A Boy From Frenchtown. . .
This was originally a part of an overly large out of control post that I have since sliced up. To see the various slices, go to Two Poets.
I have listened to Philip Lynott and Thin Lizzy for a long time. I have just been a long time fan. In 1981, when I was still in high school, I wrote up an order to Lizzy’s UK fan club. The usual stuff – posters, tee-shirts, sweat shirts, and even three poetry books. All kinds of shit!
I remember wandering around Frenchtown, my hometown in New Jersey, figuring out the exchange rate for dollars and pounds. I remember trudging from my local bank to and from the post office trying to figure it out. They had no idea. Ultimately I just threw more money on the bank check or money order or whatever it was I sent them ultimately. Must have been a bank check. I recall someone telling me they would not accept a USPS Money Order in the United Kingdom. My introduction to finance.
A few weeks later I ran back to the post office to pick up a huge box of stuff. The fan club had been very generous with me! I guess I had more than overpaid! In the box were all kinds of things. Things like wall length monochrome posters of their Chinatown front cover done by Jim Fitzpatrick. I have it on my office wall today – 36 years later.
The most interesting items in that box were Lynott’s books of poetry – Songs for While I Am Away, Philip, and The Collected Works of Philip Lynott.
The actual content of the three were actually lyrics Philip had written over the years. Phil’s lyrics and artwork by Jim Fitzpatrick and others. Of course, several photos of Philip.
Lyrics. . . poetry, it confirmed or told me that lyrics and poetry do overlap. And for me lyrics did matter. I was very much one of those kids who sat on their bed listening to the album, taking in the artwork and photos, reading the album liner, and listening to and checking out the lyrics. They mattered.
And here in this essay I want to look at Philip’s lyrics, his poetry, and one other lyricists. Patti Smith, who is very much a musician, lyricist, poet, and writer of prose. I know much less about Patti Smith, but I have had the pleasure of encountering her work on another project. In the process I started to compare the two and what follows is a sampling of where I find myself wandering with that thought in mind.
Let us start with the obvious. Philip was a romantic. He liked his songs about love and romance. Still in Love With You quickly comes to mind here, or even Little Girl In Bloom perhaps, Randolph’s Tango certainly. I am pointing to something more. I want to point to songs ranging from Cowboy Song, to Jailbreak, to Johnny and Fools Gold, to Black Rose. Each of these has something that I want to call romantic.
So let us hold that for a moment and look at the “romantic”. Romanticism was or is a literary phenomenon in the nineteenth century. It largely started with the Germans in the late eighteenth century. It was in part a response to the French Enlightenment. Works by Goethe, and Schiller. Perhaps the most famous of these German works was Friedrich Maximilian Klinger’s play “Sturm und Drang”, the title of which translates to storm and drive, and which has come to represent the era and this style.
What you have in this style is a focus on the emotions, the subjectivity, the storm and drive of a protagonist in the story or play. Stories involved characters often acting violently, seeking revenge or acting out of a hopeless love. What you saw in such was the expression of raw emotion and the consequences of such. And such stories provoked an emotional response from the audience. They shocked and excited audiences.
This was to some degree a response to the French enlightenment, and rationalism that came with it. The French literature focused not on characters but on plot. It is interesting that even in literature and thought the Germans and French have their tensions. The French arguing that all can be rationally understood. All can be made sense of, to which these Germans responded with a resounding no. And you have not only this offering of subjectivity, and raw emotion, but action based on such. These stories and plays offer action without appeal to authority, without appeal to outside institutions. The protagonist here in or perhaps out of his or her torment, acts. It is here that you have the storm and the drive. And it is here that you provoke and effect your audience.