Getty Images
Getty Images

15 Albums That Cost a Fortune to Make

Getty Images
Getty Images

The economics of music albums have always been and likely always will be buried deep in not-for-public-consumption quarterly reports of major labels/conglomerates, but that hasn't stopped news reports proclaiming a record to be among the most expensive albums ever created. These proclamations are based on researched information, forthright and/or publicity-desiring musicians, and in the deadest of giveaways, whenever a record label files for bankruptcy soon after the album's release. Here are fifteen of the most egregious examples of spending a lot of money to get the sounds just right.


In the 2005 New York Times article "The Most Expensive Album Never Made," a "recording expert" who was present for some of the recording of Chinese Democracy said that Guns N' Roses frontman Axl Rose wanted to make "the best record that had ever been made. It’s an impossible task. You could go on infinitely, which is what they’ve done.”

Infinitely, in this case, was 14 years. In the seemingly neverending quest for perfection, certain eccentric methods of music production were allowed to happen, such as guitarist Buckethead playing in a makeshift chicken coop, scented with authentic dog poop (Buckethead likes the smell of dog poop). There was a vigorous vetting process to be involved in the project, which included a necessary approval by Axl's spiritual therapist Sharon "Yoda" Maynard, and re-recording every song off of Guns N' Roses' debut album Appetite For Destruction. Geffen documents claimed that over $13 million was spent in production costs; the label actually saved money after promising Rose $1 million if he delivered Chinese Democracy at a certain time, a deadline Rose would miss by almost 10 years. The $13 million price tag accumulated from the monthly payrolls: Each bandmember received $11,000, guitar technicians $6000, the chief engineer $14,000, the recording software engineer $25,000. Rental of the studio itself cost $50,000 a month. Expensive guitars would be rented for "many thousand dollars" every month without being used, to the point where it would have been cheaper to buy axes like the '59 Les Paul outright. Rose wouldn't bother going into the studio for long stretches of time, long enough that some of the musicians formed another band, A Perfect Circle, during his absence.

Finally, on November 23, 2008, the album was released. Dr Pepper gave away a soda to every thirsty person to celebrate. The reviews were mixed, and album sales were lower than expected—a fact that Rose blamed on the label not caring enough about the album to heavily promote it.


Forty years before Axl released what he hoped to be the greatest album ever made, the story of Smile's arduous recording process effectively began with the reported mission statement Brian Wilson made to dinner guests on an October 1966 night: "I'm writing a teenage symphony to God." Some songs from the album's aborted sessions would appear on official Beach Boys albums, but it wasn't until 2004 that a Wilson-approved Brian Wilson Presents Smile was released.

The long delay can be blamed on Wilson's drug intake and depression in the late '60s and 1970s, which began with the public's tepid reaction to the single release of "Heroes and Villains," a song Wilson believed would be as welcomed as The Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever." While there isn't an official or reported figure revealing exactly how much money was spent on the entire album, Wilson's demands included an Arabian-style tent built in his house for the consumption of sandwiches, weed, and LSD, which ran $30,000 (about $220,000 now with inflation factored in). The placement of his piano in a sandbox filled with eight tons of premium beach sand could not have been cheap either. The economics behind "Good Vibrations," the song produced first and placed last on the track listing, was made public, approaching $75,000 ($550,000 today), including use of the Electro-Theremin itself (responsible for $15,000). Even though Capitol Records knew it was the most expensive single that had ever been produced, the results led them to approve of the conception of the rest of the "symphony," to their financial detriment.


After fighting to be released from a management deal gone sour, Queen decided to go for broke on A Night At The Opera, which in 1975 was considered to be the most expensive rock album ever made. Spending over £40,000 (equivalent to $500,000 in today's money), the group worked to create their own Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Particular meticulousness was showcased with "Bohemian Rhapsody," containing a 180-voice "chorus"—just Freddie Mercury, Brian May, and Roger Taylor's vocals stacked on top of one another—created over a week's worth of 12-hour days. Producer Roy Thomas Baker referred to the song as "totally insane. We never stopped laughing. It was basically a joke, but a successful joke." It wouldn't be the last time Baker was accused of humor.


