Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Stream of Consciousness in Rock Lyrics

Listening to some Bob Dylan over the weekend reminded me yet again what an amazing artist he was/is. My mind quickly jumped to the stream-of-consciouness lyrics of "Subterranean Homesick Blues," and the imitations that song has spawned. It led me to this rather quickly assembled rundown of stream of consciousness lyrics in rock songs.

“Subterranean Homesick Blues” – Bob Dylan, 1965

Johnny's in the basement
Mixing up the medicine
I'm on the pavement
Thinking about the government
The man in the trench coat
Badge out, laid off
Says he's got a bad cough
Wants to get it paid off
Look out kid
It's somethin' you did
God knows when
But you're doin' it again
You better duck down the alley way
Lookin' for a new friend
The man in the coon-skin cap
In the big pen
Wants eleven dollar bills
You only got ten

Maggie comes fleet foot
Face full of black soot
Talkin' that the heat put
Plants in the bed but
The phone's tapped anyway
Maggie says that many say
They must bust in early May
Orders from the D. A.
Look out kid
Don't matter what you did
Walk on your tip toes
Don't try "No Doz"
Better stay away from those
That carry around a fire hose
Keep a clean nose
Watch the plain clothes
You don't need a weather man
To know which way the wind blows

Get sick, get well
Hang around a ink well
Ring bell, hard to tell
If anything is goin' to sell
Try hard, get barred
Get back, write braille
Get jailed, jump bail
Join the army, if you fail
Look out kid
You're gonna get hit
But users, cheaters
Six-time losers
Hang around the theaters
Girl by the whirlpool
Lookin' for a new fool
Don't follow leaders
Watch the parkin' meters

Ah get born, keep warm
Short pants, romance, learn to dance
Get dressed, get blessed
Try to be a success
Please her, please him, buy gifts
Don't steal, don't lift
Twenty years of schoolin'
And they put you on the day shift
Look out kid
They keep it all hid
Better jump down a manhole
Light yourself a candle
Don't wear sandals
Try to avoid the scandals
Don't wanna be a bum
You better chew gum
The pump don't work
'Cause the vandals took the handles

Haahnster Grades it an A+ for excellence, originality, and influence.

“Blinded by the Light” – Bruce Springsteen, 1972

Madman drummers bummers and Indians in the summer with a teenage diplomat
In the dumps with the mumps as the adolescent pumps his way into his hat
With a boulder on my shoulder feelin' kinda older I tripped the merry-go-round
With this very unpleasing sneezing and wheezing the calliope crashed to the ground
Some all-hot half-shot was headin' for the hot spot snappin' his fingers clappin' his hands
And some fleshpot mascot was tied into a lover's knot with a whatnot in her hand
And now young Scott with a slingshot finally found a tender spot and throws his lover in the sand
And some bloodshot forget-me-not whispers daddy's within earshot save the buckshot turn up the band

And she was blinded by the light
Cut loose like a deuce another runner in the night
Blinded by the light
She got down but she never got tight, but she'll make it alright

Some brimstone baritone anti-cyclone rolling stone preacher from the east
He says: "Dethrone the dictaphone, hit it in its funny bone, that's where they expect it least"
And some new-mown chaperone was standin' in the corner all alone watchin' the young girls dance
And some fresh-sown moonstone was messin' with his frozen zone to remind him of the feeling of romance

Yeah he was blinded by the light
Cut loose like a deuce another runner in the night
Blinded by the light
He got down but she never got tight, but he's gonna make it tonight

Some silicone sister with her manager's mister told me I got what it takes
She said I'll turn you on sonny, to something strong if you play that song with the funky break,
And go-cart Mozart was checkin' out the weather chart to see if it was safe to go outside
And little Early-Pearly came in by her curly-wurly and asked me if I needed a ride,
Oh, some hazard from Harvard was skunked on beer playin' backyard bombardier
Yes and Scotland Yard was trying hard, they sent a dude with a calling card,
he said, do what you like, but don't do it here
Well I jumped up, turnedaround, spit in the air, fell on the ground
Asked him which was the way back home
He said take a right at the light, keep goin' straight until night, and then boy, you're on your own

And now in Zanzibar a shootin' star was ridin' in a side car hummin' a lunar tune
Yes, and the avatar said blow the bar but first remove the cookie jar we're gonna teach those boys to laugh too soon

And some kidnapped handicap was complainin' that he caught the clap from some mousetrap he bought last night,

