Warm Weather

April 11, 2011

A word-sparse post for you today, whoever you may be, from contemporary folk legend, Iron & Wine. To make everything okay, let’s just say we’re functioning on Mountain, Pacific, or Hawaii time for the purposes of feeling less bad about posting at 1:20 Eastern time. And remember, it might feel like summer outside, but death comes knocking any time Death pleases. But that’s a cause for letting go and living each moment fantastically, rather than cowering in a corner, teeth clacking, all lit up with fear (though I admit I am guilty of the latter far more than the former; in other words, don’t get too down on yourself if you also struggle to pull off that stunt of living thoroughly, day in and day out). Cheers!

 

Naked As We Came

She says, “Wake up, it’s no use pretending.”
I’ll keep stealing, breathing her.
Birds are leaving over autumn’s ending.
One of us will die inside these arms,
Eyes wide open, naked as we came;
One will spread our ashes ’round the yard.

She says, “If I leave before you, darling,
Don’t you waste me in the ground.”
I lay smiling, like our sleeping children.
One of us will die inside these arms,
Eyes wide open, naked as we came;
One will spread our ashes ’round the yard.


Advertisements

9, 10… Take Up My Pen

April 10, 2011

For tonight’s special, we have another double-feature (since yesterday was an off-day).

These songs share related themes, but that is incidental, folks. I wanted to share these achievements (of literary, lyrical, vocal, and instrumental natures) with you this month, regardless of which other song-poems they ended up contrasting with, or, in this case, being paired with. But since they do share overlapping themes, that makes writing about them that much easier. Yay me.

Those themes are pretty straight-forward, from their titles on. We’re dealing with that perennial tug of war, here. Love. (It just ain’t so simple as it used to be.) With passion, comes the ensuing waves of questioned affections, strained interactions, entrapment (not in the legal sense, but clearly in the sense of feeling obliged to stick around in a relationship in ruins), separation, rending, letting go, walking away, and (eventually) finding healing for all parties involved. Yeah, yeah, we’ve been over this before. These are the most explored themes across cultural forms, no doubt. And this makes sense, in proportion to the huge, gaping holes loss leaves behind. Sometimes they are overdone, but as often as not, artists find new inroads from which to explore a piece of the most intense and intricate puzzle there is (or so it seems) — human emotion.

These particular song-poems are imbued with both subtle and explicit angles on the sublime. Sarah McLachlan reaches lightly toward divine wisdom — “Through this world I’ve stumbled,/ So many times betrayed,/ Trying to find an honest word,/ To find the truth enslaved” — while The Swell Season’s Markéta Irglová pecks gently at fresh wounds (that is, to those not in-the-know, Strict Joy grew amazingly gracefully out of the romantic break-up of the band’s front man and woman) in overtly religious language — “Forgive me, lover, for I have sinned,/ For I have loved you wrong.”

Ultimately, journalistic language fails to uphold the sanctity of the verses and their musical treatment. All my words sound profane in the face of these artistic monuments. Listen for yourself.

 

Possession

Listen as the wind blows
From across the great divide–
Voices trapped in yearning,
Memories trapped in time.
The night is my companion
And solitude, my guide.
Would I spend forever here
And not be satisfied?

And I would be the one
To hold you down,
Kiss you so hard,
I’ll take your breath away,
And after I’d wipe away the tears,
Just close your eyes, dear.

Through this world I’ve stumbled,
So many times betrayed,
Trying to find an honest word,
To find the truth enslaved.
Oh, you speak to me in riddles,
And you speak to me in rhymes.
My body aches to breathe your breath;
You words keep me alive.

And I would be the one
To hold you down,
Kiss you so hard,
I’ll take your breath away,
And after, I’d wipe away the tears;
Just close your eyes, dear.

Into this night I wander;
It’s morning that I dread.
Another day of knowing,
Of the path I fear to tread.
Oh, and into the sea of waking dreams,
I follow without pride,
‘Cause nothing stands between us here,
And I won’t be denied.

And I would be the one
To hold you down,
Kiss you so hard,
I’ll take your breath away.
And after, I’d wipe away the tears.
Just close your eyes, dear.

