Saturday, October 13, 2007

Wheels, Money, Women, Soul

I think most poets have a tough time writing song-lyrics because song-lyrics have to be so simple and spare, and they have to have broad appeal. Not all of the songs Johnny Cash wrote were good, but when he was good, he was very, very good--because of the simplicity and honesty of the phrasing, and because he had a way of speaking to a broad audience without being bland or simple-minded. In fact, lyrics like those in "Folsom Prison Blues" are rather the opposite of bland.

At any rate, I give song-lyric-writing a try from time to time, mainly to remind myself I'm no good at it. I decided to write some blues lyrics, and let me be the first to point out, derisively, that a middle-aged academic blogger may not be the figure who springs to mind when one thinks about the blues tradition. At the same time, I'm not pretending to "sing the blues," nor am I suggesting that nobody knows the trouble I've seen. To some degree, this is a technical experiment. I asked myself what men--traditionally defined, I admit--tend to have trouble with. Of course, the list created in response to that question might stretch from here to the Mississippi Delta, so I tried to stick to basics, and I came up with automobiles ["wheels"], money [employment; prudent spending]; women [matters of the heart]; and soul [the spiritual dimensions]. With the basics identified, I wrote the lyrics, with mixed results, presented here for inspection. Can these blues be saved?! I suspect not. Robert Johnson, please pray for me. But I enjoyed the exercise.

Wheels, Money, Women, and Soul

I got troubles with my transport.
My car is broke. The bus don’t run.
I got troubles with my transport.
My car is broke. The bus don’t run.
If I was rich and had a limo,
I’d ride from dusk to rising sun.

I got troubles with the money.
It goes out but don’t come in.
I got troubles with the money
Going out, not coming in.
I’d pray to God for riches,
But they tell me it’s a sin.

I got troubles with the women.
They play me bad and do me wrong.
Always falling for a woman
Who plays me bad and does me wrong.
I’m waiting for the woman
Who’ll do me right and love me long.

I got troubles with my soul, now.
It’s tired of war and aches for peace.
I’m troubled deep in my soul, son.
It’s tired of war and aches for peace.
I don’t like to admit it, but
Sometimes I pray for sweet release.


Wheels, money, women, and soul.
The ride, the green, the girls, my soul.
I’m oh-for-four in these essentials.
Can’t cross the bridge, can’t pay the toll.

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