Jim Morrison – Poet Lizard King

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Jim Morrison will be one of the most obvious selections for musician and lyricist as poet. His The Celebration of the Lizard King is the best known and most dramatic of his poems performed to music [maybe competing with The End]. And of course Morrison wrote poetry for the printed page, though these distinctions are meant to be challenged somewhat by my postings on literary lyrics – that term ‘literary’ itself requiring its own scrutiny.

This lyric/poem is printed on the inside cover of the gatefold edition of The Doors’ album Waiting for the Sun. Sadly, in my teenage years I used to hang these covers on my bedroom walls, using tape [how dumb], so when I took them down the album covers were torn by this stupid sticking and I cannot therefore show my copy – I could, but I don’t really need to display my error beyond recalling it. Here is an indistinct picture I found on the net, not to read the poem but to see its presentation,

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I attended a secondary modern school and my main English teacher then was a bit of a tyrant and boorish braggart with other annoying traits, especially being strident politically where he was consistently antagonistic to my incipient and admittedly naïve late 60s’ revolutionary thinking. I cannot remember the actual circumstances, but I did bring my Waiting for the Sun album cover to one of our lessons, pre-ripped, and this teacher at my request did play it to the whole class and then attempted some description of the meaning of The Celebration of the Lizard King, an analysis I do not recall at all, but it seemed honest and helpful at the time. I will always be grateful for that, though still surprised, and maybe he was a more complex character than I appreciated then, though his belittling of youthful thoughts and ideas will always be a shameful attitude.

Here is this powerful and enigmatic poem,

The Celebration Of The Lizard

Lions in the street and roaming
Dogs in heat, rabid, foaming
A beast caged in the heart of a city
The body of his mother
Rotting in the summer ground
He fled the town

He went down South and crossed the border
Left the chaos and disorder
Back there over his shoulder

One morning he awoke in a green hotel
With a strange creature groaning beside him
Sweat oozed from its shiny skin

Is everybody in?
The ceremony is about to begin

Wake up!
You can’t remember where it was
Had this dream stopped?
The snake was pale gold
Glazed and shrunken
We were afraid to touch it
The sheets were hot dead prisons

Now, run to the mirror in the bathroom
Look!
I can’t live thru each slow century of her moving
I let my cheek slide down
The cool smooth tile
Feel the good cold stinging blood
The smooth hissing snakes of rain . . .

Once I had, a little game
I liked to crawl back into my brain
I think you know the game I mean
I mean the game called ‘go insane’
Now you should try this little game
Just close your eyes forget your name
Forget the world forget the people
And we’ll erect a different steeple
This little game is fun to do
Just close your eyes no way to lose
And I’m right there I’m going too
Release control we’re breaking thru
Way back deep into the brain
Back where there’s never any pain
And the rain falls gently on the town
And in the labyrinth of streams
Beneath, the quiet unearthly presence of
Nervous hill dwellers in the gentle hills around
Reptiles abounding
Fossils, caves, cool air heights

Each house repeats a mold
Windows rolled
Beast car locked in against morning
All now sleeping
Rugs silent, mirrors vacant
Dust blind under the beds of lawful couples
Wound in sheets
And daughters, smug
With semen eyes in their nipples

Wait
There’s been a slaughter here

(Don’t stop to speak or look around
Your gloves and fan are on the ground
We’re getting out of town
We’re going on the run
And you’re the one I want to come

Not to touch the earth
Not to see the sun
Nothing left to do, but
Run, run, run
Let’s run
House upon the hill
Moon is lying still
Shadows of the trees
Witnessing the wild breeze
C’mon baby run with me
Let’s run
Run with me
Run with me
Run with me
Let’s run

The mansion is warm, at the top of the hill
Rich are the rooms and the comforts there
Red are the arms of luxuriant chairs
And you won’t know a thing till you get inside
Dead president’s corpse in the driver’s car
The engine runs on glue and tar
C’mon along, we’re not going very far
To the East to meet the Czar

Some outlaws lived by the side of the lake
The minister’s daughter’s in love with the snake
Who lives in a well by the side of the road
Wake up, girl! We’re almost home
Sun, sun, sun
Burn, burn, burn
Soon, soon, soon
Moon, moon, moon
I will get you
Soon!, Soon!, Soon!

