Sunday, March 12, 2006
LSD Is Not For Me: The Intentional Fallacy, Part 2
If you've not seen Off the Charts, the documentary about song poems, you should put it on your Net Flix queue. Rodd Keith -- who fell to his death on an LA freeway in the early 70s, possibly a suicide, or drug-induced accident -- is probably the most famous practitioner of the genre. WFMU, John Zorn and Yo La Tango all honor the man's work. Keith may have meant for his mail-order collaboration songs to emulate the pop tunes of the day. Or he may have been having a laugh doing what he considered hack work to pay the bills. Doesn’t matter. What it means, I can’t say, but you can tell that it's more.
Song poems are like some accidental American huckster audio version of the Surrealist game The Exquisite Corpse in which a group of people contribute different components of a figure without looking at each other's addition. The end result is an intentionally hodge-podge bit of disjointed bricolage. Evidently Duke Ellington and his songwriting partner Billy Strayhorn would occasional practice something similar -- Duke would write the first few bars of a tune and pass it along to Strayhorn to finish, but the two weren't going for any kind of weird stitched-together effect (and the result was seamlessly smooth). Song-poems also bring to mind the Borges essay "The Enigma of Edward FitzGerald" about the trans-temporal collaboration between the 11th century "Rubaiyat" poet Omar Khayyam and FitzGerald, a 19th century English translator. The idea is that neither of the two were capable of achieving the level greatness on their own that they achieved together through a collaboration distanced by centuries and continents.
Here’s "Don’t Be a Dope," "Lost Vein of Love" and "Ravens" off of Saucers in the Sky on Roaratorio. The first is an anti-drug rant. The second is a sort of lover-mineral parable. The third sounds like some kind of lost death-folk ballad. Presumably the lyricists are three different song-poem patrons. The music is all Rodd Keith.