Category Archives: Music

Sunshine on Goodge Street (Donovan mash up)

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Sunshine On Goodge Street (Donovan mash-up)

in the chilly hours and minutes of uncertainty
a violent hash smoker shook a chocolate machine

and sunshine came softly through my window,
thrown like a star in my vast sleep
I opened my eyes to take a peek.

Yes, I could have tripped out easy
forever to fly, wind velocity nil

but I decided to stay.

(Donovan Phillips Leitch
Superman and Green Lantern
ain’t got nothing on you)

This is a found poem using lines from 5 Donovan songs: Catch the Wind, Sunny Goodge Street, Sunshine Superman, Hurdy Gurdy Man and Mellow Yellow. I’m sure you can figure out which line came from where, but just a note on the second line:

“a violent hash smoker shook a chocolate machine”.

This line is from Sunny Goodge Street and is my favorite Donovan line because of its inherent music –violent, smoker, shook, chocolate, all those o’s, that recurring ‘k’ and the internal rhyme between hash and mash. Say it out loud a couple of times and it will stick in your head!

Sunny Goodge Street appears on Donovan’s second album “Fairytale” and , according to Wikipedia, it “foreshadows the jazzy feel and descriptions of life in urban London that Donovan would continue to explore over the next two years”. There are a few covers out there (Judy Collins and Tom Northcroft), but they are little too earnest and none match the sludgy stoned feel of the original. The recording of the song is almost perfect, except for Harold McNair’s flute solo in the middle which nearly derails the whole thing. Take a listen:

 

Taking part on Open Link Night over at dVerse!

Rhymin’ (Neil) Diamond – the Good, the Bad and the Internal (music on Monday)

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The great Paul Simon once said: “I’d rather be a bucket than a pail”. Ok, maybe he didn’t but perhaps he should have. Anyway, this is not about rhymin’ Simon, this is about rhymin’ Diamond who once said:

I am, I said

To no one there

And no one heard at all

Not even the chair

Implying that, in a room containing inanimate objects, the object most likely to reply would be a chair. That chair is important, not just because it rhymes with “there”. The chair suggests that Neil is in a room, and there is only one chair (“the chair”), so Neil is most likely lying on a bed and of course he is alone, so alone that he has resorted to talking to the furniture. Without the chair, he could be anywhere, it becomes the focus of his existential crisis. This is a “pop song”,  grab the attention of the audience or they are gone and it has to look easy and that’s hard and he does it through that one detail, the chair.

It has to be said that Neil is perhaps not at the same level as Paul Simon when it comes to poetic, sophisticated lyrics, but he has his moments. Take the first verse of “ Cracklin’ Rosie”:

“Aw, Cracklin’ Rosie, get on board

   We’re gonna ride

   Till there ain’t no more to go

   Taking it slow

   And Lord, don’t you know

   We’ll have me a time with a poor man’s lady

There’s that internal rhyme happening – board, more, Lord, poor -and all those ‘O’s’, fifteen in total! And the assonance in the chorus of

“Cracklin’ Rose,

You’re a store-bought woman”

It goes a bit downhill after that – “you make me sing like a guitar hummin’” – hummin’ and woman – ouch!

But, for my money, Neil’s finest moment when it comes to writing lyrics is in “Sweet Caroline”. The song, admittedly, is not without some absolute groaners:

“Where it began,

I can’t begin to knowin’”

And that’s the first two lines.

Even the chorus, which contains that finest moment is a syntactical nightmare:

Sweet Caroline

Good times never seemed so good

I’ve been inclined,

To believe they never would

Oh, no, no

I have wrestled with this for some time and the best I can come up with is this: ”I’ve been inclined to believe that good times never would never seem so good”. Think about that too long and I guarantee that steam will come out of your ears. But it doesn’t matter, because all that matters is that rhyme between “Sweet Caroline” and “I’ve been inclined”. He could have gone for “fine”, “wine”, “mine” etc but there is something about “inclined” that is so unexpected, so colloquial, so conversational. It surprises every time you hear it. And of course, the acid test of any chorus is how well it does in a pub or bar late in the evening and everyone is a little hammered and some skinny guy on acoustic guitar hauls out “Sweet Caroline” and everyone is just waiting to belt out that chorus and I guarantee you that the volume will perceptibly increase when they reach that line and everyone takes just a little credit for recognising how clever it is.

 

 

Sgt. Pepper Mashup (Art, pop and found poetry)

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Sgt. Pepper Mashup (a found poem)

Made passively tolerant by LSD, he was happy to sit back
endlessly recombining like some insoluble chemical compound
all he really wanted was the cyclic cloud drift of his verse.