After the success of their debut album Permission To Land, anchored by the hit single "I Believe in a Thing Called Love," The Darkness began to further indulge their 1970s hard rock/glam sound and image for their follow-up record—and found themselves quagmired in personal tumult and escalating money issues. The band even hired Roy Thomas Baker, who besides working with Queen was also behind albums from Journey, Foreigner, Alice Cooper, Cheap Trick, Motley Crüe, Ozzy Osbourne, and yes, for a time, Guns N' Roses' Chinese Democracy. Approaching £1 million in costs (about 1.8 million in 2005 U.S. dollars), One Way Ticket to Hell...and Back was made up of songs that included 120 to 160 guitar parts each. Baker claimed that in some cases 100 guitars made it to the final track for "just two seconds." After one year, Baker cut down 37 songs, 400 reels of tape (he insisted on recording in analog) and almost 10,000 tracks to just 10 songs and 35 minutes, but not before bassist Frankie Poullain was fired and a "great amount of angst and paranoia" set in. The album didn't nearly sell as well as its five-times-platinum predecessor, and the reviews were mixed, with one critic writing that One Way was the "world's most expensive penis joke."


Four years after A Night at the Opera, Fleetwood Mac's 1979 LP Tusk took over the "most expensive rock album ever made" designation by the media, thanks to its $1 million price tag—a number that in later years would change to $1.4 million (if only the 1979 media knew).

Twenty-three million copies of the group's previous album Rumours would eventually be sold, yet Warner Brothers denied band manager Mick Fleetwood his request for the group to buy its own studio with a company advance. Instead, $1.4 million went to "custom-fitting" Studio D at the Village Recorder in Los Angeles. In Rob Trucks' 33 1/3 book Fleetwood Mac's Tusk, it's said that on the very first night of recording, the whole group celebrated Mick's new purchase of a $70,000 sports car with cocaine, before Mick received a phone call saying that the uninsured car was broadsided and demolished while being towed to his home. When the session ended at 6am, the night/early morning officially ended without any actual audio put to tape.

The 20-song, double album Tusk would sell four million records, thereby making it a profitable failure to the label. The number of copies of Rumours sold compared to Tusk's is the all-time biggest decrease by any recording artist from one major-label album to the next. Excuses for its "disappointing sales" include RKO radio networks playing the entire album to its cassette tape recording capable audiences prior to its release, and the high retail price of $15.98 (over $50 in 2014 dollars).


Gaucho's expensive delays can be blamed on drugs and musicians given as much time as possible to develop their new, possibly more profitable set of songs—but it was the terrible luck of Steely Dan co-founder Walter Becker that made the Gaucho story unique. During the sessions, Becker was severely injured after getting hit by a car. While possibly saving the life of the woman he pushed out of the way, he sustained multiple fractures in one leg, a sprain in the other leg, and secondary infections during his six month hospital stay. Becker and Donald Fagen continued their musical collaborations over the phone, but then Becker's girlfriend died of a drug overdose. Her family later sued him for introducing her to drugs, with the court eventually ruling in Becker's favor.

Bad luck wasn't all to blame for the two year gestation period—Becker had his own drug problem, complicating matters. At least 42 different musicians contributed to the recording. MCA, Warner Brothers, and the band had a three-way legal battle over the rights to even release the record. Jazz composer Keith Jarrett received $1 million in an out of court settlement after suing Steely Dan for copyright infringement, claiming that the title track was too similar to his "Long As You Know You're Living Yours." The final mix to the 50-second fade out of the song "Babylon Sisters" was completed on the 55th attempt. About three-fourths of the song "The Final Arrangement" was accidentally erased by an assistant engineer, and despite liking the tune and attempting to re-create it, the band eventually dropped it. In perhaps the best example of star-musician hedonism, engineer Roger Nichols spent six weeks and $150,000 creating a drum machine for Fagen and Becker—its name was WENDEL.

Gaucho won the 1981 Grammy for Best Non-Classical Engineered Recording, and was certified platinum (over one million albums sold), but despite its success, the band broke up. Fagen and Becker would reunite 12 years later.


