DID GEORGE BREAK UP THE BEATLES?

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“To love that well which thou must leave ere long” —Shakespeare

It was Yoko. It was John. It was Paul. George, the “quiet Beatle,” cared about the music, and sat on the sidelines.

No, it was George.

George Harrison broke up the Beatles.

George, who grew up working class with John and Paul, was only 20 when the Beatles became world famous on February 7th, 1964.

For George, and the Beatles—though Ringo was more laid back about it—we need to understand the following: 1. How fast everything was happening. 2. How easily the lads thought it could end. 3. How much they obsessed on keeping the miracle afloat.

To understand how fast it was happening:

The Beatles made it big with their trip to America in early 1964—because they were cute, tuneful white boys with new, trendy haircuts, playing American black music. Their first albums featured many 1950s style rock n’ roll covers.

By the end of 1965, George—a mere 22 years old—had received the Order of the British Empire, starred in a major motion picture, witnessed Paul (with his solo hit “Yesterday”) and John moving apart, experienced Paul’s bossiness, and introduced the sitar on Rubber Soul—the acclaimed sophisticated album released at the end of 1965, in which the Beatles “grew up.”

In 1966, John effectively ended the innocence of the Beatles by bragging in public that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus; the story went nowhere in Britain, but when America discovered the news, Beatle records were burned. The Beatles barely escaped the Philippines after riots erupted, when the Beatles turned down a meeting with Imelda Marcos. The Beatles’ 32 year old manager, vital to their success, died in August 1967, while the Beatles were in Wales meeting George’s Indian guru—a video shows 26 year old John Lennon in shock after receiving the news, with 23 year old George by his side, looking far more relaxed, as George chats to the interviewer about the wisdom of the maharishi.

By the end of 1966, George is more interested in Indian music and Indian religion, than the Beatles.  Revolver (with three George songs) is released in the middle of 1966, and the recording of Sgt Peppers is under way—George’s track on Pepper features George, not with the Beatles, but with Indian musicians, and profoundly inward-looking lyrics.

In September, 1967, George and John appear on the David Frost show with some western experts on meditation and other assorted intellectuals in the audience, one who accuses George and John of mystical selfishness. John, rather abashed and listless, weakly defends himself (“you only meditate for 20 minutes in the morning…”) George, on the other hand, comes across as a religious zealot, and hints that he’s convinced there’s a yogi who has been alive since Christ, by mastering the secret laws of the universe. In a few months, George will record an entire record with respected Indian musicians in Bombay.

As one watches the 1967 Frost program, several things are apparent:

George, not John, comes across as the intellectual leader of the two, passionate, articulate—albeit fanatical and headstrong bordering on lunacy. That’s the first thing.

Secondly, where is the famous humor of the Beatles? It’s gone. George comes across as caustic and defensive, as does John, though a little less so. John wavers, politely holding back his usual sarcasm for the sake of his mate, who in terms of mystical religion, has gone all in. George is almost snarling as he rebuts a gentleman for calling him “mystical.”

And thirdly, not once, even though Sgt Peppers and “All You Need Is Love” have been released, do John or George point to their music, point to a Beatles composition, as an example of their mission or their meaning—are they afraid of being laughed at?

The Beatles are on top of the world, music-wise, money-wise, and yet John and George are telling the world “money is not the answer and now they want meaning,” and instead of discussing their music, they are brow-beaten by older British intellectuals—at one point a gentleman says “let me finish!” when George tries to interrupt him—on the subject of Eastern Mysticism.

The death, in 1967, of the Beatles manager, Brian Epstein—ending the early, performance-oriented career of the Beatles, coincided with the Beatles meeting the maharishi—at the behest of George. Thanks to George, mystical sounds by 1966 defined the Beatles, though few fans noticed—due to Paul’s songwriting skills. Sir Paul, the Pop Chairman, worked overtime to save the “Pop Chart Beatles” against George’s foreign “invasion.”

By 1965, with “Yesterday,” Paul emerged as the band’s leader, too good for Ringo, too good for George, and almost (but not nearly) too good for John. George and John both mocked Paul (on stage!) when Paul performed “Yesterday.” The dynamic, one year into the Beatles’ great success, was Paul on one side, John and George on the other (with Ringo, neutral, on drums—even as the other three Beatles begin to write songs which didn’t need drums.)

Paul was committed to the Beatles, and just happened to like all kinds of music, and could write—and perform—all kinds of music; Paul had that kind of talent and background; he filled out the Beatles’ choice of sounds.  John, married with a kid, living in the suburbs, but who went to art school as a lost juvenile delinquent type, delivered to the Beatles their frantic, melancholy edge; John and Paul both expanded the quality of the lyrics moving forward. George had input even on songs he didn’t write, and though he was songwriter no. 3 in the band, by using the Indian influence, and just by being a good musician with a critical ear, as the lead guitarist, he added a great deal to the Beatles’ sound from the very beginning.

George also had the most to prove. By 1969, with “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun,” he would finally equal Paul and John as the no. 1 songwriter, but in 1965, with Paul contributing “Yesterday,” and John, “Hard Day’s Night” and “Help” (though co-written with Paul) George is hungrier.  He’s 3 years younger than John, 2 years younger than Paul.

Paul picked on George, treating him badly in the studio; when the rift opened up between Paul and John, George sided with John.

But George also began to reach out to other musicians, much more than Paul or John. George released the first solo album when the Beatles were still together, in 1968. George befriended musicians like Dylan and Clapton. George brought in the Indian influence.  It was George who visited Haight Ashbury and checked out the West Coast rock scene in America in 1967. By comparison, Paul and John were almost stay-at-homes. For all of John’s “leadership” qualities, he was basically a person who liked to laze about drawing, creating, and doodling, with Aunt Mimi making him soup.

Paul, as everyone knows, wanted to keep the Beatles together. Paul thought the Beatles were the grownup thing to do. In Paul’s mind, the Beatles were a lifetime ticket to glory, fame, and security; he thought John and George were too easily distracted by ego-driven projects. Paul did write songs for other artists; he had his projects, too, but his main priority was always The Beatles.

Look at what Paul is doing today as an old man: still happily touring and playing Beatles songs.  He probably admires that the Rolling Stones are still together. (And is sure the Beatles are the better band, thanks to him).

John and George, however, felt the Beatles were a kid’s a thing, a childhood fantasy which needed to be left behind.

So John and George stood in stark contrast to Paul.

But John and George were very different, too. George befriended Dylan. John ridiculed Dylan. In this sense, John was closer to Paul—the Beatles were closed off, and in John and Paul’s heart, the best.

But this is clear: before the arrival of Yoko, the uneasy division between Paul and George/John threatened to break up the band.

