Recently, Ócháni Lele approached me and asked me to write a regular column for Majestic on the topic of “The Lyricist as Poet.” Happily, I accepted the challenge, but I feel as if I am taking on this role under false pretenses. Presenting myself as either a lyricist or a poet is a stretch at best. I have written a small handful of song lyrics in my life, but none seen or heard by another human being – and for good reason. (Trust me on that!) I have also tried my hand at poetry on occasion (and who hasn’t, even if only as a de rigueur indulgence in the throes of adolescent angst?) A few of my poems have actually seen the light of day here at litdotorg. I don’t, however, consider poetry my forte – like the semi-fictionalized Ben Franklin in the Broadway musical 1776, “the things I write are only light extemporanea.”(1) I’m more in my element writing fairly straightforward – if occasionally rambling - prose.
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But as you can see from the sentence above, I’m prone to quoting song lyrics. For many years, I’ve noticed that the simplest everyday occurrence will remind me of a song. (I don’t carry this predisposition as far as a friend does: when he “blogs,” his posts consist entirely of other musicians’ lyrics that, presumably, fit his mood at the moment.) I may be a bit more immersed in the world of song than the average person: Ócháni and Lena have referred to me on the pages of litdotorg as a musician, but in the interest of full disclosure, I must here confess that I am, to be more precise, a drummer (How can you tell when there’s a drummer at your front door? The knock speeds up…and slows down…and speeds up…) and chick singer (How can you tell when there’s a chick singer at your front door? She can’t find the key and doesn’t know when to come in. I’ve got a million of ‘em, folks, and I’m here all week.)
Singing is my first musical love, and I have a knack for retaining lyrics. Performing both with my husband and, several years ago, in another band, I was the “go-to” gal when one of my bandmates forgot the words. Inevitably, shortly after his eyes glazed over and he strummed the same chord for a couple of extra bars, a guitarist would turn to me expectantly for his next line. Now, sometimes that worked and I’d mouth the desired lyrics with exaggerated enunciation, sing them softly, or perhaps make up an impromptu harmony part to feed him the lost words. Unfortunately, it was just about as likely that if I didn’t happen to be singing on that particular number, I’d be off in my own little world, banging on my bongos like a chimpanzee. (Name THAT tune!)
So here I am with a head full of other people’s lyrics. I like to think that stems from a certain appreciation for them at some level. In this space each month, I plan to focus on the lyrics of particular artists that I consider to be…well…artistic. I will also likely take the opportunity to explore the process of lyric writing by talking to them as what HAVE written lyrics – like the guy I sleep with, for instance (the incomparable Tom Terrific.) I’ll also address certain practical issues for those who actually present their creations to the world at large in musical form – issues such as protecting your ownership of your creation and retaining rights pertaining to its use. I’ve also heard – and may relay to you - plenty of cautionary tales of those who have “lost” their works to others (with greater or lesser degrees of resulting potential loss of fortune and/or fame.)
As for the works I’m likely to highlight, they’ll be based on my own personal musical preferences and biases. I have eclectic but not all-inclusive tastes: My first musical passion was the jazz vocal quartet The Manhattan Transfer – which only reinforced my lifelong fascination with vocal harmonies. I still appreciate vocal jazz and “old” pop standards, but these days I’m more partial to folk, classic rock (of the more “wood” than “metal” variety, for lack of a better distinction,) and blues. My satellite radio is pretty permanently set to “The Loft,” self-described as “acoustic eclectic rock.”
When it comes to country music, I favor that of the “quirky” variety, such as Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mothers,” which will never, ever be confused with such semi-sacred Nashville anthems as “God Bless the USA.” I’d never choose country music as my regular musical “diet,” but I do appreciate many country songwriters’ willingness to play on words or to make outright puns, particularly in their titles or refrains. I’m seeking independent confirmation that Randy Scruggs did, in fact, write my favorite country song title of all time, “You Can Lock Me Up and Throw Away the Key, but You Can’t Keep my Face from Breaking Out.”
I have heard very little rap for which I had any use – maybe not since Will Smith’s classic “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” Part of my distaste may stem from my preference for musical performances that feature…well…actual melody. (That combined with harmony is even better!) Part of my aversion may be related to the subject matter of many “gangsta” rap recordings – glorification of violence, degradation of women, etc. Maybe I’ve just seen too many third-rate would-be rappers on “Divorce Court,” complaining that their soon-to-be-ex-spouses didn’t “support” their budding recording careers. Invariably, Judge Lynn permits them a demonstration of their “talents,” and the result is usually annoying, if not downright painful, to witness. They are the hip-hop equivalent of the tone-deaf contestants momentarily featured and then summarily dismissed from the early episodes of each season of “American Idol.” I know rap is about the words and the rhythm, but it’s got to be more than sing-song speech with contrived rhymes. Give me a good old-fashioned “talking blues” any day – anything but this!
All that said regarding my personal preferences, I am open to considering worthy works from any genre, and I would welcome your suggestions of songs and/or artists to feature in coming months. I’m always looking for an excuse to hear new and different music, and I delight in sharing my passion with other music lovers. Who are you listening to lately? Most importantly (for purposes of this space,) are the words creative and meaningful? They don’t have to be “artsy” or obscure. As an example of simple, yet compelling lyrics, I’ll leave you with the refrain of one of my new favorite songs by former professional boxer and current singer/songwriter Paul Thorn (you may follow the link in my Bio to my MySpace page to hear its irresistible melodic “hook”):
I have a good day every now and then.
I count my blessings on one hand.
I start believing the sun will shine again.
I have a good day every now and then. (2)
Until next time, please have good days – frequently!
Next month: “I have reason to believe we all will be received in Graceland.”
(1) Edwards, Sherman: “But, Mr. Adams,” 1776.
(2) Thorn, Paul: “I Have A Good Day,” from “Ain’t Love Strange” and “So Far So Good LIVE.”
The author is still twixt and tween regarding the preferred format for proper citation of the copyrighted works quoted here. We will make every effort to give full credit where credit is due whilst refraining from becoming anally academic. Suggestions welcome!
Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana. - Groucho Marx