The song never relinquishes this staccato dominant
played by Harrison on his Stratocaster with treble-heavy settings
making the most of McCartney’s rich ninth’s and elevenths –
a brilliantly whimsical expression of period burlesque.

It is impossible to conduct a revolution without picking a side
like a comic brass fob watch suspended from a floral waistcoat
objectivity is illusory and all creativity inescapably self –referential.

The track is whipped to a climax by a coruscating pseudo-Indian guitar solo.
Lennon grinned sardonically, as he walked past Aspinall,
requesting from Martin a sound like the end of the world.

 

I have always felt that found poetry is a form of theft. Yet, here I am with my first found poem. It all started with listening to the remastered copy of Sgt.Pepper, ( a vast improvement on the snap, crackle and pop of my old vinyl version) and in particular, the guitar solo in “Fixing a Hole”. Paul McCartney played lead guitar on a number of tracks on the album, but the style of playing on the solo sounded more like George Harrison. So, I consulted the bible – “Revolution in the Head”, by Ian MacDonald, a track by track analysis of 241 Beatle tracks and essential to any Beatles nerd. Yes, it is George’s solo!
I read a couple of other track analyses and found myself enjoying MacDonald’s writing style, a number of phrases jumped out from the page and the idea of a found poem formed. The result is the above poem. It has, believe it or not, a structure: each line is a direct quote from an analysis of an individual Sgt. Pepper track, and the lines are sequenced in the same order as the tracks appear on the album.
Buy Ian MacDonald’s book, you won’t be disappointed and I will feel better about stealing his stuff.

The subject over at dVerse is Pop Art, I can’t think of anything more pop art than Sgt. Pepper from the cover to the content (the Beatles turned pop into an art form) plus found poetry is a form of collage, so I thought I would link this one!

 

 

Lines randomly composed while listening to a band from the Maritimes in the Dubh Linn Gate Pub, Whistler, British Columbia

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Lines randomly composed while listening to a band from the Maritimes in the Dubh Linn Gate Pub, Whistler, British Columbia

Oh. the herring were running wild and fast
as we sailed out from St. John
and the cod were plump as Mary’s arse
on a Sunday morning after early mass
with sausages on the griddle, rashers in the pan
with a whack fol de diddle dairy oh
with a whack fol de diddle dan.

(my first and, hopefully, my last attempt at a seafaring song…a note to my readers:
please drink responsibly or you will end up writing rubbish like the above…)

Fracking Song

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Fracking Song

You’re standing on the corner
Watching the trucks roll past
Pumping out their diesel fumes
Pumping out that carbon gas

And it’s the middle of winter
And it’s twenty below
And that gas just sits there
With nowhere to go

There’s something wrong in the valley
Babies stillborn
Ten in one year
And they call that the norm

There’s something wrong in the valley
Poison in the ground
Something wrong in the valley
Since the frackers came to town.

 

The challenge over at dVerse is to write a poem consisting of 4 quatrains. This is a song lyric adapted to that form.

 

Listening to Carlos Santana in Kitsilano Gym (quadrille)

 

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Listening to Carlos Santana in Kitsilano Gym.

listening to Carlos Santana
in Kitsilano Gym,
his guitar solos
leading always
to that existential wail
on the top fret
above the cutaway
takes me back to Asbury Park
walking along the boardwalk
having watched Woodstock
my head an unsustainable mix
of idealism, hedonism.

 

This is a response to Quadrille #82 – Fretboard of Poetry, the prompt from Kim at dVerse, which is to use the word fret in a 44-word poem that does not require meter or rhyme.

 

Saturday Morning in Idabel (Sunday Morning Coming Down)

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Saturday Morning in Idabel

There’s a dead armadillo
On the side of the road
Empty beer can in his claws
That joke just never gets old

There’s a dog on the shoulder
Trying to bite his own tail
I’m in the motel parking lot
Watching that dog fail

And I can’t remember
When I ever felt this low
Saturday morning in Idabel
Saturday morning in Idabel
Saturday morning in Idabel
And I ain’t got no place to go.

