Flaskaland
Tuesday, December 31, 2002
 
You Talkin' to Me?

A fine examination of quotations (in the modern world, these have become epigrams -- quick one-liners, easily remembered and repeated). "Reworked and repeated, these lines become a form of shorthand, a way of marking out the territory we occupy in a limitless sea of culture. They become a method by which we include -- and exclude -- the people around us. As material as the things and situations they refer to, they become part of how we understand the world."

Lines from songs are becoming like literary quotations:

"Many of us probably know more lines from songs than from any other medium, yet they are the hardest to excerpt. Taken out of context, without the flavour of the singer's voice and the song's rhythms, words that resonate can seem meaningless and banal. But you can still hear the essence of rock 'n' roll whispering in this line, chosen by Herald music critic Bernard Zuel, from Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run: "I want to know if love is wild, girl I want to know if love is real."

"And there are songwriters whom fans regard as poets as much as musicians. Zuel also listed these lines from The Smiths: "And if a ten-ton truck kills the both of us, to die by your side, the pleasure and the privilege is mine." He also likes Elvis Costello's opener: "I don't wanna kiss you, I don't wanna touch you, I don't wanna see you, 'cause I don't miss you that much."

"It was only a matter of time, of course, before someone mentioned Bob Dylan. Writer Mark Mordue went for: "The only thing I knew how to do was to keep on keepin' on like a bird that flew, tangled up in blue."

"Poetry of another kind was favoured by Herald theatre critic Stephen Dunne, and writer Mandy Sayer. Dunne chose this from Laurie Anderson's Language is a Virus: "Paradise is exactly like where you are right now - only much, much better", and Sayer a dollop of wisdom from an old blues song: "The older you get, the more you know what to do with your time."

"But if the test of a truly great quotation is that it appears and reappears in many guises and contexts, then Henry David Thoreau's "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation" must be included. Herald music critic Bruce Elder pointed out that it surfaces again on Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon as: "Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way."

"Still, when pushed, Elder says the greatest pop lyric ever written is the start of Little Richard's Tutti Frutti, 'A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop a-lop-bam-boom'." you talkin' to me?



 




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