Tag Archives: Ryan Mihaly

Poetry Crush: Music Issue (vol. I)

14 May

If there is going to be a war between man & machine in the future & if man wins, there are sure to be strict regulations on computers & robotics leaving us only with papyrus & stone tablet.  In such a society, what lyrics would stand on their own?  This is one of many upcoming Poetry Crush Music Issues, which will focus on lyricism in music.   Thanks so much to my wonderful contributors!

j. hope stein

p.s. click on song links for each artist to watch mind-blowing live performance video.


by J. Hope Stein

Tracy Chapman emanates a rare beauty, even when talking about the ugliest of situations.  In the song Behind the Wall from her 1988 debut album Tracy Chapman, the speaker is a helpless neighbor who is a witnesses to domestic violence.   This song was clear in my mind many years after I first heard it when the bedroom of my apartment shared a wall with an abused child who lived next door.  Chapman’s Behind the Wall captures the horror – AND  Her song is sung entirely a cappella– just her voice against the silences she creates.  It’s striking how she lets the notes sit there in the air, for what feels like no one to hear except you at that moment– as if she’s singing into a dark night on her fire escape and you, the listener, just happen to overhear—

Last night I heard the screaming/ Loud voices behind the wall/ Another sleepless night for me/ It won’t do no good to call/ The police/ Always come late/ If they come at all

And when they arrive/ They say they can’t interfere/ With domestic affairs/ Between a man and his wife/ And as they walk out the door/ The tears well up in her eyes

Last night I heard the screaming/ Then a silence that chilled my soul/ Prayed that I was dreaming/ When I saw the ambulance in the road

And the policeman said/ ”I’m here to keep the peace./ Will the crowd disperse?/ I think we all could use some sleep.”

Last night I heard the screaming/ Loud voices behind the wall/ Another sleepless night for me/ It won’t do no good to call/ The police/ Always come late/ If they come at all

Here’s her most famous song – Fast Car – a touching symbol, in Chapman’s hands,  for the American dream and a relevant and important song in American folk song history.

Fast Car

You got a fast car
And I got a plan to get us out of here
I been working at the convenience store
Managed to save just a little bit of money
We won’t have to drive too far
Just ‘cross the border and into the city
You and I can both get jobs
And finally see what it means to be living

You see my old man’s got a problem
He live with the bottle that’s the way it is
He says his body’s too old for working
I say his body’s too young to look like his
My mama went off and left him
She wanted more from life than he could give
I said somebody’s got to take care of him
So I quit school and that’s what I did

You got a fast car
But is it fast enough so we can fly away
We gotta make a decision
We leave tonight or live and die this way

I remember we were driving driving in your car
The speed so fast I felt like I was drunk
City lights lay out before us
And your arm felt nice wrapped ’round my shoulder
And I had a feeling that I belonged
And I had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone

You got a fast car
And we go cruising to entertain ourselves
You still ain’t got a job
And I work in a market as a checkout girl
I know things will get better
You’ll find work and I’ll get promoted
We’ll move out of the shelter
Buy a big house and live in the suburbs

You got a fast car
And I got a job that pays all our bills
You stay out drinking late at the bar
See more of your friends than you do of your kids
I’d always hoped for better
Thought maybe together you and me would find it
I got no plans I ain’t going nowhere
So take your fast car and keep on driving

You got a fast car
But is it fast enough so you can fly away
You gotta make a decision
You leave tonight or live and die this way

And here is another important folk song from that album– Talkin Bout A Revolution.  Chapman’s other albums are equally deep and devastating and gorgeous, but in different ways– For instance, the album –New Beginning – an album about redemption that is so emotionally close, it has the effect of disorienting one for days at a time.

Mark Eitzel

By Jim Harms

By now it’s a truism to describe Mark Eitzel as one of the most talented and tormented singer-songwriters of his generation, or to emphasize the depth of sadness that he often inhabits in his work.  “I’m tired of being a spokesman/For every tired thing,” he sings in one of his early gems, “Blue and Grey Shirt,” and it’s impossible not to believe him.  And yet it’s that palpable exhaustion, replaced at times by out and out anguish, that gives his voice and his music such authority.