Down at the Piggly Wiggly
There’s no one in the aisles
No one at the check-out counter
Hasn’t been for a while

There’s a big box store sitting
Out of town, someplace
People are moving towards it
Like it came from outer space

And I can’t remember
When I ever felt this low
Saturday morning in Idabel
Saturday morning in Idabel
Saturday morning in Idabel
And I ain’t got no place to go

And Cookie he is worried
His wife’s leg has turned black
He’s got a concealed weapon’s license
A shotgun and a rack

And he has no idea
How he’ll pay the hospital bill
He says: guns never hurt nobody
only people kill

And I can’t remember
When I ever felt this low
Saturday morning in Idabel
Saturday morning in Idabel
Saturday morning in Idabel
And I ain’t got no place to go

 

Amaya, over at dVerse has asked for a poem about or based on a song to which we have a strong emotional connection. The above piece is a song lyric I wrote thinking of Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down”. I used to travel in my work, and I got stuck in strange towns and cities on Sunday mornings quite a lot. Being away from my family was a depressing experience at times and Kris Kristofferson’s song lyrics resonated. On the upside, being stuck in Idabel, Oklahoma, generated a poem, and a song lyric which my friend, John Mitchell wrote music for, (I have previously posted about that process).

 

 

“On a Sunday morning sidewalk
I’m wishing, Lord, that I was stoned
‘Cause there’s something in a Sunday
That makes a body feel alone
And there’s nothin’ short of dyin’
That’s half as lonesome as the sound
Of the sleepin’ city sidewalk
And Sunday mornin’ comin’ down”

Little Richard (a quadrille)

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(the prompt from Kim over at dVerse is to write a quadrille -44 word poem- using the word “rich”)

Little Richard

Richard Penniman
Little Richard
not just any man
a pioneer of rock and roll
twelve bars and no holds barred
and all about that one thing:
Molly likes to ball
Sally has everything that Uncle John needs
Sue knows just what to do
a-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom.

 

 

 

Found Poetry – Theft or Tribute?(Sgt. Pepper Mashup )

IMG_0384

 

Sgt. Pepper Mashup 

Made passively tolerant by LSD, he was happy to sit back
endlessly recombining like some insoluble chemical compound
all he really wanted was the cyclic cloud drift of his verse.

The song never relinquishes this staccato dominant
played by Harrison on his Stratocaster with treble-heavy settings
making the most of McCartney’s rich ninth’s and elevenths –
a brilliantly whimsical expression of period burlesque.

It is impossible to conduct a revolution without picking a side
like a comic brass fob watch suspended from a floral waistcoat
objectivity is illusory and all creativity inescapably self –referential.

The track is whipped to a climax by a coruscating pseudo-Indian guitar solo.
Lennon grinned sardonically, as he walked past Aspinall,
requesting from Martin a sound like the end of the world.

 

I have always felt that found poetry is a form of theft. Yet, here I am with my first found poem. It all started with listening to the remastered copy of Sgt.Pepper, (issued last year, and a vast improvement on the snap, crackle and pop of my old vinyl version) and in particular, the guitar solo in “Fixing a Hole”. Paul McCartney played lead guitar on a number of tracks on the album, but the style of playing on the solo sounded more like George Harrison. So, I consulted the bible – “Revolution in the Head”, by Ian MacDonald, a track by track analysis of 241 Beatle tracks and essential to any Beatles nerd. The solo was Harrison’s.
I read a couple of other track analyses and found myself enjoying MacDonald’s writing style, a number of phrases jumped out from the page and the idea of a found poem formed. The result is the above poem. It has, believe it or not, a structure: each line is a direct quote from an analysis of an individual Sgt. Pepper track, and the lines are sequenced in the same order as the tracks appear on the album.
Buy Ian MacDonald’s book, you won’t be disappointed and I will feel better about stealing his stuff.

 

Having a Pint with Adele (and the meaning of post modern) (redux)

It’s open link night over at dverse and I thought I would link to this post. It’s not  a poem but it involves poetry and contains poems!

Having a Pint with Adele (and the meaning of post modern) 

It is late afternoon in The Post Coital Beetle and Slim and I are starting into our first pitcher of Blue Buck Ale, nachos have been ordered. On the television screen on the wall in front of us, a baseball player is attacking a dugout water cooler with his bat. The television is on mute. Adele emotes in the background.

It’s been a while since Slim and I have got together and although nothing has been said, I sense that he has a beef of some kind. Not that this is unusual, having a beef is Slim’s default mode, but at the moment he seems relaxed. He has just finished a three hour practice with his band “Bad Complexion”. Slim plays bass and does background vocals. The armpits of his faded Clash T shirt are wet with sweat and the T shirt has been washed so many times that it no longer fits, leaving a gap of bristly pink flesh above the belt of his jeans. The image of a pig’s cheek pops into my head.

He’s smiling.

