Song Lyrics as Opposed to Poetry, George Fox Edition

George Fox, photo by Caroline Tigner Moore

Generally, when I first listen to a song, I don’t pay much attention to lyrics. If I dig the melody and beat – as the boppers used to say on Bandstand – I’ll start paying closer attention to the words, and if the diction is clever or thought-provoking, all the better.

After all, it’s really rare to encounter lyrics that possess the compression and structural integrity of poetry, i.e., to find songs with words that can stand alone on a page and engage sans musical accompaniment.

My friend George Fox’s latest song – so new that it’s still untitled – comes close to accomplishing this rare feat. The song, which consists of three verses followed by a chorus, distills a lifetime in four-and-a-half minutes and does so employing diction, imagery, and structure that reinforce and embody the song’s central theme, what Andrew Marvell famously dubbed “time’s wingèd chariot.” George wrestles with the metaphysics of time, the illusive nature of past, present, and future, and how a lifetime passes [cliché alert] in the blink of an eye.

The song begins with a callous youth speeding through life in rural Orangeburg County, South Carolina:

Just eighteen, driving an old pickup truck,
Joint in the ashtray and a bed full of luck.
Running nowhere as fast as I can
Down an Orangeburg County washboard road
Not enough sense to take it slow.
Rolling Stones singing “Street Fighting Man.”

Here, the theme of speed is introduced, and we have our first bit of compression in the allusion to the Stones’ “Street Fighting Man,” which melds the attitude of the the speaker in the Stones’ song with George’s narrator, both young men fueled by the fire of youthful exuberance.

What’s a poor boy to do but “run nowhere as fast as [he] can?”

The chorus shifts to the present, and again, we have speed, the idea of chasing “the dying light,” or as Marvell puts it in “To His Coy Mistress,” although “we cannot make our sun /Stand still, yet we will make him run.” Yet, in the last line, the speaker comes to the realization it’s always now, that the past and future only exist in the present and meaning lies in perspective, depending on where “you’re standing.”

Right outside of your window, just outside your door,
Everything is waiting for you
To fall into the night and chase the dying light.
There’s no need to be gentle.
Sometimes it’s heaven, sometimes it’s hell.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell.
All depends on where you’re standing.
I stand before you now, and I see it written in in the clouds,
All that was and is and could be is now.

In the video below you can check out the first verse and chorus from a live performance at Chico Feo’s Monday Night Singer/Songwriter Soapbox, which George emcees. The song is a work-in-progress, and for me, it’s thrilling to see it evolve on stage, as George experiments with phrasing and gestures.

In the second verse, the middle verse, the narrator finds himself suddenly middle aged, “thirty-three/With two little boys sitting on my knee” and has come to know “how love is made,” but swoosh, suddenly, with the days having flown by “like a midnight train,” he looks down to see, not his sons, but his granddaughter Eliza Jade.

Turned around and I was thirty-three
With two little boys sitting on my knee,
And I realized how love is made.
The days flew by like a midnight train.
The years fell on me like the pouring rain.
Now I look down and see Eliza Jade.

The last stanza arrives like a melancholy last act, with “second guesses, another last chance, and one more shot.” Once again, the radio is playing, not “Street Fighting Man,” but “a brand new song” saying “the same old thing” but “still get[ting] it wrong.”

Second guesses are all I’ve got,
Another last chance and one more shot.
And how I got here I don’t even know.
The radio plays a brand new song.
It says the same old thing they still get wrong
Oh man, and so it goes.

And so it goes – a lifetime distilled into a handful of words.

I could go on about structure, how the number three is central to the architectonics – three six-line stanzas, three nine-line choruses, the narrator citing at one point his age is thirty-three, but you’d think I was overdoing it, and you’d be wrong. If it’s there, it’s there, whether the artist planned it or not. Making art is like dreaming, it comes from below, often surprising the artist him or herself.

By the way, George’s band Big Stoner Creek has a new album out. You can check it out HERE.

PS. Here’s an earlier rendition of stanza three and the concluding chorus:

The ABZs of Auto-Obituary Writing

Look, I’m vain, love attention.[1] Therefore, there’s no way I’m going to let anyone get in the last word after I have checked out of this Motel 6 of Life. 

No, I’m writing my own obituary before I expire, and you should as well. What after I succumb to something or another, my cousin Zilla is tapped to compose my obituary? Rather than merely “dying” or “passing away” or “entering eternal rest,” I might have “left the world to be with the Lord,” or worse, “entered the loving embrace of [my] Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  Though I wouldn’t mind getting a hug from Jesus, I’m agnostic, so I want my obituary to be an accurate reflection of my life. 

