Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Sayet, Springsteen & Poetry
Yes, we CAN say that Bill Maher and Ward Churchill are stupid men.
REAL BASTARDS HARDLY EVER EXPLAIN THEMSELVES. Nobody admires Evan Sayet more than I do, but he's written something I couldn't disagree with more. At Big Hollywood no less.
In the song many consider Springsteen’s masterpiece – and which I believe is the greatest poem ever written (made only that much greater by musical turns that Robert McKee could use as an example of “integration” in his story — structure class) — “Thunder Road,” Springsteen is imploring a women he knows to join him in his trip down life’s highway. He – in themes that repeat throughout his body of work – knows that life’s better (and one’s chances for success, however one defines it, improved) with a pal, a confidant, a coconspirator, a lover and a friend beside you... [boldface by me]
To be fair, he ends by condemning what he considers the new, entitlement-minded Springsteen.
[R]ather than using his own success to testify to the promise – if you make wise choices, commit to your friends and lovers, show up on time and pay the cost – you can go from bus driver’s son to a president’s pal, he’s testifying to the exact opposite of not only his own truth, but the truth.
Springsteen has gone from the voice of real hope which requires wise change, to the voice of entitlement and being forever stuck there.
But before that, he offers an extraordinary encomium:
There are two Harvard professors, a leading theologian and one of the nation’s premiere social and political journalists (to name just a very few) who have written books on Springsteen – the artist, not the man – and his literary and moral contributions. I, too, have considered writing one along the lines of The Leadership Lessons of George Washington and The Tao of Pooh – the often simple but essential lessons that I have taken from Springsteen’s lyrics and incorporated into my own life for the better.
Through the years I have been a fan – in many cases a big fan – of other acts as well. I think Paul Simon is a brilliant lyricist and musician and Bernie Taupin who, along with Elton John, has created some of the greatest songs in the soundtrack of my life are, too. Billy Joel has been unparalleled at catching and throwing back the zeitgeist of the times and so on. But only Springsteen has been a moral guide and to this day I have no doubt that he is, outside my closest family and friends, one of the two people who has most helped me to be the man I wish to be...
C'mon, Evan. Two outrages here. First, that Springsteen is a poet at all, let alone the best poet in the admittedly small sphere of pop music. Second, that the purpose of poetry is to print life lessons like bumper stickers.
And, okay, a third outrage. That "Thunder Road" is the best poem ever written.
Consider this the first entry in the long catalogue of things that PISS ME OFF, which I addressed in a mea culpa to Apotheosis on a recent post. You see, I have a suspicion that I'm the last person who knows that sci-fi is not literature, that the remote past contains exemplars we should still revere, that movies are not a replacement for Shakespeare or Racine, and that song lyrics are not poetry but accompaniment to the music, something like a barky harmonica. Please try to understand my perspective.
Best movie I ever saw. Have it on laser disc. Can't see it because no more laser disc.
Pissed off? You bet. We're all reduced to championing voices that are those of precocious children. There's an awareness of Shakespeare, certainly, and a genuflection, but the minds at work have been shaped by other forces. Forces usually no older than the nearest strip mall. Smart is great. But it's not enough.
The best poem ever. Ever?
What does that statement say about the person who could write it with a straight face? Springsteen isn't even the best pop music poet. His lyrics don't stand alone. They don't scan. Springsteen's vocal style has become accomplished at cramming the unscannable into a track blurred helpfully by guitars and percussion. He's the rock version of the Wall of Sound.
Dylan, no poet either, uses a high-low dippity do to conflate his nonsense with meaning. The Salvador Dali of musical pretension.
The closest to poetry is Tom Waits, and I'm sure he'd be the first to tell you loudly and definitively that he's no Shakespeare, Shelley, Coleridge, Swinburne, Poe, Verlaine, Eliot, Yeats, Stevens, or Rimbaud.
Eminem has a claim. But that's mostly because people like me compare him to Rimbaud. Which he most certainly isn't.
Which brings me to the next worst assumption in Sayet's essay. Poetry isn't about tips for living a rewarding life. It's about life. If life were a book such as Sayet claims to want to write, he could begin and end with Rudyard Kipling's "If." Never mind that Kipling was a better poet than any rock lyricist. He's still more pedagogue than poet.
As for Springsteen. he's just a Jersey motorhead who escaped into fame. If he'd learned any real life lessons along the way, now's about the time we'd be hearing them. All he's learned apparently is that winning life's celebrity lottery doesn't erase those first few years of resentment, class envy, dissimulation, and insecurity. Entitlement was always on his mind. Why he's never been grateful for life's showering of good fortune. How he could keep on (keep on, keep on, keep on...) playing the loser of evil American capitalism. In old age, he's adopted the mannerisms of a high-toned lefty journalist looking down on it all. At base, he's still base. An uneducated, semi-literate poseur. I'm guessing Evan Sayet never participated in an impromptu drag race for pink slips on the back roads of Jersey. What do you think?
Which still leaves us with one last question unanswered. What's the greatest poem ever written? Hint: It's not "Thunder Road." It was written by one William Tyndale, without whom there would be no Shakespeare. It's called The King James Bible.
Take a look at it, Evan. Might stretch your horizons to a mighty new level. Might be some lessons in there beyond the bumper sticker mentality of no retreat, no surrender.
Said with all due respect.