Lyrics Are Important (Part Three)

by Chris McGinty

At some point Miguel starts examining lyrics, and we discover a very neat trick to discredit lyrics. It’s called “take poetic symbolism and discuss it literally.” It will make just about any song lyric seem stupid.

Many of us have heard the phrase, “Be careful how you treat people on the way up because you’ll meet them again on the way down.” We have likely heard stories of rising to fame or wealth, and then falling to poverty and infamy. And after all, “The bigger they are the harder they fall.” These folks have taken the Flight of Icarus, flying as high as the sun, only to have their wings melt and send them crashing to the ground. Yet for some reason Miguel can only see the phrase “Park Avenue leads to Skid Row” as a description of a road map. Nevermind that it could be a new way of saying everything I said before in this paragraph, and nevermind that it could simply mean that the same corruption of morality that exists in poverty also exists in the upper echelon of society through the same sort of fear and greed, and that the worlds of Park Avenue and Skid Row are not so different after all.

The truth is that I don’t know much about “Youth Gone Wild” and there are other phrases that Miguel could have attacked and I might not have so much as blinked. Then he got around to “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

The truth is that I probably have a lot better information than Miguel does about the song and Kurdt Cobain’s writing style than Miguel does, because I read, and listen to, a lot about music as well as listen to music. Miguel says something about: “…lyrics [that] were largely stream of conscious writing pulling together disparate phrases and snatches of thoughts without any regard for whether they cohere into something meaningful.”

This is interesting because as I understand it Cobain kept notebooks of just that kind of thing some of which would become lyrics to his songs. And so do I now that you mention it. Hmmm. Maybe this is why I related to Kurdt Cobain so much, because he and I were the only two people who kept these, oh what can we call them? Notes! Let’s call them notes. And we can keep them in something called, oh I don’t know… a notebook! Wait. Maybe we weren’t the only two to write like this. Go figure.

The fact is that compared to narrative prose, song lyrics tend to be a lot more like an abstract painting than its realism counterpart. For someone who is literal minded, this would make translation more difficult. Still I wonder how it is that Miguel missed something simple like “She’s overboard and self-assured, oh no, I know a dirty word” as a roundabout, and more melodic way of saying “She’s a bitch.”

So as far as the actual meaning of the song, Kurdt Cobain said in an interview that, “Here we are. Now entertain us,” was something he said to the host of a party in his high school days. Hmmm. That word “Teen” in the title may have a little more relevance than Miguel thinks.

There are times that music videos have little or nothing to do with the song, but a video set in a high school gymnasium seems to support a little bit of what I’m saying. Miguel attributes the lyric to Cobain’s affiliation with a punk band, and probably therefore attributes the lyric, “Our little group has always been and always will until the end,” to referencing the band as well.

When they finally issued the lyrics to the “Nevermind” album in the CD single for “Lithium” you opened it up to find the lyric, “Our little tribe has always been, and always will until the end.” Group. Tribe. High school clique. I mean, the line does sound like something you would find in a yearbook. And some of us may have even felt that those people we were so cool with in high school would still be around years later.

Am I right about all of this? I don’t know. But I think that by looking at all of the thoughts, with an idea of what the unifying theme might be, gives me a little better explanation of what the song might be about.

It almost seems that as Miguel listens to a lyrical piece, if there are any lines that he doesn’t immediately understand, then he presumes the lyricist is just throwing crap into the mix that has nothing to do with it.

Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to publish one of my poems here. It’s one that I think is pretty good. It also hits quite a few of Miguel’s points. I’m going to ask Miguel to examine the piece and then write a quick synopsis of what it’s about. I guess he can take it and give one of his everything is so literal explanations, but I would be curious to know if his take of what the piece is about would fall apart under his scrutiny, and what lines he thinks have “nothing to do” with the rest of the poem.

For Mary, Whoever She Is

A moment with the text book
And an index card in the glossary
All too much time in the bathroom
With a mirror, screaming Mary
I want you
I want you to take it all away

And she never listens
Once the past is rewritten
She’ll never see the signs
Or how we all were smitten

This is what it’s like
To be in denial
This is how it feels
To be in denial once more

Took a moment with a password
And a list of favourite sites
All too much time in the kitchen
Cooking up something for Mary
And I want her
I want her to eat it all today

And she never listens
Once the sentiment is written
She’ll never see the signs
Stupid little retarded kitten

Maybe something more elegant next time

This is what it’s like
To feel a revival
This is how it feels
To be in denial once more

A moment with the memo
And not a thought of what to say
All too much time in the bedroom
Dreaming of Mary
And I want to
I want to dream of you today

And she never listens
Once these responses have been written
She’ll never see the signs
Until the world has bitten

This is what it’s like
To become a rival
This is how it feels
To be in denial once more

– Chris McGinty – 2-9-10 – 11:53 pm

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