Don’t trust others to do right by you. Do it yourself!

So, what follows is an easy guide for composing your very own obituary.[2]

Okay, let’s get started.

Rule #1. Know your audience. Chances are the readers of the obit are friends, family, or acquaintances. Most people don’t read strangers’ obits (yours truly being a notable exception), and if they do, you can bet they’re retired, likely former English teachers, and/or grammar Nazis. Therefore, make sure to proofread carefully but address the audience in a familiar fashion.

Rule #2. Sentence one should state the sad fact that Wesley is dead and when and where that regrettable transition took place. Although it’s not necessary to state the cause of death, inquiring minds want to know. In the following I have bracketed words that can be omitted according to your own predilections. 

Wesley “Rusty” Moore died Monday [at his home/at a sterile assisted living facility/on the side of the road] [after a short/long illness[3]//months of neglect// stumbling in front of a car outside of Chico Feo].

Rule #3. It’s best to get the bio out of the way first. Make sure to include the occasional introductory subordinate clause; otherwise, these lists of facts are deadly tiresome enough without your bludgeoning the reader with an unrelenting barrage of declarative sentences.

Wesley, the first son of Wesley E Moore, Jr and Sue Blanton Moore, began life on 14 December 1952 in Summerville, South Carolina. After graduating from Summerville High, Wesley attended the University of South Carolina and received a BA in English in 1975.[4] [Because of the post-OPEC oil embargo recession of 1975 and the fact that he didn’t own a car and couldn’t score a job], Wesley immediately entered the English graduate program the fall after his graduation.

Tending bar as a graduate student, Wesley met his first wife, fellow bartender Judy Birdsong. After they decided to marry, Wesley [weary of scaling the mountainous molehills that characterize literary criticism] left the university without a degree. After [somehow] getting an adjunct gig at Trident Technical College, Wesley and Judy wed on 4 February 1978 [in Decatur, Georgia.]

[After a short stint of collecting rejection slips,] in 1985, Wesley started teaching at Porter-Gaud. By then, Wesley and Judy had two sons, Harrison and Ned, [who eventually attended Porter-Gaud and rode to school with their father, providing the boys the opportunity to amass quite a quantity of profane and vulgar words as their father battled traffic from the Isle of Palms and later Folly Beach on their way to West Ashley.]

After Judy’s death from lymphoma [on Mother’s Day] in 2017, Wesley fell in love and married Caroline Tigner.  Caroline, her daughter Brooks, and Wesley made their home in Folly Beach, a community they treasured [until it was overrun by Airbnb short term rentals that transformed the once funky residential island into a virtual Sodom and Gomorrah/ Myrtle Beach].

Bored yet? 

Rule #4. You should follow the bio with a paragraph that humanizes the deceased. I don’t know how many obits I’ve read that have short-changed the not-seemingly-so-dearly departed by shortchanging him by merely expending a sentence or two. 

For example, Harold enjoyed fishing. That’s it; that’s all it says. Or Mabel enjoying playing with her grandsons.

In mine, I would mention my writing, particularly the novel Today, Oh Boy! and the handful of writing awards I’ve received. I would also mention my collage-making and blog and perhaps my four decades of surfing.

Papa Hemingway, Joyce, and Tom Waits in Wilmington, a collage by Wesley Moore

Rule #5. You should then list survivors and pre-decedents. By the way, if you’re old like me, there’s no need to specify that your parents preceded you in death.

NOT: The great-great-great-great-great grandson of Adam and Eve, Methuselah was predeceased by his parents . . . 

Rule #5. Although the time and place of the memorial service/funeral/burial at sea, can be stated at the beginning of the obituary, I prefer it at the end, though it’s completely up to you.

Now, all you have left is to designate where memorial donations should go and perhaps to thank anyone who was especially helpful in the dying process.

So that’s it, have at it, don’t put off until tomorrow because, well, you know why.

Fin.


[1] Hence this blog.

[2] I realize that most people (Prince Hamlet being a notable exception), don’t cotton to contemplating their own demise. However, look upon the exercise of auto obituary composition as a fond look back on a life well lived. On the other hand, if you consider your life a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, you can lash out at your enemies in your obit. It’s up to you! [insert smiley emoji].

[3] For me, the more specific the better. If possible, I’d like to precisely name the illness, for example, “after an acute case of cirrhosis of the liver.” BTW, I hate the trite trope of illness as a martial encounter. Waging heroic battles with Goliath like adversaries like inoperable brain cancer is yawn-producing. Certainly, there must be people out there who whined their way to the grave.

