Thursday, October 07, 2010

The Nine Best Spoken Word Songs.

The other day, on my Friday's Sunday's Poem, I did something that stemmed mostly from laziness but which I, in the interest of literature, tried to claim was actually being done to make a point. About which, don't knock it, because "laziness-turned-into-claimed-literary-technique" is actually the driving force behind every single innovation in Western literature.

Take Mark Twain, a guy who gets a lot of credit for writing in jive, or at least what passed for jive back then. Twain's books are often described as being written in dialect, with passages like this actual quote from chapter 3 of The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn:

So ah jes tol' Jim thet we'd hef ta take th'reft inter town 'n' trade it fer the two tickerts to dancin' wif der stars on accounta I sez he wouldn't bleev Jennifer Grey's nose lessen he sawr it wif hiz owned eyes, but Jim, he jes' said he hates on that reality terribishun.

And for that Mark Twain won a Nobel Peace Prize?

The point being that Twain gets all kind of credit for writing in "dialect" but really he's writing in lazy. There were no word processors back then, remember: Twain had to write the entire book in charcoal on the back of a shovel, and he had to do that for each copy he sold, making it very time- and labor-intensive to write anything, which is why short stories were so popular back then (especially when one considers that the readers then had to carry all those shovels home to read them. That's actually why people had so many kids back then -- to help carry the Book Shovels. That, in turn, led to a genetic modification in children that made them hate reading, a modification that wasn't cured until J. "K". Rowlings discovered penicillin.)

As you can see from that foregoing passage, I am something of an expert on literature and literary techniques, able to fabricate fake Mark Twain quotes at the drop of a hat. ("The drop of a hat" being another Twain-ism.) (See?) So take it from me, and don't bother checking with any other reference source anywhere, when I say that Twain only wrote in dialect because it was easier to do that with the charcoal and shovels and all -- only coming up with the "dialect" cover story when editors he presented the manuscripts (shovels) to said, and I quote "Whut ther heck is this'n supposed ter be?

Twain would later drop the so-called "dialect" when, in the 16th Century, a team made up of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and George Washington Carver and J. "K" Rowlings invented the world's first steam-powered word processor. While it was a bulky machine (taking up most of the buildings in what we now call "The Smithsonian Institute,") the word processor, or, as it was called back then, "Dr. Carver's Patented Fantasmagorical Machinical Steam-Driven Words On Paper Typographiatric Servant" (DCPFMS-DWOPTS for short), revolutionized the writing industry, allowing people like Twain to right in "real" English and allowing poets like Shakespeare and Tennyson to quit making sonnets and get on with writing terribly long boring things like "Richard The Lion-Hearted" and "The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock." (They had to write things like that because the DCPFMS-DWOPTS was pre-programmed to be physically incapable of writing about heart-achingly beautiful emo vampires loving high school girls.)

So where does that leave us now? With this: literary technique is bunk, but America is built on bunk, after all -- we're a country that never failed to grasp at whatever important-sounding, educational-seeming, grandiose-promising bunk was being handed to us, whether it be "stories in dialect" or "the day the oceans started to recede" or "Kate Gosselin will someday go away, right?"

America is built on bunk like literary technique because while literary technique is a mostly pointless nonsense (like campaign speeches, and shows on CBS), it serves to make a point nonetheless -- only, generally, not a point being made by the author, to be clear. Remember, the author didn't use the literary technique to make a point, or use the literary technique at all; the author was just writing a story or poem or sitcom for CBS. The literary technique was generally grafted on after-the-fact by people who needed a job (English majors) and who cleverly decided to tell us all that there is a great deal of meaning or this or that or that other thing in the book or poem or CBS sitcom we're watching, meaning that only they can discern and that we, in our unsophisticated state, can only hope to glimpse.

