Good Morning and welcome to the “Playlist of my Life”. For the past month I’ve been contemplating life. Not really, but enough to attempt to create a playlist defining who I am as a person, to reflect emotions I feel, and to embody my memories. Music is a form of identity, depending on the person of course. Whether it’s you opinion on music in general, specific genres, artists, or songs, I’d argue it’s relevance in every persons life. Poetry on the other hand, may never cross an individuals mind. Personally, it’s not always my cup of tea. I’m not the biggest fan of having to decode and analyze every piece of writing I receive. But alas, there is poetry. It’s a beautiful form, and it’s redeemable quality is that it’s comparable to song.
As perhaps a slightly overconfident writer, I’ve always had a solid understanding of literary terms and devices. Understanding and analyzing typical pieces of writing is a lot different than doing so for poetry. The presence of literary devices and terminology is vital to decoding a poem. The first song I analyzed for my playlist allowed for me to search for those literary references in a lyrical form. One of my biggest takeaways from the past near 3 weeks is that song and poem are eerily similar. The stanza is arguably the same as a verse, the chorus is a form of repetition that a poet might use, the euphony in most songs is often present in poetry, and so on. The first song I analyzed took the most time, not simply because it was my first, but also due to the fact that there are many literary devices present, making this tune, sound more poetic than ever before.
Described as a harsh criticism of the education system he grew up with, Roger Hodgson used his lyrical gift to tackle the ever present question, what is the meaning of life? “When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful, a miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical” (0:09-0:14), reflects deeply on childhood. Ignorance is bliss, is what I interpret to be one of this songs main themes. That alongside facing the brutal realities and unpleasantries of real life. “The Logical Song,” released 1979, is not only a cult classic that provides a sensational saxophone solo, it’s also something of a lyrically genius composition. With so few words, arranged with rhyme scheme very particularly in order to provide the listener with a sense of euphony.
“And then they showed me a world where I could be so dependable, oh clinical, oh intellectual, cynical” (0:41-0:46). Another example of rhyme, but also an interesting word choice deserving of much attention, when compared to that in the each verse. The band goes on to sing the chorus, one that questions identity, self, and originality. “I said watch what you say or they’ll be calling you a radical, liberal, oh fanatical, criminal” (1:29-1:34). In comparison to the previously stated line, it seems as though there was a deliberation, deciding if they themselves should risk being called out for their progressive ways. When the world feels you’re “acceptable, respectable, oh presentable, a vegetable” (1:40-1:45), life can be made much easier.
The term, “vegetable,” is not used in the literal sense, but rather that of its connotation. Meaning to be so dull and lifeless, you may only have a physical existence. I could argue on and on in order to expose the meanings behind these lyrical decisions and what they may allude to, but I won’t. While the songs title may be logical, the song itself is just the opposite. I’d even go as far as arguing that the title itself is somewhat of a paradox. “The Logical Song,” specifically consists of points made against the “logical,” attitude that society tends to hold. The entire premise is to discredit the idea of a logical world and elicit questioning from within.
The conclusion I’ve come to is incomplete, but still allows for and idea of tone. I’ve already stated some of the main themes I think are present, but the tone is more complex than that. I’d say that the way it starts gives the whole thing away. Nostalgia for a time where you may have felt better in yourself and have had more faith in the world. Nostalgia often feels inherently cynical. When looking back on a blissful, bittersweet, time, I believe feelings of distrust, resentment, and skepticism follow.
My final word is simple, if I could ever have the privilege of meeting Roger Hodgson, I’d ask him what time signature he thought he was playing in, because “one, two, three, five” (3:35-3:27), does not exist.
Some of the most recognizable similarities between song and poem come in the form of theme and tone. Excuse the borderline rhyme scheme in that sentence, you wouldn’t believe me if I said that was accidental. Tone and theme are basic foundations for literary analysis, they define the author’s emotions and attitude towards the work, and what the most straightforward message of the piece is. Theme is not to be confused with mood or moral. Theme can be as simple as, “growing up” or “love is a battlefield”, whereas moral is a somewhat deeper level of that. The “moral of the story,” a classic cliche but also quite literally the definition of moral. Examples include, “be grateful for what you have,” or “don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” Morals often double as cliche’s because there’s little originality. There’s only so many good morals you can encourage in writing or song. My best example of theme comes from Billy Joels, “Vienna,” where I found a near perfect theme statement within the lyrics.
“Slow down you crazy child, you’re so ambitious for a juvenile,” (0:16-0:22). Ambition is a funny thing. It’s encouraged for so long, until it isn’t. I was always an extremely ambitious child. I was driven towards things I hadn’t the slightest comprehension of. The older I get, the more intimidating the realities of life become, and the more discouraged and honesty scared I am. It’s tough when you get so ahead of yourself while you’re young. You tend to focus too much on the big picture and fail to “Take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while”, (2:21-2:25). “Where’s the fire? What’s the hurry about? You’d better cool it off before you burn it out”, (0:31-0:37), is the first line in the song that alludes to the general theme.