[4] Why are red-blooded Americans omitting the “from” in sentences pertaining to graduation, as in “graduated high school or graduated university?”  

For Caroline, on Her Birthday

Caroline Tigner Moore

Although she doesn’t publish, my wife Caroline Tigner Moore is an elegant, accomplished poet, one who embraces Archibald MacLeish’s dicta in “Ars Poetica.” MacLeish argues that poems should embody abstractions in images rather than merely stating themes.

A poem should be equal to:
Not true.

For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea—

A poem should not mean
But be.

Archibald MacLeish from “Ars Poetica”

Caroline is a craftsperson, one who eliminates every extraneous word so that her final product is imbued with meaning.

For example, check this link out.

She prefers fixed forms, villanelles, sonnets, even limericks.

So perhaps foolishly, I have attempted to channel her methodology in a sonnet celebrating her birthday.

For Caroline, on Her Birthday

Modern poets eschew silken sonnets,
consider them passe, clichéd, old hat –
like antiquated Easter bonnets –
but Caroline Moore doesn’t buy into that.

When she puts her pen to paper, she seeks
to frame her words within a fitting form,
to render vaporous thoughts concrete,
even as they billow, swirl, and swarm

inside her head ¬– sonnets, villanelles –
fixed forms that demand strict cohesion,
apt rhymes and rhythmic syllables
befitting terrain and season.

Oh, how she has rejuvenated my life,
My discerning poet, my word-wielding wife!

Happy Birthday, my love!

Happy Birthday, my love!

Return of the Singer/Songwriter Soapbox

Image by George Alan Fox

After a week off, Chico Feo’s Songwriter’s Soapbox returned in fine fashion. George Alan Fox, our inimitable host, bookended the extravaganza with a sampling of original tunes. This one’s my favorite, the brilliant “Figurin’ It Out,” performed at the end of the evening.

Pernell McDaniel laid down some country tunes he had recently written:

Alas, I didn’t get to record an outstanding set by Captain Philip Frandino, whose song “Compromise” speaks to our times. I promise to get him next time he performs.

Here’s a second or to of my occasional poem on Georgia flipping Democratic:

What an easy act to follow, especially for a talented songwriter like Gracie Trice, who, believe it or not, just started writing songs last month.

OMG, as the young people say, get a load of these spoken words by Brianna Stello:

Brother Fleming Moore did a set ending with a gospel tune.

Alas, I also failed to record Jeff Lowry, whom I also promise to video next time he performs, and, even though I did video Jason Chambers, I did so on his phone and don’t have access. It’s a big ass file, and I’ll add it if he can transport it. Lastly, several other performers were outstanding, but I didn’t catch some of their names.

What fun, y’all. Whitney Wienmann was there, celebrating her birthday, along with Caroline Tigner Moore. In addition, a Who’s Who of Folly illuminati made the scene: Surfer Phil, Tyler, Greg, Jesse, Matthew, Dan and Becca (who did a duet early in the evening with Becca on banjo) – the list goes on and on.

A shoutout to bartenders Rachelle, Katie, and Gavin. I also believe I saw a hatless Solly lurking on the periphery.

So if you’re in town, next Monday, head out to Chico Feo. Open Mike starts at 6PM.

Cheers!

What’s in a Name

Flowing swiftly like a river from the tongue,
some words are fun to say,
words, like “Saskatchewan.”

Others muck around in your mouth,
like “burglar’ and “rural” and “isthmus”
your tongue flopping south and west.

Same goes for people’s names,
some are grating, others divine
like cacophonous Gertrude, euphonious Caroline.

In Living Memory

Patchwork_Face_1997_Oil_pastel_75_x_55_cm

 

In memory of Judy, on the anniversary of her death, a villanelle about Everyday Use and the grafting of new life, in which she has the last word ~  Caroline Tigner Moore

 

In Living Memory
a villanelle

There hangs a patchwork quilt above our bed
A stained and storied past in pastoral,
Skylit purple, indian summer red;

Clary, sea glass stitched with auburn thread.
Tuck to rimple, soft in autumn’s thrall,
A damocletian quilt above our heads.

Aboard the river bark where we were wed,
The innocents stood by in quiet pall
As each we swore to share our daily bread.

And like a bruise that first appears bright red
Then blue and green and ochre in its sprawl
We lay this patchwork quilt across our bed.

So stitch together prints of all our dead,
In orisons, from labyrinthine walls.
Her face was viridescent while she bled,

But now at peace… and lovely overhead,
A Pride of India[1] shades her, green and tall.
Here lies a patchwork quilt across our bed.
“What you see is what you get,” she said.