“She’s really just an old-fashioned British pop singer, isn’t she?” He says.

“Who?”

“Adele, you know…somewhere between Lulu and Shirley Bassey.”

“I guess…she also has that girl next door thing”

“Exactly,” Slim says, “like Cilla Black.”

“That name brings to mind a small black and white television set”

“You could have a pint with Adele,” Slim says, wistfully, and we both fall silent thinking about sharing a pint with Adele.

The pub door opens and closes. Cold blast of January air. Skunky whiff of over-hopped ale. Or is that Slim’s armpit? The silence lingers a little too long.

“I’ve taken up cooking, I’ve become a devotee of Wolfgang Puck.”

Slim does an owl blink, I can almost hear his brain working.

“Who the fuck

is Wolfgang

Puck? And why

should I care?”

He intones smugly.

“You’re doing that 12 syllable slimverse thing again, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” he says, “and that reminds me, I have a bone to pick with you.”

Ahh, not a beef but a bone.

“Shoot”

“This lame-ass blog of yours, I thought it was supposed to be devoted to my poems, but lately it’s all your stuff and you’ve taken stories I’ve told you and used them for your poems and created this character called Slim”

“I’m being post-modern”

“What the fuck does that mean?”

“You know, there are many ways of knowing and many truths to a fact.

“Crystal clear then, how can anything be post-modern? ‘Modern’ means ‘of the present’ – ‘now’, the only possible way a work could be post-modern would be if it was written in the future, for that we will have to wait for the invention of time travel.”

He folds his arms, discussion over.

“You have a point. Anyway, you haven’t been giving me much to publish lately.”

“Ok, how about this one, it’s called ‘Rasta’:

It’s a fact

all Rastas

are born out

of dreadlock.”

“Amusing, but a bit thin, we need flesh on the bones, Slim, flesh on the bones. Besides, I’m not so sure about this slim verse thing.”

Slim drains his half full pint glass and refills it.

“Go on.” He says.

“Well, you know, the haiku has got a headlock on internet poetry and it has seventeen syllables to work with, that’s five more than a slimverse. Now I hear that someone in the north of England has come up with a new form – the ‘anchored terset’ which is essentially a three word/four line poem, the fourth line being a punctuation mark, for example:

Sky

Field

Cow

.

It’s a race towards nothingness.”

Slim drains his pint glass and leans forward, his finger poking in my direction.

“Here’s an anchored terset for you….

You

Fuck

Off

!”

He tries to storm out but because we are in a booth he has to slide along the bench seat, his stomach rubbing against the table’s edge. His T shirt rides up. At the same time the waitress arrives with a plate of nachos shaped like a volcano, a volcano spewing molten cheese lava. The waitress stares in horror at the sinkhole that is Slim’s navel. Slim shouts at the waitress:

“I thought I said ‘hold the jalapenos’!

We watch him leave, on his back Paul Simonon slams his Fender Precision Bass into the stage at The Palladium in New York city.

“He seems upset”, the waitress says, and I’m thinking:

I can’t see

the pulled pork,

she forgot

the pulled pork.

 

After all

that bother

she forgot

the pulled pork.

 

 

Reference:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2016/feb/04/a-brief-guide-anchored-terset-poetry

 

 

 

Driving Home with Leonard Cohen (4)…Poem

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Driving Home with Leonard Cohen

Despite what he says
not everybody knows,
not everybody knows
like Leonard knows.
Not everybody knows
that the best songs
are about loss,
endings,
so long,
ways to say goodbye,
closing time,
and that age
can be laughed about
but not at,
if I had a hat
I would raise it to Mr.Cohen
perched up there alone
in his tower of song.

 

I have posted this a few times before, but since this week is turning into music week at stopdraggingthepanda, I thought I would give it another outing

A note on the genius of Leonard Cohen:

Below is the first verse of “Suzanne”. Notice how he doesn’t hit a conventional rhyme until the chorus where he rhymes ‘blind’ and ‘mind’ and creates a tension and release which runs through the whole song (he repeats that pattern in the next 2 verses). 

“Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river
You can hear the boats go by, you can spend the night forever
And you know that she’s half-crazy but that’s why you want to be there
And she feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China
And just when you mean to tell her that you have no love to give her
Then she gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer that you’ve always been her lover
And you want to travel with her, and you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For you’ve touched her perfect body with your mind”

Participating in OpenLink Night over at dVerse.

 

Free Jazz 2 (of ruba’i and rubaiyats)

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Free Jazz 2

The saxophonist taps his foot
the trumpet player palms his mute
they sound like elephants mating
when they play free, when they play loose.

