Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Ode to a slam poet and a folk-rock icon

by Rich Wallace

Had two opportunities this week to reflect on the power of words from genres I don’t happen to write in. At a coffee-house open mic that’s dominated by young folk singers and rockers, a slam poet stood up toward the end, walked to the front of the space, and went right into a lengthy spoken-word/rant about the decades-long decline of MTV. He followed it with a moving piece about his gruff old father-in-law.

A couple of nights later we drove down to the Berkshires for a show by iconic Canadian Gordon Lightfoot. Fifty years after his first songs were released, he’s still in fine form. He was among a small handful of singers whose lyrics I actually listened to (and tried to figure out) when I first started paying attention to the radio back in high school. I listened to lots of music with my friends, but most of it just washed over me in a flood of Led Zeppelin or the Velvet Underground. At home, listening to quieter stuff like Gordon Lightfoot or Harry Chapin forced me into introspection. I needed both things at that point – unconscious release and focused inward thinking. Guess which style had the bigger influence?
Gordon Lightfoot
I read very few books in high school, but I read the liner notes of many dozen album covers. Seeing words in print solidified them for me. Even after hearing songs like "If You Could Read My Mind" a hundred times on the radio, the internalization of a line like And if you read between the lines, you'll know that I'm just tryin' to understand wasn’t complete until I read it.

Some nights when I have trouble writing, I just go to YouTube and seek out songs I love but haven’t heard in a while. It invariably inspires me and gets me ready to write. I have no musical ability myself, but it’s funny that music, especially the lyrics, always helps me in writing prose.


  1. I learned a lot about the rhythm of both prose and poetry by listening to song lyrics. I've also enjoyed just charging my mind's batteries with such memorable lyrics as wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom.

  2. And what does it say about me that I'm still enamored with "What Does the Fox Say?" and have been known to pull it up on YouTube when I need a pick-me-up?

  3. No doubt that Lightfoot is a craftsman of song. He always delivers a consistently good product which I guess is what has given him a permanence in music history. I've listened to his music since high school and enjoy it just as much now if not more.

    Music inspires me in many ways.

    Tossing It Out

  4. I have a few Gordon Lightfoot songs on my ipod. They never get old. Music is a huge inspiration for me, too. (And like you, I have no musical ability.)