Let’s Get Lit

The NextDoors host a books-to-music Litfest workshop.

2 mins read
A man and a woman playing a guitar
Mika Larson (L, cello) and Russell Mark (R, guitar), aka The NextDoors, will lead a LitFest workshop about the literary origins of songs. Photo: Jacki Sackheim.

Maybe you’re more of a rocker than a reader, more at home in the mosh-pit than the stacks?

Given the national decline of bookstores – we’re truly worried about the fate of Pasadena’s iconic Vroman’s – then bookmark “The Influence of Literature on Songwriting: A Workshop,” organized and hosted by Mika Larson and Russell Mark, also known as The NextDoors of East Pasadena, scheduled for Saturday evening, May  4.

A man wearing a hat
Russell Mark of The NextDoors. Photo: Mika Larson

In 2023, the NextDoors created “Pasadena Neighbor Day” (January 14) and were given the Mayor’s Award Pasadena Musical Act of 2024. Their new single, “Swing and a Miss,” was released in March 2024 and is making noise on the alt-country charts.

After spotting a social media notice soliciting panel ideas, Mark seized the opportunity to gather some locals and talk about the creative process.

“I’m not a book author, but it occurred to me that my band, The NextDoors, has a song based on a novel, “Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut. So I proposed a panel based on that topic – people who find inspiration in books for their songs. And they accepted the idea! So, I put together a panel of all San Gabriel Valley artists who are active in this community, all of whom have songs inspired by very different books in very different ways.”

 Participating panelists will include:

  • Brad Colerick is the creator of the “Wine and Song” music series in South Pasadena, as well as the annual “Eclectic Festival.” He is affectionately known as the Nighttime Mayor of South Pasadena and has an extensive catalog of work. His latest music video for his song “Little Bird” has won awards at festivals nationwide.
  • David Tokaji of Monrovia has fronted the band Dry September for the better part of three decades. A consummate performer, he writes songs with themes of equality, social justice, and activism.
  • Brandon Jay and Gwendolyn Sanford are a husband-wife duo from Altadena and are accomplished writers and musicians both together and on their own. They book shows at the historic and fabulously kitschy Aztec Hotel in Monrovia, among their many musical endeavors.

According to Mark, Altadena-based novelist Scott O’Connor will also join the panel for the finale with a new piece of music based on his novel Zero Zone, which will be performed for the first and, so far, only time.

What makes this workshop theme pure genius is the surprising fact that many of our favorite pop and rock anthems were inspired by books. Since this year’s LitFest is happening in the spookiest spot in the Dena, it only seems right to shout out the Ramones’ “Pet Sematary,” based on the 1983 horror story by Stephen King.

Lewis Carroll’s eerie version of childhood innocence inspired “White Rabbit” (Jefferson Airplane) and “I Am the Walrus” (the Beatles), not to mention our favorite Tom Petty video. Bowie and Radiohead paid homage to George Orwell’s “1984” (Radiohead’s tune on the topic is “2+2=5”). Led Zep fired off a salute to Tolkien with “Ramble On,” Joy Division referenced Kafka in “Colony.”

The Cure proved that they didn’t cut English class entirely with their cut “Charlotte Sometimes,” which contains elements of Camus’ “The Stranger,” The Strokes honored Huxley’s “Brave New World” in their song “Soma,” The Velvet Underground referenced Sacher-Masoch in their “Venus in Furs,” and Kate Bush sang “Wuthering Heights.”

Mark says, “This is a great opportunity, and I’m so excited to have put together a panel that I think will be really unique and cool at a community event that has been a part of the literary life of the area for over a decade. And if people mistake me for a novelist, hey, that’s a great added bonus!”

LitFest in the Dena is a free-of-charge, annual get-together of panels, workshops, readings, and performances about literature. This year, more than 150 authors from diverse backgrounds will share their work. And there will be a bookstore, food truck and tea-tasting, too.


  • Presented by Russell Mark and Mika Larson of The NextDoors
  • Saturday, May 4, as part of LitFestintheDena
  • Mountain View Mausoleum, 2300 North Marengo Avenue, Altadena 91001
  • 5:00 PM – 6:00 PM
  • Produced by The Lightbringer Project
The short URL of this article is: https://localnewspasadena.com/mf28

Victoria Thomas

Victoria has been a journalist since her college years when she wrote for Rolling Stone and CREEM. Victoria describes the view of Mt. Wilson from her front step as “staggering,” and she is a defender of peacocks everywhere.
Email: [email protected]

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