The drummer puts on his jazz face
eyes closed in ecstasy, lips pursed,
they dance on the edge of chaos
when they blow free, when they play loose.

 

So this another entry in response to the dVerse challenge to write a ruba’i or rubaiyat. For a description of the form , check out Frank Hubeny’s post here.

The two quatrains (which makes it a rubaiyat) have an AABA CCDC rhyming scheme, although I have avoided straight rhymes and relied on some sonic connection between the end words.

After a month of sonnets and now this, I’m getting a bit rhymed out. I’ve also been working on shoehorning another song lyric into sonnet form on the basis that sonnet means “little song”. It’s not working. I think it’s time to return to the relative chaos of free verse.

 

 

Listening to U2 in Kitsilano Gym (Poem)

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The Edge

the Edge is a painter
he’s all about the brush strokes
a splash of metal here
a splash of funk there
an acoustic wash
a chopped abstract rhythm
on top of bass and drums
yes he can make it
cry or sing
but that’s not his thing
that’s not his thing
and if a one note solo is enough
a one note solo is enough.

Savannah (a sonnet)

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Savannah

Rotund tourists wander the street below
drinking lukewarm beer out of plastic cups
and watching the Savannah river flow,
and Chuck’s in a corner playing guitar
for the plaid shorts and polo shirts, standing
in all their pastel glory at the bar.
Karla is on her fourth mojito, and
trying hard to catch his eye, as he segues
from Kentucky Woman to Fire and Rain;
joining the chorus , she stands on her chair
chugs back the remains of her mojito
and drunkenly punches the empty air.
Time, time is a disappearing muse
in time, in time, you feel every wound.

 

I’m participating in the month long sonnet challenge over at dVerse. This is my second attempt, the first can be found here. This one has an ABACDCEFEGG rhyming scheme. I wrote it after reading Jilly’s excellent dVerse post on enjambment.

The poem revisits content from two poems that were published in Cyphers magazine and a song lyric I wrote. The song lyric had a different rhyme scheme, shorter lines, a chorus, and of course more room to play (there’s always room for an extra verse).

Not sure how well this works, but it was fun trying.

 

Heavy Metal Heaven (Edit)

 

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Heavy Metal Heaven

Slim plugs in his guitar
sets the dial on his amp
to “heavy metal”
hits an E minor seven
walks out of the room
makes a cup of coffee
drinks a cup of coffee
checks the football results
texts his brother in England:
what’s up, mate?
his brother doesn’t answer
he starts writing a novel:
The sun –
a red ball of anger on the horizon –
shouts through the brown chemical haze:
“that’s it, I’m outta here”.
Then, and only then, they hear a baby cry.
That’s all he’s got
He returns to the room
that E minor seven
is still going
but faint now
like a rustle of paper
like the distant chatter
of dead drummers
in heavy metal heaven
he picks up his guitar
hits an A minor seven
walks out of the room
starts his taxes……

 

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taking part in Open Link Night over at dVerse

Four Lines That Kill Me Every Time (1)

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There’s flies in the kitchen I can hear ’em there buzzing
And I ain’t done nothing since I woke up today.
How the hell can a person go to work in the morning
And come home in the evening and have nothing to say.”

This is from “Angel from Montgomery” by John Prine……a life in 4 lines, says more than some novels.
There are many versions of this song but one of the best is by Bonnie Raitt and John Prine.

 

Heavy Metal Heaven

 

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Heavy Metal Heaven

Slim plugs in his guitar
sets the dial on his amp
to “heavy metal”
hits an E minor seven
walks out of the room
makes a cup of coffee
drinks a cup of coffee
checks the football results
texts his brother in England:
what’s up, mate?
his brother doesn’t answer
he starts writing a novel:
The sun –
a red ball of anger on the horizon –
shouts through the brown chemical haze:
“that’s it, I’m outta here”.
Then, and only then, they hear a baby cry.
That’s all he’s got
He returns to the room
that E minor seven
is still going
but faint now
like a rustle of paper
like the distant chatter
of dead drummers
in heavy metal heaven
he picks up his guitar
hits an A minor seven
walks out of the room
starts his taxes……

 

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taking part in Open Link Night over at dVerse

Found Poetry – Theft or Tribute?(Sgt. Pepper Mashup )

IMG_0384

 

Sgt. Pepper Mashup 

Made passively tolerant by LSD, he was happy to sit back
endlessly recombining like some insoluble chemical compound
all he really wanted was the cyclic cloud drift of his verse.