Let the carnival bells ring
Let the serpent sing
Let everything

We came down
The rivers and highways
We came down from
Forests and falls

We came down from
Carson and Springfield
We came down from
Phoenix enthralled
And I can tell you
The names of the Kingdom
I can tell you
The things that you know
Listening for a fistful of silence
Climbing valleys into the shade

I am the Lizard King
I can do anything
I can make the earth stop in its tracks
I made the blue cars go away

For seven years I dwelt
In the loose palace of exile
Playing strange games
With the girls of the island
Now I have come again
To the land of the fair, and the strong, and the wise
Brothers and sisters of the pale forest
O Children of Night
Who among you will run with the hunt?
Now Night arrives with her purple legion
Retire now to your tents and to your dreams
Tomorrow we enter the town of my birth
I want to be ready’

Quite by coincidence, I came across this wonderful William Burroughs sampling of the poem and set the The Doors’ music,

Greg Brown – Songwriter and Storyteller

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The lyric to follow here is a one-off: whilst Brown is a songwriting lyricist, the storytelling of Ina Bell Sale is a writer’s comic tour de force of mock-evangelical preaching and is grotesque as well as hilarious – it bears reading, but it is hearing Brown perform this that delivers the ultimate impact. When singing live [there are YouTube clips you can access] he does adapt the role of preacher setting up the actual delivery.

It is a dynamic brisk account of a person, her death and subsequent yard sale: absurd as much as it is believable. I have used this in the classroom, with post 16 student writers, to generate feelings/ideas for similar narratives, monologues that can tell Ina Bell’s own story, or imaginings of alternative viewpoints. I wrote one as exemplar about visiting the sale, I think, or something about describing items in the sale.

Here is Ina Bell Sale,

InaBell is dead, Savior, and we pray that Thou wouldst give us the strength
To lift her and carry her to her grave. InaBell is dead, and, Jesus, we’ll
Never again hear her gravel-on-the-window voice, her tail-in-the-door
Voice. We’ll never again see her goiter shake like an old apple in a
Windstorm. InaBell is dead and gone home to Thee, oh Precious
Lord. Welcome her with open arms and spread ’em wide. She’s dead, oh
Precious Lamb, we’re sure of it this time. She went over in her kitchen
With a thud, scattering her Chicken Surprise for her ill-tempered, little,
Pop-eyed, slobbering dog, who ate most of it. InaBell is dead and gone and
Left us here to carry on and carry her big, fat, annoying ass out to the
Grave and bury her deep so she won’t get up even in dreams to HOLLER HER
INSANE SHIT AT US! THANK YOU, JESUS! THANK YOU, LORD, FOR TAKING
INABELL!. I bet she was hard to lift, even for Thee.

InaBell is dead. She killed her husband, poor old Pete. She screamed and
Hollered him to death with her helium woodpecker voice, pulled at him and
Yelled at him and hit him and screamed at him until he had fits and slapped
His own face and talked in tongues (talks in tongues) at the dinner
Table. OH, SWEET JESUS CHRIST! INABELL IS FINALLY
DEAD! HALLELUJAH! HALLELUJAH AND AMEN!

There’s a big sale on Tuesday. Big sale on Tuesday, who will buy her angry
Purse, forty pounds of frozen pot pies? Who will buy her stiff hairnets
For failed perms, her fly-speckled glasses? Who will buy her girdle that
Didn’t? Who will buy her hippo bra, and her nylons that woulda fit
Pylons? Hey!