It started with the most money-conscious of intentions, when all four members of the recently wealthy Def Leppard moved to Dublin to get away from their native England's punitive tax rates—but years of delays would lead to $4.5 million spent on Hysteria. The biggest blow was the December 31, 1984 car accident that took the left arm of drummer Rick Allen, who understandably needed some time to figure out how to do his job. The early departure of trusted producer "Mutt" Lange due to exhaustion was almost as responsible for the band requiring three years to finish its work. Meatloaf songwriter Jim Steinman was not an adequate replacement, and when Lange eventually returned one year later, he insisted all of the work done while he was away be scrapped. Lange would later be hospitalized from a car accident of his own, and singer Joe Elliott got the mumps. In an example of Lange's perfectionism, the final song to be recorded, "Armageddon It," was mixed for three months until a suitable rendition was chosen.

Def Leppard has given varying accounts as to how many records of Hysteria they had to sell just to break even. In 1988, they told People magazine they needed two million copies sold. In 2012, guitarist Phil Collen upped the number to three million. On their Behind The Music episode, the magic number to avoid debt was five million. Fortunately for them, while the album "only" sold three million copies initially, the hit single "Pour Some Sugar On Me" bumped album sales to over 20 million, making it one of the best-selling LPs in rock history.


It was four years between Tears For Fears' 1985 album Songs from the Big Chair—featuring "Shout" and "Everybody Wants to Rule the World"—and the follow-up Seeds of Love. At a cost of $1.5 million, the band started the album sessions writing and playing music with machines and sequencers as they always had done. But ten months into the recording process, they decided to go for a more human approach and produce the album themselves. Co-founders Curt Smith and Roland Orzabel flew to the U.S. to convince hotel lounge piano player and singer Oleta Adams to work with them on the record, remembering how enraptured they were seeing her perform in a Kansas City hotel bar two years earlier. Two years after that sojourn, the album still wasn't completed; two members had quit, principal songwriter Orzabel had become an "intricate perfectionist," and Smith had divorced and was accused of living a "jetset lifestyle" instead of working on the music. The album was a worldwide success and sold millions of copies, but an extensive world tour was necessary to get out of the debt incurred. Orzabel and Smith would part ways after the tour before reuniting in 2000.


Creation Records believed that My Bloody Valentine's second album Loveless would be recorded in a fast five days. Instead, it required 20 studios, multiple engineers, and 2.5 years for the critically loved album to be completed. By the time of its 1991 release, the record label was allegedly out $500,000, the excuse it used for dropping the band. But My Bloody Valentine's guitarist/vocalist Kevin Shields claimed the album never cost anything near that amount; Creation Records co-founder Alan McGee thought it would be "cool" to say the record got financially out of control. Shields would admit to feeling dissatisfied with all of those studios, a perfectionism that contributed to My Bloody Valentine's follow-up album not being released until 2012.


Concerned about The Happy Mondays' use of drugs like ecstasy and heroin, Factory Records head Tony Wilson had the group record Yes Please! at reggae star Eddy Grant's studio in Barbados. The project got off to a terrible start, when singer/songwriter Shaun Ryder's case containing a four-week Methadone supply was accidentally smashed at Manchester Airport. When Wilson eventually heard that the recording was being ruined by crack cocaine, he flew to Barbados. Wilson later claimed that as his plane was landing, he saw Ryder and bandmate Bez wheeling one of Grant's sofas down the road to trade for drugs. After the album's recording was supposedly completed, Ryder got hold of the master tapes for the album, threatening to destroy them if Wilson did not come up with £50 ($95). Once the tapes were in Wilson's possession, he discovered that the recordings contained no vocals. Yes Please! was eventually released—with lyrics—on September 22, 1992, to a two-word review from Melody Maker that read "No thanks." Factory Records declared bankruptcy that November.


