I say “poetry” and you say: a) roses are red, violets are blue, b) there once was a girl from Nantucket, c) oh, no, don’t make me read poetry — please! But how about songwriters as poets? Got your attention now, don’t I? To wit:
If you have ever been to a Bruce Springsteen concert, really been to one, you know that it’s a religious experience — the religion of passion, of rock and roll, of having your soul saved by a four-hour evening of standing on your feet, ready and willing to be converted. From the achingly poignant Ghost of Tom Joad (with that amazing guitar riff by Tom Morello); to the joyful, off-the-scale, gospel-according-to-Bruce testimony that Springsteen often drops into the midst of Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out; to the glorious declaration of Independence Day; to the haunting strains of The Rising, echoing the unspeakable heartbreak of 9/11 — these are more than just amazing pieces of music (that, they certainly are). The lyrics tell stories — of fear and survival, of doubt and hope, of anger and love — of what it means to be human and vulnerable. Stories told with words picked for their ability to pierce through the armor of our self-defenses and land, without fail, in our hearts. Stories told by a legend who evokes his Everyman roots with every note played, every word sung.
Paul Simon paints vistas with his songs. Who can listen to Bridge Over Troubled Water and not envision laying down one’s heart and soul to comfort a friend or lover? Who doesn’t see the fate of The Boxer — the man beaten down by life but rising up like a phoenix once again? Rarely has there been a more hopeless view of the world than the one Simon has painted in Sounds of Silence — or a more hope-shattering sense of loss than that of the American-dream-ebbing American Tune. But then there are the joyful works — Late in the Evening, the irresistibly upbeat, salsa-charged snapshot of playing music in a city neighborhood; or Feeling Groovy, a purely lighthearted look at the city as playground. Finally, there is the irony of Old Friends, a song written when Simon was still in his 20s, imagining it “terribly strange to be seventy.” No more common chord can be struck for anyone of a certain age who has looked in the mirror and seen an aged parent’s face in his or her own reflection.
Whatever your rhyme or reason, there is a poet who speaks to your heart.
Go ahead. Take a stanza.
ⓒ 2018 Claudia Grossman