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  #11  
Unread 02-20-2019, 08:49 PM
Duncan Gillies MacLaurin's Avatar
Duncan Gillies MacLaurin Duncan Gillies MacLaurin is online now
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Michael and Walter claim that nobody cares about the cryptic features, and nobody has contradicted them, so I have now deleted the ham-fisted clue that points to them.

Duncan
  #12  
Unread 02-21-2019, 06:06 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Hi Duncan,

I'm coming to this not knowing much at all about Ben Okri, but I think the song/poem has to stand or fall on its own merits. It feels like a song to me. There's not a lot going on poetically in terms of arresting or surprising images, apart from the 'secret eye' line (which I understand is Okri's phrase) and the idea that some vague enemy will 'never be as clever ’cause thin rags seek love' (the sense of which isn't really clear to me).

The three main stanzas/verses feel part of a narrative tradition of troubadour/vagabond/busking song. It's all quite 60s folk revival. But some of the details feel odd and I don't know what to make of them.

S1 sets up the N as a typical freewheelin' London busker. Why does the Chinese trombone turn into a Chinese guitar in the subsequent S? In the first S I assumed Chinese just signalled cheaply made/mass produced, but then when the guitar was Chinese also I wondered if there was more significance to the country of origin that I wasn't getting. Then I wondered, I'm afraid, if the instruments had changed simply for the convenience of the rhyme. And I couldn't picture someone playing a trombone and a harp together, but then later (with the guitar) I wondered if the harp was actually a 'mouth harp' (a harmonica), which seemed more of a busker's instrument of choice.
So, I had a hard time really envisaging what kind of music this guy was playing for his fiver a day.

S2 seemed weird. After picturing the N as a kind of vagabond figure, I learn he is about to ask his dad for a grant to go travelling. Hmm. As a listener/reader what am I supposed to make of this? It kind of burst the Romantic bubble and I found myself involuntarily mumbling things like 'get a proper job'. Then I wondered if the stuff about the family tree and 'it’s easy to see I need to break free' in the chorus was supposed to an ironic comment on this. Is it? Also 'grant' seems a weirdly official choice of word. Not 'loan' or 'some cash'? Again, it felt rhyme driven and ill-thought out.

Then in the third main S we learn that all this happened 30 years earlier and the father is dead, which came as a surprise because S1 and 2 are in present tense. 'I can say that Papsie's dead' is an odd way to express the fact. Why 'I can say that' (other than to fill the line). And the rhetorical question 'Who better to sing my songs with me...?' seems completely unearned, since all we have heard about the relationship between the N and his dad is that 30 years previously N was thinking of asking him for some money.

So. I don't really know what to make of it all. I love a good rambling folky busker's tune as much, if not more, than most. But there's no compelling narrative here, no sense of a life lived or of satisfying closure. I feel like if I heard this in the underground, and paid attention to the lyrics, I would just scratch my head and think...huh?

And the anagrams and numerology stuff is just baffling and incredibly dull.

Sorry.
  #13  
Unread 02-21-2019, 07:13 AM
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Duncan Gillies MacLaurin Duncan Gillies MacLaurin is online now
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Thanks for this, Mark!

Well, I understand your objections to this, and I can agree with many of your points, though there are one or two that I can't see much problem with. For example, the use of the present tense when recounting the events of thirty years ago. Thatís put in perspective at the beginning of V3. As for the Romantic bubble bursting, well, that's fair enough. That's life. ďItís easy to seeÖĒ is both straight and ironic at the same time, I think.

I don't see that "Who better to sing my songs with me..." is unearned, as the idea must be that N's father gave him a grant to go to Italy and N found a home, and so the song is as much a tribute to N's father (and mother) as it is to Ben Okri (and his parents).

The "harp" is a typically Irish word for a mouth organ or harmonica. The "silver" is a clue to the type of harp. The instrument itself features on the song version. The harp can be played at the same time as the guitar, which makes the switch from trombone to guitar a natural development for a songwriter. I mostly played trombone while busking but on rare occasions played the harp.

"Chinese" is there simply because of the funny coincidence that both my trombone and guitar were made in China. Both instruments are/were good value for money, I'd say. The trombone was hacked to death by a madman with a cane in Siena. I've still got it though. My dad teased me about spending money on sending it home. The harps I play these days are Lee Oskars and are made in Japan.