Garth Brooks' 1999 experiment to perform as a dark-wigged, soul-patched "alter ego" named Chris Gaines was considered such a commercial flop that it cost Pat Quigley, the president of Capitol Records Nashville, his job. The New York Post reported that over 50 musicians were used in the recording (19 of them included in the credits), and that the $5 million production cost was trumped only by the label's $15 million in promotion, Sadly, the recording "only" sold 2 million units, a disappointing number by Garth Brooks standards (but pretty good for a debut album!). Brooks blamed the paltry sales on a lack of support from Capitol and specifically Quigley; the musician later allegedly apologized to other artists on the label for what they believed to be too much attention paid to Gaines, and informed them that Quigley was "out the door." Quigley resigned from his position soon after.

The album was supposed to serve as the soundtrack for a movie called The Lamb that would appear in theaters one year later, but the film was canceled—along with the existence of Chris Gaines.


When Invincible was released on October 30, 2001, is was already being touted as the most expensive album ever made, with reports of Sony's price tag reaching $30 million. The large bill had something to do with the five years spent recording anywhere from 50 to 87 songs, incorporating several producers and co-writers, and, according to one report, booking three studios simultaneously because Jackson "didn’t know which one he’d feel like recording at when he woke up that day.”

Sony also earmarked $25 million for promoting their large investment. At first, two singles and a music video featuring Marlon Brando were released, but soon the advertising was non-existent. The cancellation was attributed to Jackson refusing to tour, and informing Sony that he would not be renewing his contract with them after it expired in 2002. Jackson responded to the end of the album's promotion in part by accusing then Sony music chairman Tommy Mottola of racism. Invincible sold an estimated 6 million copies worldwide and went double platinum in the U.S., but was not considered profitable.


Years before Tommy Mottola worked at Sony, he was Mariah Carey's husband and the head of Columbia Records. When Mottola and Carey divorced, the two no longer had a working or personal relationship to speak of—a problem considering that Mariah was a Columbia artist. Virgin Records paid Columbia $20 million to release her from her contract, then signed Carey to a five-album, $80 million deal. Glitter was her first album for Virgin, a 2001 soundtrack album to the film of the same name. Both the album and the movie were commercial and critical failures. It was so rough that Virgin Records invoked a clause in its contract with Carey that allowed Virgin to get out of the $80 million deal for approximately $28 million.


Following the group's 1999 album Issues, which would go on to sell 13 million copies, Korn spent around $4 million on 2002's Untouchables. The bandmembers—specifically singer Jonathan Davis and bassist Reginald "Fieldy" Arvizu—were more than willing to admit to the monetary figures in Kerrang! magazine before the CD was released. "We moved to Phoenix and rented five houses for $10,000 apiece for four months. We came to LA, rented five more houses for $10,000 apiece for four more months. We went to Canada and rented a house for $8000. That's a week, not a month," Fieldy said. Davis added that the recording itself "only" cost $700,000, and the rest went to the crew... and the housing.


In 2010, Kanye West spent over $3 million recording a majority of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy at the seaside Avex Honolulu Studios. As relaxing as "seaside" and "Honolulu" may sound, during the five days that Complex magazine visited, West never slept a full night at the "glass-enclosed mansion" house he had rented, opting instead to take "power-naps" in a studio chair or couch 90 minutes at a time. Engineers worked around the clock, as Kanye bounced from room to room to work on one song once he got stuck on another—the luxury he gave himself after renting three session rooms simultaneously for 24 hours a day. Because his guests and producers had to eat sometime, West employed two private chefs, one for hot food, and one for cold food.

Images: iStock
25 Words That Are Their Own Opposites
Images: iStock
Images: iStock

Here’s an ambiguous sentence for you: “Because of the agency’s oversight, the corporation’s behavior was sanctioned.” Does that mean, "Because the agency oversaw the company’s behavior, they imposed a penalty for some transgression," or does it mean, "Because the agency was inattentive, they overlooked the misbehavior and gave it their approval by default"? We’ve stumbled into the looking-glass world of contronyms—words that are their own antonyms.

1. Sanction (via French, from Latin sanctio(n-), from sancire ‘ratify,’) can mean "give official permission or approval for (an action)" or conversely, "impose a penalty on."

2. Oversight is the noun form of two verbs with contrary meanings, “oversee” and “overlook.” Oversee, from Old English ofersēon ("look at from above") means "supervise" (medieval Latin for the same thing: super-, "over" plus videre, "to see.") Overlook usually means the opposite: "to fail to see or observe; to pass over without noticing; to disregard, ignore."