George, however, had found two things to escape the Beatles—playing with other famous musicians, and defining himself with Indian music and religion.  Even many John songs in the Beatles had an Indian sound.

Paul was the driving force behind Sgt. Peppers, and by 1967, he’s the clear leader of the Beatles. George had found Indian religion, and we see from the David Frost show in September, 1967, that John is in the shadows, lacking direction; Lennon wants to leave the Beatles, but he doesn’t know how. He’s with George on the show, defending meditation, but you can tell this is George’s thing; the humorous, acerbic John is kept in check—he wants to bond with George (against Paul) so he bites his tongue; otherwise he would be mocking George’s religion–and of course this is what the future will shortly reveal. John’s most famous composition post-1967 is “Imagine”—“Imagine no religion.”

Yoko was John’s ticket out of the Beatles; at first she was a “project,” just as Paul had his Beatles and Apple records projects, and George had his projects—the first Apple Record in 1968 was a soundtrack album by George.  John mentions Yoko as a “project” explicitly on a 1969 David Frost show; he says before he and Yoko were a couple, he agreed to produce a record of hers. Only after they sleep together, does John join her on the record, Two Virgins.

John was following George’s lead.

John did not want to be outdone by George, who, in breaking away from Paul’s Beatles, was using his worldly and sophisticated Indian vibe to do so.

John, realizing how artistically ambitious and crazy Yoko was, in 1969 was finally ready to strike out on his own.

In January of 1969, George did quit the Beatles for two weeks. John, holding fast to Yoko, followed George to the exits.

Paul had made a grave miscalculation by treating George shabbily in the early days.

George, like Paul, was sick of Yoko, and just as George and John could not agree over religion, George and Paul could not repair the damage Paul had made pushing around George, starting in 1965.

Paul made it official, leaving the Beatles in April of 1970, when he realized both John and George were making fun of him behind his back.  George, as much as John, was the mocking, caustic Beatle. And George had much more reason to lash out at Paul, because Paul had insulted him as a man and a musician, just by being Paul; Paul and John had a deep, respectful bond that went way back—their songwriting together made the Beatles.  But John was in George’s orbit; John knew George had what it took to leave the Beatles, and John didn’t want to be left out. It’s hard to say what John would have done had Yoko not come along.  He probably would have begged George to stay with the Beatles on behalf of Paul.
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George’s personality was based on male friendship.
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Patti Boyd, George’s first wife, says she once carefully cooked George an Indian meal—and his response was to hire a chef from India: George, the sexist perfectionist. His male bond with Clapton was such that he let Clapton have his wife. “Something” and “Layla” were written for the same woman. For all of his spirituality, earthly George was headstrong and common. Male friendship was George’s guiding star, and George’s ability to bond with males certainly must have contributed to the chemistry and success of the Beatles—but the seed of creation is often the seed of destruction. Paul violated George’s sacred bond and treated George like a junior, and this is what ultimately broke up the Beatles. We often lose sight of the personal in mystical abstraction.  George’s Indian mysticism was an unconscious manifestation of his hatred of Paul.  When George sings on “Within You, Without You,” to Indian music backing, “Try to realize you’re very small and life flows on within you and without you,” he is singing to Paul: ‘You may think you’re a great success, big shot, but you’re nothing.’ Wise philosophy is used to soothe and speak for the wounded. George is repressed, and all the more beautiful and civilized for it; our most abstract dreams and missions finally come from the small and personal.
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John’s identity was based on being pampered by women.
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John and George both had children by non-Anglo-American women.
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George, the priest, and John, the political activist, advertised idealism, but were deeply flawed, earthy, sarcastic and vengeful, and finally defined themselves in opposition to Paul, the insufferably successful and happy businessman.
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Paul’s identity was fidelity to the family unit; loyalty to the Beatles and the family defined Paul, whose practicality contrasted with John and George’s self-destructiveness, and George, embittered by Paul, led the way: John and Yoko, on a very profound level, were created by George, the rebel angel, who sought to punish Paul—the workaholic Pop Machine.
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There you go, Beatles fans.
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It was George.

WHERE IS THE MADNESS OF YESTERDAY?

Image result for paul simon and paul mccartney

Another first round battle in the Song Bracket features a fated match.

Paul versus Paul.

“Yesterday” versus “Where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio?”

As the poet Shelley said, “our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.”

Paul McCartney and Paul Simon wrote some of the sweetest, most unforgettable tunes ever—and they both know that in song, sadness catches the sweet.

What’s sadder than a bright, but fading yesterday? Death isn’t sad. Getting old is sad.  Yesterday is sad.

Sweetness surrounds the dying to ease the pain.

With Paul and Paul into the pain we go, and ripen, and feel the sweetness flow.

So who wins this contest?   It comes down to “I’m sad now because I was happy” versus “We (a nation) are sad now, because we were happy.”

Paul McCartney wins—because he took a word—Yesterday—and made it a song almost by itself.

By comparison, the Paul Simon song is a history lesson of some kind.

The song, “Yesterday,” is quicker poison.

Yesterday advances, it’s giant shadow covering Joe DiMaggio.

 

THE ONE HUNDRED GREATEST JAZZ VOCAL STANDARDS THAT WORK AS POEMS

When poetry was killed off in the first half of the 20th century by the tendentious artlessness of Modernism, did it go somewhere?

Yes. It went into popular music.

It went here:

Somewhere there’s music.
How faint the tune.
Somewhere there’s heaven.
How high the moon.

Somewhere there’s music.
It’s where you are.
Somewhere there’s heaven.
How near, how far.

The darkest night will shine,
If you come to me soon.
Until you will, how still my heart—
How high the moon.

Lyrics by Nancy Hamilton

The sultry romance of poetry, sentimental as it might be, just happens to be a significant template for poetry, the art.

Let us admit, at once, that this kind of poetry is perhaps the worst kind of poetry possible, whenever it fails, and it fails often.

This is perhaps why many conclude—in error—that poetry of romance is of a lesser quality than other kinds of poetry, an error which has been perpetuated by a certain tribe of academics.

The error comes from not examining the reason for this kind of poetry’s rather vast failure, which is twofold:

First, since sentimental love poetry is by far the most well-known and practiced of the templates, there will inevitably be a great number of failures, providing countless wretched examples for those looking to dismiss this kind of poetry as poetry.

Second, it is easy to fail in rather spectacular and embarrassing fashion when writing love poetry precisely because of the significance of the template itself.  The template lives in a place where all poetry lives—skill at meter, versification, sentiment, irony, universality, unity, richness, and originality will naturally aid the poet attempting love poetry, and, it also lives where we all live; because it lives close to the heart, to the social embarrassment, and drama, and ubiquitous nature of love and romance, writing this kind of poetry will have a greater risk of failure, since readers are passionately familiar with the tropes involved.

