The Nobel Prize for Lyrics

The Nobel Prize for Lyrics

With Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature it is now apparently OK to consider adult-oriented music as poetry. In any case some lyrics[1] do touch us all however sophisticated we may claim to be[2]. The best lyrics – and dare I say[3] the best poems – are sufficiently ambiguous and suggestive for us to project our own feelings and experiences – in this case for me a sense of wasted opportunities in life despite one’s best efforts – onto them. Here’s one of my favourite songs: R.E.M’s ‘Country Feedback’, an appropriate song for a cold, wet evening like today’s.

Photo credit: Dr.Conati Roberto De Martino

Country Feedback

It’s the poison[4] that in measures[5] brings illuminating vision;
It’s the knowing[6] with a wink[7] that we expect in Southern women;
It’s the wolf that knows which root[8] to dig[9] to save itself;
It’s the octopus[10] that crawled back[11] to the sea.
Instinct. Gut feeling[12]… feelings.[13]

This flower is scorched[14], this film is on
On a maddening[15] loop[16], these clothes
These clothes don’t fit us right[17]
And I’m to blame[18].
It’s all the same[19],
It’s all the same.

You come to me with a bone[20] in your hand,
You come to me with your hair curled tight[21],
You come to me with positions[22].

You come to me with excuses,
Ducked out in a row[23].
You wear me out[24],
You wear me out.

We’ve been through fake-a-breakdown[25]
Self-hurt[26], plastics, collections
Self-help, self-pain
EST[27], psychics[28], fuck all[29].

I was central, I had control,
I lost my head.
I need this, I need this.

A paperweight[30], junk garage[31],
Winter rain[32], a honey pot[33].
Crazy[34], all the lovers have been tagged[35].

A hotline[36], a wanted ad[37],
It’s crazy what you could’ve had[38].

It’s crazy what you could’ve had,
It’s crazy what you could’ve had.
I need this, I need this.

[1] lyrics – the words of a song

[2] may claim to be – might think we are

[3] dare I say – is it too audacious to suggest also that…?

[4] poisonvenom, toxin

[5] in measures – in reduced quantities

[6] knowing – understanding, intuition

[7] winkact of closing momentarily one eye as a gesture of complicity

[8] root – the part of a plant that is normally underground

[9] to dig (dig-dug-dug) – excavate, expose

[10] octopusbig intelligent marine cephalopod mollusc that has eight legs

[11] to crawl back – return

[12] gut feeling – intuition

[13] these spoken lines in fact come from the R.E.M. song Chorus and the Ring (2001) but were added to the live version of Country Feedback

[14] scorched – superficially burned

[15] maddening – infuriating, very frustrating

[16] to be on a loop – be programmed to repeat itself again and again

[17] don’t fit us right – are not the correct size for us

[18] to blame – responsible, culpable

[19] it’s all the same – it makes no difference

[20] boneelement of skeletal/osseous material; perhaps a concession to keep sb. occupied (i.e. like a bone for a dog)

[21] curled tightheld firmly in place, in ringlets

[22] positionspostures, opinions, (possibly) sexual postures

[23] ducked out in a roworganized in a line/sequences like toy ducks at a shooting range (but with connotations of “to duck out” = evade responsibility)

[24] to wear sb. out (wear-wore-worn) – exhaust sb.

[25] to have been through fake-a-breakdown – have simulated a nervous breakdown (= mental collapse)

[26] self-hurt – self-harm, intentionally causing lesions to oneself (typically as a way to elicit compassion)

[27] ESTErhard Seminars Training, a system of self-improvement

[28] psychicmedium, clairvoyant, sb. who can supposedly contact the spirit world

[29] fuck all – (emphatic) absolutely nothing, there was no improvement

[30] paperweightheavy object used to stop pieces of paper from being dispersed; (metaphorically) sth. that focuses ideas and keeps you rational

[31] junk garage – garage used for storing possessions that you don’t use rather than for housing your car; (metaphorically) an accumulation of useless things

[32] winter rain – (pathetic fallacy) compounded problems. This is often misheard and reinterpeted as “a wedding ring”!

[33] honeypot – container for honey (= sweet substance produced by bees); (metaphorically) sth. that attracts avaricious people

[34] crazy – (in this case) it’s nonsensical and profoundly frustrating

[35] have been tagged – are under surveillance, (in this case) are under suspicion

[36] hotline – emergency telephone service such as the Samaritans

[37] wanted adsmall classified advertisement in a newspaper

[38] it’s crazy what you could have had – it’s devastating to think what might have been (= what you could have got from life)


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