Well I unsnapped his skull cap and between his ears I saw
a gap but figured he'd be all right

He was just blinded by the light
Cut loose like a deuce another runner in the night
Blinded by the light
Mama always told me not to look into the sights of the sun
Oh but mama that's where the fun is

Haahnster grades it a C+ on a generous day. In fact, the best aspect of this song is the #1 hit version from 1977 released by Manfred Mann's Earth Band, and more specifically, the reworked lyric "Revved up like a deuce," which is slurred to sound as if it's "Wrapped up like a douche."
“It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” – Berry/Buck/Mills/Stipe, 1987

That’s great, it starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes, an aeroplane -
Lenny Bruce is not afraid. Eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn -
world serves its own needs, don’t misserve your own needs. Feed it up a knock,
speed, grunt no, strength no. Ladder structure clatter with fear of height,
down height. Wire in a fire, represent the seven games in a government for
hire and a combat site. Left her, wasn’t coming in a hurry with the furies
breathing down your neck. Team by team reporters baffled, trump, tethered
crop. Look at that low plane! Fine then. Uh oh, overflow, population,
common group, but it’ll do. Save yourself, serve yourself. World serves its
own needs, listen to your heart bleed. Tell me with the rapture and the
reverent in the right - right. You vitriolic, patriotic, slam, fight, bright
light, feeling pretty psyched.

It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.

Six o’clock - TV hour. Don’t get caught in foreign tower. Slash and burn,
return, listen to yourself churn. Lock him in uniform and book burning,
blood letting. Every motive escalate. Automotive incinerate. Light a candle,
light a motive. Step down, step down. Watch a heel crush, crush. Uh oh,
this means no fear - cavalier. Renegade and steer clear! A tournament,
a tournament, a tournament of lies. Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives
and I decline.

It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.

The other night I tripped a nice continental drift divide. Mountains sit in a line.
Leonard Bernstein. Leonid Breshnev, Lenny Bruce and Lester Bangs.
Birthday party, cheesecake, jelly bean, boom! You symbiotic, patriotic,
slam, but neck, right? Right.

It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine...fine...

Haahnster grades it an A+ for excellence in every aspect of songwriting, performance, and recording. It challenges Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" as the master work of this sub-genre. Objectively speaking, this is almost certainly better, although it's hard to overlook that it probably wouldn't have existed without the prior existence of Dylan's song. Ironically, as a single, it charted at only #69 (hee, hee...I said "69"), the worst showing of this bunch, except for Springsteen's, which failed to chart as a single (although, as previously mentioned, there was a cover version that hit #1). Heck, even Dylan's single scratched the Top 40 (at #39)! In fairness, though, by its 1988 release as a single, the Document album itself was already a pretty big seller. Plus, the public, especially the hit-single-buying public, gets it wrong quite a lot.


“We Didn’t Start the Fire” – Billy Joel, 1989

Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie Ray
South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio

Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, Television
North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe

Rosenbergs, H-bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom,
Brando, "The King and I" and The Catcher In The Rye

Eisenhower, Vaccine, England's got a new Queen
Marciano, Liberace, Santayana goodbye

We didn't start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world's been turning
We didn't start the fire
No we didn't light it
But we tried to fight it

Joseph Stalin, Malenkov, Nasser, Prokofiev
Rockefeller, Campanella, Communist Bloc

Roy Cohn, Juan Peron, Toscanini, Dacron
Dien Bien Phu falls, Rock Around The Clock

Einstein, James Dean, Brooklyn's got a winning team
Davy Crockett, Peter Pan, Elvis Presley, Disneyland

Bardot, Budapest, Alabama, Krushchev
Princess Grace, "Peyton Place", trouble in the Suez

We didn't start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world's been turning
We didn't start the fire
No we didn't light it
But we tried to fight it

Little Rock, Pasternak, Mickey Mantle, Kerouac
Sputnik, Chou En-Lai, Bridge on the River Kwai

Lebanon, Charles de Gaulle, California baseball
Starkweather homicide, children of Thalidomide

Buddy Holly, "Ben Hur", space monkey, Mafia
Hula Hoops, Castro, Edsel is a no-go

U-2, Syngman Rhee, Payola and Kennedy
Chubby Checker, "Psycho", Belgians in the Congo

We didn't start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world's been turning
We didn't start the fire
No we didn't light it
But we tried to fight it

