Saturday, October 16, 2010

Stuff and stuff

It does no one any good to pretend that Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" is a poem ; it is, in fact, a badly aged piece of propaganda that these days  radiates the grim nostalgia  of an audience that has gone beyond mourning their lost youth and instead wonders who will mourn for them. I was one who took up the cause of rock and pop lyrics being "the new poetry" in the late sixties and early seventies, but I didn't know much about poetry at the time and had no real basis for any claims I made. Poems and lyrics are different crafts, the difference being that song lyrics are not usually interesting, arresting, or effective as language unless joined with the music they're meant to work in concert with. One can't recite "Desolation Row" or "Hey Sixteen" without recalling and missing the original Dylan and Steely Dan melodies.

 Poems as we regard them, though, do just fine, sans melody, provided the poet does the work of doing interesting things with the sounds of their word selection. That said, Mitchell  has genius of a strong variety, and her lyrics achieve a poetic shading that rises above the host of self-serious tune smiths who consciously strive for a literary feel; where others sound for the most part as though they're trying in earnest, Mitchell shows no strain at all. There is ease of expression, unusual turns of phrase, remarkable associative leaps. The difference needn't be mysterious. Mitchell is simply a better lyricist than most of her contemporaries, and better than the artist who claim her as an influence.

RECORD PEOPLE
Written by Melanie Safka

Record people ain't like others
They give bullets to their lovers
They get T-shirts and they get buttons
They go from having to having nothing

Movie people make the moves
Record men live in the grooves
They're always flying to better weather
They go swimming in the middle of the winter

Ma, I'm on the move again
You see, I married me a record man
We gotta move to California
Oh Ma, I guess this is goodbye
You see record folks live very high
To shake the hills of California
Wanna shake the hills of California

I was shot down right in the middle of the fog
Shot down, poor thing
She was shot down, oh she was, poor thing mmm
Was shot down right in the middle of the thought
In the middle of. . .
Shot down, oh, I was shot down, shot down, shot down

Oh Ma, I'm on the road again
You see, I married me a music man 
We gotta move to California
Oh Ma, I guess this is goodbye
You see record folks live very high
To shake the hills of California
I'm gonna shake the hills of California

Lawyers who become producers
They schuk and jive the golden goose
Movers and comers who write and publish
Chicken parts, rhubarb, hot ones and rubbish

Ma, I'm on the move again
You see, I married me a session man
We're gonna move to California
Oh Ma, I guess this is goodbye
You see record folks live very high
To shake the hills of California
I wanna shake the hills of California

Record people ain't like others
They give bullets to their lovers
They get T-shirts and they get buttons
They go from having to
Go from having to
Go from having to
Go


Melanie is an under rated lyricist, I think,who is  cursed  her hits Top  "Candles In the Rain" and "Brand New Key"; ; having pop hits for some songwriters diminishes  stature, some critics assume. How could any one presume to write a song that many listeners wanted to hear more than once? Gauche and gross.

 This lyric, though, does yield meaning when merely reads it on the page,  her rhymes are interesting . Her colloquial language fits the narrator's persona well; chatty, catty, just a tad sardonic, someone addressing the myths of Hollywood success through a thinly disguised refusal to suspend disbelief. What the lines cry for, though, is the absent melody. Unlike formal poetry, which would require the writer to make these lines come alive as page poems through a mastery of rhythmic and euphoric techniques that would make the piece a literary object, the lyrics get their push but the lift, lilt and folded nuances of a melody that , in turn, is anchored in place by chord structure. Though the lyrics here, in themselves, communicate the author's intent, the punch, the sweet spot, as it were, are missing. The melody is required for full effect.