Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Poetry of Rock n' Roll: "Sweet Bird"

In honor of National Poetry Month, once a week I will be featuring lyrics of rock n' roll or pop songs that also double as exquisite poetry.

To begin with, I am featuring the work of one of the greatest poets in contemporary music, the legendary Joni Mitchell (previously here and here). This song, "Sweet Bird" comes from her album, "The Hissing of Summer Lawns" stuffed full with gorgeous, evocative, poetic songs, starting with the title alone! The album is not a concept album as much as it is a kind of dream infused with certain ideas, feelings, yearnings, motifs, and truths. In this way, it functions as a glorious whole. Joni says, "This record is a total work conceived graphically, musically, lyrically and accidentally - as a whole. The performances were guided by the given compositional structures and the audibly inspired beauty of every player. The whole unfolded like a mystery."

"Sweet Bird" is a simple but rather devastating ditty, alluding to time, its passing, youth, its passing, and, rippling out from there, untethered to our mortal perception of time as a linear phenomena, the idea that time is cyclical. But no, not cyclical...more like fixed pieces that can be moved around...sets of time and location (tied together) that move around, separated by the branes which quantum physics speaks of, the multi-universes posited as part of the mind-blowing structure of reality...that there is more than one reality. Joni sings that no one can ever get close enough to know the veracity of these ideas. We guess. We posit. Granted, they are educated guesses. But no one has ever traveled to another reality and come back to let us know.

It's not an easy task at all, but somehow, miraculously, Joni managed to write an economical, short piece dealing with physics and meta-physics, with the corporeal and the spiritual, with the now and the forever.

As usual, I am presenting this song (and all songs this month) with lyrics only since that is what I am focusing on. But this is a song where the music--a melancholy melody, and a haunting arrangement grounded with Joni's familiar, measured guitar work--is necessary to get the complete picture. Do Google it and give it a listen.

Sweet Bird
by Joni Mitchell

Out on some borderline
Some mark of inbetween
I lay down golden in time
And woke up vanishing

Sweet bird you are
Briefer than a falling star
All these vain promises on beauty jars
Somewhere with your wings on time
You must be laughing

Behind our eyes
Calendars of our lives
Circled with compromise
Sweet bird of time and change
You must be laughing
Up on your feathers laughing

Golden in time
Cities under the sand
Power ideals and beauty
Fading in everyone's hand

Give me some time
I feel like I'm losing mine
Out here on this horizon line
With the earth spinning
And the sky forever rushing
No one knows
They can never get that close
Guesses at most
Guesses based on what each set of time and change is touching
Guesses based on what each set of time and change is touching
Guesses based on what each set of time and change is touching

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