Who’llgivemeanickelwho’llgivemeadimewho’llgivemeanickelwho’llgivemeadime,
Who’ll give me sumpin’ for this SHIT?! Who’ll buy the little plastic
Church that used to light up, the busted pink hairdryer, and half a carton
Of menthol cigarettes? Who will buy her cracked bowling ball and enough
Knickknacks to sink the Titanic?! Who will buy her sidewalk made out of
Storm doors and cardboard and a blown Pontiac full of sparrows and
Saplings? Oh, who will buy? Who will buy? Step right up! Who will
Buy? Who will buy? Who will buy?

Put a big ol’ stone on top of her that says, “InaBell finally shutup and
Kicked the bucket!” Big sale on Tuesday.

Brown doesn’t need the support of his clearly being a keen reader/writer to validate the crafting of his Ina Bell story, but he is nonetheless keenly interested in poetry/narrative and its place in songwriting. One obvious example is his album Songs of Innocence and Experience where he sets some of Blake’s poems to music.

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This is a cute, genuine album from 1986, one that could have been quite pretentious and/or disastrous, but Greg Brown places the poetry of William Blake within simple, delicate folk melodies, or, as with The Echoing Green, jaunty blues which really does add a sweet lightness – especially the harmonica, fiddle and bottle-diddle-lee-do [an approximate translation] vocalisation.

The Tyger gets a swamp-blues presentation, the harmonica and fiddle again dancing provocatively as musical backdrop. It’s not so much threatening as – cool. The warm baritone [now rather grizzled] of Brown’s singing adds warmth to Infant Sorrow; and Ah! Sun-Flower makes an interesting comparison with the version by The Fugs: the latter played to my class in secondary school by a dynamic supply teacher which ignited a teenage interest in poetry, as well as that iconoclastic band/ensemble, and if I was still teaching today I’m sure I’d be in a different classroom armed with both versions. The Little Vagabond has a pretty country folk melody with harmony vocal and is another example of these Blake poems re-presented with Brown’s careful creativity.

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Tom Waits – Storyteller

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Another definite literary lyricist is Tom Waits, his storytelling in the beatnik, Burroughs and Bukowski trajectory. It is both raw and beautiful, and I’ve been reading and discovering this morning, like the great narrative Red Shoes by the Drugstore, and as it is only November but the TV already swelled with Christmas ads, here’s a little festive fare from this story,

now the rain washes memories from the sidewalks
and the hounds splash down the nickel
full of soldiers
and santa claus is drunk in the ski room
and it’s christmas eve in a sad cafe
when the moon gets this way
there’s a little blue jay
by the newsstand
wearing red shoes

But the one I know best and have always liked is Frank’s Wild Years, always enjoying the wild imaginings of its violence and humour,

Frank’s Wild Years (For Frankie Z.)

Well Frank settled down in the Valley
and hung his wild years
on a nail that he drove through
his wife’s forehead
he sold used office furniture
out there on San Fernando Road
and assumed a $30,000 loan
at 15 1/4 % and put down payment
on a little two bedroom place
his wife was a spent piece of used jet trash
made good bloody marys
kept her mouth shut most of the time
had a little Chihuahua named Carlos
that had some kind of skin disease
and was totally blind. They had a
thoroughly modern kitchen
self-cleaning oven (the whole bit)
Frank drove a little sedan
they were so happy

One night Frank was on his way home
from work, stopped at the liquor store,
picked up a couple Mickey’s Big Mouths
drank ’em in the car on his way
to the Shell station, he got a gallon of
gas in a can, drove home, doused
everything in the house, torched it,
parked across the street, laughing,
watching it burn, all Halloween
orange and chimney red then
Frank put on a top forty station
got on the Hollywood Freeway
headed north
Never could stand that dog

Pete Brown – Poet and Lyricist

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Continuing with my look at lyrics as poetry, Pete Brown is interesting as being someone who makes a clear distinction between the two. He is also personally interesting for a few reasons I will explain.

Best known for his writing of lyrics for Cream, especially his close work with Jack Bruce, one of my favourites is for his own band, the Pete Brown and Piblokto song High Flying Electric Bird. I cannot separate the beauty of this song from the beauty of its lyrics, and thus I may over-hear and overstate the poetry. But that doesn’t matter.

