Monday, July 5, 2010

Monkey and Poetry Convergence: Joe Henry edition

In his new book Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life: A Book by and for the Fanatics Among Us, Steve Almond mentally connects Joe Henry, whose 1999 album Fuse not only opens with a song titled "Monkey" but also features a photo of Henry with a literal monkey on his back, to the Iliad to Faulkner, which may just be a first. This results in the epiphany that,"The connection in my head being that all language began in song and that the best stories inevitably return to song, to a state of rapture. For years, I had assumed that throwing beautiful words at the page would make my prose feel true. But I had the process exactly backward. It was truth that lifted the language into beauty and toward song."

As they say in French, c'est possible.

Almond, a huge Joe Henry fan, then writes about the time Henry sent him a poem to read and asked for feedback. Almond thought, "Holy shit, Joe Henry just sent me something to read."

The poem, writes Almond, started out good. But then "the poem's pathos sputtered into rage. There was a lot about how stupid Americans are. Red Bull was cited, as were the ravages of global warming. I was reminded (unpleasantly) of my own writing. And thus my next thought: I'm going to have to tell Joe Henry that his poem kind of sucks."

Thankfully he didn't have to. Henry turned the poem into song lyrics, the resulting song, according to Almond, capturing "the dream of America as a holy wilderness whose decline is properly understood as a cause for lamentation, not sermons."

You can listen to a demo of Joe Henry's "Our Song" as part of Almond's "Bitchin' Soundtrack" to his new book. It's a really good way to spend 5 minutes and 46 seconds of your life.

1 comment:

(Laura) said...

By "really good way" do you mean "really boring way?"