Sunday, September 09, 2007


(In Manassass with a very big gun)

I’ve previously mentioned my love of music and lyrics on this site. I’ve talked about theme songs and lyrics that circle a theme, namely breathing. But in an effort to hear from (and to determine if I have one) the blogosphere community at large, I’d like to talk about our favorite lyrics.

There are so many standouts that have textured my musical experience. One of my first musical preferences was for the songs of Cat Stevens. In addition to his evocative acoustical guitar (and pleasing physique), his lyrics often resonated with or haunted me. The irony and playfulness of Queen’s lyrics made me a rabid fan in my early to mid-teens. Lately The Decemberists, Dishwalla and Blue October keep me listening with their surprising takes. I’m always in wonder of the songwriter—that most elegant of craftspeople who can not only write poetry, but weave it into the entirely other world of sound.

Yesterday I was listening to Ani De Franco’s Untouchable Face, a favorite tune of mine, when I remembered how this section of the song always makes me hold my breath—the picture is so clearly drawn:

“2:30 in the morning and my gas tank will be empty soon
neon sign on the horizon rubbing elbows with the moon
safe haven of the sleepless where the deep fryer's always on
radio is counting down the top 20 country songs
out on the porch the fly strip is waving like a flag in the wind
you know i really don't look forward to seeing you again soon.”

When I hear Al Stewart’s song Year of the Cat this perfect lyric transports me back to my freshman year in High School and the colors, smells and sensations that surrounded me at age 14:
“On a morning from a Bogart movie, in a country where they turn back time,
You go strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre contemplating a crime.
She comes out of the sun in a silk dress running like a watercolor in the rain.”

From Momus’ Marquis of Sadness (thanks Meredith), for anyone who KNOWS this professor, or has been captive of the impulse to categorically please:

“They've announced the new writer in residence
And the cleverest girls in the arts faculty
Must read poetry in his presence
And if our poems are bad
They'll still be evidence
Of our desire to make him desire us.”

And, from The Decemberists brilliant 16 Military Wives, utter tragedy juxtaposed against an upbeat tune that makes you want to dance:

“Seventeen company men
Out of which only twelve will make it back again
Sergeant sends a letter to five military wives
His tears drip down from ten little eyes
Cheer them on to their rivals
Because America can
And America can't say no
And America does
If America says it's so
It's so
And the anchorperson on TV
Goes la-di-da-di-da”
So I want to hear from you. Share some of your favorite lyrics. Why do you remember these particularly?


At 11:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ooooooo! All such good choices! In response, there are SO many I could pick from! For some reason, the coming fall breeze always makes me want to wrap myself up in the brooding, dark folds of the Red House Painters. One of my favorites, "Dragonflies":

"this is the first you spoke of it
in your black magic house
in a cold damp attic
two windows stare at us like eyes
behind them
december's dark
early morning sky
and a couple of
dead trees
with their ornamental stars
i thought by now that i
figured your head out
until now i thought i
figured your body out
so please help me to understand
because i love you
more than anyone
i wonder in what fields today
you're chasing dragonflies at play
my little lost girl
so far away..."


At 12:13 PM, Anonymous nikki said...

do you know, pamela, i read this quite some time ago and haven't been able to think of anything recently that has grabbed me lyrically. and you know how i adore music. perhaps i've been listening and focusing differently in recent years. i do not know.
i DO remember, however, reading The Stranger by Camus in World Lit class when I was in high school and bringing in The Cure for my frail, elderly teacher to hear. why don't literary and musical worlds collide more often?

At 4:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Pamela~
Ok so I was just listenning to some Ani m'self! So I thought I'd shoot you some of my current favorite Ani lyrics. She sang this song I believe, for the first time in Boston. She read the words off a piece of paper stuck to the mic stand. I wish I wrote this one myself! - Mare

The Atom
The glory of the atom begs a reverent word the primary design of the whole universethe smallest unit of matterlet us bow our headsat the magnificent consciousnessincarnate there
yeah the smallest unit of matter
with its orbiting electrons
echoing off the solar system
like a hawk in the hills at dawn
the smallest unit of matter
uniting bird and rock and tree
and you and me

let the religious get religion
let the consumers get a clue
let the scientists get perspective
let the activists get their dues
let industry get a conscience
let the earth inherit the meek
let the divinity of nature speak
oh glory of the atom
deserves a reverent word
the primary design
of the whole universe
let us sing its praises
let us bow our heads in prayer
to the magnificent consciousness
incarnate there

oh holy is the atom
the truly intelligent design
to which all of evolution
is graciously aligned
the one single structure
to which everything distills
the air, the wood smoke there, and the hills

you leave me here surrounded
by everything that's real
far outside the boundaries
of the digitized ordeal
leave me here awake
leave me here to heal

human beings are a cross
between monkeys and ants
you can see us from your spaceship
melting the polar ice caps with our arrogance
summon a congress of angels
dressed in riot gear
we've got a serious problem down here

i have a great great uncle
who worked on the atomic bomb
he got a nobel prize in physics
and a place in this song
and i bet there were no windows
and no women in the room
when they applied themselves to the pure
science of doom

messin' with the atom
is the highest form of blasphemy
whether you making weapons
or simple electricity
someone fashion me a pulpit
i have been called to engage
with the maniacal heretics
of the nuclear age

the glory of the atom
begs a reverent word
the primary design
of the whole universe
the smallest unit of matter
let us bow our heads in prayer
at the magnificent consciousness incarnate there


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