The song never relinquishes this staccato dominant
played by Harrison on his Stratocaster with treble-heavy settings
making the most of McCartney’s rich ninth’s and elevenths –
a brilliantly whimsical expression of period burlesque.

It is impossible to conduct a revolution without picking a side
like a comic brass fob watch suspended from a floral waistcoat
objectivity is illusory and all creativity inescapably self –referential.

The track is whipped to a climax by a coruscating pseudo-Indian guitar solo.
Lennon grinned sardonically, as he walked past Aspinall,
requesting from Martin a sound like the end of the world.

 

I have always felt that found poetry is a form of theft. Yet, here I am with my first found poem. It all started with listening to the remastered copy of Sgt.Pepper, (issued last year, and a vast improvement on the snap, crackle and pop of my old vinyl version) and in particular, the guitar solo in “Fixing a Hole”. Paul McCartney played lead guitar on a number of tracks on the album, but the style of playing on the solo sounded more like George Harrison. So, I consulted the bible – “Revolution in the Head”, by Ian MacDonald, a track by track analysis of 241 Beatle tracks and essential to any Beatles nerd. The solo was Harrison’s.
I read a couple of other track analyses and found myself enjoying MacDonald’s writing style, a number of phrases jumped out from the page and the idea of a found poem formed. The result is the above poem. It has, believe it or not, a structure: each line is a direct quote from an analysis of an individual Sgt. Pepper track, and the lines are sequenced in the same order as the tracks appear on the album.
Buy Ian MacDonald’s book, you won’t be disappointed and I will feel better about stealing his stuff.

 

Driving Home with Leonard Cohen (3)

Driving Home with Leonard Cohen

Despite what he says

not everybody knows,

not everybody knows

like Leonard knows.

Not everybody knows

that the best songs

are about loss,

endings,

so long,

ways to say goodbye

closing time,

and that age

can be laughed about

but not at,

if I had a hat

I would raise it to Mr.Cohen

perched up there alone

in his tower of song.

 

I have posted this a few times before, but since today’s the anniversary of Leonard Cohen’s death I thought I would give it another outing.

A note on the genius of Leonard Cohen:

Below is the first verse of “Suzanne”. Notice how he doesn’t hit a conventional rhyme until the chorus where he rhymes ‘blind’ and ‘mind’. He repeats that pattern in the next 2 verses.

“Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river
You can hear the boats go by, you can spend the night forever
And you know that she’s half-crazy but that’s why you want to be there
And she feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China
And just when you mean to tell her that you have no love to give her
Then she gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer that you’ve always been her lover
And you want to travel with her, and you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For you’ve touched her perfect body with your mind”

 

What I Did The Day Gord Downie Died.

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Now I lie here so out of breath
And over –opiated
Maybe I couldn’t catch up no but
Maybe he could have waited

Opiated….The Tragically Hip

This is the song I went looking for, the day Gord Downie died. I couldn’t remember the title, all I had was the phrase “over-opiated” which had been stuck in my head for years. Why? I don’t really know but maybe it was the triple iamb and the repeated ‘o’? Unlike a lot of The Tragically Hip’s music, this song was never in heavy rotation on Canadian radio, but I knew the song that contained the phrase was on the album ‘Up to Here’ and I knew I had a cassette tape of that album which I had bought back in 1990.
That was the era of the cassette tape and over the years, as tapes became extinct and compact discs, then streaming, took over, I stop listening to the album. So on the day Gord Downie died I found myself looking everywhere for it, eventually finding it in the storage space between the front seats of my red 98 Ford Taurus station wagon. There was some serendipity to this, because the only tape deck I have left is in the Taurus station wagon. A cassette and a Taurus sound system – not exactly high fidelity, but then the Hip were never really about high fidelity; put the vocal and drums on top of the mix and let the rest take care of itself. Besides, the sound system isn’t bad. There are 4 speakers , 2 front, 2 back, and if you switch everything to the 2 rear speakers and the bed of the station wagon is empty, the sound is actually pretty good, good enough for a bar band with 2 guitar players that sound like Keith Richards and Ron Wood but not as sloppy. I don’t normally drive the Taurus except occasionally to take stuff to the dump, but on the day Gord Downie died, I drove it around Vancouver all day listening to “Up to Here”. Yes, I was one of those guys you see in a parked car with the windows closed, beating time on the steering wheel.