This does not mean, however, that this kind of poetry is inferior in any way to other types of poetry, and it may be superior, in fact, no matter what academics may say, and which is why, perhaps, it tends to be more popular—which should never be a strike against anything good.

Take a song like “Autumn Leaves.” One could almost say it’s inevitable that a song like this exist in the ‘jazz standard’ category, given the mood, subject and sentiment of the ‘jazz standard’ love song. Now the critic must ask: should such inevitability be held against “Autumn Leaves?” Or should we honor it for the very reason that its existence seems destined? We must know the category intimately to appreciate the example. The category is a simple one (not inferior for that reason) and consists of six sub-categories.

1. The Beloved Receives Heavenly Praise —All The Things You Are

2. Praise Without Quality (ironic, indirect) —My Funny Valentine

3. Love Gone Wrong (Revenge) —Cry Me A River

4. Love Gone Wrong (Resigned) —Autumn Leaves

5. Introspective (Narrator talks with their heart) —My Foolish Heart

6. Love Against the World (Time, Fortune, Necessity) —When Sunny Gets Blue

The whole category of the jazz standard is simple, but already we see some complexity. “Autumn Leaves” invokes, with its natural fact, the fourth sub-category—sad resignation of lost love—as we might expect; the leaves of “red and gold” falling past the window of the bereaved lover join other things in the mind: “summer kisses, the sunburnt hands I used to hold” and the dying leaves are then used with the idea of time, already invoked by “summer” (before the leaves fell) with: “but I miss you most of all, my darling, when autumn leaves start to fall.” This is rather brilliant. It is one thing to come up with autumn leaves as an image for the sad resignation of lost love, another to use the image economically and in a way that feels inevitable. The drawback to these songs working as poetry: extreme brevity within a simple and well understood context—is precisely that which allows us to see the challenge overcome if we are alive to both the challenge and the traditional actuality of the love lyric itself, so that instead of dismissing it for that reason, we instead appreciate what is, in fact, a poetic challenge, an extremely difficult one, to be poetically met and overcome.

The brevity of the effect in these songs is such that the title practically writes the song. The immediate is almost everything.

The jazz song usually has a lot of minor keys and notes (brilliantly used to multiple effects of course) with the general tendency to heaviness, intricate mellowness, and melancholy, so we would expect a lot of ‘love gone wrong’ and sad songs, and that’s what we do indeed have. This musical fact will of course impact the lyric. This general sadness is probably why jazz is not nearly as popular as other genres—but its poetry, as we attempt to isolate it, has its own, and under-appreciated, excellence, and the sad also happens to be a richer field for poetic loveliness.

As for jazz’s “sophisticated” reputation; the term is empty; there is nothing smarter about jazz; the ‘maudlin refined into beauty’ perhaps best sums it up; it cannot substitute long for the best of classical music, and the worst of it is horribly chained and pretentious.

Its reputation for being “sophisticated” may be due to the fact that jazz contains very little story-telling, and here is where jazz distinguishes itself from Folk and Country, its hayseed cousins. Frank Sinatra self-consciously introduced the slight exception, “It Was A Very Good Year,” which almost tells a story, as a “pretty folk song.” One can’t imagine Sinatra singing one of those endless folk ballads like “Frankie and  Johnny”—even though this song is on some ‘jazz standard’ lists. ‘True art’ has a certain reticence; the jazz femme fatale doesn’t say very much; as “Yesterday” puts it: “Why she had to go, I don’t know, she wouldn’t say.” The best heartaches are beyond analysis.

In fact, anyone who makes a list like this one has probably had their heart broken, has it associated with a song, which, for that reason, will not be on the list, the ultimate reticence of heart-broken cool. So if you notice a song you think should be on the list below and it is not, be comforted. The song is playing somewhere—and breaking a heart.

 

1. SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW “That’s where you’ll find me.” Poignantly ideal.

2. YESTERDAY Formally perfect.

3. SMILE Best and saddest advice.

4. AUTUMN LEAVES  “I see your lips, the summer kisses, but I miss you most of all when…”

5. STORMY MONDAY “Tuesday’s just as bad.”

6. MOON RIVER “waiting round the bend”

7. ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE “when all the things you are, are mine.”

8. THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU “Your eyes in stars above…my love.”

9. MY FUNNY VALENTINE “Your looks are laughable, unphotographable”

10. DREAM A LITTLE DREAM OF ME “stars fading but I linger on”

11. DON’T GET AROUND MUCH ANYMORE “couldn’t bear it without you…”

12. MOONGLOW “way up in the blue…”

13. IT HAD TO BE YOU “even be glad, just to be sad, thinking of you.”

14. ALL OR NOTHING AT ALL “half a love never appealed to me”

15. WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MADE “and the difference is you.”

16. SPEAK LOW “speak love to me and soon”

17. PENNIES FROM HEAVEN ” be sure your umbrella is upside down”

18. AS TIME GOES BY “hearts full of passion, jealousy and hate”

19. SUMMERTIME  beautiful impressionism.

20. I’LL NEVER SMILE AGAIN “until I smile at you.”

21. STARS FELL ON ALABAMA “we lived our little drama, we kissed in a field of white…”

22. I’M A FOOL TO WANT YOU “to want a love that can’t be true…”

23. HOW HIGH THE MOON “somewhere there’s music…”

24. CONQUEST “the hunter became the huntress”

25. SINGING IN THE RAIN “I’m laughing at clouds”

26. I LEFT MY HEART IN SAN FRANCISCO “little trolley cars climb halfway to the stars”

27. PRELUDE TO A KISS “that was my heart trying to compose a prelude…”

28. STRANGER IN PARADISE “if I stand starry-eyed…”

29. ALL OF ME “you took the part that once was my heart so why not take all of me?”

30. AINT MISBEHAVING “I’m home about eight, just me and my radio”

31. THE NEARNESS OF YOU “it’s not the moon that excites me…it’s just the nearness of you…”

32. UNFORGETTABLE “That’s why, darling, it’s incredible…”

33. THE MAN I LOVE “One day he’ll come along”

34. IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR “soft summer nights, we’d hide from the lights on the village green…”