I’ll hold you down,
Kiss you so hard,
I’ll take your breath away,
And after, I’d wipe away the tears.
Just close your eyes.

I Have Loved You Wrong

Forgive me, lover, for I have sinned,
For I have done you wrong.
For I have hurt beyond repair,
And when tears occurred, no, I didn’t care.
Forgive me, lover, for I have sinned,
For I have loved you wrong.

But this estranged organ in my chest
Still beats for you; It will not rest
So meet me in our secret place,
When the time has come.

And rest your head in my lap,
And I’ll lead you out of your own trap,
And I’ll show you how much you have missed,
through the time we weren’t right.

Oh…, Oh…

So forgive me, lover, for I have sinned,
For I have let you go.
But you’ve been
Every now and then on my mind,  yeah.

Every now and then on my mind, yeah.
Every now and then on my mind, yeah.
Every now and then on my mind, yeah.
Every now and then on my mind, yeah.
Every now and then on my mind, yeah.
Every now and then on my mind, yeah.
Every now and then on my mind, yeah.

On my mind,
On my mind,
On my mind,
On my mind,
On my mind,
On my mind,
On my mind,
On my mind,

On my mind,
On my mind,
On my mind,
On my mind,
On my mind,
On my mind,
On my mind.

 

I have to say that in this creation, The Swell Season have pulled off the most tasteful use of repetition I have ever heard. And you’ve already heard me gripe about the shortcomings of repetition on the page! So if you’ve only read this post, I urge you to follow the link in the song title to hear the song performed with some of the most angelic a cappella in existence.

Show Me Sunset

April 8, 2011

When I get a smartphone in a couple of years, I surely will have lost all of my values. The best way to support built-in obsolescence in cellphones and automobiles? Buy cars and smartphones. The older I get, the more strange urges I get to own such things, despite their inessential natures. Surely, I will have moved too far from the simpler self, a simpler me, that needed only to savor a vivid sunset to find joy, to heal the wounds of the past, and to deal with what could not be got rid of from the vast repository of memory (forgiveness, memory, happiness, healing …recurring theme much?). If and when I get that phone, samples from the lengthy and awe-inspiring instrumental sections of this Bat for Lashes (moniker for prodigious Brit, Natasha Khan) composition will make up my ringtone.

The deeper we get into this grey, cold month of April, the more evident it becomes that some of these song-poems become so flat on the page–all words, no orchestration. Yet the same goes for the inverse. That future (sell-out) ringtone will pale in comparison to the full song, not only for the tinny timbre of the cellphone speakers but also for the lack of the words (impeccably original, profound, lucid, ad infinitum…) that accompany the electronic fantasia of this piece. Please, enjoy!

 

Two Planets

We are all strangers in a strange land,
Wanderers in a vast and unknowable universe.

Show me moonlight on the sunrise.
I’ve seen so many planets dancing,
I’ve seen too many people hiding.

Show me sunset, and I won’t forget
That I am one of two planets dancing,
I am one of two planets dancing.

Shallow man,
Sign your name
On my sun.

Where the song of Solomon
Died in the battleground,
Where the song of Solomon
Died in love’s battleground,

I am full,
Shattered by this sailing time,
For all your suffering by night,
Oh warm, but under bright.

And life is so much dark and light,
When day cannot exist without a night.
And you are not separate from me.
I am a heart that’s full of life.

And to be shared, on this night,
Feel my hands, feel my life,
For the sun and the stars,
Oh my Mother and my sisters.

I know where the form is changing.
I know that the stars will follow me.

Forget Me Not

April 7, 2011

Switching modes slightly today, we’re taking a turn from the splendidly surreal yet quite grimy lyrics from The National to the simple but exquisite storytelling of William Fitzsimmons, that beloved folk musician with the light, airy, rather magical voice and the fix’d beard. (Check out Gold in the Shadow, released in recent weeks. A balm of an album! Such soothing songs for the soul! – If you have hurts, your own compounded sadnesses, and you’re human so you do, check it out!)