Artifice is a requirement for pop music; a song needs to exist within a four-minute bubble of memorable melody in order to resonate with listeners.  But Eitzel tries to keep the mediation of music to a minimum.  There’s no doubt that he writes gorgeous songs, sadly beautiful songs (to paraphrase one of his few peers, Paul Westerberg), but they nearly all feel and sound like desperate acts of communication.  As he himself put it once in a wildly incoherent interview, “It’s about trying to say the most perfect thing, and at the same time being the least perfect thing.”

Mark Eitzel’s best songs tend to be apostrophes, aimed directly at the absent other in his life.  Here are the opening lines to the above-mentioned “Blue and Grey Shirt”:

I sat up all morning and I waited for you

With my blue and grey shirt on

Yeah I thought that’s my lucky one

The “you” in “Blue and Grey Shirt” never arrives, a foregone conclusion based on the self-portrait that begins the song:  the speaker has put on his lucky shirt, vividly aware that he needs luck, and has waited all morning.  We know it’s not going to get any better.  But if this song, or any of Eitzel’s many small masterpieces, was simply about love lost, then he’d be a millionaire by now with a hallway lined with gold records in his Beverly Hills mansion.  Because Eitzel really does write wonderful pop songs, the kind that stick in your head and are easy to sing along with.  And then he sets them on fire.  It’s a quiet fire, a subtle flame that licks at the edges of a gorgeous melody and an extremely approachable voice, but it burns and hurts, and it can hurt the listener as much as it clearly hurts the singer.

Eitzel has a decent-sized cult following of folks who don’t mind feeling bad now and then, who don’t run from their loneliness or explain away their mistakes.  He named his publishing company, I Failed in Life Music, and that’s what he often sings about:  failure.  So these don’t tend to be songs you hear on the radio while stuck in traffic and looking for a reason to slit your wrist; these songs will give you a reason.  But again:  they’re gorgeous.  In nearly every song he’s ever written, Eitzel includes a detail like that blue and gray shirt, something so resonant and true that it makes your heart ache to hear it.  Later in the tune he sings, “Where’s the compassion/To make your tired heart sing,” and the weariness and frustration in his voice are as conversational as they are musical; in other words, the marriage of music and lyrics is almost too perfect; there’s no hiding from what’s being said in these songs, no matter how pretty the melody is.

Eitzel ends “Blue and Grey Shirt” as he ends so many of his songs:  with complete and utter resignation.  Here are the last few lines (notice “lucky” is now “favorite”):

I sat up all morning and I waited for you

With my blue and grey shirt on

Yeah that’s my favorite one

I sat up all morning, so why didn’t you come?

‘Cause now I just sing my songs

For people that are gone

From now on

“From now on” is one of my favorite phrases.  I normally think of it as an expression of renewal, even hope.  Quite clearly that isn’t the case for Eitzel.  But in this song, one of the best tunes on the first great American Music Club album, he established his project for himself as an artist:  He would sing for those who are gone, for the lost and the lonely, for the wrecked and the ruined.  The New Yorker used to refer to Eitzel (in their regular Talk of the Town mentions of American Music Club) as the Poet Laureate of the Tenderloin.  That seems about right.

Blue and Grey Shirt

I sat up all morning and I waited for you
With my blue and grey shirt on
Yeah I thought that’s my lucky one
I’ll sit and face the road now
I don’t have a heavy load now
I got nothing to keep me hanging around here
From now on
Where’s the compassion
To make your tired heart sing
I’m tired of being a spokesman
For every tired thing

There’s nothing in the world outside
Just some things that I see from the side
I’m just a shy boy sitting in a house
When everyone is gone from now on
I sat up all morning and I waited for you
With my blue and grey shirt on
Yeah that’s my favorite one
I sat up all morning so why didn’t you come?
‘Cause now I just sing my songs
For people that are gone from now on


by Maria Garcia Teutsch

Many people whose opinion I admire say that Radiohead’s lyrics are weak. Not so, mon frère. Radiohead is composed of mad genius poets. Their lyrics do stand up on the page, though admittedly an entirely new form of language is created when joined with their music and Thom’s warbling. I chose “Idioteque” at random knowing I wanted something off of Kid A. There is an homage to the Dadaist poet Tristan Tzara on this album, and the band has admitted to using his method of cutting up lyrics and arranging the songs by drawing words out of a hat. As a poet and editor, I find this immensely satisfying. There is even a made up word in “Idioteque:” skwrking, at least in the lyrics I’ve found.

