Friday, 22 May 2009

We are ugly but we have the music


I went for a drink with John Clark and Malcolm Harding and talked about writing and horror movies and George Best and how confidence is vital to so many kinds of self-expression, whether it be sport or art. It was great but I stayed too long and woke up exhausted.

I mentioned I'd been blogging about poetry. I can't recall whether Malcolm expressed an opinion, but John was pretty dismissive. But saying that you don't like poetry is like saying you don't like painting or you don't like music - it is probably that you haven't come across anything that speaks to you, or that - for whatever reason - you have constructed a barrier to it. Once you decide that something isn't for you, then you simply stop exploring its possibilities.

Strangely enough I wrote a poem about George Best for a book of football poems that Tony Bradman was compiling. It goes like this. . .

Man U played in grey

When I was a kid,

At least they did on our TV.

Except Best of course;

Even in black and white

He was in colour.


Tony didn't use it. I can't think why. . .


Not content with defending poetry I also attempted a defence of Leonard Cohen against the charge of being bedsit misery-maker. I have never regarded him like that. A big part of art is finding someone who can give a voice to your feelings. It can be liberating to find that you are not alone in dark thoughts. It can be cheering.

But anyway, Cohen is often very funny, in a droll way. This is a verse from one of his most famous songs, Chelsea Hotel #2 - but it was also a poem first of course. Cohen was an established poet in Canada before he was ever a singer. It is about Janis Joplin. It's a sad song, but a very grown-up one. I naively thought the 'fixed' referred to her hair or her clothes rather than - as I subsequently realised - to drugs when I first heard it..

I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel
You were famous, your heart was a legend.
You told me again you preferred handsome men
But for me you would make an exception.
And clenching your fist for the ones like us
Who are oppressed by the figures of beauty,
You fixed yourself, you said, "Well never mind,
We are ugly but we have the music."


It does rhyme, but not in any obvious way - legend/exception and beauty/music. It sounds natural. 'You told me again you preferred handsome men, but for me you would make an exception' is just a great bit of writing. The 'again' conjures up both a joke too often repeated.

I've always taken comfort from 'We are ugly but we have the music'. I love that line. I think it probably strikes a chord with you or it doesn't. I have to say think the 'music' stands for all creativity or personal expression and the 'ugly' is not necessarily about looks alone. It's a rallying cry for all us unlovely, awkward, shy or troubled painters and poets, singers and writers.

I think troubled (albeit good-looking and glamorous) George Best would have got that too.

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