Before printing that lyric, and a link to the song, I’ll mention his poetry and one more lyric. I recently acquired a second hand edition of the excellent Penguin poetry anthology Children of Albion – Poetry of the ‘Underground’ in Britain edited by Michael Horovitz, having lost my original copy. Published in 1969, Brown is one of the writers represented, and here is one of his 15 poems included,

Few

Alone and halfdrunk hopeful
I staggered into the bogs
at Green Park station
and found 30 written on the wall

Appalled I lurched out
into the windy blaring Piccadilly night
thinking surely,
Surely there must be more of us than that….

This is typical of the playful selection made of his work here, as well as more generally typical of the irreverent, unconventional poetry of this ‘underground’ time.

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Fascinating then to compare this with one of his lyrics, this one for the Cream [Jack Bruce] song White Room. Much is written on the origins of the lyric, and Brown tells us that Bruce had rejected his first offering and how the version we now have  was hastily composed,

In the white room with black curtains near the station.
Black-roof country, no gold pavements, tired starlings.
Silver horses run down moonbeams in your dark eyes.
Dawn-light smiles on you leaving, my contentment.

I’ll wait in this place where the sun never shines;
Wait in this place where the shadows run from themselves.

You said no strings could secure you at the station.
Platform ticket, restless diesels, goodbye windows.
I walked into such a sad time at the station.
As I walked out, felt my own need just beginning.
I’ll wait in the queue when the trains come back;

Lie with you where the shadows run from themselves.
At the party she was kindness in the hard crowd.
Consolation for the old wound now forgotten.
Yellow tigers crouched in jungles in her dark eyes.
She’s just dressing, goodbye windows, tired starlings.

I’ll sleep in this place with the lonely crowd;
Lie in the dark where the shadows run from themselves.

Compared with his poetry, certainly that anthologised by Horovitz, this is actually far more conventional, or perhaps ostensibly poetic.

In an interview I found online at The Argotist here, when asked if Brown considered his lyrics as poetry, he replied:

I don’t usually think of my lyrics as poetry, but having said that some have more “poetic” content than others. You have to bear in mind that I came from poetry initially. The earlier lyrics thus had more residue from that. As I progressed, I found that working in more day-to-day language suited me better, except in certain instances when I wrote for other people who wanted the other thing. Having said that, I also had a huge influence from films and the more surrealist of painters, which led to a certain flavour of imagery which some thought “poetic”, whereas I mainly didn’t think of it as that.

I don’t think this helps all that much! I’m not going to attempt a fuller analysis of Brown’s lyrics, especially chronologically in order to trace what he claims, but it doesn’t matter all that much anyway as it is down to how we as listeners/readers respond.

I respond to the writing in High Flying Electric Bird as being poetic, and that sounds, I know, like a linguistic compromise in not calling it ‘poetry’. But again, I don’t intend to analyse further.

Having posted this lyric on another blog some years ago, I had a reader response which supplied an alternative version, or more precisely an alternative hearing. This is a difficult song in which to hear the lyrics clearly, and many of these variations are printed online. The one I have here seems to match perfectly when one listens to the song being sung, so I’m happy with this,

High flying bird, I don’t hear the last for me
High flying bird, I don’t know the rest of it
Into the dark where electric wings spark you into life

Sketches of night are first to fade away
Stretches of light grow wings to greet the day
Into the waves where submarine slaves kiss you into life

Flying over the mountains of rust
Blowing over the weddings of dust
Into the dark where electric wings spark you into life

High flying bird, I don’t hear the rest for me
High flying bird, the sky’s where I need to be
Into the grin where electric eyes spin you into life

Sounds of the day smash themselves into dreams
Somewhere I lay are tears running down my beams
Into the sun where the silver wings run themselves into ground

Flying over the mounts of gold light
Blowing over the bottles of night
Into the grin where electric eyes spin you into life

Flying over the mounts of gold light
Blowing over the bottles of night
Into the grin where electric eyes spin you into life

High flying bird I don’t hear the last for me
High flying bird I don’t know the rest of it
Into the dark where electric wings spark you into life

Sketches of night are first to fade away
Stretches of light grow wings to greet the day
Into the waves where submarine slaves kiss you into life

Flying over the mountains of rust
Blowing over the weddings of dust
Into the dark where electric wings spark you into life

I think its poetry is obvious and I think it is obvious that Brown was writing poetically. The rhyming is a feature of it as a song lyric, I think, but it doesn’t have the sound of twee and/or forced rhyme.

