Sunday, April 10, 2011

'Words & Music': When Lyrics Are Poetry, Featuring Paul Simon

In celebration of National Poetry Month, we're featuring songwriters - both contemporary and classic - whose lyrics draw heavily on the poetic:  They sing out the writer's love affair with language and feature imagery & metaphor, alliteration and sound-sense, and each song feels like a crystalline whole.

I'll bet you've a few favorite songwriters to champion too: Let me know in the comments and I might just feature them here.

This week, it's a classic folkie who keeps reinventing himself through rhythm and rhyme:  None other than the inimitable Paul Simon.

I've chosen two: First, the old-school Simon and Garfunkel "I am a Rock" (can't get much more metaphorical than that, and a direct nod to all us compulsive readers in the last verse...).  Wow.  Check the camera angles; and Art Garfunkel seems to "get" singing-to-the-lens a tad bit better than Paul.

And second, just for the joy of it, because the sun has FINALLY come out here in the Pacific Northwest and the very first pink and purple flowers have busted their little buds, Simon's rousing gospel number "Gone At Last" with Phoebe Snow. And I think it rather proves my point about great lyrics easing off to make room for all the other elements of a song...

Paul Simon's still going strong as a songwriter and performer, so if you haven't checked him out in a while, why not give him a few moments of your time right now?  He's got a spring tour on, so maybe you'll indulge in the rare pleasure of listening to him live.  I have, more than once.  Always a night to remember.

And he did write what must be the single most fabulous song title of all time: "Simple Desultory Phillipic (Or How I was Robert McNamara's Into Submission".  The lyric's pretty wild too, with all its naming and internal rhyme.  Hit the title to get the link from Simon's site.

Please support the artists, songwriters, and musicians who change us with their art.


Want the other lyrics?  And some musings on poetry vs. song?

I Am A Rock

A winters day
In a deep and dark December;
I am alone,
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.

I am a rock,
I am an island.

I've built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It's laughter and it's loving I disdain.

I am a rock,
I am an island.

Don't talk of love,
But I've heard the words before;
It's sleeping in my memory.
I won't disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.
If I never loved I never would have cried.

I am a rock,
I am an island.

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.

I am a rock,
I am an island.

And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries.

Gone at Last

The night was black, the roads were icy
Snow was fallin', drifts were high
And I was weary, from my driving
And I stopped to rest for awhile
I sat down at a truck stop
I was thinking about my past
I've had a long streak of that bad luck
But I'm praying it's gone at last

Gone at last, gone at last
Gone at last, gone at last
I had a long streak of bad luck
But I pray it's gone at last

I ain't dumb
I kicked around some
I don't fall too easily
But that boy looked so dejected
He just grabbed my sympathy
Sweet little soul now, what's your problem?
Tell me why you're so downcast
I've had a long streak of bad luck
But I pray it's gone at last


Once in a while from out of nowhere
When you don't expect it, and you're unprepared
Somebody will come and lift you higher
And your burdens will be shared
Yes I do believe, if I hadn't met you
I might still be sinking fast
I've had a long streak of that bad luck
But I pray it's gone at last

FYI:  A few musings on poetry vs. lyrics...

Having attempted songwriting myself without success yet penned quite a few poems that seem pretty solid, I'll be the first to say that the two forms are indeed different and just because you're a stellar lyricist doesn't mean you can write a poem - and vice-versa.

Lyrics need room to breathe, must allow the melody and vocalists and instrumentation and arrangement to do some of the work of the communication too. 

Our featured songwriters this month show us how to achieve beauty, profundity, and power through this delicate marriage of sound and sense.

1 comment:

Robyn said...

Yes, Paul Simon is quite the poet. The hardest part about writing this would be picking just two songs. Other contenders....Rene and Georgette Magritte After the War, Hearts and Bones, The Only Living Boy in New York, Graceland (of course). Anything from his failed musical, The Capeman, which has gorgeous music. I read in a book that Simon really listens to the tone of music and he said he was relatively unconcerned with the lyrics, which is amazing, because his lyrics are beautiful.

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