Tag Archives: Paul Simon

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.

Me and Julio – a Quick Thought on Writing Poetry

When I first started writing poetry, I had really no idea how to do it (I’m still not totally sure). We had covered poetry in high school (or secondary school as it’s called in Ireland), mostly the works of English poets like Wordsworth, Keats and Shelley and a bit of Yeats, but after high school  most of my exposure was through reading anthologies or Irish poets like Heaney, Muldoon, Durcan.

So when I started writing, my only technique was to try out lines and see how they sounded and this is pretty much how I write today, although occasionally I will switch to a form as a way of compressing the language. Lately. I have been looking more closely, but always in retrospect, at why a particular line works and another doesn’t.

Recently, I saw in the newspaper, an obituary for Daniel Berrigan, the activist priest, who was a controversial figure in the late sixties and early seventies and at one time spent time in prison for burning draft records in a protest. I  immediately thought of a line from a Paul Simon song “Me and Julio down by the Schoolyard”. Initially, I remembered the line as “when the activist priest came to get us released/ we were all on the cover of Newsweek”, but that didn’t sound right. Then, I realized that it was “radical priest” not “activist priest”. Why does that sound better? Music, the ‘r’ in ‘radical’ is repeated in both ‘priest’ and ‘released’; the ‘d’ and ‘l’ in ‘radical are repeated in ‘released’. Without music, it’s prose!

(By the way, Berrigan is the priest that Paul Simon is referring to in the song.)

Flip, Flip and Fly – the Crazy world of Vancouver Real estate

The great Paul Simon once said “I’ve got some real estate here in my bag”. Yep, I had to go that far back to find a real estate reference in a poem or song. I’ll get back to poetry and real estate later in this post but in the meantime check out this excellent piece of investigative journalism which appeared in last Saturday’s Globe and Mail: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/investigations/the-real-estate-technique-fuelling-vancouvers-housing-market/article28634868/.

It paints a depressing picture of opportunism and greed, it reminded me in a lot of ways of the movie “The Big Short”. In particular, this quote from one realtor, a Mr. Wang:

“I have multiple properties and an annual income 10 times higher than the average Canadian. I am making more money than multiple doctors” .

To quote “The Big Short”: “he’s not confessing, he’s bragging”.

I live in the area at the epicentre of the bidding wars described in the article and every weekend I see real estate agents in white BMW SUV’s cruising up and down the road with prospective clients. As a result, a siege mentality has developed among people like me who want to stay in the neighbourhood and have no intention of selling (my next door neighbour has put a sign on her door saying “I am not selling my house”). There is also a lot of anger (justified or not) in the community at the destruction of perfectly good houses, some of which have been around since the 1920’s, and their replacement with larger, lot filling “monster houses” which are then rented or left to stand empty waiting for the price to rise.

So I thought, is there a poem in all of this? I looked at parody – “I’ve got some real estate flyers here in my bag”, “pave paradise, put up a monster house”- but I couldn’t get beyond one or two lines. Then I looked at the pile of flyers from real estate agents that drop through by letter box on a daily basis and I thought “found poetry”! Maybe I could string the names of all the real estate agents together and form a poem. I immediately hit a problem. Way back in time, I read an interview with Eric Burdon of the Animals about a song called “Gonna send you back to Walker”. It was the B-side of “House of the Rising Sun” and was originally called, I believe, “Gonna send you back to Georgia”, but Eric thought it would be amusing to substitute an English place name. In the interview, he explained that it was difficult to write rock or R&B songs using English place names because most of the names were just not musical. I can see his point, “Sweet Home Derbyshire”, “Derbyshire on my Mind” wouldn’t work – those parsimonious slender vowels “e” and “i” compressing the middle of the word into that unmusical ”ysh”. “Alabama” on the other hand, now that’s a big loud word – all those “a’s” and that big “bam” in the middle.

Well, looking at my list of real estate agents, about half of the names were Anglo Saxon or Scottish and what can be done with “MacDonald”? He had a farm, end of story, or maybe he sold the farm, either way I was going nowhere. The names of the Chinese real estate agents offered more possibilities – one syllable, a lot ending in the same two consonants “ng”, easier to rhyme. There were two “Zhangs” on the list, so I thought – “more Zhang for your buck”- but that raised the spectre of racism that has been hanging over the whole issue like a giant red herring (mix that metaphor!). So it was all getting a bit fraught and mean-spirited and perhaps most of these real estate agents were just decent people following the first rule of capitalism – make hay while the sun shines.

So, no poem,

but maybe down the road

when the wrecking ball hits the house next door,

or the house across the back lane,

or the house across the road

and another load of old timber, gyproc and memories

is scooped into a giant tote

and trucked off to the land fill

maybe then there will be a poem

and a sad poem it will be.

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”, one has to 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 recognizing just how clever it is.