A Conclusion and Other Thoughts on Two Poets. . .
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.
One Conclusion. . .
Patti Smith, regarding her poems, her music enjoys a certain openness. Meaning we never completely rule out the various options. Did Johnny take a knife to his throat? Or did he take that spoon to his veins or was it as I suggested above just an act of masturbation? That sheet could signify death. . . a little death? We do not know. Lynott, though he allowed for some options liked things neater. He is more accessible, limited, perhaps even with a dash of realism. Each of his protagonist knew that the odds were against them, but they went for it. They had the option to give up. They did not.
Lynott’s Johnny could have given up to the police. He did not, and he died in that alley, cornered, surrounded by them. They were his horses? In Don’t Believe a Word there was a certain amount of honestly. That honesty was of course played oh so smartly. Here we have a lover telling his beloved not to believe him, basically that he was not good enough for her. His heart was not pure enough and Philip sung it so convincingly.
The protagonists in Lynott’s songs do reason, they do calculate. They are figuring out the odds. They choose their own paths but they know the likelihood of what they are trying to do. You know there is no way that fox is going to save the beautiful tightrope ballerina in Fool’s Gold, but you still applaud his entrance. Philip left that entrance open. We do not know what ultimately happened there.
Jumping to Patti Smith’s side of the house, and I know I looked at only several songs from each of them, songs that came from one album from each of them. It is a limited sample. At least the albums came out only one year apart, 1975 for Horses, and 1976 for Johnny the Fox. That said, if we go back to Smith’s work, it again looks at the subjective, but in her case not their actions but the subjective states, what we are actually conscious of, what we actually create out of these random associations. Yet there is a little tongue in cheek here. Birdland, Free Money, and Land all deal with these streams of consciousness. Yet, Smith does offer up in at least two of the handful I looked at certain themes. The free associations do lead somewhere.
These are not a pure stream of consciousness. In Gloria we are led pretty straight down the garden path to what I consider a radical view of freedom, of creativity, of possibilities, where one creates and one owns what is created. And it is not a rational process, it is not a process guided by others. There is no system or structure. From where would such be imposed? Gloria, however, might be the exception. It is more a symbolic or literary creation than a stream of consciousness. To have a song titled Gloria, which does not give glory to God in the highest but to one’s self is simply provocative. And too perceive such, to recognize such, requires a certain jaundiced look or stare. It requires one to be literate.
The same is true of Land. There is so much going on in that song with nods to Burroughs, and to Kenner, and of course the Watuzi. Rimbaud is named several times in that song. At the end though she points to the crush of possibilities and the struggle to grasp them. And what of the Watuzi and “A Land of a Thousand Dances”? What do they offer us? They remind me of the cherub in Rimbaud’s poem. Even Van Morrison’s Gloria is stolen for her own purposes.
The selection is not done rationally. Just think of Johnny who was just beaten up, perhaps raped. He does not rationally list his options, he is drowning. He is grasping what to do and being seduced by the knife or the spoon, What I assume are references to suicide and smack. It is all so artfully done. I thnk of Jackson Pollock but now I go to a domain where I know even less.
In Birdland also you have the son begging to go with the father in his spaceship, now that he is gone. A spaceship, which I imagine, was once a tractor, and that he got to be in with his father as he plowed and cultivated the fields of the father’s farm. The son sees his father as not human. That is intriguing. A child does see his parents as special; they are more than just people, persons. And with him passing it just means he has gone back to beyond us, beyond our world, in his spaceship. It is a child desiring his father. Logic and reason, sense, does not enter into this.
In each of these, in both Lynott and Smith, it is not reason or convention that guide their tales. They both hunger for the Americas, for the dream. It is needs, desires, and hungers that motivate and drive their verses and songs. They differ regarding where they focus. Lynott tells you the actions of his Johnny, or better yet his Fox. And Smith looks to that stream of consciousness, that sea of possibilities, that her Johnny is drowning in. Neither knows what will play out in the end. For both it is all about grasping, and struggle.
Which brings us back to the Germans, their storm and drive. Romanticism was and is so much a response to what is happening in the world. The Germans circa 1780 were just not having this French Enlightenment, with its universal i.e. French reason, and said so. Reason does not capture who we are, what we have and offer. It can be seen as a retreat, a decadence, this focus on the subjective, one’s desires and torments, but it often leads to rebellion. Blake and his work, his focus on nature and myth, quietly challenging English sensibilities, custom, and the industrial revolution. Rimbaud, who brings us into the modern world takes it a step further. His willingness to criticize and challenge, not only what he sees, but what he does, thus creating poetry anew.
All of this is consumed and explored further by rock and roll. Yes, it started with the blues and jazz, but the beat generation, that nod to places such as London, Dublin, and New York is there. With that comes Rimbaud and Blake. They are part of all of this. There is an impact, a connection, between the literary, the poetic, the strum of the guitar, and the mic. And with Patti Smith and Philip Lynott, you have two who have embraced all of it.
I started this essay suggesting that the relation of poetry and lyric cannot really be denied. The radical freedom that I allude to so much here, that I perhaps rely on too much, is so much a part of rock and roll. It is hinted and explored by Blake. It is delved into and celebrated by Rimbaud. And today it is present in both the power chord and the middle finger. It is experienced in the sex, the the drugs, the mosh pit. It is seen in the overdone mascara and eye shadow, the mohawk, the black Marshall stack. There is defiance, an irreverence, sometimes open rebellion, and in these acts is sometimes creativity. Those detailed above have all contributed to that storm, that drive, to that new life, and new hope.
A final note. . . This writing is largely for myself. It is probably most appropriate for some version of a literary class. Perhaps. That said, despite its pedantic and overly analytic pursuits, I felt it important. Obviously. By overly analytic what I mean is not so much the amount of analysis, but that analysis is applied to the topic. I wonder if pop culture, and specifically popular music really need such.
Further, I know musicians are routinely annoyed by categorizations and classifications of their work. Things such as metal or progressive rock, etc. I do not encourage such in regard to one’s listening habits, but that said, categorizing does help one understand why and what is being said. It explains progressions, developments, themes in the music and in culture; history.
For me personally my interests stems from both academics and music. Academically, I am intrigued with the concept of romanticism. Romanticism is largely a response to the enlightenment. Modernism, symbolism and the like are also largely a response to the rationalism of the enlightenment. All of these live on today in various ways. It is intriguing and useful to tease them out.
Musically, my interest stems from a verse found in Eminem. A verse, which I JUST discovered is a mistake, a mishearing. For the last fourteen years I have thought that Eminem in the song, “White America”, has a verse that references “worthless poets”. It does not.
In fact, the lyric is:
“The ringleader of this circus of worthless pawns”
He talks not of poets, but of pawns. Better that than prawns, I suppose.
Regardless, that thought incited me. To think of Eminem and all the rockers I listen to as a part of the tradition of poetics and the literary culture we have. It made an impression, and that is where this work and the attempt to connect artists such as Patti Smith and Philip Lynott to it began. Regardless of my inspirations, and the work done here, lyric is a type of poetry, and further, a poem can be political. Regardless of my speculations, these were most likely never in dispute, but for my pleasure, from that misheard verse, I needed to explore further. I am happy I did, and along the way, gained a little more knowledge of the various forms and styles, where they fit, and where they do not.
And now I know, do not assume my ears heard correctly. . .