Today’s song-poem, “Find Me to Forgive,” is structured around a heartbreaking story of botched romance. I know enough of his bio to know that some of his earlier work is pitted in the pain of divorce, yet I cannot tell whether (or how much) this composition is true-to-life or entirely fabricated. If I were acquainted with him in person, I wouldn’t want to pry. And in any case, the storytelling is spell-binding. Just try and resist its tugs on your heart-strings! Futile!

Musically, I (think I) love the time-signature in this piece. The song comes on, and I start thinking of tangos (hung up on strings!*), but there’s probably no correlation. Something for a ballroom, though. Lots of wooshing, dazzlingly red skirts to distract attention from runny mascara and sobbing frames. Or you could just go the Parisian route. I imagine myself in a cramped historic quarter with lots of light bouncing off soft stone, the faint trail of concertinas and violins wafting through. But I’m definitely teary-eyed, reenacting the last scenes of L’Auberge Espagnole (The Spanish Apartment), where, in this case, I am Xavier. Not that that’s much of a stretch. Would the film have been as moving if I didn’t have so much in common with Romain Duris’s character? Do we ever?

Find Me To Forgive

You were the only thing I ever loved.
Taken for granted, you couldn’t stand it, anymore.
You were my lover for nearly eight years,
But I am my father, and I found another.

The last sixteen months have been nothing but hell.
I thought about jumping, well that would be something.
In the short time that I learned how to fly,
Would you forgive me, or bring flowers to me, by the grave?

Will you look the same when I meet you up there?
Remember my name, please.
Will you look the same when I meet you up there?
Remember my name — find me to forgive.

I haven’t seen you for over a year.
I heard you were married. The baby you carried isn’t mine.
I don’t suppose that you’ll still have my name.
You’ll have another, if you’re not my lover, anymore.

Will you look the same when I meet you up there?
Remember my name, please.
Will you look the same when I meet you up there?
Remember my name — find me to forgive,
find me to forgive, find me to forgive, find me to forgive.

 

 

*From a poem I wrote for a creative writing class several years ago.

I know I just shared another brilliantly composed song from The National a couple days ago, but while that bit was impromptu, this one was planned into the National Poetry Month schedule over here in Turtle-land. “The Geese of Beverly Road” is probably tied with a gazillion other songs by the Ohio-via-Brooklyn band for my third-favorite out of their entire collection. By far, the aspect of The National I most adore is the way that Matt Berninger’s lyrics get stretched across the entire ouevre. There’s all this delicious repeating imagery of feathers, swan-geese, and such, the threads of which you can spend years following across their albums, like some young kid in a red coat chasing a red balloon down city streets.

"Serve me the sky with a big slice of lemon..."

In this case, the geese reappear two albums after Alligator, on “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” from High Violet. And, in between, we mistakenly listened to our mother-in-laws and passed over the “swans on t.v.” while asking Jenny to “Wake Up Your Saints.” When the geese make their comeback, they manage to flock there with the swans. “Man, it’s all been forgiven. Swans are a swimmin’. I’ll explain everything to the geese.”

As this marathon month of blogging progresses, my stockpile of readily-available adjectives and other discuss-able material diminishes, and I find myself lavishing blander and blander praise on musical compositions I genuinely love. Really need to take some cues from established music bloggers and bona fide music journalists.

I wanted to share something clever about a step-by-step of how to explain everything to the geese (and why doing so is a good idea), but right now, I’m too spent. To be continued!

The Geese of Beverly Road

We’ll take ourselves out in the street
And wear the blood in our cheeks,
Like red roses.

We’ll go from car to sleeping car
And whisper in their sleeping ears,
“We were here, we were here.”
We’ll set off the geese of Beverly Road.

Hey, love, we’ll get away with it.
We’ll run like we’re awesome, totally genius.
Hey, love, we’ll get away with it.
We’ll run like we’re awesome.

We won’t be disappointed.
We’ll fight like girls for our place at the table,
Our room on the floor.
We’ll set off the geese of Beverly Road.

Hey, love, we’ll get away with it.
We’ll run like we’re awesome, totally genius.
Hey, love, we’ll get away with it.
We’ll run like we’re awesome.