Iíve got a shocking cold, but Iím hoping to record the song soon.

Duncan
  #14  
Unread 02-21-2019, 09:03 AM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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Hi Duncan, I've been following along hoping to get more from this than I did the first few reads, but the additional cryptology/information does not help at all, I'm afraid. As Mark said, it must stand on its own.
You really start off in a hole because reading a lyric without benefit of hearing/knowing the accompanying musical melody is essentially an experiment in frustration for me. I want to hear the sound as well as see the words. Without it I feel I'm unable to grasp the whole of it. Record and post when you get over your cold. (I always thought I sound better singing when I have a cold).

(Roger/Bob's link of a boy simultaneously playing the recorder and beatboxing made my day yesterday and I got to share it with my music teacher friends. Thanks for that Roger.)

Your most recent response (to Mark's criticism) brought to light where I think your next song should come from: the hacked trombone. That is quite the story waiting to be told!
About the trombone busking. I don't think I've ever come across a trombone busker. If I did I might spend a little time looking for the marching band he/she might have strayed from. Tromboners can get lost in their own sound

Everything is made in China. It's not fair. Write a song about that, too.

Anyway, keep singing. The world needs more busking and less... well... less just about everything else.
x
x
  #15  
Unread 02-21-2019, 09:23 AM
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Duncan Gillies MacLaurin Duncan Gillies MacLaurin is online now
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Cheers, Jim!

The crypto-stuff was my way into revising the song - extra demands inspire me, and I thought that as such it would be of interest here. Apparently not! I very much agree that the piece should be able to stand on its own, and that's why I want my lyrics to work on the page. Hoping to record something tomorrow.

Duncan

PS Writing a song about my trombone being hacked is a good idea. I'll try that. I've got a busy few months work-wise, and I'm a slow writer, so you'll have to be patient.

Last edited by Duncan Gillies MacLaurin; 02-21-2019 at 09:28 AM. Reason: PS
  #16  
Unread 02-21-2019, 11:35 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Quote:
I don't see that "Who better to sing my songs with me..." is unearned, as the idea must be that N's father gave him a grant to go to Italy and N found a home,
I didn't really get that this 'must be' the case. There's nothing in the song to indicate the outcome of the N's request to his father.

I suppose if you exclusively sang this song in Italy it would make sense by implication. But this is one reason why it doesn't work as a page poem.
  #17  
Unread 02-21-2019, 12:03 PM
Duncan Gillies MacLaurin's Avatar
Duncan Gillies MacLaurin Duncan Gillies MacLaurin is online now
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Well, Mark. there are a couple of extra meanings to "I could stumble on the perfect place to turn into a home." N could turn into a home for someone else, or N could switch direction and end up at home. It is these two extra meanings that are relevant in my case. (The notes said I met my wife in Italy, but we made a home in Denmark. I've now added that fact. Likewise that I never made it to Rome.)

Duncan

PS The meaning of "thin rags seek love" is "poor people seek love" (and they are thereby more clever than those people who aren't poor and who look down on them for being so).

Last edited by Duncan Gillies MacLaurin; 02-21-2019 at 12:58 PM.
  #18  
Unread 02-22-2019, 04:20 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Hi Duncan,

Quote:
(The notes said I met my wife in Italy, but we made a home in Denmark. I've now added that fact. Likewise that I never made it to Rome.)
I was searching through the song trying to find this additional stuff. Then I realised you meant that you've added it to the notes. You seem to be treating the notes as part of the poem/song, which I don't really get. Surely whether published as a poem or sung to an audience as a song, the piece has to be self-contained. I don't understand why you are spending time editing the notes rather than working on the actual piece. There's still no indication in the actual song about whether or not the N got the money and went to Italy.

I don't see that 'I may say that Papsie’s dead' is any better or different to 'I can say that Papsie’s dead'.