35. QUIET NIGHTS AND QUIET STARS  “quiet thoughts and quiet dreams, quiet walks by quiet streams…”

36. WHO’S SORRY NOW? “Who’s heart is aching for breaking each vow”

37. I DON’T STAND A GHOST OF A CHANCE WITH YOU Well of course not if that’s your attitude!

38. THE LADY IS A TRAMP A unique way to admire.

39. THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA “she looks straight ahead not at me”

40. WHAT KIND OF FOOL AM I? “Who never fell in love” Sammy Davis Jr. nailed this.

41. WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR “makes no difference who you are…”

42. SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN “The leaves of brown came tumbling down, remember…”

43. ALFIE “what’s it all about?”

44. MONA LISA “they just lie there and they die there…”

45. HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS “a shining star upon the highest bow…”

46. A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A FOOL “a sad and a long lonely day…”

47. STARDUST “You wander down the lane and far away…”

48. WHEN I FALL IN LOVE “the moment I can feel that you feel that way, too…”

49. SEPTEMBER SONG “When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame…”

50. FOOLS RUSH IN “but wise men never fall in love, so how are they to know?”

51. YOU’D BETTER GO NOW “I like you much, too much…”

52. JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS “a trip to the moon on gossamer wings…”

53. BLUE MOON “I saw you standing alone…”

54. YOU BELONG TO ME “Fly the ocean in a silver plane, see the jungle when it’s wet with rain…”

55. I GOT IT BAD “and that ain’t good.”

56. IF I HAD YOU “I could start my life anew”

57. A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON “my imagination will thrive upon that kiss…”

58. WALK ON BY “and I start to cry…”

59. I THOUGHT ABOUT YOU “every stop that we made…And when I pulled down the shade…”

60. WHEN SUNNY GETS BLUE “Hurry new love, hurry here…”

61. THE GOOD LIFE “kiss the good life goodbye.”

62. IS THAT ALL THERE IS? “I remember when I was a little girl…”

63. STORMY WEATHER “Don’t know why there’s no sun up in the sky…”

64. TWILIGHT TIME “heavenly shades of night are falling…”

65. I’VE GOT YOU UNDER MY SKIN “I have tried so not to give in…”

66. EMBRACEABLE YOU  “you irreplaceable you…”

67. NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT “won’t you tell me how?”

68. HERE’S THAT RAINY DAY “Where is that worn out wish that I threw aside…”

69. GEORGIA ON MY MIND “No peace I find, just an old sweet song…”

70. FOR ALL WE KNOW “Tomorrow may never come…”

71. MACK THE KNIFE “and he keeps it out of sight…”

72. I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING “I can make the rain go…”

73. CRY ME A RIVER “I cried a river over you.”

74. IF YOU GO AWAY  If you go away on this summer day…”

75. WHAT ARE YOU DOING THE REST OF YOUR LIFE? “East and west of your life…”

76. MY FOOLISH HEART “it’s love this time, it’s love, my foolish heart.”

77. ALMOST LIKE BEING IN LOVE “What a day this has been, what a rare mood I’m in, why it’s almost…”

78. LET’S DO IT  “even educated fleas do it…”

79. AINT SHE SWEET  “now I ask you very confidentially…”

80. LET’S CALL THE WHOLE THING OFF  “potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto…”

81. FLY ME TO THE MOON “let me find out what love is like on Jupiter and Mars…”

82. TILL THERE WAS YOU “There were bells on a hill, but I never heard them ringing…”

83. A STRANGER ON EARTH “The day’s gonna come when I prove my worth and I won’t be a stranger…”

84. I’LL BE SEEING YOU “I’ll be looking at the moon but I’ll be seeing you”

85. TROUBLE IN MIND “the sun’s going to shine through my back door one day”

86. ROMANCE IN THE DARK “we’ll find romance in the dark…”

87. SOMETHING Sinatra said this Beatle (Harrison) song was the best.

88. ON A CLEAR DAY “rise and look around you…”

89. THE MAN THAT GOT AWAY Made for Judy Garland.

90. IT’S ALL IN THE GAME “Many a tear has to fall…”

91. WHY SHOULD I CARE  “Will she wake up knowing you’re still there? And why should I care?”

92. LOVE IS HERE TO STAY “the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble, they’re only made of clay…”

93. IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU “Don’t count stars or you might stumble…”

94. I SURRENDER DEAR “We played the game of stay away…”

95. YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT LOVE IS “Until you’ve faced each dawn with sleepless eyes…”

96. COME RAIN OR COME SHINE “I’m gonna love you like nobody’s loved you”

97. LAURA “The laugh that floats on a summer night…”

98. I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TIME IT WAS “And I know what time it is now”

99. DO NOTHING TILL YOU HEAR FROM ME “if you should take the word of others you’ve heard”

100. THEY CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME “the way we danced till 3”

 

 

 

THE TOP ONE HUNDRED POPULAR SONG LYRICS THAT WORK AS POETRY

Image result for music in renaissance painting

The phatic is common to both song lyrics and poetry; music aids the lyric, condemning it to be not quite poetry forever, while poetry is its own music, condemning it to be naked without music forever.

The two are never reconciled—the standard of poetry is never–-never—reached by song lyrics, which breaks the poet’s heart, a heart which travels into music’s realm, shunning its help.  Madness and torture!  Why do the two exist–-never to meet!  Poetry and music!  Divided heart!  Divided mind!  Poor, divided mankind!

As a healing device, we list the top 100 Song Lyrics As Poetry of All Time, with the single criterion: when we hear the song, do the lyrics intoxicate us as much as the music?

Note we do not ask the song to be judged as poetry—as words on the page.   And yet—and yet—words are being judged.

The list below is not based on reading the lyrics alone on the page as if it were a poem, for this is to take the creature out of the water: we judge the lyrics with its music as poetry.

If an especially beautiful music accompanies the words of a particular song, making the words even more beautiful, we have to assume the words are responsible; the songwriter will sometimes experience this phenomenon: words inspire the music, as if the words and music were born together.  It is as if the music were an aura around the the words—words which nonetheless are not strong enough to be poetry, since they need the music.  We celebrate this paradox—in our list—of poems which are not poems.

If one were to boil down the two essential criteria they would be: 1. originality and interest and 2. strongly realized feeling or idea, but we’ll briefly comment on why for each song.

