Thursday, October 20, 2005

19th Century Punk Influence



Today is 19th Century French Imagist poet, Arthur Rimbaud's birthday. If he were alive, he would be 151 years old. In actual fact, he died at age 37. He produced an amazing amount of poetry during his teenage years; he quit writing when he was about 19 and led a vagabond life of adventure. Patti Smith invokes Arthur Rimbaud in her own poetry and song lyrics ("Easter" references Arthur's sister, Isabella; "Land" name-checks Rimbaud straight up!) It is what attracted me to her in the first place! I was studying comparative literature and was thoroughly enchanted by 19th Century French poetry, including Rimbaud, Paul Verlaine, Charles Baudelaire, Gerard de Nerval, Stephane Mallarme, and Comte de Lautreamont. Not only was Patti Smith into this, but so were her NYC nascent punk compadres, Television, with Tom Miller who already changed his name to Verlaine fairly early on.

Patti Smith never made is a secret that she was a fan of and hugely influenced by Bob Dylan either, and Dylan himself was immersed in poetry, and referenced Rimbaud in many liner notes and writings.

Bob Dylan 1974

What does Symbolist poetry have to do with punk rock?

Symbolism, as a type and movement in poetry, emphasized non-structured "internalized" poetry that described thoughts and feelings in disconnected ways and placed logic, formal structure, and descriptive reality in the shadows. Sounds a lot like the disenfranchised, disconnected misfits of punk, right? Influences on the Symbolist poets included the dark, introspective romanticism of William Blake and Edgar Allan Poe. Charles Baudelaire is often referred to as the "French Poe" and is perceived as the foremost precursor of Symbolist poetry. Symbolist poetry influenced the 20th century "modernist" poets such as Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot, as well as the movements of French Surrealism and Imagism...just like punk spawned both hardcore and new wave as well as planted the seed for post-punk.

But it all goes to show, at least for me, that what influenced me as a young adult remains a strong influence decades later - the staying-power of the poetry...the vitality of the rock n roll...its all good.

Happy Birthday Arthur Rimbaud and also Tom Petty, a great classic rocker who started his career at the same time that punk broke and who was fantastically quoted at the time as saying, "Call me a punk and I'll cut you." That's punk, Tom... seriously.

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