While I can’t perfectly pinpoint the message Billy Joel was trying to get across, or who and what the song may be about in his mind, but my interpretation comes to life with the line: “Although it’s so romantic on the borderline tonight (tonight)”, (1:16-1:23). The “borderline,” in question, is that between childhood and adulthood, youth and maturity. The romance of the borderline is in the fact that when looking forward from it, you’ve got every possibility in front of you. Anything at all. The ambition an individual carries through their childhood can become dangerous when they arrive at the borderline. The song isn’t all that poetic under a literary lens, but it’s certainly one with an important theme. If I were to make a theme statement, it would be tough to steer away from the words in the song. The perfect summarization of it’s theme is simply, “You can’t be everything you want to be before your time”, (1:12-1:16).
I think it’s odd that I had difficulty identifying where each stanza started and ended. When you look at the lyrics as a whole, it’s so short and smooth, there is no real breaking point between verses. I believe Joel did this on purpose, to highlight the juxtaposition between wisdom and foolishness. “You’ve got your passion, you’ve got your pride, but don't you know that only fools are satisfied?” (1:40-1:47). The concept behind the juxtaposition in question, is the comparison of foolishness to a child and wisdom to someone with experience. It ties in with the theme of not being everything you want to be in your desired timeframe. “Dream on but don’t imagine they’ll all come true”, (1:47-1:53), again, alludes to the ideas of ambition, foolishness, and lacking both experience and a realistic mindset.
This ballad embodies the idea of growing up too fast and failing to stop and smell the flowers. Excuse the cliche, but for lack of a better analogy, that is how I choose to perceive it. The tone is calm and mournful, in the sense that something has been lost. The loss in question is the concept of childhood. While I don’t feel I’ve personally run out of time, or have reached the borderline, I’ve began to feel the presence of a sort of overwhelming pressure. I listen to this song as a reminder, I don’t have to know what I want so young, I don't have to have my life mapped out, I don’t even have to face those ever present, looming questions until I choose to. Depending on the person, that realization may be a bit of a gamble, but for someone who has only learned to slow down as they begin to close in on the borderline, it provides a sense of relief. I don’t know who “Vienna,” is, or if Billy Joel really meant the city itself, but what it represents is by far most valuable.
It’s fairly common knowledge that as humans, our main source of communication, influence, and learning, is language. What a wonderful world it would be if we could understand every language on earth. Of course, that is an unrealistic fantasy. I’m not much of a linguistic master myself, at least not in anything other than English, but I do believe that writing is quite possibly the most influential form of language. The most influential pieces every written, in any written form, are translated to almost any language on earth. It goes to show our collective appreciation for the written word. This applies to poetry just as much as fiction or non-fiction. Edgar Allen Poe, Sylvia Plath, a lesser known personal favourite, Shel Silverstein. All these people managed to use their form of language to influence readers into understanding a theme, moral, or something about themselves. Forming your own language is of equal importance to understanding someone else’s. Using literary devices to allow for more mystery in your message. Perhaps turning your language into a song, that’s really all that musicians do. In writing my analysis on “1979,” by The Smashing Pumpkins, I found it challenging to identify literary devices and grasp an overall understanding of how the words related to the meaning. That is definitely reflected in my writing, but I tried nonetheless because of how much the song means to me, and how much it’s language has influenced me over the years.
“Shakedown 1979, cool kids never have the time”, (0:19-0:30). Listening to this track off of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, provides me with a sense of nostalgia like no other. Growing up listening to a classic dad band and inheriting that taste in music is something I am so grateful for. The song has never evoked much thought from me, especially lyric wise. The melodic aspects hit so hard that I typically just get lost in the music. I still could not tell you exactly what this song is about, it’s so lyrically ambiguous and has such a haunting tone, that again, I just get lost in it. “June bug skipping like a stone”, (0:45-0:49), is the first simile we hear within the song. I don’t particularly understand the relevance of a June bug at this point, or any point in the song, but there Billy Corgan is again with the obscure meanings. “With headlights pointed at the dawn, we were sure we’d never see an end to it all”, (0:52-1:06). You can look at this line two ways. The first being how it hit my ear right off the bat, he’s got to be talking about death. Although I think that’s a good analogy, I feel as though there is a deeper meaning. Personally I look at it like there is a looming end coming, it’s just to what that is up for debate, but I do not think it is death. From my point of view, it sounds like the end of an era, almost like a transitional period in ones life.
“Faster than, the speed of sound, faster than, we thought we’d go”, (2:37-2:53), another example of a transitional period, and a classic cliche. Perhaps a transitional period that closed in far faster than anticipated. Again, I can’t pinpoint it because some of the lyrics are just so seemingly out of place. “That we don’t even care to shake these zipper blues”, (3:31-3:40). Zipper blues refers to a depression caused by constantly moving from one place to the next. Could this mean physically moving, or possibly just constantly facing changes while stuck in one place. The basic rhyme scheme along with the more advanced terms, slang, and symbolism lead to a euphoric yet haunting tone and a sense of euphony in the listening.
The theme of the song is change, accepting it, or denying it. One way or the other, change is inevitable and that is what I think Billy Corgan was trying to get across.
Poets and songwriters are very alike. Typically an artistically gifted individual, at least the good ones. People who choose to communicate with everyone outside of their mind with a collection of meaningful words arranged strategically on a page. Whether they turn that page into a song, or a poem, is up to them. But the conclusion is, that despite the obvious differences, music and poetry are one in the same, and we can identify that using literary devices and of course our individual intuition. Songs and poems alike can be interpreted any way, not just how the author intends, it’s always up to the audience.
Our classes collective playlist ⬆️