1 Perfect Day  (Lou Reed)  performed by Lou Reed   —Why: The haunting ambiguity: drug fix or romance? “I thought I was someone else, someone good”
2. Day In the Life  (Lennon/McCartney)  performed by The Beatles   –“Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall”
3. The Good Life  (Distel/Broussolle/Reardon)  performed by Nancy Wilson  –A love song with a tantalizingly puzzling message
4. Coming Back To Me  (Marty Balin)  performed by Jefferson Airplane  –“Through a window where no curtain hung I saw you…coming back to me…”
5. Like A Rolling Stone (Bob Dylan)  performed by Bob Dylan –“You shouldn’t let other people get your kicks for you”
6. America (Paul Simon) performed by Simon & Garfunkle –“Toss me a cigarette I think there’s one in my raincoat…”
7. Over the Rainbow  (Arlen/Harburg) performed by Judy Garland  –“That’s where you’ll find me”
8. Is That All There Is?  (Lieber/Stoller) performed by Peggy Lee  –A life-flashing-before-your-eyes song
9. Ruby Tuesday (Jagger/Richards) performed by Rolling Stones  –“She comes and goes, no one knows…”
10. Both Sides Now  (Joni Mitchell) performed by Judy Collins  –“I don’t know clouds at all…”
11. I Want You (Bob Dylan) performed by Bob Dylan  –“The cracked bells and washed out horns blow into my face with scorn…”
12. Forbidden Fruit (Oscar Brown Jr) performed by Nina Simone –“Eve and Adam had a garden, everything was great…”
13. American Pie (Don McLean) performed by Don McLean  –A perhaps overly sentimental tribute to Buddy Holly…”the day the music died…”
14. Lather (Grace Slick) performed by Jefferson Airplane  –A haunting lyric about growing up…”Lather was thirty years old today…”
15. She Loves You (Lennon/McCartney) performed by The Beatles  –“She” instead of “I” makes it a song about three people instead of two…
16. Me and Bobby McGee (Kris Kristofferson) performed by Janis Joplin  Best going-down-the-road song ever.
17. If You Go Away (Jacque Brel)  performed by Shirley Bassey  –One of those crushingly crushed-up love songs
18. Horse With No Name (Dewey Bunnell)   performed by America  –“The heat was hot…”  You can walk into this song…
19. Yellow Submarine (Lennon/McCartney) performed by The Beatles  –Intimates the ‘we’re-all-together’ spirit so nicely…
20. Jennifer Juniper (Donovan Leitch)  performed by Donovan  –“I am thinking of what it would be like if she loved me…”
21. Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite (Lennon/McCartney) performed by The Beatles –Phantasmagoria at its best.  “And of course, Henry the horse…”
22. Maggie Mae (Stewart/Quittinton) performed by Rod Stewart  –“I suppose I could collect my books and get on back to school”
23. Play With Fire (Phelge) performed by The Rolling Stones  –“Well you’ve got your diamonds and you’ve got your pretty clothes…”
24. Mrs. Brown You Have A Lovely Daughter (T. Peacock) –The boy complains to the mother…different.
25. You’re Lost Little Girl (The Doors) performed by The Doors –The “little girl” is really the one in control; one can hear William Blake in it…
26. Sunny Afternoon (Ray Davies) performed by The Kinks  –“telling tales of drunkenness and cruelty…”
27. Yesterday (Lennon/McCartney) performed by The Beatles  –A simple, but perfect lyric: “yesterday came suddenly…”
28. Fakin’ It  (Paul Simon) performed by Simon and Garfunkle  –a  masterpiece of introspective nostalgia
29. Maxwell’s Silver Hammer (Lennon/McCartney) performed by The Beatles  –“Rose and Valerie screaming from the gallery…”
30. Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues (Bob Dylan) performed by Bob Dylan  “When you’re lost in the rain in Juarez and it’s Eastertime too, and your gravity fails…”
31. Fire and Rain (James Taylor) performed by James Taylor  — a wreck of a song, in the best possible way…  “I always thought I’d see you one more time again…”
32. Irreplaceable (Beyonce, Ne-Yo, Eriksen, Hermansen, Lind, Bjorklund) performed by Beyonce  “You must not know ’bout me…”
33. Mona Lisa (Evans/Livingston) Nat King Cole –“They just lie there and they die there…Are you real, Mona Lisa?”
34. Cry Baby Cry (Lennon/McCartney) The Beatles  –“The duchess of Kircaldy always smiling and arriving late for tea…”  one of John’s best…
35. Night And Day (Cole Porter) Fred Astaire  –“in the roaring traffic’s boom, in the silence of my lonely room I think of you, night and day…”
36. As Time Goes By (Hupfeld)  Dooley Wilson  –“hearts full of passion, jealousy and hate…”
37. Ferry Cross The Mersey (Marsden) Gerry and the Pacemakers  –“we’ll never turn you away…”
38. Georgia On My Mind (Carmichael, Gorrell) Ray Charles  –“Georgia, Georgia, the whole day through…”
39. Ring Of Fire (Gilgore/Carter) Johnny Cash  –“the flames gettin’ higher…”
40. The End (Jim Morrison) The Doors  –“this is the end, beautiful friend, no safety or surprise, the end…”
41. The Times They Are A Changin’ (Bob Dylan)  Bob Dylan  –the ultimate protest/wake-up-to-reality song…
42. Everyday (White, Crisler)   Buddy Holly  –“Everyday, it’s a gettin’ closer, goin’ faster than a roller coaster…”
43. All You Need Is Love (Lennon/McCartney) The Beatles  –“There’s nothin’ you can’t do that can’t be done…”
44. This Land Is Your Land (Woody Guthrie) Woody Guthrie  –“This land was made for you and me…”
45. My Generation (Pete Townsend) The Who  –the slinging, self-righteous, celebratory anger of the 60s in 3 minutes…
46. Let It Be (Lennon/McCartney) The Beatles  –“Mother Mary comes to me…”
47. What’d I Say (Byrne/Robinson) Ray Charles  –“Tell me… What did I say?”
48. Sympathy For the Devil (Jagger/Richard) Rolling Stones  –Jagger wrote a Bob Dylan-type ballad and the Stones added mayhem..
49. Crazy (Willie Nelson) Patsy Cline  –“Crazy for cryin’ and crazy for tryin’…”
50. A Whiter Shade Of Pale (Brooker, Reid, Fisher) Procol Harum  –“and the waiter brought a tray…”
51. I Say A Little Prayer For You (Bacharach/David) Dionne Warwick –“The moment I wake up, before I put on my makeup…”
52. Dream A Little Dream Of Me (Gus Kahn) Mamas and Papas  –“Stars shining bright above you, night breezes seem to whisper I love you…”
53. California Dreamin’ (Phillips) Mamas and Papas  –“Well I got down on my knees and I began to pray…”
54. Hotel California (Felder, Henley, Frey) The Eagles  –“But they can never leave…”
55. Walk On By (Bacharach/David) Dionne Warwick  –“make believe that you don’t see the tears…”
56. Guess Who I Saw Today? (Grand/Boyd) Eartha Kitt  –what a beautifully constructed little urban story…
57. Lovely Rita (Lennon/McCartney) The Beatles  –“sitting on a sofa with a sister or two…”
58. White Rabbit (Grace Slick) Jefferson Airplane  –“and the white knight is talking backwards and the red queen is ‘off with her head!'”
59. My Favorite Things (Rodgers/Hammerstein) Julie Andrews  –“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens…”  Keatsian.
60. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (Kern/Harbach) The Platters  –“Now laughing friends deride…”
61. Stranger In Paradise (Borodin, Wright, Forrest) Tony Bennett  –“If I stand starry-eyed, that’s a danger in paradise…”
62. Misty (Garner/Burke) Johnny Mathis –“When I wander through the wonderland alone…”
63. (They Long To Be) Close To You (Bacharach/David) The Carpenters –“Just like me, they long to be close to you…”
64. Ain’t Misbehavin’  (Waller,Brooks, Razaff) Fats Waller –“I’m home about eight, just me and my radio…”
65. Don’t Get Around Much Anymore (Ellington/Russell) The Ink Spots –“They’d have asked me about you…”
66. I’ll Be Seeing You (Fain/Kahal) Billie Holiday –“In all the old familiar places that this heart of mine embraces…”
67. Mack The Knife (Brecht/Weil, Blitzstein) Bobby Darin  –“Oh the shark has pretty teeth, dear…”
68. Pirate Jenny (Brecht/Weil) Lotte Lenya  –“Asking me, kill them now, or later?”
69. Tiptoe Through The Tulips (Burke/Dubin) Tiny Tim –“tiptoe from the garden, by the garden of the willow tree…”
70. What Is And What Should Never Be (Led Zeppelin)  Led Zeppelin –“and if you say to me tomorrow oh what fun it all would be…”
71. Golden Vanity (anonymous) Pete Seeger –a tearful adventure novel packed into song…”and down sunk he…farewell, farewell to the Golden Vanity…”
72. Star Spangled Banner (Key) Various Artists  –“O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light?”
73. Tiny Dancer (John/Taupin) Elton John  –“Jesus freaks out on the street, handing out free tickets for God…”
74. White Christmas (Irving Berlin) Bing Crosy     Best-selling single of all-time, according to the Guinness Book of World Records
75. Barbara Allen (anonymous) Pete Seeger  –the most popular of the old ballads…”oh mother, mother go make my bed…”
76. Tenderly (Lawrence/Lawrence) Sarah Vaughan –“the evening breeze caressed the trees tenderly…”  this is not corny; this is poetry
77. Lady of Carlyle (anonymous) Pete Seeger  –another beautiful old ballad…”and for a space of half an hour, this young lady lay speechless on the ground.”
78. Take Me Home, Country Roads (Denver, Nivert, Danoff) John Denver  –a big, outdoors song, one the best…”Almost heaven, West Virginia…”
79. Winter Wonderland (Bernard/Smith) Various Artists –so many great Christmas songs, but this one is especially charming…
80. If I Had A Hammer (Seeger/Hayes) The Weavers –Pete Seeger, who cut Dylan’s cords at Newport, was Dylan before Dylan…
81. Wayfaring Stranger (anonymous) Burl Ives  –“I’m going there to see my father, I’m going there no more to roam…”
82. Silent Night (Gruber/Mohr) Various  –the Ur-Christmas carol…
83. Paint It Black (Jagger/Richard) Rolling Stones  –“I see a red door and I want to paint it black…”
84. Every Breath You Take (Sting) The Police –“I’ll be watching you…”
85. It’s All In The Game (Dawes/Sigman) Tommy Edwards  –“And your hearts will fly away…”
86. You’re So Vain (Carly Simon) Carly Simon –“And your horse naturally won…”
87. Killing Me Softly With His Song (Fox/Gimbel) Roberta Flack –“I felt he found my letters and read each one out loud…”
88. It’s My Party (Gluck, Gold, Weiner) Lesley Gore –“I’ll cry if I want to…”
89. The End Of The World (Shave, Smith, Pebworth, Astasio) Skeeter Davis  –“Don’t they know it’s the end of the world?”
90. Under the Boardwalk (Young/Resnick) The Drifters  –“People walking above…”
91. It’s Now Or Never (Schroeder, Gold) Elvis Presley –“Tomorrow will be too late…”
92. I Will Survive (Perren/Fekaris) Gloria Gaynor –“At first I was afraid, I was petrified…”
93. Moon River (Mancini/Mercer) Andy Williams –“we’re all after the same rainbow’s end…”
94. Paper Moon (Arlen,Harburg, Rose) Nat King Cole –“it’s only a paper moon over a cardboard sea, but I’ll believe in make-believe if…”
95. Bennie And The Jets (John/Taupin) Elton John  –“she’s got electric boots, a mohair suit, you know I read it in a magazine…”
96. Freed From The Gallows/Gallows Pole (anonymous) Ledbelly  “I think I see my mother coming, riding many a mile…”
97. She’ll Be Comin’ Round The Mountain (anonymous) Pete Seeger  –“she’ll be riding six white horses when she comes…”
98. Jam On Jerry’s Rocks (anonymous) Pete Seeger –“crushed and bleeding on the beach lay the form of young Monroe”
99. Come All Ye Fair And Tender Maidens (anonymous) Pete Seeger  –I wish I were a little sparrow and I had wings and I could fly…”
100. Groundhog (anonymous) Pete Seeger –“We’re all going out to hunt groundhog…”
101. September In The Rain (Warren/Dubin) James Melton –“The leaves of red and brown came tumbling down, remember?”
102. Pretty Polly (anonymous) Pete Seeger   –“Leaving nothing but the wild birds to moan.”   We had to include one murder song…
103. Danville Girl (anonymous)  Pete Seeger  –“She took me to her kitchen, she treated me nice and kind…”   And one hobo song…