Here is the song and I’d recommend just listening and enjoying first, if you don’t already know, and then listen again whilst following the lyrics.

This link is an engaging read, written by Brown in 1979 as a correction of details to The Gargoyle Magazine. It tells us quite a bit about Pete Brown in the early days of his writing as a poet and then his move to writing lyrics, and is an excellent brief account.

I have one of Pete Brown’s latest cds with Phil Ryan, Road of Cobras [2010] which is excellent, and I ordered yesterday, and am excited about receiving, a second-hand copy of his 1969 book of poems Let ‘em Roll Kafka,

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More Lyrics: ‘Visions of Johana’ by Bob Dylan

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This morning I am listening to Bob Dylan – The Real Royal Albert Hall 1966 Concert, and I am sure I will have heard this before, though apparently a ‘Royal Albert Hall’ version has previously circulated that was actually recorded in Manchester. There is also, by the way, a 36 disc set of 1966 live Dylan recordings available.

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I am not that discerning about when and where a ’66 recording was made, certainly not interested in listening to a single year’s 36 concert performances, and am not and never have been a Dylan aficionado: I know the ‘hits’ and have always liked though never followed that closely.

Having recently posted on Dylan’s award of the Nobel Prize in Literature, including some examples of his lyric writing, I have, however, been thinking much about the notion of lyrics as literary work, and my thoughts have been continued by the death of Leonard Cohen, considering his poetry and lyrics, the latter informed by The Observer this Sunday which printed a copy of Cohen’s Democracy, a song and lyric I didn’t know.

I have never been an assiduous listener to lyrics, apart from those that in my teenage years would have been glaringly pointed in ‘protest’ terms, or surreal and outlandish in psychedelic terms. Or, more consistently, in sing-along terms: I won’t recount key examples of these, though I was only yesterday singing along to Arlo Guthrie’s Ukulele Lady,

If you like the ukulele lady
the ukulele lady likes you

as a prime illustration of my shallower aural and re-presenting tendencies.

What did strike me today listening to Dylan was the powerful, evocative if elusive storytelling in his song Visions of Johana. Reading around this a bit this morning, I was not surprised to learn that it is a lyric cited as one of his best, not that this more public approbation matters at all. However, I think it is a writing that also bears reading, and that says it all about the significance of such writing:

Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re tryin’ to be so quiet ?
We sit here stranded, though we’re all doing our best to deny it
And Louise holds a handful of rain, tempting you to defy it
Lights flicker from the opposite loft
In this room the heat pipes just cough
The country music station plays soft
But there’s nothing really nothing to turn off
Just Louise and her lover so entwined
And these visions of Johanna that conquer my mind.

In the empty lot where the ladies play blindman’s bluff with the key chain
And the all-night girls they whisper of escapades out on the D-train
We can hear the night watchman click his flashlight
Ask himself if it’s him or them that’s really insane
Louise she’s all right she’s just near
She’s delicate and seems like the mirror
But she just makes it all too concise and too clear
That Johanna’s not here
The ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face
Where these visions of Johanna have now taken my place.

Now, little boy lost, he takes himself so seriously
He brags of his misery, he likes to live dangerously
And when bringing her name up
He speaks of a farewell kiss to me
He’s sure got a lotta gall to be so useless and all
Muttering small talk at the wall while I’m in the hall
Oh, how can I explain ?
It’s so hard to get on
And these visions of Johanna they kept me up past the dawn.

