Sitting at the computer, what could you be doing at any one moment?
Playing a game?
Writing up a report for work?
Chatting with friends?
Surfing social media posts?
Any one of these tasks can be part of a person’s common, daily routine. Something else each of the people doing these tasks could all be doing, is listening to music. Certain people thrive under a multi-sensory experience, while others need silence to concentrate on one thing at a time. Still, theoretically, one could do all these things and have a good ol’ song going in the background. This scenario is so commonplace and ubiquitously accepted that someone finding it fascinating would make them the “odd thinker” in the bunch, right?
What about this idea though:
Regardless of musical style, the composer, the instruments or the intended emotional response, what does almost all contemporary, non-classical music have? Words.
Thousands upon thousands of of Spotify, Rdio, Last.fm, Pandora, iTunes (and the like) playlists worldwide are packed to the brim with lyrically loaded songs. Actually taking time to ponder this beyond surface acknowledgement seems silly. Except, what crosses my mind, as I sit here with a song of my own playing while I type, is how much modern society just accepts lyrics and those who write and sing them, while conversely tending to have apprehensions and generally a less enthusiastic interest in literary poetry.
I realize that last statement jumps into a presumptuous position -even more so considering that views of art and artistic pursuits vary outside of the US- but it doesn’t seem as though strict poets suddenly coming out of the woodworks would be so easily absorbed into society’s everyday happenings.
Contemporary musicians we admire are popularized for a number of reasons: Their looks, voice, personality, background story…Who hasn’t belted out a line or a whole song in the car, bedroom karaoke room or party? The widely accepted recognition of all these people easily comes out in the form of social media quantification and concert attendance. We don’t give their works a second thought while standing a crowd singing along. What though, if a musician, and your favorite one at that, put up a YouTube video on all their social media channels and announced they were going to do a tour but use only their popularized lyrics and that effectively, they were going to temporarily become a touring poet?
To go on a brief side-story for a moment: this question I just put out there reminds me of a MEISA conference roundtable from some years back when I was at university. A girl in the audience with me raised a point about people not considering her to be a “real artist” because she was “merely a lyricist.” This declaration was met with an instantaneous response to the contrary from at least one of the panelists, then slowly followed by answers of agreement by the other panelists. (one of whom included the musical triple-treat, Siedah Garrett ) While I cannot remember which of the panelists spoke these words, I remember them nonetheless:
“You absolutely are an artist. Lyricists and lyrics are just as important as composers and their music.”
Why I bring this flashback up, is to point out there there was / is some, at least stereotypically fueled, mentality about those not in the traditional composer’s chair being of lesser significance, even within the realm of all things music industry. it is good that these panelists spoke to the positive opposite of the girl’s point but clearly those types of feelings are not born from nothing.
So if words can be felt as a secondary element to melody in the field of music itself, then what’s to say about the entire world at large? People don’t scream poems, famous or not, at the top of their lungs out a car window. Isn’t it odd that US popular culture shies away from poetry and poets, with neither having music mainstream popularity but that in most common pop / rock song forms, lyrics are written in what is typically, at its core, a poetic format?
Much of these questions stem from assumptions about society’s reception to music and poetry, which I don’t have quantified down to a tee but on the whole, what do kids talk about in school? Favorite bands or songs. It’s familiar, it’s normal, it’s comfortable and it’s a common conversational topic. Poetry on the other hand, the US school curriculum’s aversion to it and subsequently student’s general aversion to it usually comes from reasoning like a lack of understanding or a fear of over complexity. True, common contemporary songs don’t tend to breach every form of poetry out there. (Sestina anyone?) Nonetheless, stopping to more heavily consider and impart upon students and music-loving society in general, that the music we love is really dressed up poetry, then maybe another artful form of expression would get some new life breathed into it by way of generations with new perspective.
In the meantime, I pause to wonder what everyone would think of my hypothetical scenario. What would the world be like if our popular artists today spoke their songs and non-melodically articulated the words that so many sing on repeat? What if they referred to themselves as poets rather than musicians? Would this scare people away? If it did, is that a showing of society’s own defaulting ignorance about a seemingly less common art form? Would poetry suddenly get “cool” and the art world do a 180°?