VALENTINE’S WEEK CONTINUES

What the gods love most is their own face.

Greetings Votaries!

Tomorrow is the Day.

Today we’ll not quote from Lord Byron’s Don Juan or Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, or the writings of Shelley against marriage.

The best way to enjoy love the longest is in our thoughts—and what are thoughts made of, but words?  (No, not those kinds of words! Nice words, beautiful words, words that light our way to the sun.)  Poetry enables love to unfold beautifully in our minds all the time. This is why poetry and love will always be sisters, and why love is poetry’s highest calling.

One of the best ways to express love is in song.

Ashbery’s art might make us giggle, but Adele’s art will always have more followers, because she can make us cry.

Didn’t Sir Paul sing a brand new song at the Grammy’s last night, called “Valentine?”

The lyrics were simple but luv-ley.

Here is my attempt to write a famous, iconic love song.  The song has never been recorded, so the music exists in notes on paper sitting on my piano at home.

But the words to the love song follow.

FINALLY

Finally, your heart decides.
Finally, you try all the rides.
Finally, you love in the spring.
Finally.

Finally, it all makes sense.
Finally, there’s no coincidence.

Finally, you jump right in.
Finally, you play to win.
Finally, you love in the spring.
Finally.

Finally, it all makes sense.
Finally, there’s no coincidence.

Finally, you catch her eye.
Finally, your lips say “hi.”
Finally, you love in the spring.
Finally.

“HERE TODAY,” THE BEATLES ARE BACK TOGETHER

It will always be the great Boomer dream that never came true.

The Beatles getting back together.