Hemingway, Eichmann, "Stranger in a Strange Land"
Dylan, Berlin, Bay of Pigs invasion

"Lawrence of Arabia", British Beatlemania
Ole Miss, John Glenn, Liston beats Patterson

Pope Paul, Malcolm X, British politician sex
J.F.K. blown away, what else do I have to say

We didn't start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world's been turning
We didn't start the fire
No we didn't light it
But we tried to fight it

Birth control, Ho Chi Minh, Richard Nixon back again
Moonshot, Woodstock, Watergate, Punk Rock

Begin, Reagan, Palestine, terror on the airline
Ayatollah's in Iran, Russians in Afghanistan

"Wheel of Fortune", Sally Ride, Heavy Metal, Suicide
Foreign debts, Homeless Vets, AIDS, Crack, Bernie Goetz

Hypodermics on the shores, China's under martial law
Rock and Roller Cola Wars, I can't take it anymore

We didn't start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world's been turning
We didn't start the fire
No we didn't light it
But we tried to fight it

We didn't start the fire
But when we are gone

Will it still burn on, and on, and on, and on...

Haahnster grades it a D. This is Billy Joel's pouting, whiny apology for the shortcomings of the Baby Boomer generation. It's written as a (mostly) chronological series of names, places, and events from the year of Billy's birth (1949) through the year the song was recorded (1989). Big freakin' deal. So, obviously, it was a #1 hit single. Ironic, ain't it?!?

One other I should probably mention, though I don't think it quite fits*:

"I Am the Walrus" – John Lennon (credited as Lennon/McCartney, of course), 1967

I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together,
See how they run like pigs from a gun see how they fly, I'm crying , sitting on a cornflake, waiting for the van to come
Corporation T-shirt, stupid bloody Tuesday, man you've been a naughty boy you let your face grow long
I am the eggman, they are the eggmen, I am the walrus, goo goo g' joob

Mister city policeman sitting pretty little policemen in a row,
See how they fly like Lucy in the sky see how they run, I'm crying, I'm crying, I'm crying, I'm crying
Yellow matter custard, dripping from a dead dog's eye, crabalocker fishwife, pornographic priestess
Boy, you've been a naughty girl, you let your knickers down
I am the eggman, they are the eggmen, I am the walrus, goo goo g' joob

Sitting in an English garden waiting for the sun, If the sun don't come you get a tan from standing in the English rain
I am the eggman, they are the eggmen, I am the walrus, goo goo g' joob, goo goo'g joob

Expert, texpert choking smokers don't you think the joker laughs at you
See how they smile like pigs in a sty see how they snide, I'm crying, semolina pilchard, climbing up the Eiffel tower
Elementary penguin singing Hare Krishna, man you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe
I am the eggman, they are the eggmen, I am the walrus, goo goo g' joob
Goo goo g' joob, Goo goo g' goo, goo goo g' joob goo, juba juba juba, juba juba juba juba juba juba juba, juba, juba

Haahnster grades it an A. I've always loved that song. [* Note: The reason "I don't think it quite fits" is it's more a psychedelic, acid-trip experiment than a stream of consciousness. I.e. it's more a descendant of "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" with it's trippy imagery, and non sequiturs. See also Cream's "Tales of Brave Ulysses" for one of many other examples. Honestly, "Blinded by the Light" might cross this line, too. It's a blurry line, but I'm the decider here.]

So, what did I miss?

UPDATE: As soon as I clicked "PUBLISH," I realized I had overlooked an obvious one: "Mediate" by INXS (1987). The song (and video) were tacked on to the end of their mega-hit "Need You Tonight." Heck, the video even had the cue card thing going, a la "Subterranean Homesick Blues." I'll look for the lyrics to print here. I do remember an awkward couplet along the lines of "Try not to hate/Don't suffocate on your own hate." Musically, I'm remembering it being fairly sparse...I should listen to it again (it's been years). But, on the spot, I'll give it a C.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Before my brother accuses me of being a "rockist," I'd better make a mention of rap music, much of which incorporates varying degrees of stream of consciousness in the lyrics. One song that I think clearly fits this category is Public Enemy's "Cold Lampin' With Flavor":

I'm lampin, I'm lampin, I'm cole cole lampin
I got loowies boy, I'm not trampin
I just came from Da-crib ya know
I'm on da go-throw ya tank into metro
Live lyrics from the bank of reality
I kick da flyest dope maneuver technicality
To a dope track, you wanna hike git out ya backpack
I'm in my Flav-mobile cole lampin
I took dis g upstate cole campin
Ta da poke-a-nose, we call da hide-a-ways
A pack of franks and a big bag of Frito Lays