And the place that English Majors In Need Of A Job have most found a home for literary technique is in poetry -- a genre of writing that has never been very popular (except during the Poetry Mania era of the 16th Century, when poetry was first invented) and never been very understood... but which became must less popular, and much less understood, once those English Majors got a hold of it and began telling us that William Carlos Williams' red wheelbarrow was so much more than just a red wheelbarrow, it was a desire for social justice. It was a raging cry against an impersonal fate. It was an allegory of biblical era mores.

And you thought it was just a farm implement. Those English Majors told you otherwise... and made you hate poetry, didn't they, because they insisted on taking away the fun of poetry and the lyric quality of poetry and the story of poetry, and in the place of those things, they told you to look for symbolism and something called a "metonymy" and made you read about J. Alfred Prufrock, and told you not to read to the end of the line but to keep reading until you hit some punctuation to destroy the rhythm... and then they invented free verse and sent self-righteous kids who wanted to be in show biz but had no talent to poetry slams and poetry was almost killed off right then...

... except that an unlikely group of heroes rode to the rescue: rock stars. Well, I shouldn't say unlikely, because rock stars are actually the most likely group of heroes, in any situation. Whenever disaster strikes, we turn to rock stars -- as we did in for Hurricane Katrina and for the Haitian Earthquake in the 2000s and as we did with famine in Africa in the 1980s, with Live Aid and Band Aid and We Are The World, and as we did in the 1990s, with...

... man, you people in the 1990s were selfish. You didn't help anyone, did you? Stupid grunge rockers.

Anyway, rock stars rode to the rescue of poetry, even though most people don't know it yet, by co-opting a so-called literary technique themselves -- taking poetry and spoken word and weird symbols and probably even a metonymy but I'm not entirely sure what that is, just as I'm not entirely sure what a synecdoche is -- taking all those things and repackaging them with cool music and making them sound like songs so that people would like them, but just to make a point -- because that's what literary techniques do, the rock stars didn't rest with just regular ol' songs.

They also made spoken word songs.

Songs where there's music and all, but the singer is... just talking.

Talking in seemingly-symbolic, rhythmic, metonymicalsynecdochal metered words.

In other words: reading you a poem while music plays.

Yes, Rock Stars have fought back against English Majors in a bold attempt to make music fun again, in a rashing blow against ponderous literary techniques and interpretations and all the other stuff that Mr. Schaeffer tried to get me to like in 9th and 10th grades but I didn't like them. I liked poetry, but I didn't want poetry to be all bogged down by tying it to William Jennings Bryan's efforts to avoid the gold standard. And rock stars have allowed me to again enjoy poetry without all the literary technique bunk that has been grafted onto and dragging down poetry.

And all that is why I came up with the list i'm finally getting to, The Nine Best Spoken Word Songs, songs that have cool music and great lyrics, but no singing. They're poems, just poems being read with music, and I offer them up to you so that you, too, might throw off the yokes of pretend-literary-technique and years of being berated by English Majors about how you just don't appreciate the delicate symbolism of that Grecian Urn and how it really isn't an urn at all, it's something like "the threat to the ozone layer."

That being the maximum possible amount of ado I can give to this, here, without further ado, is the list, with no explanations, no comparisons, no symbolism. I'm not an English Major (Political Science, 1995, UW-Milwaukee). I don't want to wreck them for you. Just enjoy:

9. Short Skirt/Long Jacket, Cake.

8. A Child's Introduction To The Drums, Ruckus Roboticus:

7. O Superman, Laurie Anderson.

6. Everybody's Free To Wear Sunscreen, Baz Luhrmann:

5. Beautiful World, Colin Hay:

4. Little Acorns, White Stripes:

3. Don't Let Me Explode, The Hold Steady:

2. Mr. Mastodon Farm, Cake:

1. Handlebars, Flobots:


Anonymous said...

Hey pretty POE

eh ah ken said...

some of these songs arent really spoken word. you should check out Looper's 'impossible things #2'

or 'dave the moon man'

or even Belle and Sebastians "a century of elvis"

all much better than some of these.