And it struck me what a good rock lyricist Gord Downie is. Much has been made of his talent as a poet, and he is a talented poet, but writing lyrics for rock music is a different skill. For me, both rock and blues are all about the set up and the punchline. Take this for example:

“You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog
Cryin’ all the time
You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog
Cryin’ all the time
Well, you ain’t never caught a rabbit
and you ain’t no friend of mine”

….Leiber and Stoller

Simple maybe, but deceptively hard to do well. Here’s Gord Downie from Boots or Hearts:

Fingers and toes, fingers and toes
Forty things we share
Forty one if you include
The fact that we don’t care”

Or this from the same song:

“I feel I’ve stepped out of the wilderness
All squint-eyed and confused
But even babies raised by wolves
They know exactly when they’ve been used”

In fact, I could quote the whole song, because for me it’s as close as anyone has come to a perfect lyric. Or how about this from “New Orleans Is Sinking””

“Ain’t got no picture postcards,
ain’t got no souvenirs
my baby, she don’t know me
when I’m thinking ’bout those years”

But Downie is also at heart a folk singer, a teller of tales. “38 years old” is about a guy serving time for avenging the rape of his sister; the story is told from the view point of his younger brother. I don’t think there’s a more devastating chorus than this one, anywhere in popular music:

“Same pattern on the table, same clock on the wall
Been one seat empty, eighteen years in all
Freezing slow time, away from the world
He’s thirty-eight years old, never kissed a girl
He’s thirty-eight years old, never kissed a girl”

Not all song lyrics look good on paper and Downie is an idiosyncratic singer who stretches and bends words to fit the song, but here’s a few more random samples from the album:

“In my dreams, a candy coated train comes to my door”

“Pumping hands and kissing all the babies
Ain’t no time for shadowed doubts or maybes”

“Pulled down his birthday suitcase
Brown with dust from no place
Said, “I think it’s time we made a start”
They danced the waltz of charity
No car garage, two kids for free
They were pissing bliss and playing parts”

“Up to Here” was the Hip’s first album, they want on to make many more, to become Canadian icons. Downie even wrote songs about hockey. When he died he was eulogised by a tearful Justin Trudeau and Canadian radio played Hip songs all day long. All deserved of course. Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Gord Downie – not a bad list to be part of. But Downie, was different. The rest of those artists came out of the folk music tradition, but Downie’s genre, modus operandi was bar band rock and his genius was that he succeeded in blending poetry with bar band rock. Just scroll  back up and read that last verse, a short story in six lines. Rave on Gord. Now take a listen.

 

What The Folk! – the 40th Annual Vancouver Folk Festival

 

Great weekend at the Vancouver Folk Festival, highlights for me were Rhiannon Giddens, Bahamas and The Revivalists plus three young British folk singers (more about that later).

I was particularly interested this time around in hearing the response of the folk music world to the current political climate in the USA, Britain, to climate change, to the refugee crisis. This was all touched upon in a workshop I attended on the Friday afternoon which was led by Billy Bragg. The theme was “Working Class Heroes”; Rhiannon Giddens and Grace Petrie were part of the group of five singers on stage. I saw both of them give better performances later in the festival, here they seem constrained by the downbeat atmosphere. The song introductions, although heartfelt and eloquent, went on way too long;  Pete Seeger’s name was dropped more times than an egg at a drunken egg and spoon race. Later in the evening, Billy Bragg sang “There’s Power in the Union” and a song about climate change which was essentially a rewrite of “The Times they are a Changin’”. On another night, Shawn Colvin sang a beautiful version of Paul Simon’s “American Tune”. It all felt a bit nostalgic, the established singers seemed to be creatively chewing on a bone when it came to addressing today’s issues, to be looking back to former struggles for inspiration.

However, in the afternoon of day 2, I attended a workshop called “Keep Calm and Carry On” (which was a poster produced by the British government in 1939), and I found what I was looking for – folk music as a living organism. The performers – Jake Morley, Will Varley and Grace Petrie, all English – were anything but calm, “stay angry and carry on” would have been a better description. Of course it’s not enough to be angry, an artist has to make his/her anger interesting and that they did. They were all in their own way, original, talented song writers – witty, profane, poetic, self-deprecating (they are English after all). Grace Petrie is more punk in her approach, has a gift for word play and knows how to write a chorus; Will Varley manages to be Dylanesque, but be his own man at the same time – a poet with a bullhorn voice; Jake Morley writes more complex songs, has a gift for melody and is a percussive, propulsive guitar player who reminds me a little bit of Cat Stevens with his off kilter rhythm. But most of all, they were very funny and had none of that smug, preaching to the choir earnestness that sometimes plagues folk music. Check out Grace Petrie below:

 

 

And here’s a reprise of a poem, I post every year at this time.