3. Left can mean either remaining or departed. If the gentlemen have withdrawn to the drawing room for after-dinner cigars, who’s left? (The gentlemen have left and the ladies are left.)

4. Dust, along with the next two words, is a noun turned into a verb meaning either to add or to remove the thing in question. Only the context will tell you which it is. When you dust are you applying dust or removing it? It depends whether you’re dusting the crops or the furniture.

5. Seed can also go either way. If you seed the lawn you add seeds, but if you seed a tomato you remove them.

6. Stone is another verb to use with caution. You can stone some peaches, but please don’t stone your neighbor (even if he says he likes to get stoned).

7. Trim as a verb predates the noun, but it can also mean either adding or taking away. Arising from an Old English word meaning "to make firm or strong; to settle, arrange," trim came to mean "to prepare, make ready." Depending on who or what was being readied, it could mean either of two contradictory things: "to decorate something with ribbons, laces, or the like to give it a finished appearance" or "to cut off the outgrowths or irregularities of." And the context doesn’t always make it clear. If you’re trimming the tree are you using tinsel or a chain saw?

8. Cleave can be cleaved into two homographs, words with different origins that end up spelled the same. Cleave, meaning "to cling to or adhere," comes from an Old English word that took the forms cleofian, clifian, or clīfan. Cleave, with the contrary meaning "to split or sever (something)"—as you might do with a cleaver—comes from a different Old English word, clēofan. The past participle has taken various forms: cloven, which survives in the phrase “cloven hoof,” “cleft,” as in a “cleft palate” or “cleaved.”

9. Resign works as a contronym in writing. This time we have homographs, but not homophones. Resign, meaning "to quit," is spelled the same as resign, meaning "to sign up again," but it’s pronounced differently.

10. Fast can mean "moving rapidly," as in running fast, or "fixed, unmoving," as in holding fast. If colors are fast they will not run. The meaning "firm, steadfast" came first; the adverb took on the sense "strongly, vigorously," which evolved into "quickly," a meaning that spread to the adjective.

11. Off means "deactivated," as in to turn off, but also "activated," as in the alarm went off.

12. Weather can mean "to withstand or come safely through" (as in the company weathered the recession) or it can mean "to be worn away" (the rock was weathered).

13. Screen can mean to show (a movie) or to hide (an unsightly view).

14. Help means "assist," unless you can’t help doing something, when it means "prevent."

15. Clip can mean "to bind together" or "to separate." You clip sheets of paper to together or separate part of a page by clipping something out. Clip is a pair of homographs, words with different origins spelled the same. Old English clyppan, which means "to clasp with the arms, embrace, hug," led to our current meaning, "to hold together with a clasp." The other clip, "to cut or snip (a part) away," is from Old Norse klippa, which may come from the sound of a shears.

16. Continue usually means to persist in doing something, but as a legal term it means stop a proceeding temporarily.

17. Fight with can be interpreted three ways. “He fought with his mother-in-law” could mean "They argued," "They served together in the war," or "He used the old battle-ax as a weapon." (Thanks to linguistics professor Robert Hertz for this idea.)

18. Flog, meaning "to punish by caning or whipping," shows up in school slang of the 17th century, but now it can have the contrary meaning, "to promote persistently," as in “flogging a new book.” Perhaps that meaning arose from the sense "to urge (a horse, etc.) forward by whipping," which grew out of the earliest meaning.

19. Go means "to proceed," but also "give out or fail," i.e., “This car could really go until it started to go.”

20. Hold up can mean "to support" or "to hinder": “What a friend! When I’m struggling to get on my feet, he’s always there to hold me up.”

21. Out can mean "visible" or "invisible." For example, “It’s a good thing the full moon was out when the lights went out.”

22. Out of means "outside" or "inside": “I hardly get out of the house because I work out of my home.”

23. B**ch can derisively refer to a woman who is considered overly aggressive or domineering, or it can refer to someone passive or submissive.

