As anyone who’s ever read a teenaged girl’s MSN screenname will know, lyrics tend not to make sense without the music behind them. Have you ever read the lyrics to Dark Side of the Moon? They’re pretty awful… until you put the record on of course. That’s why anyone that says that something “is like poetry” really grates on my nerves. A poem evokes meaning out of nothing but words. Lyrics layer meaning atop an emotional core already created by the music. I’m not saying that poetry is better than lyrics, simply that they fulfil two completely different functions.
“Everything under the sun is in tune,
But the sun is eclipsed by the moon.”
Now that’s awful poetry, but it ranks with Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” on my favourite musical climaxes. It’s probably also why I found it so exasperating to read through a list of lyrics of which I knew none of the accompanying music. Also, it’s why I truly appreciated the well-named “CaptinBeefheart” referencing,
“Mad Dan Superman and Henrietta Holocaust introduce to you what’s new on the humanoid scene”.
Just one of a million brilliant lines from the Bonzo Dog Doo-Da Band (track: Humanoid Boogie). The band plays nothing but dodgy ‘60s R&B and even dodgier music hall, but the late-great lyric writer Viv Stanshall somehow turns the ridiculous into the sublime. Thinking about it, all my favourite pop/rock bands (as opposed to jazz) have this same quirkiness: Captain Beefheart, Tom Waits, Jefferson Airplane, etc. There’s something da-da about them that makes them far more brilliant than anybody that takes themselves seriously could ever be.
Although maybe I don’t get it. Studying literature everyday I find myself stuck on one side of the signified-signifier divide, capable only of viewing words as words. Music directly influences the soul, that’s why people who sing about love can pretend to be politicians; both singers and politicians have no faith in the meaning of words but simply what feelings they can evoke.
These sort of people are moved by a song like that “light up” one by Snow Patrol. To me it just sounds like one note bashed over and over as if a metronome’s got abit full of itself, then some meaningless words over it. To some it’s “life affirming”… I assume they must have something called a “heart”. Not me though. Give me complex rhythm, crescendos of dissonant, rambling notes, and elaborate quasi-metaphors every time. Music you have to work out, that’s what I like,
“Inside a broken clock,
Splashing the wine with all the rain dogs!”
PS/ A “rain dog” is a dog that has gone too far from home, it’s started raining, and has therefore gotten lost as it can’t smell its way back. See – learning is fun!