Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Music as Poetry

I've been toying with the idea of making an occasional entry in this blog about music as poetry. Trust me, I have plenty of idea-toying time to spare. 

It's long been my theory that some of the greatest poets the world has known since the days of Shakespeare are men and women writing rock songs, pop standards and country music.  

Image result for chuck berryWhat I'm saying is, if we READ a song as opposed to LISTENING to it, by taking away the music, we are still left with great poems in many cases.  And although this does not apply to all songs ("Sussudio" and "You're Beautiful" bob to the surface of that list), if you take time to read the lyrics, you'll see pretty remarkable poetry right in front of your eyes.

We recently marked the death of Chuck Berry by playing a lot of his old songs. The man had an interesting life, and even though his guitar playing ranked in the Top 10 of any list, and his singing was fine, and the melodies top-notch, I am always amazed at his words. Take "Promised Land," the story of a rock star's cross country trip:
I left my home in Norfolk Virginia
California on my mind
I straddled that Greyhound,
and rode him into Raleigh and all across Caroline
We stopped in Charlotte and bypassed Rock Hill
Never was a minute late
We was ninety miles out of Atlanta by sundown
Rollin' out of Georgia state
We had motor trouble that turned into a struggle,
Half way 'cross Alabam
And that 'hound broke down and left us all stranded
In downtown Birmingham
Right away, I bought me a through train ticket
Ridin' cross Mississippi clean
And I was on that midnight flier out of Birmingham
Smoking into New Orleans
Somebody help me get out of Louisiana
Just help me get to Houston town
There are people there who care a little 'bout me
And they won't let the poor boy down
Sure as you're born, they bought me a silk suit
Put luggage in my hands,
And I woke up high over Albuquerque
On a jet to the promised land
Workin' on a T-bone steak a la carte
Flying over to the Golden State
When The pilot told us in thirteen minutes
He would set us at the terminal gate
Swing low chariot, come down easy
Taxi to the terminal zone
Cut your engines, cool your wings
And let me make it to the telephone
Los Angeles give me Norfolk Virginia
Tidewater four ten O nine
Tell the folks back home this is the promised land callin'
And the poor boy's on the line
(Listen to the song here)

Here's another one that showed Chuck's ability to write about the real people of this world - in this case, the story of a young married couple.  Would they make it?  Well, "You Never Can Tell."

It was a teenage wedding, and the old folks wished them well
You could see that Pierre did truly love the mademoiselle
And now the young monsieur and madame have rung the chapel bell,
"C'est la vie", say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell
They furnished off an apartment with a two room Roebuck sale
The coolerator was crammed with TV dinners and ginger ale,
But when Pierre found work, the little money comin' worked out well
"C'est la vie", say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell
They had a hi-fi phono, boy, did they let it blast
Seven hundred little records, all rock, rhythm and jazz
But when the sun went down, the rapid tempo of the music fell
"C'est la vie", say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell
They bought a souped-up jitney, was a cherry red '53,
They drove it down to Orleans to celebrate the anniversary
It was there that Pierre was married to the lovely mademoiselle
"C'est la vie", say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell
Listen here.
"Memphis" has been a hit for several others, most notably Johnny Rivers, and Lonnie Mack with an instrumental version.  But as poetry, you think it's about a guy trying to reach a lost love...and it is, but not like you think...

Long distance information, give me Memphis Tennessee
Help me find the party trying to get in touch with me
She could not leave her number, but I know who placed the call
'Cause my uncle took the message and he wrote it on the wall
Help me, information, get in touch with my Marie
She's the only one who'd phone me here from Memphis Tennessee
Her home is on the south side, high up on a ridge
Just a half a mile from the Mississippi Bridge
Help me, information, more than that I cannot add
Only that I miss her and all the fun we had
But we were pulled apart because her mom did not agree
And tore apart our happy home in Memphis Tennessee
Last time I saw Marie she's waving me good-bye
With hurry home drops on her cheek that trickled from her eye
Marie is only six years old, information please
Try to put me through to her in Memphis Tennessee

Here it is!

So many great songs, so much great poetry.  I love it when things rhyme.

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