We’re the heirs to the glimmering world,
We’re the heirs to the glimmering world.
We’re the heirs to the glimmering world,
We’re the heirs to the glimmering world.

We’re drunk and sparking, our legs are open,
Our hands are covered in cake,
But I swear we didn’t have any.
No, I swear we didn’t have any.

Hey, love, we’ll get away with it.
We’ll run like we’re awesome, totally genius.
Hey, love, we’ll get away with it.
We’ll run like we’re awesome.

We’re the heirs to the glimmering world,
We’re the heirs to the glimmering world.
We’re the heirs to the glimmering world,
We’re the heirs to the glimmering world.

Oh, come, come be my waitress, and serve me tonight,
Serve me the sky up tonight.
Oh, come, come be my waitress, and serve me tonight,
Serve me the sky with a big slice of lemon.

We’re the heirs to the glimmering world,
We’re the heirs to the glimmering world.
We’re the heirs to the glimmering world,
We’re the heirs to the glimmering world.

Oh, come, come be my waitress and serve me tonight,
Serve me the sky up tonight.
Oh, come, come be my waitress and serve me tonight,
serve me the sky with a big slice of lemon.

I hardly need to write anything because these glorious words from the Barenaked Ladies say everything I could say about life’s poetries a million times better than I could say them! I do, however, have a little image from today to accompany the imagery of dreaming of music and quantum mechanics. It includes some bars from Béla Bartók, satirizing my beloved “Leningrad Symphony” (by Shostakovich), and some equations related to the Pauli exclusion principle. Cheers!

Music. And quantum mechanics!

 

When You Dream

With life just begun, my sleeping new son
Has eyes that roll back in his head.
They flutter and dart;
He slows down his heart
And pictures a world past his bed.
It’s hard to believe,
As I watch you breathe,
Your mind drifts and weaves…

When you dream,
What do you dream about?
When you dream,
What do you dream about?

Do you dream about music or mathematics
Or planets too far for the eye?
Do you dream about Jesus or quantum mechanics
Or angels who sing lullabies?
His fontanelle pulses with lives that he’s lived,
With memories he’ll learn to ignore,
And when it is closed, he already knows
He’s forgotten all he knew before,
But when sleep sets in,
History begins.
But the future will win.

 

When you dream,
What do you dream about?
When you dream,
What do you dream about?

Are they color or black and white, Yiddish or English,
Or languages not yet conceived?
Are they silent or boisterous?
Do you hear noises
Just loud enough to be perceived?
Do you hear Del Shannon’s “Runaway”
Playing on transistor radio waves?
With so little experience, your mind not yet cognizant,
Are you wise beyond your few days?

When you dream,
What do you dream about?
When you dream,
What do you dream about?

When you dream,
What do you dream about?

 

In place of an embed, which we will have in several months when we upgrade this blog to the big leagues:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OzzJZs–YZM

Common Vs. Common

April 4, 2011

Today only!

Geographers’ Special: Cities, Decadence, et cetera …

Another day featuring bands with male vocalists. I kind of feel like I need to wedge The Go-Go’s in here somewhere just to balance it out. Or Portishead, maybe. And it’s another British and another American band. C’mon, other countries, catch up! (Actually, that’s ultimately the focus of this blog – more on that in future posts!)

Architectural Style: Brutalism. Exhibit A.

