by carl wilson

Virtual Lyrical Ninja Fight

Post music columnist Aaron Wherry (whose blog I really enjoy) picked up my none-too-subtly-thrown-down gauntlet (see below) and countered my Rodney G. quote with some Nellie M. lyrics.

Beef if you want, boyo, but what I read doesn't convince me. [...]

The first verse you quote, from I Wanna Get Married, is the kind of feminist sarcastic satire that Nancy White used to do on the CBC. But okay, that's her popular, novelty-type song. The second long spiel you cite is much better, a rap-damaged stretch with some pretty impressive turns of vocab:

when you’re female and you’re fenced in and
phen-phened to no end
and no zen guide to men will help you fend off the brethren
and then the pen appears
and better than the oxygen network
or the sword or the spear or the fork
or the bored pork-fed horde
it’s a mooring post
the whore you’ll miss the most when you’re away
when you’re in Snowshoe PA

... but then it gets into this adolescent thing about selling out that loses me.

What I was praising about the Rodney Graham lyrics is their mordant world-weariness, which is what I meant by "pungent." They stink of unwashed shirts and unmade beds where broken-spined books splay themselves open like aging trollops, and nearby a man who knows that he should be "better" than he is, but also that he's not planning it any time soon, cackles at his own face in a cracked mirror.

Your Nellie, on the other hand, has all the fresh lemon scent of precocious rebellion and dinner-table debate. It's not about youth or age or any sort of identity thing at all. Hell, in real life my man Graham's a wealthy, internationally celebrated artist. But he's still dead aware of the twisted loser behind the successful mask, and that capacity for double-consciousness is something that on my cursory listens (and readings) I don't think Nellie's developed so far. So if I'm going to make a Randy Newman comparison, I think we're closer with the cranky conceptual Freudian than the drama-school wit.

I ain't saying she's no good. She's clearly some kind of virtuoso. But virtuosity often throws up a barrier to the underlying stillness you need for the listener to enter a work's depths. No surprise if Nellie usurps the spot Rufus Wainwright wanted (while I like Rufus, he's got an even worse case of prodigy syndrome). And I aim to give her a chance. But really, when it comes to mixing up old cabaret-style standard songcraft with contemporary mishmashed influences, I bet nobody this decade is going to outdo Stephin Merritt.

If I really were trying to best my fellow crit in this lyrical-ninja fight by proxy, I'd shoot back with a Magnetic Fields song. But since readers probably know all those already, here's another good one from Rodney G.:

Why is it that bad things seem to Happen on my watch? First you hear the foghorn moan, Next you hit the rocks. What can you say when bad things happen? (And bad things happen more and more.) There's the situation - end of conversation. That was my year on the lighthouse station: Ever so high and lonesome. Incontrovertible fact: I took a significant whack, Ended up more or less flat out on my back. Constant irritation, for quite a lengthy spell - You know I turned a short vacation Into one long living hell. That was my year on the lighthouse station: So high and so lonesome. I'm high and I'm lonesome.

Read More | News | Posted by zoilus on Friday, April 02 at 6:03 PM | Linking Posts

 

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Zoilus by Carl Wilson