Slim at the Vancouver Folk Festival

One hour into the folk festival

and a mellow, minor key, melancholy

is seeping into Slim’s bones,

he feels it like an arthritic ache

and he wishes that someone

would duck walk across the stage

shooting staccato bursts of distorted guitar

at the chill, Tilley clad audience

who, unlike Slim, have a default mode

other than anger.

 

 

 

Eroica

 

IMG_0911 (2)

 

Our resident poet, Slim Volume, and I sit down once a week for a classical music appreciation session. As our guide, we are using a book called “The Vintage Guide to Classical Music”, by Jan Swafford. This is an excellent reference book. It contains explanations of various musical terms, essays on the significant classical composers and a “best of” list for each composer. This led me to what Jan Swafford describes as possibly the greatest of the nine Beethoven symphonies, Symphony No.3 .

The symphony was originally dedicated to Napolean Bonaparte but Beethoven changed the name to “Sinfonia Eroica” or “Heroic Symphony” when he became disillusioned with his hero.

The first movement clocks in at seventeen minutes and is described by Swafford as an “indefatigable outpouring of dramatic intensity”. At the end of the movement, I paused the recording. Slim was staring straight ahead in what appeared to be a catatonic state.

“So, Slim”, I said, “what did you think of the first movement?”

He blinked once like a dishevelled owl and replied: “It sounds to me like there’s this man wearing big boots and he’s stamping around a large dimly lit house. In the house are rooms where violinists and flautists are playing. The man with the big boots occasionally opens the door to one of these rooms, but quickly gets bored listening to the violinists and flautists. He signals this by slamming the door repeatedly.”

We obviously have some distance to travel.

 

Rhymin’ (Neil) Diamond – the Good, the Bad and the Internal

The great Paul Simon once said: “I’d rather be a llama than a whale”. Ok, maybe he didn’t but perhaps he should have. Anyway, this is not about rhymin’ Simon, this is about rhymin’ Diamond who once said:

I am, I said

To no one there

And no one heard at all

Not even the chair

Implying that, in a room containing inanimate objects, the object most likely to reply would be a chair. But all smart ass carping aside, that chair is important, not just because it rhymes with “there”. The chair suggests that Neil is in a room, and there is only one chair (“the chair”), so Neil is most likely lying on a bed and of course he is alone, so alone that he has resorted to talking to the furniture. Without the chair, he could be anywhere, it becomes the focus of his existential crisis. This is a “pop song”,  grab the attention of the audience or they are gone and it has to look easy and that’s hard and he does it through that one detail, the chair.

It has to be said that Neil is perhaps not at the same level as Paul Simon when it comes to poetic, sophisticated lyrics, but he has his moments. Take the first verse of “ Cracklin’ Rosie”:

“Aw, Cracklin’ Rosie, get on board

   We’re gonna ride

   Till there ain’t no more to go

   Taking it slow

   And Lord, don’t you know

   We’ll have me a time with a poor man’s lady

There’s that internal rhyme happening – board, more, Lord, poor -and all those ‘O’s’, fifteen in total! And the assonance in the chorus of

“Cracklin’ Rose,

You’re a store-bought woman”

It goes a bit downhill after that – “you make me sing like a guitar hummin’” – hummin’ and woman – ouch!

But, for my money, Neil’s finest moment when it comes to writing lyrics is in “Sweet Caroline”. The song, admittedly, is not without some absolute groaners:

“Where it began,

I can’t begin to knowin’”

And that’s the first two lines.

Even the chorus, which contains that finest moment is a syntactical nightmare:

Sweet Caroline

Good times never seemed so good

I’ve been inclined,

To believe they never would

Oh, no, no

I have wrestled with this for some time and the best I can come up with is this: ”I’ve been inclined to believe that good times never would never seem so good”. Think about that too long and I guarantee that steam will come out of your ears. But it doesn’t matter, because all that matters is that rhyme between “Sweet Caroline” and “I’ve been inclined”. He could have gone for “fine”, “wine”, “mine” etc but there is something about “inclined” that is so unexpected, so colloquial, so conversational. It surprises every time you hear it. And of course, the acid test of any chorus is how well it does in a pub or bar late in the evening and everyone is a little hammered and some skinny guy on acoustic guitar hauls out “Sweet Caroline” and everyone is just waiting to belt out that chorus and I guarantee you that the volume will perceptibly increase when they reach that line and everyone takes just a little credit for recognising just how clever it is.