Caroline Tigner Moore


[1] “Pride of India” is an alternate name for a crepe myrtle.

Romanticizing Defeat

hopper

Edward Hopper

Any sports fan who grew up in the Sixties has seen the intro to ABC’s Wide World of Sports hundreds, maybe, over a thousand times:

 

Of course, here, “the agony of defeat” makes better theater than “the thrill of victory.” Watching fans hoisting a futbol hero on their triumphant shoulders or a grand prix racer popping a cork in the winner’s circle lacks the high drama of witnessing an Olympian pinwheeling off of a ski jump ramp or a motorcyclist skipping stone-like across a lake of asphalt.

Even as exhilarating as it is to see a big wave surfer survive a precipitous drop and then ascend the crashing slope of a breaking avalanche, I’m still not sure that it produces the vicarious adrenaline rush of one of those Wagnerian wipeouts that make you grit your teeth and shudder in wonder. [Warning, in addition to harrowing wipeouts, this compilation has a soundtrack that might make Sid Vicious cringe].

 

* * *

If you’re a Southerner born near Charleston, South Carolina, in the early Fifties, you grew up in the shadow of defeat. When I was a child, the “War” my granddaddies talked about wasn’t Korea, or WW2, or the Great War, or the Spanish American War. It was the War Between the States.[1]

Among the fanatical, that defeat was a miasma that hung in the air like an enervating narcotic.  My friend Don Doyle convincingly argues in New Men, New Cities, New South: Atlanta, Nashville, Charleston, Mobile, 1860-1910 that citizens from Charleston and Mobile were so traumatized after Appomattox that they couldn’t bring themselves to do business with Northerners,[2] perceiving it as treasonous – unlike folk from Atlanta and Nashville. While those two cities readjusted to postwar changes and modernized, Charleston and Mobile stubbornly wallowed in the romanticizing of the Lost Cause, rationalized that defeat was somehow noble­ –  tragedy, after all, being the highest of literary genres.

As late as 1988, VS Naipaul in the New Yorker wrote about his visit to Charleston when he interviewed a non-Reconstructed blue blood celibate who monklike had abandoned all worldly pleasures for a life devoted to lamenting the fall of the Confederacy.  I think I encountered this person in 1978 when my late wife Judy and I lived on Limehouse Street, a block from the Battery. You could see this fellow – or one like him – assume catatonic postures as he stared out towards Ft. Sumter, not moving a muscle for something like twenty minutes. He almost seemed like an apparition.

So, if you grew up in this culture, a culture that had fetishized defeat, and you were cursed with a Romantic bent of mind, you might come to see defeat as inevitable, or worse, as preferable – defeat being more Romantic.  Yeats masterfully expresses that sentiment in a gorgeous ottava rima stanza whose beauty deepens the tragedy because you realize that Yeats’ canon, too, will be disappear when the annals of civilization are wiped away.

He who can read the signs nor sink unmanned

Into the half-deceit of some intoxicant

From shallow wits; who knows no work can stand,

Whether health, wealth or peace of mind were spent

On master-work of intellect or hand,

No honour leave its mighty monument,

Has but one comfort left:  all triumph would

But break upon his ghostly solitude.

                        “Nineteen-Hundred and Nineteen”

 

Indeed, there might be some truth to idea that defeat builds character in the Dostoyevskian sense of suffering being good as a regimen for redemption, or even if, like me, you think eternal life seems as about as likely as Dan Brown’s receiving the Nobel Prize in literature, repetitious disappointment can, if you live long enough, inure you, to reverse Gerard Manley Hopkins – “More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, [less] wilder wring.”

IMG_8919

photograph by Caroline Tigner Moore

But let’s get real. Losing sucks, as does the pathology of obsessively dwelling on lost causes, whether they be wars, loved ones, or championships. Although the season of spring has been a time of loss for me in the past, I’m making the most of this spring’s beautiful weather, sitting each afternoon on the deck with my beloved wife Caroline talking about literature and art, checking out the play of light and shadow on the spartina, noting the mated robins who nest nearby as they dart back and forth, reveling in how much clearer the air seems, going through the photos Caroline has taken of Folly during the quarantine, discovering through them hidden gems never before noticed, treasuring the rich life afforded us on this funky, narrow strip of a barrier island we call home.

IMG_9185

 


[1] I never heard any of my people call it the War of Northern Aggression, and I always called it the Civil War myself without ever being reprimanded.

[2] cf. Southern governors refusing federal stimulus money.