I certainly have my share - the three Beatles lyric writers, Morrissey, Ian Curtis, Michael Gira, Brendan Perry, Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, Dan Fogelberg, Gordon Gano, Chris Cornell, Bjork, Gordon Lightfoot, Roger Waters and David Gilmour, David Bowie, Johnny Cash, Scott Walker, Harriet Wheeler, Angie Hart, Syd Barrett, Robert Smith, Tim Buckley, Dolores O'Riordan, Tupac Shakur, Joe Strummer, Bob Marley, Elliot Smith, George Michael, and the list goes on and on. It seems as I grow older the 'club' keeps growing, but it never makes any of them less special, which is very nice.
Lately I've been listening to a lot of sad songs and doing a lot of blubbering, and these guys and gals have come in handy quite a lot. Also, if you've been paying attention to my blog, I've been re-listening to a band called "the The" which were prominent (mostly in the UK) in the 80s and 90s, but this "band" really just consisted (consists?) of a guy named Matt Johnson who periodically pulls in various musicians around him and makes an album or two, and then sort of disappears for a long time.
I missed his 80s stint but for a couple popular tracks, and have been slowly re-discovering it. The stuff in the 90s though, I was led to because Johnny Marr, ex-guitarist supreme of The Smiths, joined up with Matt on two wonderful albums released in the very early part of that decade. And while both albums are solid start to finish, there's a particularly beautiful song, almost too beautiful since it makes my eyes start to water each time I hear it, on the album Dusk called "Love Is Stronger Than Death." I've linked to the song's video a couple times.
The entire song has the feeling that it's going to be an emotional doozy, like the best of The Smiths or Brendan Perry or Leonard Cohen. But strangely, it's not a dirge at all, it's a very uplifting, spiritual, magical song which challenges our faith in the wake of the loss of those we love. It's been on my mind a lot lately, and the song and its lyrics make me almost burst out crying each time I hear them kick in, dispelling the gloom... Here come the blue skies...
But the gem within the song is the bridge, which breaks from the rather simple but heartfelt cadence of the verse-chorus and presents us with this:
But awoken by grief,
Our spirits speak:
How could you believe
That the life within the seed
That grew arms that reached
And a heart that beat
And lips that smiled
And eyes that cried....
Could ever die?
If that's not a tear-jerker in a positive way than I dunno what it. Matt Johnson is one of my lyrical heroes, and Dusk sees him at his finest.
It seems as though I keep appreciating lyrics (musical poetry) from my favorite singer-songwriters more and more, and despair of ever sharing in their company (metaphorically; I harbor no illusions of being a rock star). As their value to me rises, the quality of my own writing deteriorates over the years. Maybe it's gotten so efficient it's painted itself into a corner and lost its sprawling, flawed, but sometimes brilliant chaos. It's packaged tightly like a nice little Morrissey song and has a nice turn of phrase or unexpected rhyme, but that's it - otherwise it's just naked truth. I keep thinking about imagery ("Show, don't tell!" as one of my English teachers in high school always preached).
It's not that I don't have lots of ideas and titles and phrases and in my mind - they come to me all the time and I've got reams of juicy bits of poems; I just can't seem to crochet all these fragments into a fully-wrought poem or song like Mr. Johnson or Moz or Mr. Cohen can. I get stuck somewhere in the process, between the concept and the final product. And I'm rarely happy with what I turn out - it's usually nothing near as grand or sweeping or pithy as I'd hoped.
That's another topic for another day. I just can't get this song out of my head, is all. Do yourself a favor and check out Dusk by the The. Or ask me about them, I'm sure I can get you some samples...