I kind of thought 'thin rags seek love' probably meant something along the lines you explain ("poor people seek love" (and they are thereby more clever than those people who aren't poor and who look down on them for being so)). But again, I find this hard to reconcile with a narrative whose main thrust is that the father is able to fund a month long indulgent excursion to Italy in order for the N to find himself. The song/poem seems deaf to the irony and I couldn't help but be reminded of the brilliant Pulp song, Common People

https://youtu.be/LGjpFHBfisc
  #19  
Unread 02-22-2019, 09:59 AM
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Mark

I answered you about N’s father with regard to how it worked within the piece. However, I do take your point that there are some unanswered questions within the piece. I think the chorus does answer it implicitly though. What did N do that was amazing in his youth? No doubt, he went to Italy and found a home. (And that harmonizes with what happened in real life. And, yes, I did edit the notes. Because it seemed relevant to do so, not because I consider them part of the poem. On the other hand, I don’t see why you think editing the notes isn’t part and parcel of revision. It seems like you regard the very presence of notes as an admission of one’s failure to put all the important stuff in the poem. Notes can and do give some extra insights, for example the mixed marriage of Okri’s parents: ‘What is it with all these boundaries?” The man is royalty with a social conscience. Interesting, eh?)

The second verse could be pure irony, N’s father neither having any extra cash or being willing to part with it even if he had. But a son can have affection for his own father regardless of a) how much cash the latter has and b) how willing he is to fork it out.

I can certainly see the relevance of Pulp’s song, but I don’t consider it brilliant. It’s okay. I can imagine that it would get rather wearing in the long run. It’s not always as black and white as that. Sometimes Daddy stops forking out. And I find the sniping and negativity tiresome. On the plus side, it makes me glad I haven’t been living in the UK the last 33 years.

Many “privileged” people have experimented with “slumming it”, and that’s no bad thing in itself. Many writers have been attracted to poverty as being closer to the realities of life. George Orwell wrote: “It is a feeling of relief, almost of pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out. You have talked so often of going to the dogs—and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them, and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety.” And here’s Henry Miller: “I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive.”

I don’t know why the poor should have ownership of poverty. It seems like inverted snobbery to me. But thanks for reminding me that the enemy are indeed many. Not only does the ‘slum tourist’ lose former “friends” and have the vast majority of people who aren't poor looking down on him, but he also has to contend with those small-minded poor people who see him as an intruder. So what if he is a tourist? Why hate the tourist??

I don’t think the “main thrust” of this piece is, as you say, “that the father is able to fund a month long indulgent excursion to Italy in order for the N to find himself.” And I will also note here that I regard the words “indulgent” and “to find himself” loaded and offensive.

But I do appreciate you sticking with this. I’ve reworked the first line of V3 again and changed the second verse because you objected to “grant”.

Duncan
  #20  
Unread 02-22-2019, 10:56 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Hi Duncan,

Quote:
The second verse could be pure irony, N’s father neither having any extra cash or being willing to part with it even if he had.
Well yes, it could be, but is it? You've already said that 'the idea must be that N's father gave him a grant to go to Italy' so presumably the second verse isn't ironic. You can't have it both ways.

I do think a poem or song should stand on its own without notes, yes. Notes might be interesting, but if the text can't be appreciated without them, then it is a failing I think.

I have no problem with wealthy artistic people 'slumming it' for ascetic or empathetic reasons, or to connect/reconnect with a more basic and possibly creatively productive lifestyle. Some of my favourite rock singers (Dylan, Joe Strummer) were basically 'class tourists'. It's just that your poem seems to make such a glaring feature of the idea in S2 that it begs to be read ironically, but I don't think it is meant to be ironic.

The Pulp song is brilliant. It may be a one-sided polemic, seething with snarky class resentment, but at least it knows what it is. I don't have to agree with every word or sentiment to find it great. This made me laugh, though:

Quote:
I don’t know why the poor should have ownership of poverty. It seems like inverted snobbery to me.
How selfish of them!

Quote:
I don’t think the “main thrust” of this piece is, as you say, “that the father is able to fund a month long indulgent excursion to Italy in order for the N to find himself.” And I will also note here that I regard the words “indulgent” and “to find himself” loaded and offensive.
Well, sorry. But it's how these lines came across to me:

Perhaps I’ll visit Papsie. “Dad, could I ask you for a grand?
I fancy a couple of months abroad. It’s time that I expand:
busk in Venice and Perugia, trace the art of love in Rome.

'I fancy a couple of months' strikes me as an indulgent tone, and 'expand' and 'trace the art of love' seems like classic 'finding oneself'. I can't help that you find offence in me pointing that out.

I don't want to argue, Duncan. But you have posted this in Deep End and I'm just offering my unvarnished opinion on the poem.

Mark
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