I’m really glad I had the month divvied up before I started blogging musical poetry for National Poetry Month because it sure keeps things flowing smoothly around here, but I’ve only stuck to the chosen song once (on the 2nd), and every other day, I’ve shuffled things around, made alternate arrangements. Today, I changed my mind, on a dime, as usual, this time due to a lovely line I came across in an interview with poet Catherine Theis on the semi-blog from Salt Publishing. She responded to a question, in part, with the remark, “The inside of a verse play or poem (or a painting or a song) is one of the last decadent places on earth.” I then went hunting for a decadent song tucked away in my little list of April’s flowers. (If you didn’t guess on the first day, yes, that’s a layered reference to all these gorgeously-written and mellifluously-echoed songs, as well as the fact that in spite of April’s showers, April has some of its own flowers.) And after paying more careful attention to the exact wording of one of my newer favorite compositions from Editors, “The Boxer,” off their most recent 2009 album, In This Light and On This Evening, I decided it would make an even better double-feature with my second-favorite creation from The National, “City Middle,” off of Alligator, from way back in 2005. The amateur geographer in me tries to look for inspiration even in diversions, like rock music obsessions, which really shouldn’t be considered diversions but appreciated for the high art they so often achieve (and critiqued when they don’t, of course!).  I think part of me feels guilty for lavishing more attention on this blog than on my more academically-oriented endeavors. Ah well. Music heals those wounds, too.

Architectural Style: Brutalism. Exhibit B.

As much as I want to wrap this up and get this syndicated to you guys, some points I shouldn’t put off:

1. If there’s a Simon & Garfunkel connection in Editors’ lyrics, it’s slight, but I don’t disavow its potential presence. That would, of course, only make the gravelly-smooth beauty of the song more delectable.

2. “City Middle” (and its counterpart, “Karen”) features some of The National’s most explicit, grimy lyrics, but the instrumentation and vocals are so beautiful that they would perfectly make up for the partially crude storyline if the storyline itself didn’t have its own redeeming qualities. For me, its in the vividness of the imagery and the way that hazy (or not so much hazy as uncertain) childhood memories are evoked for me by the line “pissing in a sink, I think.” I swear the woman that lived in the next room in the communal apartment of my childhood, who I wholeheartedly believed was my Great Aunt (also uncertain on that now, after all these years, though I still continue to believe it, for lack of an alternative explanation for pieces of my memories, some including threads of conversations structured explicitly around the referent, Great Aunt, though what if that’s an inaccurate memory, too? My toddler years were so very long ago, after all!), had some incident in the apartment which afterward involved a lot of screaming by all parties about pissing in sinks. Maybe a fabrication of my imagination? What an imagination that would be, though… Doesn’t seem right to me. TMI again? Oops. Sorry.

3. The thing about what remains, in our society, of archaic poetry — that is, sung verse — is that there seems much more repetition in song than in printed, never-attempted-sung verse. Aside from ballads, most of today’s songwriters, even the best ones, adhere fairly strictly to industry conventions involving choruses, bridges, echoing of verses, and all that jazz. It’s true — We the audience do very much like the tantalizing hooks, mostly to ensure we have some snatch of tune stuck in our heads all day. We hate silence above all else, it seems (which is quite disheartening!). Repetition works. Poets do use it, too. And there are songwriters who use it less than others. (I dare you to give me example of those who hardly use it at all!) But in our inexhaustible taste for easily-devour-able material, written lyrics can seem not at all smooth, a bit jumpy, a bit coarse, a bit bogged down, to drag their feet more than slightly. Yet when we listen, we are hardly aware of the echoing. It’s a strange phenomenon, and I’m not entirely sure that I have a preference one way or another in terms of the written versions, in spite of all that obstructiveness.

4. Okay, I’m getting antsy and impatient now. Tennessee Williams references! You can easily connect them back to Ms. Theis’s comment about “verse plays” ; I once dreamt that Common Vs. Common was a band that came to play at my school ; I’m having too much fun adding punctuation to lyrics to find the best ways to enunciate the poetic in these lyrical creations, which we might otherwise overlook as too mundane for poetry (shame!) ; … long red socks and red shoes! Are you overwhelmed yet? Great!

Now on to the poems of our bleak cities, occasionally beautiful in their dreariness!

When all the world is dripping poetry, how easily we forget our concrete prisons.

 

The Boxer

A bruised full moon
Play-fights with the stars.
This place is our prison,
its cells are the bars
So take me to town,
I wanna dance with the city.
Show me something ugly, and
Show me something pretty.

Damn this place
— makes a boy out of me.
The ring meets my face
by the count of three!

An unwanted sun
pulls rank in the sky.
The boxer isn’t finished,
He’s not ready to die.
I’m attracted to the light,
I’m attracted to the heat.
It’s a violent night;
There are boxers in the street.

