Words and Music

The Rilke post from earlier got me thinking about the first poem I ever memorized.

Obviously, nursery rhymes were first, and then songs like Jesus Loves Me. Then, when I started school, My Country Tis of Thee, America the Beautiful, The Star-Spangled Banner, Simple Gifts.

In fourth grade we had to memorize and recite poems, so of course we all asked if we could do Top 40. Someone beat me to We Didn’t Start the Fire (I memorized it anyway…we all did), so I did Another Day in Paradise by Phil Collins. The song really affected me. Years later, I’d find myself working street-level with the homeless populations of the Lehigh Valley. What had seemed like a very 80s problem has gotten so much worse.

The first sort of classic poem I ever memorized was To Althea From Prison by Lovelace, the cavalier. It’s very famous, especially for this line:

Stone Walls do not a Prison make,
Nor Iron bars a Cage;

but the ones that really got me were

When (like committed linnets) I
With shriller throat shall sing
The sweetness, Mercy, Majesty,
And glories of my King;
When I shall voice aloud how good
He is, how Great should be,
Enlargèd Winds, that curl the Flood,
Know no such Liberty.

and especially:

When I lie tangled in her hair,
And fettered to her eye,
The Gods that wanton in the Air,
Know no such Liberty.

I was 15, so yeah. Killed me. Still does.

It strikes me now that “Slide Away” by Oasis, which I also discovered around that time, is a cavalier poem from the Council Estates. I love it so much.

Liam in London

But as a Mancunian whose teens were set to a soundtrack of Oasis, Liam could have come out and played Wonderwall on his iPhone and I’d still think he was the coolest man alive. 

That’s a great line from Stefan Kyriazis.

As a Pennsylvanian whose teens were set to the same three albums, I know what he means.

There’s no real American analogue to Oasis. By convention, I should have been listening to Nirvana for a few years already when Oasis got to American top 40. And, I mean, I was, because it was impossible not to. But I’ll just be honest. Nirvana always seemed too privileged.

Oasis was swaggering, life-affirming, sneeringly ironic but also really, truly earnest. Liam packed about a million miles into what he did with the simplest of things (namely, vowels). Show me another frontman who, standing still with his hands clasped behind his back, could electrify hundreds of thousands of people.

Thomas Pynchon and Billy Joel

When you write a post about Thomas Pynchon and Roy Orbison, I suppose you can’t be annoyed when only six people read it. (And I thank you). But, I mean, it’s Roy Orbison.

Here’s a 40-page essay about The Crying of Lot 49 written by Edward Mendelson at Yale in 1975. (Just to show you I know how to have a good time).

One of the things going on in Lot (now see, that’s probably intentional, too) is a message about muted communication. Is communication futile, or is fiction? Is revelation muted in the world of “ones and zeros, twinned” or is the dampened horn (again, on purpose?) a stand-in for a certain kind of expression? Had Pynchon foreseen the world we live in now? Was he warning us about the eventual, inevitable, impotence (the muted horn) of mass media?

I may not be thinking so much of these horn symbols if I had not heard Billy Joel talking about the composition of “Christie Lee” last night on, of course, satellite radio.

“There’s a lot of clever stuff in there. Yeah, I’m pretty proud of that one.”

Let me tell you a story
About a woman and a man
Maybe you will find familiar
Maybe you won’t understand

The man’s name I don’t remember
He was always Joe to me
But I can’t forget the woman
She was always Christie Lee

He was working in a night club
That’s where he played the saxophone
He used to fake to stock arrangements
He left the customers alone

But one night before the last song
About a quarter after three
He saw her standing at the coat check
And made his move on Christie Lee

Christie Lee, Christie Lee
Christie Lee, Christie Lee

She was a nice piece of music
She had a rhythm all her own
He blew a solo like a blind man
She really dug his saxophone

She wanted more than just an encore
And he could play in every key
He left the stage and packed his alto
And he took it home with Christie Lee

Oh I heard the man knew “the Bird” like the bible
You know the man could blow an educated axe
He couldn’t see that Christie Lee was a woman
Who didn’t need another lover
All she wanted was the sax

It took a while for him to notice
It took a while for him to see
He was never in control here
It was always Christie Lee

Christie Lee, Christie Lee
Christie Lee, Christie Lee

Oh the man took a calculated gamble
Yes the man had the power to perform
But Christie Lee was more than he knew how to handle
She didn’t need him as a man
All she wanted was the horn

hey say that Joe became a wino
They say he always drinks alone
They say he stumbles like a blind man
They say he sold his saxophone

Even the band must face the music
That’s what the moral is to me
The only time you hit the high note
Is when you play for Christie Lee

Christie Lee, Christie Lee
Christie Lee, Christie Lee….

I’m just old enough to have bopped around the basement to the Innocent Man LP when it was new. Another track, “Keeping the Faith,” describes the whole project. Billy Joel is not mired in the past, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t love it:

 If it seems like I’ve been lost
In let’s remember
If you think I’m feeling older
And missing my younger days
Oh, then you should have known
Me much better
Cause my past is something that never
Got in my way
Oh no…

etc.

Synchronicity is a key theme in Lot. It’s also the name of a Police album whose most famous song is about obsession. We can stop there for now.

Medleys

Happy Thanksgiving from the Cocca Internet Array.

Two kinds of medleys on my mind. The vegetable kind, for obvious reasons, and the musical kind. I was playing with a chord progression/strum pattern just now, and decided that “We Are Going to Be Friends” and “Rock Around the Clock” make an excellent medley (play them both in G).

“We Are Going to Be Friends” is also a prequel to “Thirteen” by Big Star as far as I’m concerned.

Enjoy having all of those songs in your head today. I know I will.

90s B-Side: I Will Believe

Noel Gallagher had a habit of writing great songs that most people (at least in the US) never really got a chance to hear.

This one’s called “I Will Believe.” It’s not on Definitely Maybe (I listened to that album about 100,000 times) but it’s on the recent deluxe release. I love how you can hear the exact moment it becomes an Oasis song (as 00:23 becomes 00:24). And Liam’s voice! Some of the stuff they cut leading up to Definitely Maybe but never properly released could chart right now.