 1849, a lit­tle over 167 years ago, Edgar Allan Poe was found dead in a Bal­ti­more gut­ter under mys­te­ri­ous cir­cum­stances very like­ly relat­ed to vio­lent elec­tion fraud. It was an igno­min­ious end to a life marked by hard­ship, alco­holism, and loss. After strug­gling for years as the first Amer­i­can writer to try and make a liv­ing from his art, and fail­ing in sev­er­al pub­lish­ing ven­tures and posi­tions, Poe achieved few of his aims, bare­ly get­ting by finan­cial­ly and only man­ag­ing to attract a little—often negative—notice for now-famous poems like “The Raven.” Con­tem­po­raries like Ralph Wal­do Emer­son dis­par­aged the poem and a lat­er gen­er­a­tion of writ­ers, includ­ing William But­ler Yeats, pro­nounced him “vul­gar.”

But of course, as we know, a coun­ter­cur­rent of Poe appre­ci­a­tion took hold among writ­ers, artists, and film­mak­ers inter­est­ed in mys­tery, hor­ror, and the supernatural—to such a degree that in the pre­vi­ous cen­tu­ry, near­ly every artist even pass­ing­ly asso­ci­at­ed with dark­er themes has inter­pret­ed Poe as a rite of pas­sage. We recent­ly fea­tured a read­ing of “The Raven” by the often-sin­is­ter Christo­pher Walken.

At the top of the post, you can hear anoth­er ver­sion of the Queen’s‑born actor read­ing Poe’s best-known work, a poem designed to pro­duce what the author called a “uni­ty of effect” with its incan­ta­to­ry rep­e­ti­tions. This record­ing comes from a col­lec­tion of celebri­ty Poe read­ings called Closed on Account of Rabies, which also fea­tures such unique takes on the clas­sic hor­ror writer’s work as that above, “The Tell-Tale Heart” as read by Iggy Pop.

Just above, hear a less­er-known poem by Poe called “Ulalume” read by Jeff Buck­ley, with an accom­pa­ny­ing sound­track of low, puls­ing, vague­ly West­ern-inspired music that well suits Buckley’s for­mal, rhyth­mic recita­tion. The use of music on this album has divid­ed many Poe fans, and admit­ted­ly, some tracks work bet­ter than oth­ers. On Buckley’s “Ulalume,” the music height­ens ten­sion and pro­vides a per­fect atmos­phere for imag­in­ing “the misty mid region of Weir,” its “ghoul-haunt­ed wood­land,” and the “sco­ri­ac rivers” of lava pour­ing from the poet’s heart. On Mar­i­anne Faithful’s read­ing of “Annabelle Lee,” below, a score of keen­ing synths can seem over­wrought and unnec­es­sary.

The remain­der of the 1997 album, which you can pur­chase here, treats us to read­ings from 80s goth-rock stars Dia­man­da Galas and Gavin Fri­day, Bad Lieu­tenant direc­tor Abel Fer­rara, Blondie singer Deb­bie Har­ry, and grav­el-voiced New Orleans blues­man Dr. John, among oth­ers.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Great Stan Lee Reads Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”

Christo­pher Lee Reads Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” and From “The Fall of the House of Ush­er”

James Earl Jones Reads Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” and Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”

John Astin, From The Addams Fam­i­ly, Recites “The Raven” as Edgar Allan Poe

The Mys­tery of Edgar Allan Poe’s Death: 19 The­o­ries on What Caused the Poet’s Demise

7 Tips from Edgar Allan Poe on How to Write Vivid Sto­ries and Poems

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Dwyer Jones says:

    First, Poe was NOT found dead in a Bal­ti­more gut­ter. He was found alive, not wear­ing his own cloth­ing, and dis­ori­ent­ed. He was tak­en to the local hos­pi­tal, in a build­ing that is now part of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mary­land School of Med­i­cine, were he died sev­er­al days lat­er of what was called “brain fever.” The col­lec­tion here is called “Closed on Account of Rabies” because a mod­ern physi­cian pro­vid­ed a case study of Poe’s ill­ness (with­out being told that the patient was Poe)noted that the symp­toms list­ed by Poe’s 19th cen­tu­ry med­ical care­givers were char­ac­ter­is­tic of rabies, which would explain Poe’s off-and-on comatose behav­ior, rav­ings, and delir­i­um (no anti-rabies shots avail­able then). So Poe like­ly did not die of severe alco­holism, but had come into con­tact with a rabid ani­mal and been infect­ed. He had been on a short poet­ry-read­ing tour from his cur­rent home in the Bronx, where he lived in a cot­tage with his moth­er-in-law after the death from tuber­cu­lo­sis of his wife, Vir­ginia. He was NOT the first Amer­i­can writer to make a liv­ing from his work. That was like­ly James Fen­i­more Coop­er, whose pop­u­lar adven­ture nov­els, like The Last of the Mohi­cans, were best-sell­ers from the 1820s on. The rabies prob­a­bly became acute while Poe was trav­el­ing. The false leg­end about Poe’s death is sim­i­lar to that about Vin­cent Van Gogh, who sup­pos­ed­ly shot him­self in the chest with a pis­tol and died a day lat­er from sui­cide. But two art his­to­ri­ans recent­ly uncov­ered evi­dence that Van Gogh had come into con­tact with French teenagers who were play­ing with a gun, which went off, fatal­ly wound­ing the unfor­tu­nate artist, who refused to tell the local police the true cause of his death to avoid get­ting the kids in trou­ble. (Too bad they did­n’t have Lev­el I trau­ma care in 1890–he prob­a­bly would have sur­vived.)

  • Nina Savino says:

    thank you for the excel­lent­ly done cor­rec­tion! yay his­to­ry buffs

  • Amy says:

    Thanks Wowz­ers

  • Myreen Moore Nichoson says:

    Poe did have a scratch on his shoul­der near the time of his death. He had been in his moth­er’s old the­atre- chain city, Nor­folk, Vir­ginia for ten days right before he died. He had met some one who inter­est­ed him there. He was real­ly not that inter­est­ed now in his old girl­friend Elmi­ra Shel­ton, and he said so in sev­er­al let­ters: “The thought of this mar­riage makes me sink!” He went to this wom­an’s homes inside and out­side of Nor­folk. Her rel­a­tive was a col­league of Poe’s. Elmi­ra’s hus­band’s will had stip­u­lat­ed if she remar­ried the son would get every­thing, and Poe cer­tain­ly could not sup­port her in the style to which she was accus­tomed. It was not pos­si­ble that he mar­ry Elmi­ra. He liked younger women. There are a lot of errors in Poe’s sto­ry that have pur­pose­ly been allowed to stand. I researched this here for forty years, and my play is avail­able. It could eas­i­ly be con­vert­ed to film, my expe­ri­enced and respect­ed advi­sors said. Poe had lived around Nor­folk for 18 months as a child and sol­dier. His father died here.–Myreen Moore (Nichol­son)

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