24. Peer is a person of equal status (as in a jury of one’s peers), but some peers are more equal than others, like the members of the peerage, the British or Irish nobility.

25. Toss out could be either "to suggest" or "to discard": “I decided to toss out the idea.”

The contronym (also spelled “contranym”) goes by many names, including auto-antonym, antagonym, enantiodrome, self-antonym, antilogy and Janus word (from the Roman god of beginnings and endings, often depicted with two faces looking in opposite directions). Can’t get enough of them? The folks at Daily Writing Tips have rounded up even more.

This piece originally ran in 2015.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
12 Facts About James Joyce
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

June 16, 1904 is the day that James Joyce, the Irish author of Modernist masterpieces like Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and who was described as “a curious mixture of sinister genius and uncertain talent,” set his seminal work, Ulysses. It also thought to be the day that he had his first date with his future wife, Nora Barnacle.

He was as mythical as the myths he used as the foundations for his own work. So in honor of that June day in 1904—known to fans worldwide as “Bloomsday,” after one of the book’s protagonists, Leopold Bloom—here are 12 facts about James Joyce.


In 1891, shortly after he had to leave Clongowes Wood College when his father lost his job, 9-year-old Joyce wrote a poem called “Et Tu Healy?” It was published by his father John and distributed to friends; the elder Joyce thought so highly of it, he allegedly sent copies to the Pope.

No known complete copies of the poem exist, but the precocious student’s verse allegedly denounced a politician named Tim Healy for abandoning 19th century Irish nationalist politician Charles Stewart Parnell after a sex scandal. Fragments of the ending of the poem, later remembered by James’s brother Stanislaus, showed Parnell looking down on Irish politicians:

His quaint-perched aerie on the crags of Time
Where the rude din of this century
Can trouble him no more

While the poem was seemingly quaint, young Joyce equating Healy as Brutus and Parnell as Caesar marked the first time he’d use old archetypes in a modern context, much in the same way Ulysses is a unique retelling of The Odyssey.

As an adult, Joyce would publish his first book, a collection of poems called Chamber Music, in 1907. It was followed by Dubliners, a collection of short stories, in 1914, and the semi-autobiographical A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (in which Clongowes Wood College is prominently featured) in 1916.


While attending University College Dublin, Joyce attempted to publish a negative review—titled “The Day of the Rabblement”—of a new local playhouse called the Irish Literary Theatre in the school’s paper, St. Stephen’s. Joyce’s condemnation of the theater’s “parochialism” was allegedly so scathing that the paper’s editors, after seeking consultation from one of the school’s priests, refused to print it.

Incensed about possible censorship, Joyce appealed to the school’s president, who sided with the editors—which prompted Joyce to put up his own money to publish 85 copies to be distributed across campus.

The pamphlet, published alongside a friend’s essay to beef up the page-count, came with the preface: “These two essays were commissioned by the editor of St. Stephen’s for that paper, but were subsequently refused insertion by the censor.” It wouldn’t be the last time Joyce would fight censorship.


By the time Nora Barnacle and Joyce finally married in 1931, they had lived together for 27 years, traveled the continent and had two children. The couple first met in Dublin in 1904 when Joyce struck up a conversation with her near the hotel where Nora worked as a chambermaid. She initially mistook him for a Swedish sailor because of his blue eyes and the yachting cap he wore that day, and he charmed her so much that they set a date for June 14—but she didn’t show.

He then wrote her a letter, saying, “I looked for a long time at a head of reddish-brown hair and decided it was not yours. I went home quite dejected. I would like to make an appointment but it might not suit you. I hope you will be kind enough to make one with me—if you have not forgotten me!” This led to their first date, which supposedly took place on June 16, 1904.

She would continue to be his muse throughout their life together in both his published work (the character Molly Bloom in Ulysses is based on her) and their fruitful personal correspondence. Their notably dirty love letters to each other—featuring him saying their love-making reminded him of “a hog riding a sow” and signing off one by saying “Goodnight, my little farting Nora, my dirty littlef**kbird!"—have highlighted the NSFW nature of their relationship. In fact, one of Joyce’s signed erotic letters to Nora fetched a record £240,800 ($446,422) at a London auction in 2004.


