Thursday, April 1, 2010

Poets Extraordinaire: Simon and Garfunkel

I was listening to Pandora the other day (which I love, by the way) and realized that many of the folk songs of the 60s are more like poetry than not.  Anyway, I decided to feature some of my favorite "wow, this is poetry" music for a while, but I can't promise it will end up being a regular feature.

For example, if you didn't know any better, you could read the words to Simon and Garfunkel's music and think it was Beat poetry.  Often, the rhythm isn't standardized and there is no rhyme scheme to speak of, which is in almost direct contrast to many of the songs that are hits today.  (Taylor Swift, anyone?) 

To try to make my point, check out the lyrics of "Blah Blah Blah" by KeSha (whose album Animal hit Billboard's number one spot in January):
Coming out your mouth with your blah, blah, blah
Zip your lips like a padlock and meet me at the back
With the jack and the jukebox

I don't really care where you live at
Just turn around, boy, let me hit that
Don't be a little bitch with your chit chat
Just show me where your dick's at

Music starts, listen hot stuff
I'm in love with this song
So just hush, baby, shut up
Heard enough

Stop, talk, talk, talking that blah, blah, blah
Think you'll be getting this nah, nah, nah
Not in the back of my car, ah, ah
If you keep talking that blah, blah, blah, blah, blah
Now check out the lyrics to "America," by Simon and Garfunkel.  (Incidentally, I love the words even more than I like to listen to the song, which is why it is one of the 200 songs in my guitar play book.)
"Let us be lovers. We'll marry our fortunes together.
"I've got some real estate here in my bag."
So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner pies
And we walked off to look for America

"Kathy," I said as we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh
"Michigan seems like a dream to me now."
It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw
I've gone to look for America

Laughing on the bus
Playing games with the faces
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy.
I said, "Be careful his bowtie is really a camera"

"Toss me a cigarette, I think there's one in my raincoat."
"We smoked the last one an hour ago."
So I looked at the scenery, she read her magazine
And the moon rose over an open field

"Kathy, I'm lost," I said, though I knew she was sleeping
"I'm empty and aching and I don't know why."
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They've all gone to look for America.
I rest my case.  (By the way, it might not be fair to compare Simon and Garfunkel, of "Sound of Silence" and "Mrs. Robinson" fame with a girl who performed "Tik Tok," but I really do want my point to be absolutely obvious, here.  Music can be meaningful, but it too often isn't.)


Greg Zimmerman said...

"Andale, andale mama e i e i, oh oh...What's happenin' now?"

Yep, your point is well-taken.

Homero said...

I need speak up for Tayler Swift... yes, her music is sacchrine, and girly-girl, but she writes her own songs, and that I need to give her props for.

Ke$sha is just mindless club music. Nothing more, nothing less. This is like comparing Thomas Kinkade and WJM Turner.

Now that all my credability has be lost... allow me to put a pastiche of stuff up.

Have you ever heard of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds? Very dark, moody stuff, very poetic, a sort of pissed off Beat/Romanitic feel to his lyrics.

From "Dig! Lazarus Dig!"

Dig yourself, Lazarus
Dig yourself, Lazarus
Dig yourself, Lazarus
Dig yourself back in that hole

Larry made his nest up in the autumn branches
Built from nothing but high hopes and thin air
Collected up some baby blasted mothers
They took their chances and for a while
They lived quite happily up there

He came from New York City, man
But he couldn't take the pace
He thought it was like a dog eat dog world
Then he went to San Francisco, spent a year in outer space
With a sweet little San Franciscan girl

I can hear my mother wailing
And a whole lot of scraping of chairs
I don't know what it is
But there's definitely something going on upstairs

Alabama 3, an acid pshycobilly group also have similar under current to their lyrics. They're best known for their song "Woke Up This Morning" used as the opening theme for "The Sopranos."

From "Woke up This Morning"

You woke up this morning
Got yourself a gun,
Mama always said you'd be
The Chosen One.

She said: You're one in a million
You've got to burn to shine,
But you were born under a bad sign,
With a blue moon in your eyes.

You woke up this morning
All the love has gone,
Your Papa never told you
About right and wrong.

But you're looking good, baby,
I believe you're feeling fine, (shame about it),
Born under a bad sign
With a blue moon in your eyes.

Not very often that one can find lyricw written in second person.

For the opposite end, East Bay hip hop duo Blackalicious' lyrics often times ask the question of where does inspiration come from. The 2005 album "the Craft" is a study of this, with the opening track declaring that it comes from a "World of Vibrations" (a very Wordsworthian sort of answer)

We vibrate at higher frequencies
Welcome to our world and intro to
Fall into a space
Where there is no thoughts
Just moments captured
Here we go

Take time with the pad and the pen to dig within
In a world of BS that we're livin' in
To my ears music sound sweet as cinnamon
So I stay poundin' out tunes and tunes again and again
In the 5th chapter ladies and gentlemen
And I still got MCs on my dinner menu
Write late at night this isn't David Letterman though
On second thought, I'm like a letter man though
Let the craft evolve catch a little syndrome
Shootin' through your vains, vibratin' though your eardrums
Used to think 30 years old then the end comes
Now I feel like I'm just gainin' momentum
Seen the world two times all except for India
About to vacate there when we finish this one
Work hard but still some sweep
We won't mention them
In fact, they act as fuel for our engine
Engine engine number 9, mic lynchin'
When we're done with this these songs are our pension
MCs are puppets, Me, I'm Jim Henson

And there are a bunch of others, from a myriad of styles and genres. Simon and Garfunkel are in a class of their own, but they've inspired a bunch of others: Tom Petty, Pete Yorn, Ozomotli, Del, Los Tiges del Norte-- poetic lyrics can carry a song far.

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

@Greg: I didn't realize that was "andale" as in Spanish for "hurry up" and was trying to figure out what the hell "and-ale" meant. Now I get it. :)

@Homero: Hey, get your own Poets Extraordinaire feature, haha.

But I agree with you about Taylor Swift, on several levels. I read an argument that Swift is "anti-feminist" because she portrays herself as sexless, blah blah blah, and I had to roll my eyes, partly because she does write her own music and partly because her intended audience is about 11 years old.

One thing that reading the songs that you posted reminded me of is the difference between reading words and listening to someone else read (or in this case, sing) the words. It takes me a couple of listenings to really "get" a song, so maybe it's no surprise that KeSha (or Chris Brown, or whatever) is so popular.

Those sound like really interesting groups, though. I'll look them up when I'm at home, so my boss doesn't catch me listening to an "acid psychobilly" song and wonder if she needs to call HR.

Daniele said...

I've heard an English professor say that the lyrics to Simon and Gsrfunkel's song "The Dangling Conversation" was (were?) some of the best poetry he'd ever heard. (Please don't judge my grammar, it's almost midnight)

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

They're fantastic, seriously fantastic. (And I will NEVER point out another person's grammatical mistakes unless I've been asked to proofread something... mostly because it would be far too easy for another person to attack this blog with a red pen and make me look like an ass.)

Cozy Book Nook said...

We studied Simon & Garfunkel songs as poetry in highschool--- Actually, I guess Paul Simon is the talented one? His solo work is poetic too.


Lindsay-with-an-A said...

I think you're right--as far as I know, Simon did most of the writing. That must have been a fun English class, too. :)

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