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Category Archives: song

bluegrass blues


It’s Monday night, October 3, 2011. The bluegrass band at Amnesia, Random Canyon Growlers, opens with a song about feeling sad and lonely. The lead singer looks right at me. I have had two Amnesiac cosmos at this point so I can’t be sure and I am probably not the only one here connecting to the song.

Welcome to the lounge culture of The Mission, a tradition that can pull you out of you’re misery without your permission.

The narrative structure of the lyrics is compelling. I hear the words clearly and watch the band members from a vantage point of a few feet. I hear the waving in and out of the stand up base, the mandolin, the guitar, and the banjo. The music lulls me out of my slightly sad mood as I easily devote myself to the bluegrass sounds.

Later, the music changes tempo. Some people dance on the small floor in front of the musicians. I move in place in my corner of the “dance” floor.

After a while, the sound becomes too repetitive. I have an early meeting on Tuesday morning. I walk away with a tiny smile curling around my lips.

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2011 in bluegrass, listening, lyrics, song

 

Writing to rap, out loud


When I write poetry, I don’t need to consider the power of my vocal chords. For rap, however, this is a key element. I need to be able to use my voice as an instrument. I don’t have to be an accomplished singer but I do need to breathe properly and enunciate my words concisely. I need to consider these factors even as I write the song.

For the rap that’s due on July 10th for my poetry group, I have an idea for a song. I have written the chorus and about four lines. I read the words out loud. Then, I write one of sentences in the chorus twice because it sounds better that way. In a poem, however, I rarely repeat a sentence. I haven’t moved beyond the chorus and the four lines yet because I’m still getting accustomed to rhyming and rapping.

Another option that I’m considering is to convert an existing poem into a rap song. This is even more challenging. My poem is in free verse and the first two words of my poem are translating to two sentences of hip-hop and the sentences don’t even rhyme!

This is turning out to be more difficult than I had anticipated. It’s my first time. So, I’m not sweating it too much… instead I’m listening to some experts for inspiration.

 

I like to rhyme, I like my beats funky…


:
I like to rhyme,I like my beats funky,
I’m spunky. I like my oatmeal lumpy.
I’m sick wit dis, straight gangsta mack
But sometimes I get ridiculous
I’ll eat up all your crackers and your licorice
Hey yo fat girl, c’mere – are ya ticklish?
:

Digital Underground’s “Humpty Dance” was my introduction to rap but, somehow, I lost my connection to the hip-hip scene after that… maybe it was the massive infusion of violence and misogyny into the lyrics, maybe it was just bad publicity about rap…a recent NPR pledge drive featuring a rap song drew my attention back to the hip-hop beats and to the rhymes. Then the April National Poetry Month brought rap to my full consideration when I wrote abut the last of the rhyming poets.

In the next few articles in my blog, I will explore rap in terms of content, flow, writing, and delivery.

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2011 in dance, lyrics, poetry, rap, song

 

the last of the rhyming poets: rap music


Is it possible that a rapper might someday be a poet laureate?

Billy Collins, 2001-2003 Poet Laureate, writers free verse. Charles Simic, 2007-2008 Poet Laureate, writes poetry in prose. The modern form of poetry is no longer limited to the confines of rhyming. Rap music, however, is rooted in rhymes. It straddles the border between poetry and song because the words are often spoken rather than sung and flow with the metaphors and similes that are foundations of good poems.

Whether rap touches the heart of the high-art poetry scene or not, it has revived the rhyming scheme. For example, literary scholar Adam Bradley examines the art of rap in the Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop, a teacher uses rap to teach poetry in schools, a website devoted to hip-hop in the classroom looks at examples of metaphors and similes in rap.

“Rap is a river. Poetry is the ocean,” says a poet in this video as he sums up the relationship between poetry and rap.


 
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Posted by on May 5, 2011 in art, lyrics, poetry, rap, song

 

If the doors of perception were cleansed…


“Listen, real poetry doesn’t say anything; it just ticks off the possibilities. Opens all doors. You can walk through anyone that suits you,” said Jim Morrison. The layers of meaning in Morrison’s poetic song lyrics have been examined for almost four decades. Many of the analysis attempt a literal interpretation and some open “all doors” and “walk through anyone that suits” them.

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite,” said poet  William Blake. This inspired the writer Aldous Huxley’s book title The Doors of Perception which in turn led Jim Morrison to name his band The Doors.

Morrison died under mysterious circumstances at the age of twenty-seven and the doors to his personality and his lyrics (and even to the cause of his death) continue to be opened four decades later. I’m mostly interested in Jim Morrison, the poet. So, I’ve initiated this journey of discovery by looking at what he had to say about himself as an artist and about poetry.

“I see myself as an intelligent, sensitive human, with the soul of a clown which forces me to blow it at the most important moments,” are lines that resonate with me and provide a glimpse into who he was. As an artist myself, I also understand his philosophy “If my poetry aims to achieve anything, it’s to deliver people from the limited ways in which they see and feel. I like people who shake other people up and make them feel uncomfortable.”

I don’t know what I’ll find as I open more doors to Morrison and to his poetry but it promises to be an adventure.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2011 in 60s music, art, lyrics, poetry, song, sound

 

It’s just the wasted years so close behind…


The melancholy in Lou Reed’s Sunday Morning is accentuated by the melody and the mellow sounds of the instruments, which include ringing of bells.

Reed’s lyrical style was informed by the French poet Charles Baudelaire, the Beat Generation writers, and many other poets. As I see it, this poem is transformed into a song simply by the repetition of a few lines, the tone of voice, and the inclusion of a few musical sounds. The lyrics retain the emotional textures that the poem lays out for examination.

Sunday morning, praise the dawning
It’s just a restless feeling by my side
Early dawning, Sunday morning
It’s just the wasted years so close behind
Watch out, the world’s behind you
There’s always someone around you who will call
It’s nothing at all
Sunday morning and I’m falling
I’ve got a feeling I don’t want to know
Early dawning, Sunday morning
It’s all the streets you crossed, not so long ago
Watch out, the world’s behind you
There’s always someone around you who will call
It’s nothing at all
Watch out, the world’s behind you
There’s always someone around you who will call
It’s nothing at all
Sunday morning
Sunday morning
Sunday morning

When I first came across Reed’s band Velvet Underground, in the 80s, I thought of them as an art-punk sound. I’ve heard various classifications since then, ranging from rock to punk to avant-garde (the band’s manager was Andy Warhol). Regardless of how he might be categorized, one thing is certain. Lou Reed’s songs are an artful combination of poetry and experimental sound that influenced many future generation of poets. “The nature of [Reed’s] lyric writing had been hitherto unknown in rock…he supplied us with the street and the landscape, and we peopled it,” David Bowie.

 

Tom’s Diner


In the 80s Suzanne Vega’s Tom’s Diner was a popular song. Except that it was more of a poem than a song. The only instrument she uses is her voice and she doesn’t exactly “sing” but narrates a story via the poem. She doesn’t “read” the poem either. Her voice blurs the line between singing and reciting.

So, unknowingly, millions of people heard and appreciated a poem while they thought they were listening to a song.

The world is overflowing with song and music. Yet, poetry remains a mystery to many and has not entered the popular conscience in the United States.

Since April is national poetry month, I am exploring the boundaries between poetry and music.

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2011 in 80s Alternative, poetry, song