Tuesday, 13 October, 2009

Am I a philistine?

The other day, a friend, a long-haired dude who has since shaved his head, a chap with a collection of hard drives full of movies and music, played a song on his laptop.
"You'll love it," he said.
Or maybe he didn't say anything, but that doesn't matter.
So he played this song. It was, I can now tell you, having asked this other friend who was around at the same time, and googled the line he remembered, Beautiful World by Colin Hay.
I like to go out beyond the white breakers
where a man can still be free (or a woman if you are one)
I like swimming in the sea
The tune was pleasant enough, the dude singing it had a nice voice, but my enthusiasm for it was only tepid. I said as much to my two friends.
"Listen to the lyrics properly da. It's awesome," one or both of them said.
And there in essence was my problem. More accurately the problem with me.
I'm incapable of appreciating songs whose appeal is primarily lyric-based. This I think is connected to my inability to really get poetry. I get funny stuff, like Ogden Nash, but that's about it. Unless you count something like this, the only lines of poetry I've ever stuck on a status message:
Like rattle of dry seeds in pods the warm crowd gently clapped,
The boys who came to watch their gods, the tired old men who napped.
And I surmise that I appreciate this poem (Cricket at Worcester, John Arlott) purely because it describes a cricket scene, i.e., something that's likely to strike an emotional chord anyway. And heck, it tells me clearly what it's talking about.
Unlike, say, this:
Tell her to make me a cambric shirt, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Without no seams nor needlework, then she'll be a true love of mine
I heard this (Scarborough Fair, Simon and Garfunkel) thanks to another friend, a colleague at work who did crazy things with the internet settings to enable access to streaming video, found the song on YouTube and handed me a pair of headphones.
"The lyrics are awesome, right?" he asked me.
I nodded with a beatific smile, not because I thought the lyrics awesome (Honestly, I have no idea what the two dudes are going on about) but because I loved the song for the tune, and how the two voices, one high, one low, in perfect harmony, made me bask in some un-nameable emotion.
Beautiful World somehow didn't manage it, which perhaps isn't the song's failure but mine.
Read here what Mike Marqusee wrote rather more eloquently on a not entirely dissimilar theme. 


Tashi said...

Oh, I love listening to songs where you just don't get the words. It somehow takes on meanings the original lyrics never really live up to. It's partly the failure of popular music but mostly the failure of words. I suppose music effortlessly weaves in and out of spaces language would find very hard to get into.

Ghanshyam Nair said...


J B Jux said...

Ah.. I was the other guy, wasn't I?

While it is fair to say music does not require one to understand the lyrics for one to come to like it, when you understand what it means, it makes the experience a tad better or sometimes worse.