The 1940s: Ringo, John, Paul, and George born during the Blitz.

The 1950s: Rock n’ roll

The 1960s: the Beatles.

The 1970s: hoping the Beatles will get back together.

The 1980s: grieving that the Beatles will never get back together.

The 1990s: angry that the Beatles will never get back together.

The 2000s: relieved that the Beatles will never get back together.

The 2010’s: Paul and Ringo still producing solo albums

What would it be like to experience a Beatles reunion?

By now everyone must realize how anti-climactic it would have been, as the Beatles themselves surely understood back in the 1970s, when the world was waiting for it to happen—while listening to Elton John, the Bee Gees, John Denver, Queen, David Bowie, Led Zepplin, Stevie Wonder, and the Rolling Stones.

The Beatles were so BIG to so many people in a splendid window of time of unprecedented material and social change that the idea of the group took on extra dimensions, supplemented by the magic of widespread musical recordings, as well as the varied interests and personalities of the four men themselves.

One could blather on like this forever, as so many journalists and rock critics have done, but words can’t do justice to the Beatles phenomenon, nor can the banality of it finally be grasped, either.  The Beatles now occupy a little space on the shelf of history, and that’s about it.  All that’s left is for the Yoko and Paul estates to gain what they can in publicity squabbles as the sun sets on all the living participants.  A few songs, like “Imagine” and “Yesterday,” remain iconic, but it’s hard to judge what a hundred years from now will look like.

The Beatles made records from 1962 to 1970, and the original albums and greatest hits still sell moderately well.

The solo Beatles released their first original recordings starting in 1968, Paul wrote for other bands even earlier, and Paul and Ringo are still putting out records as of this day in 2012.  (Ringo’s latest will be released this month. http://kool.radio.com/2012/01/03/ringo-starr-earns-his-wings/)

The Beatles, 1962-1970

The ‘solo’ Beatles, 1968-present.

8 years v. 44 years.

Three of the four Beatles probably produced work outside of the Beatles as interesting, if not more interesting, than what they produced as Beatles; only Paul is more interesting for the work he did as a Beatle than for the work he did afterwards—though Paul might disagree, and insist it’s true for all four.

In terms of musical output and interest, then, it’s safe to say post-Beatles music is at least as important as Beatles music, and yet the former remains scattered, suffers from the indignity of not being Beatles music, and has never been anthologized into anything resembling a Beatles (Solo) 1968–present album or albums.

The Beatles have produced records for 50 years, but production-wise, only 8 of those 50 years really exist.

Ringo has been releasing songs on his albums, recently, which musically quote solo Paul songs.  The Beatles used to do this (‘She Loves You” is quoted at the end of “All You Need Is Love”).  Why can’t Ringo?   Paul and Ringo have released songs for John and George, and both Paul and Ringo, even as old guys, have produced songs on their solo albums that sound more Beatle-esque than the Beatles did.  The two remaining Beatles are still behaving like Beatles.

Recently I experienced a Beatles reunion, where one should really experience it—in my own ears.

I put together a CD mix many months ago, and forgetting what songs were on it, I gave it a listen.

The CD player was on random shuffle, so the experience of the ‘concert’ felt entirely ‘new.’

It began with Paul saying to an appreciative crowd, “Fancy a bit of rock n’ roll?” and then “Hi Hi Hi” from a live Paul album, and, in no certain order (I’ve already forgotten exactly what order the songs were in) I heard a live, up-tempo recording of “Give Peace A Chance,” a wailing Indian music instrumental composed by George from the soundtrack album he made without the Beatles in 1968, called “Crying,” a live version of John’s agonized “Mother,” Paul’s 1980 “Dress Me Up As A Robber,” a live version of Paul doing his tribute to John, “Here Today,” with the words, “you were in my song,” and Paul’s live version of “Something” with only a banjo, the spicy “When We Was Fab” by George, the up-tempo numbers “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” and “Oh Yoko!” by John, “See Yourself” (musically sweet, lyrically preachy, just like we love him) from mid-70s George, classics “Imagine” by John and”My Sweet Lord” by George (that glorious, ground-breaking song ripped from a 50s melody) and, of course, one Ringo song, recorded not that many years ago, called “Elizabeth Reigns,” a song that almost sounds like it could have been written by late 60s Paul or John, sweet, over-produced, and campy.  If the Beatles were finally an homage-driven, semi-meaningful lark, “Elizabeth Reigns,” fits the bill nicely, with its loving, yet cheeky, lyrics:

Elizabeth reigns
Over and under
Elizabeth reigns
Lightning and thunder
Elizabeth reigns
Since I Was younger
She’s head of the family
Elizabeth reigns over me

When the album finished playing, and I took my ear phones off and stretched, alone in my house, half-shrugging, I thought to myself: that may not have been the best 50 minutes of my life, but you know what?  That’s probably the closest anyone will ever get to the Beatles getting back together.

Welcome back, boys.

LOSER NOWHERE MAN: HELP

He proved John Keats’ thesis: like Keats’ poet, the most unpoetical creature on earth, John Lennon was, in many ways, without star qualities, without confidence, without talent, without poetry; but he was a star’s star.  

Look at the video of the Beatles’ first American tour: confident Paul McCartney takes charge, while John looks uneasy, even scared to death; terrified, grinning, just trying to get through it.   On that first Ed Sullivan show, Paul’s singing is much stronger than John’s.  John is clearly scared.

Yesterday: Following Paul’s solo-in-the-spotlight performance in 1965, during the height of Beatlemania, of his song, that almost, by itself, transcended Beatlemania, and is still doing so, and perhaps, 100 years from now, may eclipse it entirely, John caustically said to the audience, “Thank you, Ringo, that was woon-da-ful!”   Here was John’s genius in a nutshell: insulting Ringo, Paul, “Yesterday,” rock music, and the whole idea of the Beatles in a few, off-the-cuff, words.   John’s wit demolished the expert, towering, sentiment of Paul’s two-minute pop genius in two seconds.

The quickness displayed by John’s mind is a mind easily bored, lazy and arrogant, too fully aware of its own power, and, of course, jealous.  John was a prolific songwriter when an-album-in-a-week composing deadlines made laziness impossible; as soon as the Beatles became cultural gods so that songwriting was no longer entirely necessary (Paul and George were talented and ambitious enough by 1968 that they could easily carry the Beatles themselves), John’s songwriting fell off tremendously; in the early 60s, John wrote hit after hit; from 1969 until his death, he wrote almost none, and many released after 1968 were actually written by John in 1967 and earlier.  “Imagine” sounds like it was written to order for Yoko Ono; “Imagine” sounds like a Yoko lyric, not a Beatle one.    When John was motivated to write, he was the best, but he was not a self-motivated genius.   

