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From Verse To Worse 

by Michael Bowen


Oh, that nasty Simon. He's so mean on American Idol to all those poor people who think they can sing. But what about all those folks who think they can write? (By which I mean, pop songwriters with entourages and inflated opinions of their own sensitivity.)


What if professional poets could say what they really think of lyrics by Jewel? ("Festering eruptions of putrid preciosity"?) What if we unleashed some local Simon Legrees on the purveyors of pap, tying them to the railroad tracks of dishonor and running them over with the locomotives of intelligence and good taste? (So sue me for forcing a metaphor. Whatever. This writing stuff is hard, man.)


What follows are some excerpts from the deathless poetry of various rock-'n'-roll-around-in-it writers, along with the comments of people who, because they have taught poetry for a living, actually know how to write it.





First up is this gem from Jon Bon Jovi's 1986 album, Slippery When Wet: "I'd die for you / I'd cry for you / ... our love is like a hunger / Without it we would starve / In a world that don't know Romeo and Juliet / Boy meets girl and promises we can't forget / We are cast from Eden's gate with no regrets / Into the fire we cry...."


Gonzaga University's Tod Marshall: "and, hopefully, after composing this song, the songwriter died."


Eastern Washington University's Nance Van Winckel: "I remember you wrote this in my yearbook in seventh grade. I thought it was so boss. It still is. Truly."





Both Marshall and EWU's Scott Poole ganged up on a sample from Bon Jovi's New Jersey album: "Wild, wild is the wind / That takes me away from you / Cold is the night without your love / To see me through / Wild, wild is the wind / That blows through my heart tonight / That tears us apart / Wild is the wind...."


Marshall: "Bad is the poetry / That needlessly flips around words / Bad, bad is the poetry / Verses, verses of turds."


EWU's Scott Poole: "Wild is the wind in my pants after eating this bean burrito. But hey, I'm not writing a poem about it."





Some targets are just too easy. Try, for example, these lines from "Barricade," a song from a decade ago by a group calling itself Phlebotomized: "Into a dream one fades / God! Who will be done / Could a poor soul be saved? / For refuge one must run / Cast from here to there / Left in a disillusioned state / Who acted so heedlessly? / Forgive me, I hope it's not too late / The preposterous otherside / This being of negativity...."


Marshall tried it, all right, but he didn't like it: "I have absolutely no idea what this person is talking about. Ezra Pound referred to abstractions as a 'greased slide.' This is Crisco -- and steep."


That Jewel girl sure is quite the poet. Indeed within the confessional school of poetry, Sylvia Plath can't hold a candle to Jewel Kilcher. Here's a sample of her sensitive-as-a-snail's-horn verse from "Sometimes It Be That Way": "Please don't say I love you / those words touch me much too deeply / and they make my core tremble ... And please don't touch me like that / It makes every other embrace seem pale and shallow / ... Please don't send me flowers / they only whisper the sweet things you'd say...."


Yes, unfortunately, sometimes it really do be that way. (And this from the poetic dabbler Rolling Stone calls "one of the most richly idiomatic female pop singers of her generation.")


Poole suggests enriching Jewel's idiom with just a teensy, weensy expansion: "Perfect! Only after the last line, I would add "because I'm psychotic and dangerous / because my meds aren't treating me right."


In response to a dozen lines from Depeche Mode's People Are People album, Poole has a helpful suggestion: "Write this passage backwards. See what that does for it. Then hire some circus performers to light it on fire. See what that does for it. Just experiment! Go for it!"





Alice in Chains will conclude our survey. They want you to know they're really feeling the "Grind": "Let the sun never blind your eyes / Let me sleep so my teeth won't grind / Hear a sound from a voice inside / Sure to play a part / So you love the game / And in truth your lies / Become one and the same."


Van Winckel: "Yikes. If this were graffiti in a toilet stall, I'd try to pee faster so as not to have to read it."


Poole: "I think you'll be on the road to success if you replace each instance of 'you' and 'your' with 'B.J. and the Bear.'"


And here's "Nutshell" from Alice in Chains' Jar of Flies: "We chase misprinted lies / We face the path of time / And yet I fight / And yet I fight / This battle all alone / No one to cry to / No place to call home / Oooh ... Oooh / My gift of self is raped / My privacy is raked...."


Marshall: "What happened to the 'we'? Did they realize that you were a whining, clich & eacute;d bore and just leave?"


Poole: "This is so close to being a great poem. Just write 14 lines for every line in this poem. Then take out the original lines. Then take out all the groups of 14 lines. Then eat the whole mess of paper and wash it down with gasoline."





Oh, well. Don't be too disheartened, rockers. Maybe lyric-writing just isn't your thing. You can always crank up the volume. When it comes to your songs, nobody remembers the words anyway.





Publication date: 02/19/04

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