.... written by Abigail Frost for Frank's, even though she'd regretfully come to the conclusion that there was no time, what with £300's worth of needlework book scarcely started on yet, half a million punk rockers to write to for Mexicon, letter to Dickinson + Gresham postponed for reasons which will appear later, and the ICA William Morris [→] thrash tonite which had been going to be a REWARD for getting on with work, but now becomes essential chance to meet someone who is good at advice and fixing things for me, and three huge tomes about biology borrowed from Roz last night tempting me to read them, and ....
.... written in the intervals between agonizing between two jobs, neither of which I've been offered yet, one of which I'm being interviewed for tomorrow without the person I was going to job-share with, as she's dropped out, and which I certainly don't want to do full time; the other I was interviewed for yesterday, wouldn't mind, but it scares me SHITLESS and and would probably mean putting off my trip to Italy till June; neither of which, life being what it is, will I probably get in the end.
.... written because it was just running through my mind, and I quite like to record these things.
NO TEXT TO HAND ....
.... because it's Roz's and at her house. Last night I looked through her copy of The Oxford Book of Light Verse, edited by that old bore who was once a good novelist, K Amis. The trouble with all these anthologies is that they all contain the same hard core of stuff ('Chuck it Smith', Farewell to the Season etc etc etc), so that if you want the more unusual verses in several of them, you either have to resort to the photocopier (messy, expensive, and illegal) or over duplicate. It's a bit like collecting Kinks compilations, which brings me to my main point.
Amis includes very few examples of song-lyrics; only a couple by Noel Coward, that I noticed, though I suppose he might have included some by W S Gilbert too. (But Gilbert, of course, was a lyric writer only.) His justification is that many song lyrics simply look feeble on the page, referring especially to Cole Porter. Roz, who as if you hadn't guessed, is a Cole Porter fan, thought this was a bit off: I agreed at the time, but on thinking about it, I had to conclude that Amis was on the whole right.
I reached this conclusion via thinking about Amis's apology for not including much by people younger than himself. Actually, and predictably enough, it reads more like boasting that his brain is dead, but there you go. He obviously meant to apologise, so we should be grateful for small mercies.
Yes, I thought, the condition of verse in the 1970s probably did preclude writing of light verse by poets, but what about songwriters? Though one wouldn't expect Kingsley, King of the BOFs to care about it, I can think of lots and lots of mostly 60s songs whose words are good enough on their own ... such as ...
... well, not much by the Beatles. Though I wouldn't want to tie myself to Amis's definition of 'light' (just as well, since I've forgotten it), Lennon's best songs have an edge of cruelty or despair that would preclude them. The obviously comic Beatles songs are too feeble as lyrics (Yellow Sub, When I'm 64, etc); others which are very witty on record (such as Savoy Truffle, Get Back, Rocky Racoon) do depend on the music.
... Well, never mind, there are all those marvellous period pieces by the Small Faces. Well, both those marvellous period pieces by the Small Faces. But once again ... In Lazy Sunday Afternoon and Itchycoo Park, it's not quite so much the music that makes it, it's the total performance. Still don't quite make it as verse on their own.
Dylan? Now, I've always regarded him as a master of comedy when he puts his mind to it, but come down to the point and all I can think of is that song about Captain A-rab and the discovery of America (have it on tape, but forgot the title), and Everybody must get Stoned. The latter almost makes it but ... again, it's the performance. His best lyrics (eg Highway 6l), like Lennon's, are too serious.
Van Morrison? Van Morrison? Well, These Dreams of You is playing as I write ... but no, it's the tune again.
Ray Davies? Now, I think, we're getting closer. Sunny Afternoon almost gets in; my doubts are really only because I can't quite dissociate it from the period flavour, that wonderful evocation of a world where society floated on credit, and every so often a Bloom or a Cyril Lord fell off with a bump. It's a poem about a moment, in the life of a man and a society, the crazy bit where you know you're sunk and no-one else does ... but perhaps my liking for it as a poem colours my appreciation of it as light verse.
But in rides, not on a white horse but in a rusty pimpmobile, Chuck Berry. Too many of his lyrics make it to list. And then, not in a white pimpmobile but on a rusty horse, The Bonzos. Canyons of your Mind, of course, is diminished without the performance; but as a parody of a certain type of overblown imagery it can stand up on its own. But considering the number of pop lyrics there are, two or three lyricists represented in this hypothetical anthology ain't many ... rock'n'roll should surely have done better?
I'm not sure. I suspect that if the lyrics were stronger, and the music stayed the same, confusion would result. Lyrics have to be fairly simple or they simply get lost in time as the song goes on. Actually, the fact that you can't rip the songs into two halves is a tribute to the unity of good rock songs.
No doubt all you erudite Frankers (have you noticed how Frank's is becoming the apa of highbrow fandom?), with your properly catalogued record collections will find dozens of examples to contradict me. Tough luck me.
Time for a Quickie comes from Abigail Frost, who lives at 69 Robin Hood Gardens, Cotton St, London E14, and wants to be Goldie Hawn when she grows up. Or Vanessa Bell or George Eliot or Margaret Welbank or anyone but a bloody part-time functionary for the GLC*, but doesn't see how she can afford not to be......................
Handwritten addition: * Not that I shall be. Turned up just on time to County Hall, to be sent to wrong dept. At right dept, was told I should have gone to Festival Hall. Have to fix new interview tomorrow. I guess The People's Ken can do without me.
FRANK'S APA 5 (March 1984)