While Joyce’s persistent money problems caused him to lead a life of what could be categorized as creative discomfort, he had to deal with a near lifetime of medical discomfort as well. Joyce suffered from anterior uveitis, which led to a series of around 12 eye surgeries over his lifetime. (Due to the relatively unsophisticated state of ophthalmology at the time, and his decision not to listen to contemporary medical advice, scholars speculate that his iritis, glaucoma, and cataracts could have been caused by sarcoidosis, syphilis, tuberculosis, or any number of congenital problems.) His vision issues caused Joyce to wear an eye patch for years and forced him to do his writing on large white sheets of paper using only red crayon. The persistent eye struggles even inspired him to name his daughter Lucia, after St. Lucia, patron saint of the blind.


In 1904, Joyce—eager to get out of Ireland—responded to an ad for a teaching position in Europe. Evelyn Gilford, a job agent based in the British town of Market Rasen, Lincolnshire, notified Joyce that a job was reserved for him and, for two guineas, he would be told exactly where the position was. Joyce sent the money, and by the end of 1904, he and his future wife, Nora, had left Dublin for the job at a Berlitz language school in Zurich, Switzerland—but when they got there, the pair learned there was no open position. But they did hear a position was open at a Berlitz school in Trieste, Italy. The pair packed up and moved on to Italy only to find out they’d been swindled again.

Joyce eventually found a Berlitz teaching job in Pola in Austria-Hungary (now Pula, Croatia). English was one of 17 languages Joyce could speak; others included Arabic, Sanskrit, Greek, and Italian (which eventually became his preferred language, and one that he exclusively spoke at home with his family). He also loved playwright Henrik Ibsen so much that he learned Norwegian so that he could read Ibsen's works in their original form—and send the writer a fan letter in his native tongue.


There are about 400 movie theaters in Ireland today, but they trace their history back to 1909, when Joyce helped open the Volta Cinematograph, which is considered “the first full-time, continuous, dedicated cinema” in Ireland.

More a money-making scheme than a product of a love of cinema, Joyce first got the idea when he was having trouble getting Dubliners published and noticed the abundance of cinemas while living in Trieste. When his sister, Eva, told him Ireland didn’t have any movie theaters, Joyce joined up with four Italian investors (he’d get 10 percent of the profits) to open up the Volta on Dublin’s Mary Street.

The venture fizzled as quickly as Joyce’s involvement. After not attracting audiences due to mostly showing only Italian and European movies unpopular with everyday Dubliners, Joyce cut his losses and pulled out of the venture after only seven months.

The cinema itself didn’t close until 1919, during the time Joyce was hard at work on Ulysses. (It reopened with a different name in 1921 and didn’t fully close until 1948.)


The publishing history of Ulysses is itself its own odyssey. Joyce began writing the work in 1914, and by 1918 he had begun serializing the novel in the American magazine Little Review with the help of poet Ezra Pound.

But by 1921, Little Review was in financial trouble. The published version of Episode 13 of Ulysses, “Nausicaa,” resulted in a costly obscenity lawsuit against its publishers, Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, and the book was banned in the United States. Joyce appealed to different publishers for help—including Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press—but none agreed to take on a project with such legal implications (and in Virginia Woolf’s case, length), no matter how supposedly groundbreaking it was.

Joyce, then based in Paris, made friends with Sylvia Beach, whose bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, was a gathering hub for the post-war expatriate creative community. In her autobiography, Beach wrote:

All hope of publication in the English-speaking countries, at least for a long time to come, was gone. And here in my little bookshop sat James Joyce, sighing deeply.

It occurred to me that something might be done, and I asked : “Would you let Shakespeare and Company have the honour of bringing out your Ulysses?”

He accepted my offer immediately and joyfully. I thought it rash of him to entrust his great Ulysses to such a funny little publisher. But he seemed delighted, and so was I. ... Undeterred by lack of capital, experience, and all the other requisites of a publisher, I went right ahead with Ulysses.

Beach planned a first edition of 1000 copies (with 100 signed by the author), while the book would continue to be banned in a number of countries throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Eventually it was allowed to be published in the United States in 1933 after the case United States v. One Book Called Ulysses deemed the book not obscene and allowed it in the United States.


