Pete's Blog

Songwriting as Literature

When Bob Dylan came along it was fashionable for a while to say, "He's a poet" with a touch of awe in your voice. Cole Porter and Irving Berlin may have been superb craftsmen, Hank Williams may have been a compelling performer, Fats Waller may have been an incisive and original personality, but Dylan's work was actual genius, we were saying. And who's to suggest that we weren't right? But Dylan, for all his artistic breakthroughs, didn't invent the idea that songs could be literature. Kipling's poetry was often presented as song lyrics. Brecht, Goethe, Schiller, Hardy, Yeats all saw their words set to music and often participated themselves in the process. And from the griots of Mali to Homeric epics like the "Illiad" royal courts throughout history have entertained and celebrated themselves with stories and poems that were meant to be sung. Today's new literary media often blur the line between reading and listening. Downloading an e-book isn't much different from downloading music, and the playback is often via the same workstation. Indeed, between spoken-word hip-hop recordings and recordings of books being read to a musical background or sound effects the line may be said to no longer exist at all. Bainbridge Island and the West Sound area has plenty of first-class writers and poets, and as these writers' work is marketed increasingly as bits in a narrowcast stream canny retailers will start to market their discs and downloads alongside those of artists previously thought of as merely musical. Elements mix and boundaries dissolve. That's what art is supposed to do, yes?

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