Feb 062008

We know of rockers who’ve tried their hand at poetry, even working their verse into their original rock compositions.

If only we could do away with the poetic delusions…

We know of rockers who’ve attained a degree of respect for their poetry, never quite attaining a natural feel for rock ‘n roll, instead sounding more like a beat poet reciting over rock ‘n roll arrangements than a full-fledged rock ‘n roller – sometimes successfully so, if you can imagine!

Patti Smith, “Piss Factory”

There’s Jewel.

Do we really have to go there?

There’s Gil Scott-Heron, who is thought to be a poet-musician but, who it may be argued is actually a musician-poet. According to a bio I read, he was in a band in college before taking a year off to write his first novel.

Hey, is this even “rock?”

Then there’s Leonard Cohen, who definitely established his literary cred before becoming known as a poet who’s become best known as a rocker, of sorts.

In terms of Poets Who Rock, let’s agree to leave the questionable Scott-Heron and the possibly one-of-a-kind Cohen out of this.


  10 Responses to “Poets Who Rock”

  1. Steven Jesse Bernstein is my favorite. I first heard him on SUBPOP200 with “This Clouded Heart”.
    Below is a link to a fan video for it.
    He has a whole album called PRISON and it’s awesome!
    The poems were set to music by experimental producer, Steve Fisk, who was also the keyboard player of an awesome band called PELL MELL.
    Bernstein killed himself in the early 90s.

  2. BigSteve

    I like Ghetto Defendant. It sounds like a blueprint for The Good The Bad & The Queen. Ginsberg’s versions of the Blake poems are also really good, but his way of singing them is not for everybody.

    Burroughs was good with Laurie, but he also made an excellent album with Bill Laswell under the Material moniker called Seven Souls. On this album he reads later period Egyptian-themed prose, and Laswell conjures up some of his best trippy backing tracks.

    That Johnny Cash clip made me happy you usually didn’t have to hear Silverstein. What a powerfully offensive voice. On the other hand he wrote the sublime Ballad of Lucy Jordan made semi-famous by Marianne Faithfull.

    The only other ‘page’ poet who comes to mind is Bob Holman, author of the excellently titled book, The Collect Call of the Wild, among others, who did some work on David Thomas’ opera, Mirror Man.

    I think you could also shoehorn into this category Wilco’s and Billy Bragg’s setting of Woody Guthrie’s poems.

  3. The problem in the translation between poetry and rock is worth understanding. In poetry, the words themselves need to carry the whole sound and meaning; there are no other instruments, etc. In rock the words fit themselves/define themselves around the other sound elements and meaning is a function of the interaction of all those elements.

    Poetry itself usually makes for overly complicated or fussy rock, because the poet needs to do so much with the words, whereas rock lyrics without the other sound elements usually make for very silly poetry. Neither of these is always true, but mostly true.

    There are in-betweens: sound poetry with special effects and so forth and so on, but it’s still usually some aspect of this problem that’s at stake.

    For musicians, I think, hearing the sound of poetry out loud might make for a useful transition. Might.

  4. Pince nez:

    Ivor and Chris Cutler are not in any way related. That’s a common misapprehension.

  5. Mr. Moderator

    Thanks for pointing that out, Great One. The post has been corrected.

  6. Poets Who do NOT Rock:

    Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

    That fuckin Lords Prayer in THE LAST WALTZ is more pathetic and embarrassing than THE DIRTY MAC debacle, with Yoko and the violin player in ROCKnROLL CIRCUS

  7. Mr. Moderator

    Good one, Kilroy! I almost added something about him at the last moment, but decided against it because I didn’t feel like looking up the spelling of his name.

    Was John Cooper Clarke (or is it “Clark”?) a poet or rocker first? If he started as a poet, he may have been my greatest oversight.

  8. Is there any Jim Carroll rock? I feel like there is, although I’ve never heard it. If if does exist, it probably sucks, but I just thought I’d raise the question.

  9. Mr. Moderator

    Yes, Mwall. Check out the last page of this post. There I included Carroll’s little hit, “People Who Died”, a pretty decent slab of late-70s, Lou Reed-style rock, I think.

  10. You know, sometimes when I click on those page links, they don’t come up for me. But they came through fine just now–thanks.

    Yeah, I remember “People Who Died” now.

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