What do I think about when I’m running with Stevie Wonder on my iPod? Not much. It’s those funky triplets. They just propel me along. I think about Stevie’s ironic spoken line in Living for the City: Wow, New York, just like I pictured it. And that makes me think about Mr Wonder’s sense of mischief and the 20-20 ‘innervision’ he brings to all of his work.
By the time I hit four or maybe five kilometres I’m thinking about lyrics in general, and how the word once referred to sung poetry accompanied on the lyre—a stringed instrument dating from antiquity played by plucking and silencing the strings. The Greek lyric poetry was short and sung about emotions as opposed to epic adventures. The lyricists left that to Homer. Lyric poems in Elizabethan times referred to any poem that could be set to music, the prime exponent of this being the sonnet. Which makes me think along the lines of,
A sunny morn, a sudden chill, there’s no rhyme
Or reason to the season, sulphuric drift—
Dogs wallow beneath glittering sky and in time
to sullen breezes—distant towers a glassy rift—
and how sonnets were never my thing. The collective wisdom about lyric poetry, including the sonnet is that the more stringent the combination of rhyme and meter, the greater the perils and the possibilities. Just ask Shakespeare. Sonnet 20, for example, sung to the “master-mistress” of his passion, a male lover who “steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth.”
And for a woman were thou first created,
Till nature as she wrought thee fell a –doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she pricked thee out for women’s pleasure,
Mine be thy love, and thy loves’ use their treasure.
I wonder about Shakespeare in love with a man, and how well he covered his tracks, twisting Houdini-style out of history’s tabloids. But it’s Shakespeare’s genius rather than where he liked to hide the sausage that is my business today and it’s what I’m thinking about. Shakespeare in love is inextricable with Shakespeare at work—labor and love were his prison and his theatre, bacause performance always a kind of trap—just ask any rock ‘n’ roller. I think The Kink’s Dave Davies might come up with some great chords for Sonnet 20, just as he did for Lola, and that, from Sonnet 20 to Antony’s “Bird Gurl,” with Bowie, Patti Smith, Freddy Mercury and the Stones in between, gender bending lyrics are usually a metaphor for trying to break free, for writing between the lines…
The best lyrics, like the best poetry, are always the ones that undercut themselves at every turn. Like the next song that comes up on my iPod—Jack White’s “Denial Twist.” You got that right Jack, sing it and we’ll all hear a different song. So If you think picking, plucking or strumming ‘is all in the fingers, grab hold of the soul where the memory lingers’ which gets me thinking about soul, and whether or not Jack White has one.
I think as I hit the Killer Straight that soul music IS memory —memory of lost love, lost chances, lost change, lost lives. Soul can be Kid Rock’s ‘bawitdaba da bang a dang diggy diggy diggy said the boogy said up jump the boogy’ or Thom Yorke’s ‘Because we separate like ripples on a blank shore, in rainbows.’ Lyrics, written with soul, give us room to move, to make our own meanings, to lay down memories for when it rains or when we’re running. Like Nick Cave’s “Into my Arms”, a non-believer’s self-contradictory prayer to an interventionist God to intervene by not touching a hair on the beloved’s head.
And that makes me think of my daughter.
But it’s seven kilometres, and gospel won’t get me home. I need triplets in 4/4 time. Right-LEFT-right left-RIGHT-left. Push the button and it’s Stevie again, under cover of the Chilli Pepper’s “Higher Ground,” rated the second greatest cover ever of one of Rolling Stones Magazine’s top 500 songs ever written.
Keep on learning
Keep on warring
Keep on turning
Cause it won’t be too long.
Keep on lying,
While your people
Keep on dying
Keep on turning’,
Cause it won’t be too long.
I’m so darn glad He let me try it again,
‘Cause my last time on earth I lived a whole world of sin.
I’m so glad that I know more than I knew then.
Gonna keep on tryin’ till I reach the highest ground.
Thinking is running.