I’m a wordsmith-a word addict, if you will. As a preacher I mention all the time that it was my obsession with words that drove my stage career and ultimately led up to my Biblical scholar status. Because of the “type” of music I’ve chosen to write for my records, people are always surprised when I mention my influences throughout the years.
Obviously I’ve listened to a LOT of David Bowie, Lou Reed, Queen, Sex Pistols, Rolling Stones etc. in my life. Patti Smith and Elvis Costello also were huge teachers for me. But when I mention my obsession with Bob Dylan, the entire Peter, Paul, and May songbook, my meeting Burt Bacharach and Paul Stanley the same night and not knowing what excited me more or which Joan-Armatrading or Jett-taught me the most, people seem stunned.
First of all, most of us musicians have a vast knowledge of music history and wildly diverse tastes and influences. This is the secret sauce to our witch’s brew, the invisible magic that hits all the right visceral buttons that, hopefully, make you love us so much. Second of all, I did not live in a cave my whole life listening to music from 1976.
Nope, I just like it a lot.
For me, it’s always been the story of the song. KISS has a barely remembered song GOING BLIND (written by Paul, sung by Gene) which is still my most favorite and it packs more thought (and anguish) than their entire catalogue put together. HA! Most readers are probably confused that I’d refer to KISS at all in a blog that’s ultimately about poetry.
Then there was LOVE ME FOREVER…
A dear friend wrote me upon the release of my CD, LOVE ME FOREVER and said, “Great record but I’m not sure why you chose to bother with ONE TIN SOLDIER.” Well, the song was used in the movie BILLY JACK, a transcendent film released during the birth of an amazing time in American cinema. It wasn’t a new song, but a new version that managed to capture the spirit of the film but also stand alone as a statement against well-meaning do-gooders that can destroy a nation (ahem).
The best songs never lose their relevance because their message never becomes outdated. I love glam gems like BANG A GONG, LITTLE WILLY and even, SPIRIT IN THE SKY (sorry Norman, I know you hate glam). These songs always sound new because they address thoughts and feelings that are real in every generation. I chose ONE TIN SOLDIER and all of the songs on this record because I have loved them since the day I heard them and will love them til the day I die.
And because I am convinced of their relevance.
Even the secret track, I STARTED NOTHING by The Ting Tings, which was a hit at the time of my recording it. Such simple, clever and timeless poetry: “I started nothing, I wish I did.” I felt like I was saying, I didn’t write this, I wish I did.
I feel the same way about SWEET BONDAGE, my mash up of KISS, QUEEN and THE TUBES (another massive influence). When Freddy Mercury cooed “You call me sweet like I’m some kind of cheese,” I knew I’d found nirvana. So much passion and sweet pain in a single sentence.
The one that got away (meaning the one I did not record-yet)
The Sex Pistols’ BODIES, whose lyrics are unprintable here, is hands-down one of the most compelling outbursts of rock and roll poetry of my life. Here is a band that is barely recognized for its talent and every song on their only real record is laced with a level of communication rarely seen outside a poetry slam setting. Rock and roll was supposed to be about rebellion and debauchery but punk rock brought an awakening of social awareness to new listeners because many of its performers were products of the blues, folk and 60s protest rock movements.
There’s poetry to be found everywhere (check out the poetry books in the Bible) because paraphrasing dear, sweet Rod Stewart, every person is a story. And we’re surrounded by people. My musical ears and visceral feelers have always been drawn to the best tale being told in the best possible way. I hope I have served my own story in this fashion through my songs.
But just in case, I am working on a whole new batch of wicked wonderfulness for my next studio concoction.