Damn this place
— makes a boy out of me.
The ring meets my face
by the count of three!

And damn this place
— makes a boy out of me
The ring meets my face
before an oak tree!

Dazed in the final rounds,
Dazed in the final rounds,
Dazed in the final rounds,
Dazed in the final rounds.

"I wanna dance with the city..."

 

City Middle

Karen, take me to the nearest famous city middle,
Where they hang the lights,
Where it’s random,
And it’s common versus common, la dee la.

Karen, take me to the nearest famous city middle,
Where they hang the lights,
Where it’s random,
And it’s common versus common, la dee la.

I’ve got five-hundred in twenties,
And I got a ton of great ideas;
I’m really worked up.
I’m on a good mixture, I don’t want to waste it.
I’m on a good mixture, I do not want to waste it.
I wanna go gator around the warm beds of beginners;
I’m really worked up.

Karen, take me to the nearest famous city middle,
Where they hang the lights,
Where it’s random,
And it’s common versus common, la dee la.

Karen, take me to the nearest famous city middle,
Where they hang the lights,
Where it’s random,
And it’s common versus common, la dee la.

I have weird memories of you,
Wearing long red socks and red shoes,
I have weird memories.
I have weird memories of you,
Pissing in a sink, I think;
I have weird memories of you.

I wanna go gator around the warm beds of beginners.
I’m really worked up.
I wanna go gator around the warm beds of beginners.
I’m really worked up.

Karen, take me to the nearest famous city middle,
Where they hang the lights,
Where it’s random,
And it’s common versus common, la dee la.

Karen, take me to the nearest famous city middle,
Where they hang the lights,
Where it’s random,
And it’s common versus common, la dee la.

I have weird memories of you,
Wearing long red socks and red shoes,
I have weird memories.
I have weird memories of you,
Pissing in a sink, I think;
I have weird memories of you,
Parking your car — you said, “I’m overwhelmed.”
You were thinking out loud, you said, “I’m overwhelmed.”

You were parking your car, you said, “I’m overwhelmed.”
You were thinking out loud, you said, “I’m overwhelmed.”

You said, “I think I’m like Tennessee Williams.
I wait for the click,
I wait, but it doesn’t kick in.”

“I think I’m like Tennessee Williams.
I wait for the click,
I wait, but it doesn’t kick in.”

I have weird memories of you,
Wearing long red socks and red shoes,
I have weird memories.
I have weird memories of you,
Pissing in a sink, I think;
I have weird memories of you,
La da da da …

I have weird memories of you.

Today’s a sick day so I’ll have to keep brief my comments about my National Poetry Month tribute, in the form of a shared modified poem, or song. Today’s selection comes from across the pond, from recent British, and let’s be honest, international, sensation Mumford and Sons. These lyrics were my first introduction to the band (via Hype Machine, beloved Mecca of music junkies everywhere), and even though I love all the tracks on Sigh No More, with the exception of “Little Lion Man,” overplayed by 101.9 RXP, my local rock station, before they finally got some sense knocked into them somehow and started airing the single, “The Cave,”… *inhale* … my devotion to the aesthetic delights of “Thistle and Weeds” is fast and unyielding. I start to develop a slight jealousy for the Greeks, who not only made their acquaintance with poetry through their ears but had the luxury of hearing those packed verses overlaid with melancholy melodies to tug at the heart. Oh, wait. I need not be jealous. I feast on the same luxuries all day long, day in and day out, through my ease of access to rich music, made available in part thanks to those technologies for which we have the Industrial Revolution to thank. The only unfortunate part is that I live, day in, day out, in a society that mostly disavows the poetry pervasively in its midst, by divorcing connected arts from each other in the pursuit of greater and greater specializations. But it is among us, people, it’s among us! Blaring melancholy! Stirring us with the profound!

Thistle and Weeds

Spare me your judgments, and spare me your dreams,
‘Cause recently mine have been tearing my seams.
I sit alone in this winter clarity which clouds my mind.
Alone in the wind and the rain you left me;
It’s getting dark, darling, too dark to see,
And I’m on my knees, and your faith in shreds, it seems.

