Lately I've been fascinated by the intersectionality of poetry & song lyrics. During my music theory classes in college, I learned that [some important person, probably a dude, knowing history, whose name I forget] was strongly opinionated towards lyrics never belonging in music. One potential reason given for this strong, arts-dividing objection is ostensibly because it was so hard for words to actually have scansion good enough to not fuck up the music (especially complex instrumental music, which is still often wordless, to be fair). With study, I came to sort of understood the truth of that, even though it was antithetical to my heavy-metal musical leanings and near-fanatical memorization of and enjoyment of good lyrics. (I memorize poems too, but at nowhere near the rate of lyrics, cuz duh, the music makes it easier.)
So this is a post about all of those things: poetry, song-lyrics, heavy metal, and music theory.
I'm fascinated by song lyrics that were clearly poetry first, probably because for a long time in teenagerhood, I wrote tons of poetry that I imagined would make good lyrics, but really didn't. Anyway, System of a Down and Rob Zombie (especially White Zombie's first few albums) are great examples of this: That's poetry, you can hear it; and yes, there's confirmation out there that both of those song-writers were/are poetry-writers. Good on them! — But it makes for weird song-lyrics. Good! But weird.
Another fun case is Slipknot, whose lyrics seem close enough to the music that they probably weren't poetry (or if they were, were deliberately made very simple and 4/4-friendly in their scansion) — but damn, they're powerful, compared to a lot of lyrics. Everybody (I think) knows Wait and Bleed, which has really good verses; but the ones to Before I Forget really dropped my jaw when I first heard them:
I am a world before I am a man
I was a creature before I could stand
I will remember before I forget
Before I forget this
OooOOOOo. Up till I heard that, I'm pretty sure I was only listening to SK for the drums. (I'm a drums-junkie.) But daaaang.
I should add that whoever the doubtless-a-dude who was against all lyrics in music (Palestrina? Maybe?), he wound up conceding that lyrics which were already famous poems would be maybe ok, if we had to have lyrics. Was he just being stuffy, and resistant to changing the Established Arts? …Probably, I think. He definitely was all about the religiosity of "proper" music, and can therefore go F himself on at least that front. Though maybe he did have a point about poetry…I do tend to like the poetic (whether poetry-first or poetry-seeming) ones myself. This is art, though, so there really isn't any defending the things you like as "better". Even if they are more complex, took more skill to string together, or are more evocative…some people are always going to prefer (or be spoken to by) things that are less complex or less evocative, making those things just as valuable as art.
And as we've said, there was at least that one famous dude (and I'm really kind of ok just lumping together "famous dudes" at this point; I'd feel bad if it was an underrepresented person, but dudes from The Classics have earned a little smudging and name-forgetting by now) who argued that music with any lyrics was sacrilege to the art. That bit is clearly wrong, yeah?
Here, I'll end this (several hours late! I fell asleep on the couch after a long day :/) post with some excellent rock lyrics that strike me as very poetic, though I have no idea if they were poetry first (probably not? If anybody knows Clutch personally, please ask them? :P). Regardless of origin, in fusion with the music they've found, these words have attained a great power as art, at least for me.
The song these are from is called Drink to the Dead.
Oh, and fascinatingly, the first of these two verses is actually sung in 3/4 (actually probably 6/8, but they count the same) time, which is a cool music trick! To give Palestrina (or whoever) the finger a bit more, I love when the fusion of words and music makes a nifty point that way. \o/
May you go marching in three-measure time
Dressed up as asses, drunk to the nines
Swing from the rafters, shouting those songs
Gone unsung for far too long
[switch back to 4/4 cut-time]
Drink to the dead, all you still alive!
We shall join them in good time
Should you go crossing that silvery brook,
It's best to leap before you look!