Inside the museums, Infinity goes up on trial
Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while
But Mona Lisa musta had the highway blues
You can tell by the way she smiles
See the primitive wallflower frieze
When the jelly-faced women all sneeze
Hear the one with the mustache say, “Jeeze
I can’t find my knees.”
Oh, jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule
But these visions of Johanna, they make it all seem so cruel.

The peddler now speaks to the countess who’s pretending to care for him
Saying, “Name me someone that’s not a parasite and I’ll go out and say a prayer for him.”
But like Louise always says
“Ya can’t look at much, can ya man.”

As she, herself prepares for him
And Madonna, she still has not showed
We see this empty cage now corrode
Where her cape of the stage once had flowed
The fiddler, he now steps to the road
He writes everything’s been returned which was owed
On the back of the fish truck that loads
While my conscience explodes
The harmonicas play the skeleton keys and the rain
And these visions of Johanna are now all that remain.

Visions of Johanna lyrics © Bob Dylan Music Co.

‘The Ballad Of Mad Dogs And Englishmen’ by Leon Russell

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A truly beautiful song, and a delightful lyric:

Let me see here…

Kids, planes, runway strikes
Flashy pimps and family fights
Spotted dogs, blood-shot eyes
Our space captain laughs and tries

To understand the scheme of things
But just in time the scene has changed
The bus is here, bring the beer
Sherman’s reading Shakespeare

Movie makers, boobie shakers
And Saxy airplane ticket takers
Union members
Leo Fender’s pride and joy – electric toy

Teachers, learners, incense burners
Religious leaders and chronic bleeders
Thieves and pirates on a ride
It’s a hippie commune bonafied

Life and time, war death dealers
Rock pop correspondence fever
But Okies and Limeys, curtain climbers
Stones and future Dominoes

Know which way the wind blows
Stolen cola no one knows
The shadow do
But it’s still a shady crew

‘Cause I love her, and she loves you
Just myself and forty friends
In the name of Cocker power

Out here on the road again
With Mad Dogs and Englishmen

‘Waiting for You’ lyrics – The Incredible String Band

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In the spirit of my previous posting, here is a celebration of a song lyric from the past. This was written collectively by Jerome Clark, Linda Williams and Robin Williams, the latter who I have seen once, playing with John Renbourn, and though it isn’t a song or band that was that influential to me at the time or since, listening today in the car it made me smile throughout and this seemed such a delightful experience to share and celebrate its playfulness:

I’ve been wearing faces in the strangest places
Just to make a dream come true
The dawn is sweet but it’s incomplete and l’m waiting for you
The breeze is blowing and my hair is growing
Forgotten everything my mother knew
The day is young and spring is sprung and I’m waiting for you
Must you bring that horse in here Miss Jones
(although your snowshoes do look terrific)
Yes, they all come from out of the sky, you know

I’m waiting for the dove that never came home
I’m waiting for the painter when his colours were gone
I’m waiting for the soldiers at the war
I’m waiting for a royal decision
I’m waiting for the sun to snore
I’m waiting for a rumble from Jericho
Waiting for the world to begin

I’m a bareback rider, I’m an outsider and I love to dance the boogaloo
I’m a turnip head, I’m a lately wed and I’m waiting for you

More tea vicar? (Hold that tiger)
Yes, the hydrangeas do look divine this time of the year

I’m waiting for the angels to put on their smiles
I’m waiting for the judges to come to trial
I’m waiting for the aeroplane
I’m waiting for the graves to open
I’m waiting to be sold in chains
I’m waiting for a signal from the trapdoor queen
Waiting for the world to begin

I’m a snake charmer, I’m a guava farmer
I’m a goose to me don’t ever say boo
Let the universe roll, I’m a simple soul and I’m waiting for you

Oh it sounds so sweet when you play it me like that..
(that tiger really doesn’t want to be held)

I’m waiting for the signs to point a different way
I’m waiting for God to take a holiday
I’m waiting for night in the mine
I’m waiting for the hills to grow steeper
I’m waiting for the man they call Shine
I’m waiting for Willie the Weeper to wake
Waiting for the world to begin

I’m off to market with an old straw basket singing dodeodeodo
Green cloth to wear in the spring, in the April breezes how it will blow

I’m going to introduce to you now
The personalities who compose
The Jim Spiggatt Occult Quart

Over there on my left
We have Miss Cynthia de Monfort-Jones
On her silvery toned mandoline

And just a little further over the left
We have that famed Oriental bass player
Miss Fenola Bumgarner (first time in captivity folks!)