“Idioteque” is a timeless piece that encompasses the destructive force of wars, both past and present, and looks toward a future desolate landscape wrought by our need to consume unabated. The repetition of “women and children first” reminds me of piling into lifeboats, like on the Titanic.  For me, “Idioteque” embodies the breakdown of reason inherent in any war, or in anyone who holds a gun and shoots it at another living being.


Who’s in bunker, who’s in bunker?
Women and children first
Women and children first
Women and children
I’ll laugh until my head comes off
I swallow till I burst
Until I burst
Until I..

Who’s in bunker, who’s in bunker
I’ve seen too much
I haven’t seen enough
You haven’t seen enough
I’ll laugh until my head comes off
Women and children first
And children first
And children..

Here I’m allowed, everything all of the time
Here I’m allowed, everything all of the time
Ice age coming, ice age coming
Let me hear both sides
Let me hear both sides
Let me hear both..

Ice age coming, ice age coming
Throw me in the fire
Throw me in the fire
Throw me in the..

We’re not scaremongering
This is really happening, happening
We’re not scaremongering
This is really happening, happening

Mobiles working
Mobiles chirping
Take the money and run
Take the money and run
Take the money..

Here I’m allowed, everything all of the time
Background:  (The first of the children)


Joni Mitchell’s songs are inextricably woven together, and, in my opinion, un-coverable (apologies to the many, many Joni Mitchell cover makers). I mean this in a positive way, because there are two parts to the idea of the great lyric. The first is the lyric itself, the paper unit, the poem; the second is its placement within the body of the song. In music, you absolutely must listen to the words together with their melodies; that is what they are built for. One word can be a great lyric if it takes up its duty to fight for the entire song. Joni Mitchell is a lyricist who writes for her songs. Consider this, the intro to “A Case of You”:

Just before our love got lost you said
I am as constant as the Northern Star
“Constantly in the darkness,” I said, “Where’s that at?
If you want me I’ll be in the bar.”

This summary of a personal conversation gives us everything we need to identify the situation: a crumbling relationship, possibly unsalvageable, and one which has the narrator feeling dark. But the song is a love song: its inimitable refrain, “I could drink a case of you and still I’d be on my feet,” sung in the bell-clear soprano that lived in Mitchell’s throat through the seventies. “A case of you” implies that the lover is a boozy and toxifying substance; that the narrator could still stand after is an admission that she is beyond the influence of the deadly thing; she will always be in this.  The song begins in a dark place, and ends somewhere transcendent. The greatness of these lyrics is in their specific placement.


by Ryan Mihaly

When I got a hold of Cass McCombs’ 2011 LP WIT’S END, I promised myself I would sit down and listen to the whole album while reading the lyrics, like the good old days. I did this much more often with the CDs I bought in the early 2000s, when time moved slower. Me, my CD player, the lyric sheet, my bed, the door shut. Nowadays a busier life has made finding that time more difficult for me, but I knew WIT’S END would absolutely require that treatment. My girlfriend and I set aside an hour, put the record on, lit a candle, and read the lyrics together. First of all – it’s incredible how this experience gets the music under your skin instantly. Secondly – reading and listening to McCombs, you are engaged in a wise, pensive, and often introspective narrative; the songs stretch over many verses and each offers another dash of complexity. On WIT’S END, each song is a tale, usually quite haunting (and no wonder: in a handwritten letter to Stereogum in February, McCombs named Edgar Allen Poe at the top of his recent reading list). This Poe influence and the layers of complexity can be found on the last song on the album, “A Knock Upon the Door.” The song is a tale of a minstrel losing his Muse, over 8 verses that cover about 9 and a half minutes, wrought with creepy bass clarinet and sparse, barely-there banjo. When singing, McCombs stretches the jagged lines every which way, cleverly (and skillfully) shifting accents when needed. The song warns against the façade an artist might don, and advises that we respect the invaluable and only rarely visiting Muse, who brings the artist real inspiration. Sit, read, and listen to this one.

