Tuesday, February 08, 2005

You can't take my music to crash cars to...

Apathy Jack writes:

Originally uploaded by Brain Stab.
Coming up on time to teach poetry again. So my first move is to the cupboard containing my collections of Poe, Dickinson, Yeats and Ginsberg. My second move is to reach over these tomes to the Johnny Cash CD that I keep at the back of the cupboard.

I can't really explain my hated for almost all works of poetry, especially when you juxtapose it with my obsession with song lyrics - an obsession that sees me teaching the lyrics to A Boy Named Sue to my Year 9s before I expose them to Frost or Eliot.

I guess words have more power when put over some manner of faux-tribal beat that syncs with the human heartbeat and promotes alpha waves in the brain or some such scientific explanation. All I know is that William Carlos Williams' Little Red Wheelbarrow is pointless enough to make me angry, but Avril Lavigne's Nobody's Home is so catchy and (manipulatively) emotive that I forgive her for rhyming 'home' with 'home'.

With very few exceptions, none of the great works of poetry speak to me, but I can be blown away by randomly heard lyrics.

When Lou from Naquadah, sounding lost and helpless, intones: Breathing takes everything that I've got I know what she means. Okay, that line is not the most staggeringly complex piece of poetry since Byron, but it summed up exactly how I was feeling when first listened to the song Backlash.

Now, the song and the things depicted therein have nothing to do with the sort of circumstances that made me feel that way - my issues and malfunctions bear no resemblance to those that inspired the lyrics (Naquadah being a New Zealand band, I can say that with the relative security that comes from having a passing acquaintanceship with the songwriter) and hell, the rest of the song, while being a damn fine piece of music, lyrically means nothing to me.

However, when the noise and weight are building in my head, pressing down, I can put that song on, and just for a few moments as I listen, think "Yeah! Yeah that's it! Exactly!" - and with understanding comes catharsis. In the smallest of doses, sure, but there nonetheless.

I remember when I first heard the resigned sadness, the depressed sense of inevitability in The Mercy Cage's Needle Marks (& scars) when lead singer M almost whispers It's the same old scene this year; Checking in for minor repairs. It reminded me of too many of my friends.

And, from the same song, my breath still quickens just slightly when I hear the line that exhorts:

Keep breathing




Hell, if ever I doubt the emotive power of music, I only need to think of the song I Speak Corruption. Sung by my friend Kat (you've got to love the New Zealand music scene, really, don't you? Alright, it's not the biggest creative pond to go swimming in, but it is kind of cool being able to be friends with the people in your favourite bands). Kat is one of the loveliest people I know - her mere presence is enough to cheer me right up. However, when I listen to this one song (downloadable here) I disconnect from the image of my positive and loving friend and, over the course of three minutes, become incredibly depressed.

Analysing it, I think it might be the slight gap between the first and second lines of the song:

I see you dying softly slow and tender

I like it.

But it's not only the personal resonance, it's also the intensity: In the Clutch song Rock N Roll Outlaw, when Neil Fallon sings Well you can rock it like Sir Sisyphus, But even in its genesis, It's really quite ridiculous, 'Lectric hobo, So now you know, Not to clock the Weeble Wobble hot rod gang, Revelator big bang you can tell he really, really means it. What "it" is in this context is anyone's guess, but boy is Fallon taking it seriously.

Clutch is also the perfect example of another reason that I love music so much; the grand, sweeping and totally meaningless rock song.

Listen to their song I Have The Body Of John Wilkes Booth; about a man on a fishing trip, who happens upon a lead box containing the body of the famous assassin and tries to sell it to the highest bidder because everybody's got to make a living somehow.

Sure, it lacks the mania of Animal Farm (Planes drop from the sky, people disappear and bullets fly, little grey men are coming our way, tastes just like chicken they say) or the paranoia of Escape From The Prison Planet (One man asked me for a dollar, I asked him "What's it for?", he said "I have seen them" I said "Okay it's yours") and hey, it may be a completely pointless work of fiction which pays far more attention to the state of fishing than to the discovery of Booth's body, but that's part of the charm. In four minutes you get a dose of pointless, funny intensity and madness, which is what Rock and Roll is built for.

Of course part of it is my love for words. Someone who can do clever things with words is always worth listening to. I've given Clutch too much time already, so I'€™ll limit myself to mentioning that they remain the only band in my experience to have a song with not one, but two rhymes for 'austrolopthicus'.

Sadly, more and more these days, in order to find the real gold in wordplay we need to leave the world of guitar music (if I hear A Simple Plan telling me that no one knows what it's like to feel alienated when they're a teenager one more time I'm flying to the States just to kick them to death) and go to hip and/or hop music.

Eminem does the cleverest rhymes I've ever heard, either through being stylistically clever (rhyming As we move toward a/ New World Order) or being deceptively simple almost to the point of stupidity (Since birth I've been cursed with this curse to just curse). And you have to admit that the rap tradition of self-aggrandisement hasn't been done much better than when Ludacris warned people to Watch out for my medallion, My diamonds are reckless, Feels like there's a midget hanging from my necklace...

I don't know why these lyrics should impress me more than, say, Shakespeare or Pound. I guess it's something to do with the feeling and emotion. I have been known to appreciate the odd piece of poetry that I've read, but every (and I mean every single) time I've heard a poet reading their own work, they sound so very self important. That's a pity, because there's really no reason they shouldn't be able to convey their emotions (when they're meant to be conveyed aloud, that is) as well as your average musician. Sadly, most just come across as expecting the audience to be moved, without actually giving them any impetus.

Impetus. Now there was a good Clutch song.

Hmm... Even when I try to talk about poetry, it always comes back to lyrics.

Nope, I'd say I'm pretty much beyond help as far as this "poetry" thing goes.


Josh said...

Yeah, people who sound like they mean it -- that's what appeals to me. I mean take:

It's a pity, it's a crying shame
Who pulled you down again?
How painful it must be
To bruise so easily
In the hands of any number of teen angst merchants that would be godawful pap, but when softly intoned by Natalie Merchant, it sounds like the motherly concern of someone who genuinely cares about the suffering of another.

On the other hand, the lyric that's stuck with me the most recently has been:

I'd give up everything I own for you
I'd eat a piece of nothing pie
From good old "Forever Tuesday Morning" by The Mockers. I have no clear idea what this means, and I'm still half convinced it's something rude, but hey -- pie.

phats said...