On the pounding batterie and coterie
We have that well known bricklayer’s labourer from Pilton
Mr Jack McMarker

And perhaps we just have time
To devastate your synaesthesia
With one more searing chorus
From Black Jack Davy on the steam organ

That’s all

The Sweetness of Death

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It is becoming, this year, a sad retrospective: listening to the music of artists who have passed, those with whom one grew up, being influenced by their music – an influence that lasts forever as playing the albums at the time generates the memories of those significant teenage experiences, then feeling it again when older in that phenomenon of aural recall – and for so many of the singer-songwriters at that first moment in the late 60s and early 70s, also reading and absorbing the poetry of their lyrics.

Leonard Cohen’s passing yesterday makes him my current revisiting, and I listened to two compilations which contained old and newer songs, but it is today’s playing of his vinyl album The Songs of Leonard Cohen that has meant more because this, from 1966, is the music that most contains and transmits those memories.

And the album covers themselves printed the lyrics, on the back with the liner notes or on the inside sleeves, this an important part of the physical acquisition [I know lyrics are printed on cd cover inserts. I know]. It is fascinating to read on this album’s liner notes by David Sherman a quote attributed to Cohen: At times I can taste the sweetness of death. We know there is much reference to violence in Cohen’s poetry, and darkness in his lyrics, not least on his most recent [very recent] release You Want It Darker,

They’re lining up the prisoners
And the guards are taking aim
I struggled with some demons
They were middle class and tame
I didn’t know I had permission to murder and to maim
You want it darker

but how wonderful to know that his quote presented in 1966 still had 50 years to mean whatever it meant.

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It would be hopelessly naïve to think there will be less listening like this as 2016 is only an obvious timeframe, and certainly hasn’t been the beginning: so many of the artists who had the influences I am writing about were already adults as I was becoming a teenage listener and reader – Cohen himself in his 30s when he turned to music – and thus this ironic coming of age will continue. I don’t want to engage in some macabre prediction of selecting and listening to the future if relatively imminent losses, but I must start more celebrating now rather than recovering the past when it has passed.

As contrived as that last sentence sounds, I’m sure, I know this is linked to the other loss of friends too, and thus these realities cannot be separated. To anchor what I mean by this, I will close on the following poem by William Stafford:

Friends

How far friends are! They forget you,
most days. They have to, I know; but still,
it’s lonely just being far and a friend.
I put my hand out – this chair, this table –
so near: touch, that’s how to live.
Call up a friend? All right, but the phone
itself is what loves you, warm on your ear,
on your hand. Or, you lift a pen
to write – it’s not that far person
but this familiar pen that comforts.
Near things: Friend, here’s my hand.

‘This Morning I Was Dressed By The Wind’ by Leonard Cohen

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This morning I was dressed by the wind.
The sky said close your eyes and run
this happy face into a sundrift.
The forest said, never mind, I am as old
as an emerald, walk into me gossiping.
The village said, I am perfect and intricate,
would you like to start right away?
My darling said, I am washing my hair in the water
we caught last year, it tastes of stone.
This morning I was dressed by the wind,
it was the middle of September in 1965.

p1000739

This poem comes from the book above, first published in 1969 with my copy bought in 1970. It is a mixture of ‘classical’ poetry, occasional doggerel, some that is playful, some experimental, much that is passionate, and also, as a poem, Suzanne Takes You Down. Sad to say I haven’t read for a while and have revisited today on the news of Leonard Cohen’s death.