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View Diary: Books Go Boom!   Bob Dylan's Birthday: Are Rock Lyrics Poetry? (243 comments)

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  •  I'm partial to a few other rock lyricists as well (10+ / 0-)

    I'd include Don van Vliet (hell yes), Mike Watt, Jack Brewer, Robert Pollard, some Joe Strummer, Ian Mackaye, Andy Partridge, Lou Reed,  and (even) Green Garthside. However, there's one that comes to mind immediately.

    Mark E. Smith: : primary writer, vocalist, and perennial leader of the UK post-punk group The Fall for well nigh 30 years. Smith is also one of my favorite vocalists in rock, although his heavy--at more recently, slurred--Mancunian brogue is an acquired taste to be sure.

    Nonetheless, I rate him so highly because he is one of the most unique and original writers not so much working within the confines of a genre, but working against those confines.

    Drawing on influences ranging from middle and high-brow SF, gothic literature and general junk culture (including the clipped syntax of  print advertisements), his best lyrics remain utterly memorable, if paradoxically as obtuse as (say) mid-60s Dylan.

    And as befitting rock, they read best when heard (if you know what I mean). They don't grab one immediately with their stunning wordplay--25 years on and I couldn't even tell you with complete confidence what "Garden" for example 'means'-- but Smith's best lyrics/ narratives possess a true staying power. Even the most inscrutable seem just on the edge of revealing themselves, only to splinter off into multiple other readings.

    The quality of his output has grown more varied as age and alcohol have taken their toll. His writing on the more recent Fall records (thirty and counting!), seems less incandescent than the bulk of his writing over the first fifteen years or so. Regardless, there is only one Mark Smith.  

    Is it poetry? I’d pay to hear it in itself and would gladly buy it, divorced from its musical bed.

    C'n'c-s Mithering Lyrics
    (in the interests of copyright, just a sample)

    Three days
    Three months
    Three days
    Three months
    A treatise
    A treatise To explain these

    First was cash 'n' carry house dance
    In Lancashire they're A In King Nat Ltd. empire

    Kwik Save is there
    The scene started here

    Then was America
    Then was America
    We went there
    Big A&M Herb was there
    His offices had fresh air
    But his rota was mediocre US purge,
    rock 'n' pop filth
    Their material's filched
    And the secret of their lives Is...

    All the English groups
    Act like peasants with free milk
    On a route
    On a route to the loot
    To candy mountain
    Five wacky English proletariat idiots

    Californians always think of sex
    Or think of death
    Five hundred girl deaths
    A Mexico revenge,
    it's stolen land
    They really get it off on

    "Don't hurt me please"

    Rapists fill the TVs
    And the secret of their lives Is S.E.X..

    I have dreams, I can see
    Carloads of negro Nazis

    Like Faust with beards
    Hydrochloric shaved weirds

    He can also be hilariously deadpan,  as in “He Pep!”
    North of Hamptonshire.
    I believe there's a new drug out.
    [It's called speed I] wrote a song about it
    Conceptually a la Bowie.
    But it's been lost in the vaults of the record company By our manager
    So instead our new 45 is
    'Girlies'!
    -"He Pep!"

    On the page, it may not give Wallace Stevens anything to worry about- within the context of the track (and heard), it strikes this user as an utterly apropos dismissal of the mundane nature of what passes for pop received wisdom in  the music biz.

    This is but an introduction. It really is an essay in itself.
    Discussion:

    My shortlist: "Garden" "Eat Y'Self Fitter" "Free Range" "Leave the Capitol" "He Pep!" "I am Kurious Oranj" "Wings"

    … virtually anything lyric off of Grotesque (After the Gramme) (one  of the greatest lps ever released).

    For the curious (NSFW)
    The Wonderful and Frightening World of Mark E Smith

    •  MES also gives the writer a certain encouragement (6+ / 0-)

      to leave the typos in! LOL

      Great diary, btw, Brecht.

    •  Of course I love your comment. But there's so much (5+ / 0-)

      to it that it might take half an hour to reply to (I peck slowly), so I'll have to come back in a bit for it.

      Huge props for the Green Gartside shout out - brilliant lyrics and lovely songs. Who could be uncharmed by a man who writes a fan letter to Jacques Derrida, and pronounces his name wrong throughout the song, as a tongue-in-cheek deflation of poseurs?

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Fri May 24, 2013 at 09:06:40 PM PDT

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    •  Captain Beefheart was certainly one of a kind. (6+ / 0-)

      You could generally find him mining for veins of rare minerals, when he wasn't exploring entirely different planets. But my favorite song of his, which is so surprisingly sweet and open, is Too Much Time:

      I got too much time, too much time
      I got too much time to be without love, too much time
      I got too much time, I got too much time
      Too much time to be without love
      In my life I've got a deep devotion
      Wide as the sky and deep as the ocean
      Every war that's waged make me cry
      Every bird that goes by gets me high

      Sometimes when it's late and I'm a little bit hungry
      I heat up some old stale beans, open up a can of sardines,
      Eat crackers and dream about somebody that can cook for me. . .

      I've heard Guided by Voices are god's gift, but I saw them in a hole in the wall in Chicago, when Pollard was shitfaced and lousy, and haven't explored further yet. You may mean Jack Bruce - I never heard of Brewer. Watt and Mackaye are both impressive, from what little I've heard of them. Though Double Nickels on the Dime is practically an encyclopedia by itself. Joe Strummer and Andy Partridge are both giants who fractured their own bands, but wrote a lot of great songs first. And the Clash have a huge legacy, just from showing a hundred other bands how much you could do with punk. Some fine fiery anthems along the way. Lou Reed broke an awful lot of rules in the '60s, and wrote a massive songbook. I think he's either the only, or one of two, songwriters whose poetry has made it into the Paris Review.

      Finally, the punk who never quits, Mark E. Smith. You know, he's one of those people I have ten albums by, which I hardly ever play. Usually, when I need a fix of the Fall, I drink a jar of coffee and play Totally Wired. I like Oh! Brother too. I know, there's a lot more there. I do have a pretty good 2CD collection of theirs, I'll see if I can find it in my disordered collection.

      I certainly am drawn to those who stubbornly hoe their own row (and Smith's as stubborn as Lou Reed, and as ornery), until they've cultivated a whole hill of their own (Tom Waits, Nick Cave, John Lydon). I know there are different flavors of the Fall. They sometimes got rather poppy (for them), when Brix was in the band. But it still seems that you can be as idiosyncratic as Neil Young, and achieve a wide emotional range of music and tone - but Smith just doesn't have the breadth in him, or the voice, to achieve that.

      I think I'd better drink a modest quart of coffee, and track down your seven picks of their work, and then let you know how they went down. That'll hold me until I excavate that 2CD set of theirs.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Sat May 25, 2013 at 01:58:11 AM PDT

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