People Are Strange When You Re A Stranger The Modern Lyricist As Poet

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The Modern Lyricist As Poet

During my college years studying English literature, my friends and I were in awe of that bard beyond compare, William Shakespeare, a name synonymous with drama and literature. As we endlessly debated, researched and analyzed his works, trying to extract meaning, definition and layers from the words, we also realized that this man was the pop artist of his time.

While his verses had erudition and sophistication, they also contained ribaldry and coarseness to appeal to the least sophisticated of his audience. Because at the height of his popularity Shakespeare’s plays were performed for royalty and the working class; Both made his beloved public, and it is the Catholic appeal of his work that has made it endure through the ages.

Even in college I was convinced that rock musicians like Kurt Cobain (Nirvana) and Jim Morrison (The Doors) might be the poets of our time. The existential angst I sensed in his music and his lyrics was a reflection of his times; His artistic struggle.

I find many parallels between the old masters and modern composers. As John Keats ate hemlock and opium (Ode to a Nightingale),

My heart aches, and a drowsy numb pain

My feeling, as if I had drunk hemlock,

Or some dull opium emptied into the drains

A minute passed, and the Lethe-ward sank:

Also our modern poets have struggled with the demons of their own addictions. Just as Keats had a great creative life (in his case it was tuberculosis, but also a delusional conviction of poisoning), so Morrison and Cobain also met with misfortune early: in Morrison’s case it was a drug overdose. And in Cobain’s case it was suicide.

A heightened creative sensitivity is a common trait among these elite individuals, which may make them more vulnerable to depression, addiction, or feeling out of place with the world. The focused public gaze is as much adoration as anticipation, I’d be quite uncomfortable with the idea. Morrison’s sense of loneliness is witnessed in the iconic Doors track, People Are Strange

People are strange, when you are a stranger,

Faces look ugly when you’re alone,

Women feel evil when you don’t want them to

The roads are uneven when you are down.

References to Faces Falling Out of the Rain and Who Can’t Remember Your Name are perhaps indicative of his state of mind and certainly the lyrics, proof that he is a modern poet.

I read somewhere that modern hop-hop music is about ‘knowledge, wisdom and understanding’. And surely these are elements of poetry?

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