The tired minstrel, leaving town, heard the Muse’s weeping
He turned up the Elvis tape in his grey car, creeping
“Sex and Death! Was I not the breadth among the two?”
she poured
“Were you sincere, I bet you’d hear
my knock upon your door!”


by Joanna Penn Cooper

Will Oldham: My Best Unbeaten Brother

A key moment in the development of my musical tastes was when my friend Dennis introduced me to Will Oldham.  Oldham—a.k.a. Palace Music, a.k.a. Palace Brothers, a.k.a. Bonnie “Prince” Billy—is from Kentucky and has a huge mustache, and in the words of another friend, he is “weirdly charismatic.”  It’s true: Weird charisma.  According to my mother, who was once subjected to his music while riding in my car, “He just sounds like if your friend got drunk and started singing off key.”  Also true.

Consider the lyrics of “I Send My Love to You.”  The beginning of the song is a lovely, slightly goofy and heartsick take on the idea of sending one’s love.

I send my love to you.
I send my hands to you.
I send my clothes to you.
I send my nose to you.
I send my trees to you.
I send my pleas to you.
Won’t you send some back to me?

Send your ways to me.
Send your call to me.
Send you days to me.
Send it all to me.
And when I’m high and square,
When I would have you there,
You will be . . .

These opening lyrics get at something essential about the hope and desire and silly vulnerability of love itself.  They also start to get at the darkness underneath the desire, the narcissism of it all, the way love is, after all, largely a story we are telling ourselves about our own feelings, feelings that can become demands we make of another person.  But the song’s opening, despite this subtle tug of darkness, remains light and good-humored.

Then we reach these lines:

The moon is falling.
My wounds are calling.
My head is bleeding.
And I’m a duck.
The lake is cracking.
It hears me quacking.
Fuck the land, and two if by me.

Violence and calamity and confusion creep in here, but even in the midst of that, there’s a delight in absurdity.  And I’m a duck.  And then follows delight in transmutations of thought and sound and figure of speech:  The lake is cracking./ It hears me quacking./ Fuck the land, and two if by me.  I remember that last line confusing me and giving me the feeling of having forgotten something, until Dennis remarked that it was a play on “One if by land, and two if by sea,” at which point it made both more sense and less sense.  Which is delightful.

Oldham is the kind of artist who can help you understand what you’re feeling, even if his lyrics don’t match the exact details of your experience.  He allows for those kinds of slippages.  These are lyrics that have helped me understand, for example, the feeling of having roots in the Southeast and Midwest, and driving back and forth between cities in the Northeast and Southeast and Midwest, listening to the same songs with different people and wondering what all this journeying is about.


by J. Hope Stein

The Pixies’ Frank Black takes a sledge hammer to English language and love song and distills to its essence the urgency of sexual impulse–

I was talking to peachy-peach about kissy-kiss
You bought me a soda
You bought me a soda
You bought me a soda and tried to molest me in the parking lot

…You’re so pretty when you’re unfaithful to me.
You’re so pretty when you’re unfaithful to me.

(From Bone Machine, Surfa Rosa)

In the song hey, from Doolittle, Black’s aching multi-syllabled “chained” – an onomatopoeic device (chained being something that requires more than one unit to exist, i.e. a series of links, a series of joined metal rings, a series of atoms, a series of geographic formations, etc.) reconfigures the language to convey Black’s vision and in doing so,  elevates the precision of the English language in the most primal way.  (I use hyphens below to reflect this.) Meanwhile, Kim Deal echoes “chained” in repeated quick 1- syllable words which run in haunting conflict to Black and at the same time punctuates his words.  It reminds me of what Anne Waldman often does in performance.

hey!/ been trying to meet you/ hey!/ must be a devil between us/ or whores in my head/ whores at my door/ whores in my bed/ but hey! / where/  have you/ been/ if you go i will surely die/ We’re cha-ain-ain- ained. (background: chained!) / We’re chai-ai-ained. (background: chained!)/ We’re chai-ain-ain-ained (background: chained!).  We’re cha-ain-ain- ained. (background: chained!) / We’re chai-ai-ained. (background: chained!)/ We’re chai-ain-ain-ained (background: chained!).  uh! said the man to the lady/ uh! said the lady to the man she adored/ and whores like a choir uh! all night…

Here’s another love song — Cactus, from Surfa Rosa.

