December 14, 2008

Betrayal Is A Thorny Crown

Prior evidence to the contrary, I have never really had a passion for poetry. I like the romantic poets, especially Keats, but even with them I am only attracted to a few of their most famous works. The bulk of their poems I find inaccessible. When I write my own poetry, it is more as an exercise in language than any deep attachment to the process.

What I do enjoy are epic poems by Homer and Dante and Milton, as well as the verse of Shakespeare's plays. Even when the language is dense and dated, if the writing is driven by character or story, that makes all the difference for me.

Maybe I have not been looking in the right place, but modern poetry has never drawn much interest from me. I am open to suggestions if anyone has some poetry they especially want to share with me. Until now, though, I have been entirely underwhelmed by even the most famous poets of the last century.

Except for songwriters. My favorite poetry all comes from music. Perhaps it is an unfair advantage, because being able to combine lyrics with music obviously provides for more of an emotional impact. Someone like Michael Stipe or Kurt Cobain can write nonsensical, even unintelligible, lyrics, but you marry it to the right tune, and you get magic. It will bore its way into your soul.

Yet somehow I believe that with the best songwriters--Elvis Costello, Lou Reed, Liz Phair--their lyrics transcend the music and work just as well by themselves. All my favorite songs are based on the words much more than the music.

Just recently, I have become deeply entranced by the music of Jenny Lewis. She is the lead singer for Rilo Kiley, but she has also put out a couple solo albums. She's a supreme story teller, and able to capture an emotion with just a few lines. Her song Rabbit Furcoat feels like a four minute feature length movie.

From the song "Melt Your Heart":
When you're kissing someone who's too much like you
It's like kissing on a mirror
When you're sleeping with someone who doesn't get you
You're gonna hate yourself in the morning

It's bound to melt your heart
One way or another
It's bound to melt your heart
For good or for bad
It's like a valentine
From your mother
It's bound to melt your heart
From the song "The Absence Of God":
And you're not happy but you're funny and I'm tripping over my joy
But I just keep on getting up again
We could be daytime drunks if we wanted
We'd never get anything done that way baby
And we'd still be ruled by our dueling perspectives
And I'm not my perspective
Or the lies I'll tell you every time
From the song "You Are What You Love":
I'm fraudulent, a thief at best
A coward who paints a bullshit canvas
Things that will never happen to me
But at arms length, it's Tim who said
I'm good at it, I've mastered it
Avoiding, avoiding everything
And from what I am convinced is the happiest break up song of all time, "Breakin' Up":
It's not as if New York City
burnt down to the ground
once you drove away
It's not as if the sun won't shine
when clouds up above
wash the blues away
The truth is, I do not know that much about Rilo Kiley and Jenny Lewis, other than how fantastic their music is. I do know that other members of Rilo Kiley have their own side project called the Elected, so perhaps Jenny Lewis is not responsible for all the lyrics. But I am not going to take the time to look up all the liner notes myself. I will instead just recommend all of you to take a listen for yourselves. Just make sure you pay attention to the lyrics.

Lyric of the Day:
Betrayal is a thorny crown
you wear it well
just like a king
revenge is the saddest thing
honey, i'm afraid to say
you deserve everything

-Breakin' Up
Rilo Kiley


The Good Doctor said...

As a follow up, it has just come to my attention, thanks to the new Jenny Lewis album I am right now listening to for the first time, that she and Elvis Costello have a new song together. I've noticed that great song writers can't help but end up collaborating with each other. Watch them perform together on David Letterman:

The Tao said...

1. Billy Collins: Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems - ALL his books are worth reading, especially the early ones, but this book is a good place to start.

2. Virgina Hamilton Adair: any of her three collections - she wrote most of her poems when she was old and blind, and the simplicity of her verses belies an incredible depth of wisdom and experience.

3. David Ignatow: Leaving the Door Open - the most perfect poems about loneliness.

4. Thomas Lux: The Cradle Place - it's been said that the future of modern poetry may depend on Lux. Don't know about that, but he's one of my favorites.

I can let you borrow some of these, but be forewarned: you may want to own 'em.

The Good Doctor said...

do they come with a sound track?