Sunday, July 20, 2008
Literature, Poetry and Punk - and John Doe
John Doe, a co-founder of X met his then-to-become paramour and partner, Exene Cervenka at a Venice Beach poetry workshop back in the mid-70s. They were and still are both literary and poetic people who plied the punk rock and led a charge resulting in the Los Angeles punk rock scene.
Today, as I write this, John Doe is performing at the Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur, California. Check it out with a click here.
I visited the Henry Miller Memorial Library back in 1993, the last time I took the long drive on Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway) from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Emil White, a friend, associate and the personal caretaker of Miller turned his own home into the memorial for his great friend in 1981 - a year after Miller died. It is full of Henry Miller relics and artifacts, art, videos he made and the obscura and memento mori that fascinate us all.
Its appropriate that a renaissance man like John Doe finds himself performing there.
The literary and poetic tradition among punk rockers and musicians and general is long-lived; a strong connection. What are lyrics but a poem set to music? What is literature but a text?
Here are some of the musicians in and around the punk rock world who are, at least in my estimation, literate and literary...
King Louie, a punk rocker from the 90s... end of the century... he swam his had ass out of Hurricane Katrina and now has even more stories to tell. Why do I find him poetic? He can turn a phrase out of being sick of some teenage girl's braces and headgear!
Iggy Pop one of the true originals... pulling words from gutter scenes... its reminiscent of what Oscar Wilde quipped about being in the gutter and looking up at the stars... Iggy wants to be your dog... he's dirt! Actually, Iggy's Dirt is not unlike the dying words Shakespeare put in Mercutio's mouth in Romeo and Juliet.
Not very many people think of punk rock when you mention Mike Scott and/or The Waterboys. While they'll totally grant you poet, they're also gonna call him a folkie. Well, Mike and I have been pals since the mid-80s and you'll just have to take my word about Mike's punk rock cred. Like John Doe... Mike has made poetry in every genre that he fancies; couple that with his respect for and influence by Patti Smith, the godmother of all that is punk, poetry and literature, and you have a shining example of a man who now does indeed see the whole of the moon.
Patti Smith, the high priestess of poetry... the godmother of us all in this punk rock thing. She took the Beat thing and the Imagist thing and made it rock. She wasn't afraid to invoke and name-check Imagist wunderkind Arthur Rimbaud, and she name-checked Bob Dylan and his dog in a poem... but more than that, she brought her poetry into the rock n roll world on a most ground-breaking album, Horses and rock n roll has never been the same since then. Sure, a lot of half baked poet wannabes thought they could do it because she did... but the truth is: she made it look easy. Patti Smith is accomplished as a poet. Her writing is lyrical and profound. It flows easily in metre and her vocabulary, couched both in our punk rock vulgate and in the literary sense and tense is exact and evocative. Its time to listen to her collected works. Its all there if you don't believe me... just listen.
So close to Patti Smith as a NYC proto punk rock poet, Television's Tom Verlaine wears his heart on his sleeve. Cleverly taking the surname of Rimbaud's idol and lover, Paul Verlaine, and by so doing, giving himself, the leader of Television the initials "TV," Tom Verlaine deftly took poetic cliches and turned them on their head with his world-class guitar, creating masterpieces like Venus that offers up one of the most compelling imagist correspondences in music - I fell into the arms of the Venus de Milo.