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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.

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.”

Author's Note:
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

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The following comments are for "The Lyricist as Poet: The Obligatory Introduction"
by LinnieRed

Too friggin COOL- you give GOOD column!

This column is MOST excellent (as us ex-Cali-forn-ians turned New Yorkers would say & I do say)....for some reason, well, very obvious humor reasons of your very quick, and subtle wit, I kept thinking this is written like a cool updated style version ala' Erma Bombeck...remember her? I loved her when I was growing up and as a teen. She had the same natural style and flow as you, only I think I do like you better, you MOST certainly are on par with the professionalism of your writing abilities to hers or anyone else really, a true natural with the technical aspect side of writing skills to boot combined with true creative;-)

You made me smile and you taught me a thing or two, and I love the ramble flavor, it is good ramble and good column, you give very good column, oh yeah!

Now as to this question of musician? Uh, I would consider a drummer a musician...just as much as if not more so than any other instrument. I am a HUGE fan of drums, it is the most primal of all instruments, and to me it is the heart beat of music, especially the spiritual aspect side of it as in trance dance, and other ritualistic methods used in various religions, even in Buddhism. My husband and I have a couple of African drums that we go to town with occasionally, he is a natural at it since he also is a bass player and has a natural ear for beat and music, now as for me, I am good as long as it is kept simple...after all, I am trained only as an accordion player, now that is what a musician is not: me. Nerd cool and spiritual but not a true musician like you and your husband and my Joseph.

Again, most excellent column, good reading.

Tashi delek'-)

Karma Karma Karma Karma la la la la la...

Just got back from a very long puppy walk, stopped in and was pleasantly surprised by this. So, thank you;-)

( Posted by: TheRealKarmaTseringLhamo [Member] On: April 30, 2009 )

@ LinnieRed
When and if you start to write about blues' lyrics, send me an email about the song(s) with which you're working.

Why, you ask?

Well -- if you know what you're reading or listening to, there is a ton of southern rootwork and hoodoo hidden in those lyrics.

And if there's one thing I know, it's my roots!


( Posted by: OchaniLele [Member] On: May 1, 2009 )

Erma Bombeck, drummers, blues, etc.
Speaking of things obligatory, here's where I profess my "I'm not worthies" for the comparison to Erma Bombeck. You have to understand that I grew up - and still live - in Dayton, Ohio, Erma's hometown, where she remains a revered institution/ legend. (A stretch of one major thoroughfare near the University of Dayton was renamed Erma Bombeck Way.) I read a fair amount of her work growing up, so perhaps a lot of it rubbed off on me. Thanks for the flattering comparison!

As for the drummer-as-musician-or-not matter, that's a bit of a running joke among your "bar band"-level musicians, as in "Will the musicians and the drummer please report to the bar?" I agree that drumming - especially hand drumming - is deeply visceral and non-verbal and thus intensely primal. No wonder I sometimes drift off into my own little world!

Ochani, here's where I PUBLICLY thank you for your invaluable assistance in pulling this together, particularly with your gentle editing to rein in my sloppier verbal tendencies. And I will DEFINITELY consult you when I'm ready to examine blues lyrics! I have no doubt such classics as "Hoochie Coochie Man" or other songs with references inexplicable to modern ears are echoes of ancient rituals! Thanks for the tip!

( Posted by: LinnieRed [Member] On: May 2, 2009 )

@ Linnie
I'm doing my early morning litdotorg driveby and saw your comment to me.

It was a pleasure to help you with gentle editing, and truly, that's all you needed. Your writing style is unique, and brings something fresh to our growing newsletter. Working with you is a pleasure.

There is a website that is an invaluable resource when working with old blues lyrics. There's a very educated root-worker in California who does nothing but collect old vinyl and other blues recordings, and she dissects the lyrics for their hidden meanings. Remember that Kate Hudson movie "The Skeleton Key." Well, there ARE recordings like that out there; I've listened to them, and the old blues hide a lot of secret meaning if you know what you are listening for.

But I digress. I love working with you. I hope you stay around for a long, long time.


( Posted by: OchaniLele [Member] On: May 2, 2009 )

music to my ears

I enjoyed your wit and insights. I look forward to your next column!

What came first? Is it lyricist as poet or poet as lyricist?


( Posted by: sandra [Member] On: May 2, 2009 )

Now THERE'S a conundrum!
That's a good question, Sandra! I think it's a pretty safe bet that singing predates the written word, but what about spoken poetry?

Here's an admittedly self-serving theory(from a musician's point of view): The first person who desperately wanted to be a singer but was tone-deaf became the first poet! ; )

(I kid! I kid!)

( Posted by: LinnieRed [Member] On: May 3, 2009 )

P.S. to Sandra
...and thanks for the read and the compliment!

( Posted by: LinnieRed [Member] On: May 3, 2009 )

@ Linnie, an aside
re: how life can influence people, there is a theory about Adolph Hitler. He was rejected from art school and later became a fascist. Is there a relationship there?

just kidding! lol

Back to poetry and music, it's great you have talent in both areas.


( Posted by: sandra [Member] On: May 4, 2009 )

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