Ernest Hemingway—who was major champion of Ulysses—met Joyce at Shakespeare and Company, and was later a frequent companion among the bars of Paris with writers like Wyndham Lewis and Valery Larbaud.

Hemingway recalled the Irish writer would start to get into drunken fights and leave Hemingway to deal with the consequences. "Once, in one of those casual conversations you have when you're drinking," Hemingway said, "Joyce said to me he was afraid his writing was too suburban and that maybe he should get around a bit and see the world. He was afraid of some things, lightning and things, but a wonderful man. He was under great discipline—his wife, his work and his bad eyes. His wife was there and she said, yes, his work was too suburban--'Jim could do with a spot of that lion hunting.' We would go out to drink and Joyce would fall into a fight. He couldn't even see the man so he'd say, 'Deal with him, Hemingway! Deal with him!'"


Marcel Proust’s gargantuan, seven-volume masterpiece, À la recherche du temps perdu, is perhaps the other most important Modernist work of the early 20th century besides Ulysses. In May 1922, the authors met at a party for composer Igor Stravinsky and ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev in Paris. The Dubliners author arrived late, was drunk, and wasn’t wearing formal clothes because he was too poor to afford them. Proust arrived even later than Joyce, and though there are varying accounts of what was actually said between the two, every known version points to a very anticlimactic meeting of the minds.

According to author William Carlos Williams, Joyce said, “I’ve headaches every day. My eyes are terrible,” to which the ailing Proust replied, “My poor stomach. What am I going to do? It’s killing me. In fact, I must leave at once.”

Publisher Margaret Anderson claimed that Proust admitted, “I regret that I don’t know Mr. Joyce’s work,” while Joyce replied, “I have never read Mr. Proust.”

Art reviewer Arthur Power said both writers simply talked about liking truffles. Joyce later told painter Frank Budgen, “Our talk consisted solely of the word ‘No.’”


Joyce had a childhood fear of thunder and lightning, which sprang from his Catholic governess’s pious warnings that such meteorological occurrences were actually God manifesting his anger at him. The fear haunted the writer all his life, though Joyce recognized the beginnings of his phobia. When asked by a friend why he was so afraid of rough weather, Joyce responded, “You were not brought up in Catholic Ireland.”

The fear also manifested itself in Joyce’s writing. In Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the autobiographical protagonist Stephen Dedalus says he fears “dogs, horses, firearms, the sea, thunderstorms, [and] machinery.”

But the most fascinating manifestation of his astraphobia is in his stream of consciousness swan song, Finnegans Wake, where he created the 100-letter word Bababadalgharaghtaka-mminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk to represent a symbolic biblical thunderclap. The mouthful is actually made up of different words for “thunder” in French (tonnerre), Italian (tuono), Greek (bronte), and Japanese (kaminari).


Fellow Modernist Virginia Woolf didn't much care for Joyce or his work. She compared his writing to "a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples," and said that "one hopes he’ll grow out of it; but as Joyce is 40 this scarcely seems likely."

She wasn't the only one. In a letter, D.H. Lawrence—who wrote such classics as Women in Love and Lady Chatterley’s Loversaid of Joyce: “My God, what a clumsy olla putrida James Joyce is! Nothing but old fags and cabbage stumps of quotations from the Bible and the rest stewed in the juice of deliberate, journalistic dirty-mindedness.”

“Do I get much pleasure from this work? No," author H.G. Wells wrote in his review of Finnegans Wake. “ ... Who the hell is this Joyce who demands so many waking hours of the few thousand I have still to live for a proper appreciation of his quirks and fancies and flashes of rendering?”

Even his partner Nora had a difficult time with his work, saying after the publication of Ulysses, “Why don’t you write sensible books that people can understand?”


Joyce was admitted to a Zurich hospital in January 1941 for a perforated duodenal ulcer, but slipped into a coma after surgery and died on January 13. His last words were befitting his notoriously difficult works—they're said to have been, "Does nobody understand?"

Additional Source: James Joyce


More from mental floss studios