Songs, poetry and Science Fiction…..

I love a good song, and for me, that means a song with good lyrics. They should be able to stand by themselves, as poetry. Over the years, I have been drawn to songs with (sometimes an inadvertent) science fictional element to them.

If you don’t know it, please go a listen to Leonard Cohen’s “First we take Manhattan”. This captured me on the first hearing. Cohen is of course a poet and in this work the lyrics are effortless, whilst the melody gives a sense of doomed struggle. One of the final lines Well it’s Father’s Day and everybody’s wounded” haunts me, it pops into my head especially since my father died.

Just look at the first verse:

They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom
For trying to change the system from within
I’m coming now, I’m coming to reward them
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin
I’m guided by a signal in the heavens
I’m guided by this birthmark on my skin
I’m guided by the beauty of our weapons
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin

My second choice, Tom Robinson’s “You Tattooed me”  is a love song, set, possibly set  in the past, but in my mind the date is 2054. Again the song has a haunting sadness.

Stranded in Antwerp in June of 54
Streets full of refugees and rumours of war
In a queue at the station a stranger arrived
Stopped and he fixed me with wild hazel eyes

Several of Tom’s song appear to be set in an apocalyptic near future. Another example is “The Night Tide”, which is set in a situation that  I increasingly think I may actually get caught up in:

For christsake, Chrissy
Won’t you open the door –
Don’t tell me you’re still sleeping
All hell’s going on in the street outside
All the roads are closed this evening;
Tried to call you but the lines are jammed
Don’t say you’re not ready
After all we planned…

I am a long time Tom Robinson fan —and his songs are often poetic in their use of English. He also writes good sing alongs too, such as “Martin”.  His new album, Only the Now, is superb.

In “London Calling”, The Clash are very probably talking about punk music but look at that chorus….

The ice age is coming, the sun’s zooming in
Meltdown expected, the wheat is growing thin
Engines stop running, but I have no fear
‘Cause London is drowning, and I live by the river

This song was used by Loncon 3, the 2014 World SF convention, for a promo video, full of images of London being destroyed. It should still be on YouTube somewhere.

After writing this short piece, I went to look for an image, and found the Cohen quote shown above. I do believe that each of the other songwriters mentioned here would agree with Leonard, most especially Tom, who I have always described to friends as a political singer-songwriter.

 

 

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