Tuesday, April 5, 2016

April is National Poetry Month - The Most Poetic Singer-Songwriters?

This year marks the 20th annual National Poetry Month, sponsored by the Academy of American Poets.  While not usually considered "poets," singer-songwriters are indeed poets, who happen  also to set their poetry to music.   A peak period of poetic creativity in song was the singer-songwriter era of the sixties and seventies.  Check out the music of these enduring lyricists:

Bob Dylan's way with words is so well respected that his song lyrics have been published separately from the melodies.  His 1964 song,"Chimes of Freedom," typifies his angry yet empathetic politics, and gift for turn of phrase:
Far between sundown’s finish an’ midnight’s broken toll
We ducked inside the doorway, thunder crashing
As majestic bells of bolts struck shadows in the sounds
Seeming to be the chimes of freedom flashing
Flashing for the warriors whose strength is not to fight
Flashing for the refugees on the unarmed road of flight
An’ for each an’ ev’ry underdog soldier in the night
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.

Joni Mitchell was part of the singer-songwriter movement in folk revival circles.  Some of her lyrics have become synonymous with the period.   "I've looked at clouds from both sides now" (From Both Sides Now) or "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot" from "Big Yellow Taxi" are lines that are part of the American cultural landscape.  "Both Sides Now" from the album Both Sides Now begins with these lines:
Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air and feather canyons everywhere
I've looked at clouds that way
But now they only block the sun, they rain and they snow on everyone
So many things I would have done but clouds got in my way
I've looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow it's cloud illusions that I recall
I really don't know clouds at all

Gordon Lightfoot immortalized the Edmund Fitzgerald, a Great Lakes cargo ship that went down in rough seas in 1975.  He created a story song reminiscent of old time sea shanties:

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called 'gitche gumee'
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy

Don McLean's "American Pie" celebrated or bemoaned (depending on your interpretation) the history of rock 'n' roll during his lifetime.  Scholars and fans have discussed and debated the meaning of the lyrics since its 1971 release.

A long long time ago
I can still remember how
That music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they'd be happy for a while

But February made me shiver
With every paper I'd deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn't take one more step

I can't remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
Something touched me deep inside
The day the music died.

Many Beatles songs include innovative poetic ideas, turns of phrase,social and personal insights, or just nonsense syllables.  Like Dylan's, the Beatles Lyrics are profound and innovative enough to be immortalized in a book (ML421.B4 D385 2014)  Phrases from their songs have become classic quotations in their own right.  They'll take you to "Strawberry Fields," among other places:
Living is easy with eyes closed
Misunderstanding all you see
It's getting hard to be someone
But it all works out
It doesn't matter much to me
Let me take you down
Cause I'm going to Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real
And nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever

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