I miss your kissin’ and I miss your head/ And a letter in your writing doesn’t mean you’re not dead/ Run outside in the desert heat/ Make your dress all wet and send it to me/

I miss your soup and I miss your bread/ And a letter in your writing doesn’t mean you’re not dead/ So spill your breakfast and drip your wine/ Just wear that dress when you dine

Sitting here wishing on a cement floor/ Just wishing that I had just something you wore/ Bloody your hands on a cactus tree/ Wipe it on your dress and send it to me


by J. Hope Stein

Besides the fact that  Cowboy Junkies’ song Misguided Angel puts me under a spell in which I play it over and over and cry my eyes out for reasons I don’t understand (keep me away from that song!)- Sun Comes up, it’s Tuesday Morning is one of the best written break-up songs (others include Annie Lennox’s, Why and  No More I Love Yous;  Liz Phair’s Divorce Song, Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright, Ani DiFranco’s Both Hands, Leonard Cohen’s So Long Marianne and almost anything by Sharon Van Etten and Jessica Lea Mayfield, etc).

Cowboy Junkies’ Sun Comes Up It’s Tuesday Morning is a stream-of-conscious snapshot of the first few days after a breakup and the mental weavings and discoveries in it are vivid in capturing how the body and mind adjust from twosome to one-some.

Sun Comes Up, It’s Tuesday Morning

Sun comes up, it’s Tuesday morning
Hits me straight in the eye
Guess you forgot to close the blind last night
Oh, that’s right, I forgot, it was me
I sure do miss the smell of black coffee in the morning,
The sound of water splashing all over the bathroom,
The kiss that you would give me even though I was sleeping,
But I kind of like the feel of this extra few feet in my bed
Telephone’s ringing, but I don’t answer it
’cause everybody knows that good news always sleeps till noon
Guess it’s tea and toast for breakfast again
Maybe I’ll add a little T.V. too
No milk! God, how I hate that
Guess I’ll go to the corner, get breakfast from Jenny
She’s got a black eye this morning,
`Jen how’d ya get it?’
She says, `Last night, Bobby got a little bit out of hand’
Lunchtime. I start to dial your number
Then I remember so I reach for something to smoke
And anyways I’d rather listen to Coltrane
Than go through all that shit again
There’s something about an afternoon spent doing nothing
Just listening to records and watching the sun falling
Thinking of things that don’t have to add up to something
And this spell won’t be broken
By the sound of keys scraping in the lock
Maybe tonight it’s a movie
With plenty of room for elbows and knees
A bag of popcorn all to myself,
Black and white with a strong female lead
And if I don’t like it, no debate, I’ll leave
Here comes that feeling that I’d forgotten
How strange these streets feel
When you’re alone on them
Each pair of eyes just filled with suggestion
So I lower my head, make a beeline for home
Funny, I’d never noticed
The sound the streetcars make as they pass my window
Which reminds me that I forgot to close the blind again
Yeah, sure I’ll admit there are times when I miss you
Especially like now when I need someone to hold me
But there are some things that can never be forgiven
And I just gotta tell you
That I kinda like this extra few feet in my bed


by Gregory Crosby

“Yeah…” said my friend Alex slowly from behind the counter as I picked up a copy of The Mountain GoatsTallahassee and turned it this way and that in my hand, in that rapidly vanishing gesture that only exists in record stores. “That’s exactly the sort of thing you would like,” Alex continued, as he stroked his beard in that careful, apprising, cool but enthusiastic manner of record store clerks, also rapidly vanishing. Alex was right. From My love is like a black cloud full of rain/It’s always right there up above you, the Mountain Goats—John Darnielle, to give them their proper name—became my favorite band of the Naughts, primarily due to Darnielle’s uncanny songwriting skill. Trying to single out a singular favorite from Darnielle’s masterly repertoire of lyrics is a little daunting, but a song I keep returning to is “Love, Love, Love,” from 2005’s The Sunset Tree:

King Saul fell on his sword when it all went wrong
and Joseph’s brother sold him down the river for a song
and Sonny Liston rubbed some tiger balm into his glove
Some things you do for money
and some you do for love love love 

Raskolnikov felt sick but he couldn’t say why
when he saw his face reflected
in his victim’s twinkling eye
Some things you’ll do for money
And some you’ll do for fun
but the things you do for love
are going to come back to you one by one 

Love love is going to lead you by the hand
into a white and soundless place
Now we see things as in a mirror dimly
then we shall see each other face to face

And way out in Seattle, young Kurt Cobain
snuck out to the greenhouse and put a bullet in his brain
Snakes in the grass beneath our feet
rain in the clouds above
some moments last forever
but some flare out with love love love