Corrupted by the simple sniff of riches blown,
I know you have felt much more love than you’ve shown,
And I’m on my knees, and the water creeps to my chest.

But plant your hope with good seeds.
Don’t cover yourself with thistle and weeds.
Rain down, rain down on me.
Look over your hills, and be still;
The sky above us shoots to kill.
Rain down, rain down on me.

But I will hold on,
I will hold on hope.

I begged you to hear me, there’s more than flesh and bones.
Let the dead bury the dead — they will come out in droves,
But take the spade from my hands, and fill in the holes you’ve made.

Plant your hope with good seeds.
Don’t cover yourself with thistle and weeds.
Rain down, rain down on me.

Named By A Poet

April 2, 2011

We live, we die. We’re fragile, more fragile than we care to notice. In a snap of the fingers, it can all disappear. And on the flipside, if you live long enough, everything you came to know will disappear, and an entire landscape of the unfamiliar will expand out before you. It’s that sort of heady stuff we tend to shirk from, because it’s just too overwhelming. It’s part of why we drown out our confusions and preoccupations in a haze of television and other bright screens. The modern world is just a fantabulous cataclysm of marvels and mayhem.

Avalon, Mad Men, Imitation of Life… Plenty of big and small screen creations tell the stories of our chaotic times tremendously well, what with all the frenzied changes upon changes unleashed by the Industrial Age.

I’m in such a weighty mood after watching that terrific eighties film, Avalon, again after many years. (It features a young Elijah Wood, if that’s what it takes to get your attention.) I couldn’t keep from crying, even though I already knew the scenes were going to play out the way they did. Serendipitous, really, that I wanted to watch that film today, when in my grand plans for National Poetry Month, I’d already slated today’s spot for R.E.M.’s classic single, “Imitation of Life,” itself titled for the fifties film starring Lana Turner, perhaps the style icon dearest to my heart.

What attracts me to poetry is the way it cuts through all our layers of b.s. and puts us face to face with our own fragility. Mortality, after all, is the poetry at the heart of everything, from theatre and film to sunflowers and sunsets. For me, nothing encapsulates that truth more than my own little staged funerals as a four year-old. Even as a young’n, I was attracted to melodrama, theatricality, movement, family history, the geography of a sterile Soviet concrete fortress of an apartment building, through the fact of death. Our ultimate fates are difficult to acknowledge, but it’s best if we face the music sooner rather than not soon enough.

“Imitation of Life” was prevalent on the airwaves back when I obsessively listened to my hometown’s rock stations, before I dabbled with Christian radio and hip-hop and then completely gave up on radio for a decade (TMI? Yeah, probly). At one point, I got the melody stuck in my head, along with the word “sugarcane,” but internet search wasn’t as good back then as it is now, and it took me years to trace the song back to R.E.M., even though I had some of their other tunes, such as “The One I Love,” perfectly squared away in my mental musical ledger. (I remember I had something like “na na na” and “sugarcane” scrawled on a faded blue Post-It note for years, and I tried my hardest not to lose it. Good thing I did not.) Hold tight to your childhood loves, my friends, for you never know if, or when, words like “sugarcane” will be all that you have left.

In the words of the poets…

Imitation of Life

Charades, pop skill;
Water hyacinth, named by a poet–
Imitation of life.
Like a koi in a frozen pond,
Like a goldfish in a bowl.
I don’t want to hear you cry.

That’s sugarcane, that tasted good,
That’s cinnamon, that’s Hollywood.
C’mon, c’mon, no one can see you try.

You want the greatest thing,
The greatest thing since bread came sliced.
You’ve got it all, you’ve got it sized.
Like a Friday fashion show teenager,
Freezing in the corner,
Trying to look like you don’t try.

That’s sugarcane, that tasted good,
That’s cinnamon, that’s Hollywood.
C’mon, c’mon, no one can see you try,

No one can see you cry.
That’s sugar cane that tasted good.
That’s freezing rain, that’s what you could.
C’mon, c’mon, no one can see you cry.

