Poetry in notion
All those baby boomers who thought Dylan was Rimbaud with sunglasses and better hair only had part of the picture. You see, Dylan also had a guitar and harmonica (though it remains true that Rimbaud had bad hair).
I pass my apologies to Lawrence whose life's work I remember haltingly from many years ago and have probably just reduced to travesty. I also admit to making the same mistake myself at times. In grade ten for my English Class poetry recital I read aloud the lyrics to Guns 'n' Roses' Civil War until my exasperated teacher said she couldn't assess my performance and made me resubmit using Poe's The Raven.
Anyway, this morning as I drove to work, my ipod coughed up Bruce Springsteen's Hungry Heart. I began to sing along, I guess, somewhat heartily. I've always loved Hungry Heart, with its jaunty sax and rolling synth lines and its snappy but simple drums. It makes me feel great.
Instantly I was happier to be on my way to work. Outside it was grey and rainy and my wipers weren't working well, increasing the likelihood of a peak-hour crash and some expensive medical or panel repair work. The previous night at rehearsal I'd struggled to learn UT's ripping new song and felt that I was holding the dudes back. I'd woken grumpy but as Hungry Heart kicked in, suddenly I felt fantastic.
Then I thought about the words and realised that although I knew them (I was singing along after all) I'd never really CONSIDERED them.
Springsteen is one of those artists who are inevitably described as some sort of 'street poet' and positioned by many rock critic types as an inheritor of Dylan's status as Rock Poet Laureate. Those who do not follow The Boss as closely as I can find the lyrics here.
They describe a man who abandons his wife and kids, walking out on them and never returning. He takes a wrong turn and he just keeps going.
He begins to frequent seedy bars, meets a floozy and has it off with her for a while. Then she dumps his sorry ass and he finds himself back in the same bar, singing this song, as he looks for another floozy to take her unsatisfying place. Mostly, he just doesn't want to be alone.
This is pretty bleak stuff, I'd have to say.
So why does it make me feel so great? I think this nicely demonstrates Grossberg's point about our overestimation of the importance of lyrics in analysing music. It's also worth noting that a virtually-unknown young Springsteen wrote Hungry Heart for The Ramones in response to a request from his pal Joey Ramone. Then Bruce liked what he'd done so much that he refused to hand it over and kept it for himself. I can't help but feel that the Ramones would've gone all nihilistic on it and part of the song's great charm - the discrepancy between subject matter and style - would have been lost.
In Japan, where they don't really understand the lyrics but love the poppy melody and simple chorus, this is pretty much Bruce's biggest ever hit. The Japanese know that rock 'aint poetry, it's rebellion and noise and mysterious stuff that makes you tap your toes, hate your parents or sing in the car.
There's a big difference, it turns out, between Haiku and fuck you.