What I appreciate most about the song is the way it incorporates, in the way that only poetry can, the seemingly infinite landscape of history: the past in present, the present in the past. The ease with which the song pings between the Biblical and the 20th Century, between the literary and the pop, isn’t simply a matter of allusion, but encapsulates, in succeeding images, the crucial question at the heart of the song: Why am I doing this inexplicable thing? The answer, paradoxically, is love—paradoxically not just because of the nature of the act (betrayal, cheating, murder, suicide), but because love itself is a paradox, a mystery at the heart of the larger mystery of the self, that “white and soundless place” where everything becomes clear, and everything becomes opaque. It might be my favorite love song, because it has no love object but instead focuses on that flaring out, like sparks, like a match, of love itself. It’s an existential love song, really, and oddly affirming even amidst the sorrows and confusion it describes.


by Tony Bonds

The music of Joanna Newsom can be somewhat polarizing: people tend to either love it and obsess over it, or they find it esoteric and inaccessible. It’s not the kind of music that makes top selling radio songs; rather, it echoes in your head, crawls under your skin and lives inside you, sprouting like a mustard seed until one day you wake up and realize you’re a huge fan.

Erik Davis writes of her kinetic live performances, “Her songs are not performed so much as drawn from herself like nets dredged from the sea, heavy with kelp and flotsam and minnows that flash before darting back into the deep.”

When first encountering Newsom’s ballads, one is likely to be taken aback with the strangeness of it—her adroitness with the harp, the masterful arrangements of her orchestra are to be admired, and there’s something almost supernatural about her voice: in turns smoky, cooing, operatic, and screechingly raw to the bone. Of her own music, Newsom says, “I want the vocal and harp performances to feel central and grounded and close and intimate and still, as though they are taking place in a small space very close to the listener. I want the orchestra to feel hallucinatory and constantly shifting in space and I want it to be mixed in a way that relates to the story being told and the lyrics and the mood very closely.”

From the tender, pentatonic pluckings of her harp to the cacophonous buildups of her syncopated band, her songs tend to swell to the point that the music itself is like a cresting tidal wave, sweeping the listener through the marvelous worlds of folk tales, Celtic myth, and finally to the allegory-soaked depths of her own aching heart. In this way, Joanna Newsom is a powerful storyteller.

Like any raconteur worth her salt, Newsom has an unmistakable voice, sounding at once like a virtuosic little girl and a raspy old woman. Ed Masley of the Arizona Republic describes the pixie-like harpist and songwriter’s pipes as “a quirky instrument that tends to occupy a range somewhere between Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ and Snow White huffing helium from a Mickey Mouse balloon.”

But perhaps Newsom’s greatest achievements are her lyrics. Before dropping out of college, Newsom studied ethnomusicology and creative writing at Mills College in California. Her style of lyrical phrasing seems to come to her as an afterthought, as if she is hastily recounting a dream and making up the notes as she goes. And yet her off-kilter, syncopated voice adds a refreshing sense of improvisation to her already nuanced sonic landscape.

To illustrate her imagery and storytelling prowess, I’ve selected a few stanzas from her song: Go Long, which is a heartbreaking retelling of the tale of Bluebeard as seen from the feminine perspective.

I was brought in on a palanquin
Made of the many bodies of beautiful women
Brought to this place, to be examined
Swaying on an elephant, a princess of India

We both want the very same thing
We are praying I am the one to save you
But you don’t even own your own violence
Run away from home, your heard is still blue

With the loneliness of you mighty men
With your jaws, and fists, and guitars and pens
And your sugarlip, but I’ve never been to the firepits
With you mighty men

You burn in the Mekong
To prove your worth
Go long, go long
Right over the edge of the earth
You have been wronged
Tore up since birth
You have done harm
Others have done worse

Do you know why my ankles are bound in gauze
A sickly dressage, a princess of Kentucky
In the middle of the woods which were the probable cause
We danced in the lodge like two panting monkeys

I will give you a call, for one last hurrah
And if this tale is tall, forgive my scrambling
But you keep palming along the wall
Moving at a blind crawl, but always rambling

When you leave me alone in this old palace of yours
It starts to get to me, I take to walking
What a woman does is open doors
And it is not a question of locking or unlocking

Well, I have never seen such a terrible room
Gilded with the gold teeth of the women who loved you
Now, though I die, Magpie, this I bequeath
By any other name, a Jay is still blue

With the loneliness of you mighty men
With your mighty kiss that might never never end
While, so far away, in the seat of the West
Burns the fount of the heat of that loneliness


Suzanne written by Leonard Cohen & performed by Nina Simone

My crush is a conglomerate of Leonard Cohen’s writing and Nina Simone’s performance.  A perfect coupling occurs between Nina’s genius on the piano, her voice so rich it melts you and Cohen’s writing.