This sugarcane,
This lemonade,
This hurricane, I’m not afraid.
C’mon, c’mon, no one can see you cry.

This lightning storm,
This tidal wave,
This avalanche, I’m not afraid.
C’mon, c’mon, no one can see me cry.

That’s sugar cane that tasted good.
That’s who you are, that’s what you could.
C’mon, c’mon, no one can see you cry.

That’s sugar cane that tasted good.
That’s who you are, that’s what you could.
C’mon, c’mon on no one can see you cry.

April’s Flowers

April 1, 2011

Hello, April!

I wanted to kick off a new series for the month of April, exploring the ways poetry is truly alive in music today, with something fully spring-themed (even though today’s East-coast weather seems to indicate otherwise). This is a fresh song, composed by young songwriters in a sprightly one day! session. Its theme? Rooftop gardens and love. Perfect, right?

The High Line, New York's premier park of the decade, styled after the rooftop garden model.

This beauty is called “Reservoirs,” and it sprouted in one stunning day at a small New York indie recording studio called Dubway Studios, through the collaboration of artists Vienna Teng and Ben Arthur, along with their talented musician friends at Dubway. (For some reason, it looks like the studio released this brand-new creation as a Vienna tune, not a Vienna and Ben duet, though I imagine you’ll probably hear them both singing it live plenty of times, if you choose to check out their concerts. Ben’s touring the continent right now, though, so poor little me won’t get to see that live set for a while yet.) This is all remark-able in three particular ways:

1) The studio, through BreakThru Radio (BTR; Careful, their site will immediately start talking at you!), has just launched the coolest little series a music fan could ever dream of, in which these fateful one-day fests are organized again and again, filmed and edited into “Dubway Days,” which you can watch from the comfort of YouTube, as no doubt you already know if, in a bit of a haste, you followed the link! :)

2) I discovered Vienna Teng’s incredible artistry about a year and a half ago, through the magic of Last.FM. I wanted to find more artists like my all-time favorite creator, Tori Amos. And bam! First Vienna’s terrific cover of  Tori’s “1000 Oceans,” then her own “Pontchartrain,” streamed past. Its lithe lyrical bravado (the word here reclaimed for a positive connotation, obviously) struck an emotional chord, and the song’s climax recalled medieval cathedrals and choral chants — how could I not be hooked? I can’t wait to hear her live in a month or so. If not for her collaborations with Alex Wong, I would have missed out on a very emotional night at Rockwood last month. (Yes, sorry, still meaning to put all my zinging thoughts on that into a coherent post.) Vienna is one of my biggest inspirations right now, not only through her powerful music, but also because she’s dabbled in several career paths in just one decade, and her path has led her to a joint MBA and Masters in Environmental Science. There’s nothing cooler. Oh, wait. Songs inspired by graduate school reading on rooftop gardens! There’s that! (Oh, also, if you want to get in touch, she’s on Twitter, and, occasionally, she even has Formspring Q&A sessions – I’ve gotta try that sometime!)

3) I’ve now been introduced to Ben Arthur.

Technically, that's a March flower, but why quibble?

So much remarkable! Now on to the sung verses, available here thanks to Emily X.R. Pan’s helpful post!

Reservoirs

Voices fly, tracing the skyline
And spiraling up through the grass,
Across wood and steel and clambering vines.
The day is fading fast,

But love, love, there’s light in my garden.
Love, love, you just have to jump.
The city below, the taxicab slow,
Love is all that ever was.

These reservoirs are minarets, irises cornflower blue,
Clouds of caraway thyme.
You flared like a match, struck in the dead-of-night gloom,
Leaving me blind.

Now love, love, there’s light in the garden.
Love, love, you just have to jump.
The city below, the taxicab slow,
For love is all that ever was.

Every morning,
I want you to be
the first thing that I touch,
the first thing I see.

Love, love, there’s light in my garden.
Love, love, leap to my arms–
One step then two,
Keep your eyes on my roof,
For love is all that ever was,
Love is all that ever was,
… is all that ever was

Thoughts? Reactions? C’mon, guys, did you weep?