ELLIOTT SMITH AND FRANK SINATRA BATTLE IN SONG ROUND ONE

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Who could be more different—different people, different music, different eras, different sensibilities: Frank Sinatra and Elliott Smith?

A world war two era mensch against a grunge era diffident.

And yet, like a chemical reaction, these two in meeting each other, explode, and a third is created—the product being an insight into poetry itself.

Many have no interest in poetry, profess not to “get” poetry, are intimidated by poetry, hate poetry, but nonetheless adore songs.

What the hell is up with that?

Doesn’t this prove that people don’t really know what they think, or what they like?

You cannot take the poetry away from “Will you miss me, Miss Misery?” and still have the song artist, Elliott Smith, and in the exact same way, the poetry of Frank Sinatra’s “Fly me to the moon and let me sing among the stars I want to see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars” relies on poetry—which millions of Frank Sinatra fans “don’t like.”

And we need to say that by “poetry,” we refer to poetry in the absolute definition of it—we’re not using the term in some ironic “popular culture” sense; no, we mean poetry.

And the more poetry you get, the more misery; this is what lyricism is—it’s sadness, the only emotion truly worthy of art and religion.  We turn the light up to see.  We start a fire to warm ourselves.  But the minor light of sadness is art: this is the realm it occupies, at an exact number of lumens.

An impractical amount of lumens is art.

Smith crams every syllable with sound-resemblance in “miss me, Miss Misery.” The line is depressed into an even more minor key because it’s a question “will you miss me, Miss Misery?,” and the ‘zzz’ sound drag on the more fluid ‘sss’ sound, in the word “misery” adds even more melancholy.

This is poetry working.  This is what poetry does.

Frank Sinatra isn’t quite the wreck Elliott Smith is, so he won’t be caught asking such a pitiful question; instead he’s making demands: “fly me to the moon.” But the poetic lyricism, despite inhabiting the solar system, occupies a box nearly as small as Smith’s: the impossible “stars” and “Mars,” together with “sing” and “spring” trap the lyric impulse in poetic sound-resemblance, the enclosed space holding but a little light, and less heat: spring on Jupiter.

Both songs are pitiful pleas for true love—and sound-resemblance is poetry’s truth.

It’s pathetic, really.

Song, poetry.

Poetry, song.

In true pathetic fashion, Elliott Smith wins.

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1 Comment

  1. Surazeus said,

    March 22, 2017 at 7:56 pm

    What does it mean that Bart Howard wrote the lyrics for Fly Me To the Moon, but he is overshadowed by the super famous singer instead?


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