This song means so many things to me.  Is she (Simone) singing to a friend or about a friend?  Maybe this is advice or maybe just a beautiful poem set to song? Nina’s history of misanthropic songs only adds to this cover.  I am reminded of the desperate energy in Ain’t Got No, I Got Life and Feelings.

Here is an excerpt from Suzanne:

Now Suzanne takes your hand
And she leads you to the river
She is wearing rags and feathers
From Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey
On our lady of the harbor
And she shows you where to look
Among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed
There are children in the morning
They are leaning, leaning out for love
And they will lean that way forever


by Kristy Bowen

My friends always groan when the subject of Tori Amos’ music comes up.  To love her work smacks of the sort of tragically unhip teenage girl angst you are supposed to grow out of (akin to Plath worship, which I am also totally guilty of), and yet, somehow, I feel very much that Amos’ music has been evolving right alongside my own work, my own history, from the hard visceraility of Little Earthquakes which I first came upon during my college years in the early 90’s through her current projects.  Truth be told, I think my favorite  albums happened in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Boys for Pele,  From the Choirgirl Hotel, and Scarlet’s Walk in particular, but I can  appreciate her growth and dimension of her current work. Amos’ albums formed not only my taste in music, but much of my own personal writing aesthetics, right down to subject manner and style.

Baker, Baker

Baker Baker
Baking a cake
Make me a day
Make me whole again
And I wonder
What’s in a day
What’s in you cake this time

I guess you heard
He’s gone to LA
He says that behind my eyes I’m hiding
And he tells me I pushed him away
That my hearts been hard to find

Here there must be something
Here there must be something here here

Baker Baker can you explain
If truly his heart
Was made of icing
And I wonder
How mine could taste
Maybe we could change his mind

I know you’re late
For you next parade
You came to make sure
That I’m not running
Well I ran from him
In all kinds of ways

Guess it was his turn this time

Time thought I’d made friends with time
Thought we’d be flying
Maybe not this time

Baker Baker
Baking a cake
Make me a day
Make me whole again
And I wonder
If he’s ok
If you see him say hi


by J. Hope Stein

Martha Wainwright is a remarkable songwriter.  And an incredible live performer – here she is singing Factory.   And below are the triumphant lyrics of Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole – A song which picks up where Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone and Idiot Wind leave off.

Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole

Poetry is no place for a heart that’s a whore
And I’m young & I’m strong
But I feel old & tired

And I’ve been poked & stoked
It’s all smoke, there’s no more fire
Only desire
For you, whoever you are
For you, whoever you are

You say my time here has been some sort of joke
That I’ve been messing around
Some sort of incubating period
For when I really come around
I’m cracking up
And you have no idea

No idea how it feels to be on your own
In your own home
with the fucking phone
And the mother of gloom
In your bedroom
Standing over your head
With her hand in your head
With her hand in your head

I will not pretend
I will not put on a smile
I will not say I’m all right for you
When all I wanted was to be good
To do everything in truth
To do everything in truth

Oh I wish I wish I wish I was born a man
So I could learn how to stand up for myself
Like those guys with guitars
I’ve been watching in bars
Who’ve been stamping their feet to a different beat
To a different beat
To a different beat

I will not pretend
I will not put on a smile
I will not say I’m all right for you
When all I wanted was to be good
To do everything in truth
To do everything in truth

You bloody mother fucking asshole
Oh you bloody mother fucking asshole
Oh you bloody mother fucking asshole
Oh you bloody mother fucking asshole
Oh you bloody mother fucking asshole
Oh you bloody…

I will not pretend
I will not put on a smile
I will not say I’m all right for you
For you, whoever you are
For you, whoever you are
For you, whoever you are

This issue of PoetryCrush is dedicated to the spirit of MCA & the Beastie Boys–  “Because you can’t you won’t and you don’t stop.”