His competitive, love-hate relationship with Paul surely had a lot to do with his early 60s output, as well.   He soured on Paul for many reasons, but one  important result was that John became less and less a songwriter, and more and more a shrill egomaniac.

John the genius had no identity; he was absorbed by his environment; thrown in with Paul, he became a great songwriter, married to English Cynthia, he was a “fat,” meat-eating, English suburbanite, married to sophisticated, worldly Yoko, he was a skinny, tea-drinking, Big Apple-dweller.  As a rock star, he couldn’t resist women and drugs; as a cultural spokesman, he couldn’t resist shallow culture-speak.   The fat, 1965 married-to-Cynthia John scolded Allen Ginsberg for getting naked in public.  The skinny, 1969 married-to-Yoko John got naked in public.

By his own admission, John made fun of the weak—as a bullying kid, neglected his first child, and was cruel to his first wife.   Yoko was the perfect wife for the reformed John because she was picked on, and he got to defend her in front of the world.  This may be a crass way of putting it, but this is the sort of life John led, and he knew it.

There’s something cruel and jealous about a mimic, and perhaps Plato’s wariness of art has something to do with this, but John could cruelly mimic like no one else.  In recording out-takes, one can hear Lennon doing Bob Dylan, and John gets Zimmerman right—in a spot-on, cruel manner.

In the mid-60s, John struck out on a literary route, but as with everything else, he got bored of that, too.    John wrote his best lyrics in the 1966/1967 period, a brilliant, but small window of time.  “Man, you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe,” John wrote in “I Am The Walrus.”   It takes a special kind of insight to see that Edgar Poe was picked on, and John, the ex-bully, who was reading a lot at that time, saw it.

Even during the height of Beatlemania, in photographs, John could look ugly, even though, in many photographs, he looks very handsome.  Knowing John, he certainly must have noticed this.   Even John-the-Beatle’s good looks, just like Keats’ unpoetic quality of the poet, was uncertain; doubtful at its core.

Jealous, ugly, shy, depressed, cruel, self-conscious, and in need of help. 

A star.

Happy Birthday, Johnny.

POETRY FOUND DEAD, SURVIVED BY PROSE, POPULAR SONG

“I woke up with a lovely tune in my head. I thought, ‘That’s great. I wonder what that is?'” He got up that morning in May 1965, went to the piano, and began playing the melody that would become “Yesterday.” At first, lacking lyrics, he improvised with ” Scrambled eggs, oh my baby, how I love your legs.”

I’m a sucker for the golden mean.

I love the idea of music that appeals to all.  When I have ideas about music, my thinking tends to go in the direction of popular song.  Is this why I’m a poet? 

I enjoy pure music without any ideas.  Popular music, on the other hand, fills me with ideas.

I wonder, for instance, if John Ashbery could write ‘Yesterday?’  I know Ashbery could write ‘Scrambled Eggs,’ but could he write the lyrics to a song classic, like “What A Difference A Day Makes?” 

Who would win a popular ballad writing contest—Silliman or CollinsArmantrout or LeithauserWC Williams or Edna Millay?

To get the attention of Mr. Grumpy businessman gulping his morning coffee and reading his newspaper with a song (let us write off poem as hopeless) would be quite a task, something akin to moving a very large boulder.  It would require great force, and in order to find such a force, invention and ideas would need to follow.

If, on the other hand, I wanted to interest Mr. Wry, an MFA Poetry professor, in a poem (something so mundane as a song not being a possibility) I would merely have to produce a little speech on how nothing resembling an idea should ever be trusted, that ideas are for businessmen and for people who want to do violence to large rocks, and finish it off with a description of some random thing, and voila!, Mr. Wry would be mine, my task done, no boulder would need be moved at all.

The first task, involving Mr. Grumpy, though not intellectual in itself, requires ideas to effect.

The second task, involving Mr. Wry, bristles with intellectuality, but requires nothing resembling an idea—in fact, rejects the very idea of an idea as something hopelessly violent and oppressive and obvious.

As much as a scientist is a genius, the more universal are his concepts, the more universal is the practical application.

In the old days, the author wrote for everyone and was more the genius the more he appealed to everyone.

The formulas and gadgets of the scientist may be obscure and difficult to comprehend, but the end of these complex formulas is always universal application.

The poet is not a scientist just because the poet produces formulas and gadgets that are not easily understood; to be understood in his ‘gadgets and his formulas’ is precisely why he writes fiction, and not science.  To be understood is the writer’s calling.   The scientist impacts the material world, the writer impacts people through words, and as much as those words are understood the writer is a writer; otherwise he would be a scientist.  

An obscure writer may be a scientist, but while he is being obscure, he is a scientist only, and perhaps a very great one, but not a writer.  The obscurity may eventually blossom into real-life material impact, and that material impact would be proof of the science involved; but obscurity is never the writer’s domain—unless he be a scientist and not a writer, and then we expect some material and practical impact from his obscurity.   The scientist, too, may be understood by the many, but only if formulas and gadgets lead to practical results is there ever a reason to celebrate obscurity in what the scientist does.

The composer is writing songs, then, while the scientist is developing new instruments.  A songwriter may use an instrument, a songwriter may even write a song so interesting that it demands a new instrument, and in that sense art can inspire science, but a song is a song, a poem is a poem, always comprehended as such on the surface as far as they are so, and those who would call them science do a grave injustice to songwriter Sam and scientist Sally.  The two may end up in bed.  But they are not the same.

I am really not sure why song-writing is not a part of every poet’s arsenal.  Bob Dylan is known as a poet because he wrote songs; music did not come looking for Dylan’s words, as Schubert’s music came looking for the poems of Goethe, and thus poems were converted into songs.  The talents used to be more separate, the gifted lyric-writer and song-writer often lived in separate worlds, and the singer in still another one.  Then Robert Zimmerman turned into Bob Dylan and millons have followed in Zimmerman’s footsteps.  Now poets are like half-persons with no music.  Have the poets spurned the singer, or have the singers rejected the poets?   The poetry certainly makes songs better.  “Yesterday” would have died unknown had it remained “Scrambled eggs.”  And did Shakespeare write opera without music?  Was Shakespeare not a half-person at all, but more whole than we realize, completed by a high-speech music?  Is this all elevated speech is?  Speech as a kind of music?

Does poetry not really exist?

Is there only prose?

And music?

Is poetry only the ingredient common to both, but invisible, causing them to rise, like yeast, but never tasted in the bread, never perceived in the product itself?

Is poetry written as poetry a great mistake, the isolation of what cannot live in isolation?  And, when we succeed in writing it, are we not really writing it at all—but only a prose or a music that devoured it when we were not looking?

Maria Grever, the prolific Mexican songwriter, composer of “Cuando Vuelva a Tu Lado” (What A Difference A Day Makes).

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