Flavor-Flav on a hype tip
I'm ya hype drink, come take a big sip
I'm in position, you can't play me out da pocket
I'll take da dopest beat yougot and I'll rock-it
Like chocolate, even vanilla - chocolate, strawberry, saperella
Flavors are electric - try me - get a shock-a
Didn't I tell you to leave Flavor Flav alone knock-a
A clock on my chest proves I don't fess
I'm a clock-a, rock-a rockin' wit-da-rest
Flavor in da house by Chuck-D's side
Chuck got da Flavor-Flav don't hide
P.E. crazy, Crazy P.E. - makin' crazy loowies for the shoppin spree

Ya eatin death cause ya like gittin dirt from da graveyard - ya put gravy on it
Den ya pick ya teeth with tomb stone chips
And casket cover clips - dead women hips ya do da bump with - bones
Nutin but love bones
Lifestyles of the Live-en-dead
First ya live den ya dead - died trying ta clock what I said
Now I got a murder rap cause I bust ya cap with Flavor - pure Flavor
We got Magnum Brown, Shoothki - Valoothki
You could put dat in ya don't know what I said book
Shinavative ill factors by da Flavor Flav
Come an ride da Flavor wave
In any year on any givin day
What a brova know - what do Flavor say
Why do dis record play dat way
Prime time merrily in da day
Right now dis radio station is busy - brainknowledgeably wizzy
Honey drippers, you say you got it
You ain't got no flavor and I can prove it
Flavor Flav the flav all of flavors
Onion an garlic french fried potatas
Make ya breath stink, breath fire
Makes any onion da best crier

I know it sounds crazy but it fits perfect
Peter perfect pimped a perfect Peter
Honey dripper - sucker sipper - big dipper - sucker dipper
Drippin suckers like its goin out-a-style
Creatin flavors for da Flavor Flav pile
Lampin booyee madina style

Kickin da flavor gittin busy
Ya goin ouut, I think ya dizzy
I think ya hungry, cause ya starvin fa Flavor
Flavor most, put it on toast
Eat it-en taste it en swallow it down
Imperial Flavor gives you da crown
Of the king called Flavor, da king of all flavors
Rolls an rolls an rolls life savers
Flavor Flav is in everything ya eat cause everything ya eat got flavor
Flavor Flav is da first taste ya git in da mornin - ya breakfast is da flavor
In between dat ta lunch - in between dat dinner - in between dat ta midnight flavor
Yeah, das right I got somethin fa all da fandangoes of damangoes of da fandangoes of da mangoes

Haahnster grades it an A-, even though no claim can be made to understanding large chunks of it. I got the lyrics from the P.E. website. They're obviously phonetic in spelling (I changed "Um" to "I'm" in several places, but did no other editing). The song has an incredibly catchy beat, and great "Bomb Squad" production. Man, I just love It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back!


Blogger Grant Miller said...

I think we could trade mp3 players and never notice. Pavement, among other bands, totally ripped of the Dylan stream-of-consciousness thing.

5:08 PM, March 07, 2007  
Blogger mat said...

I guess I didn't know the words to "End of the World" as well as I thought I did! Ease up on Billy Joel a bit. He's a boomer, he can't help it. By the way, the Walrus is probably the goofiest Beatles song there is. Check that, Yellow-freakin-Submarine probably takes that prize.

5:10 PM, March 07, 2007  
Anonymous Glassmeow said...

Great post! Agree with you - The Beatles don't fit. Different trip entirely. Or maybe it's just 'cause they're British...

Never could figure out the lyrics to the Manfred Mann version. Thanks for reminding me it was Bruce's song first.

Beth'll be pleased you rated R.E.M. an A+

There's a tribute version of that song, in Italian, by Luciano Ligabue*, that turns it on its side and asks "A Che Ora e la Fine del Mondo" (when is the end of the world?) got the lyrics in the liner notes to the cd. At least I think I do. I'll post 'em in the KatBox if they're there.

*simply "Ligabue" or "Liga" to his European fans...

9:25 PM, March 07, 2007  
Blogger haahnster said...

Grant: The Bob influenced in many ways.

Mat: That's why that scene in Tommy Boy was so funny, Farley and Spade start out singing right along, but rather quickly lose their ability to keep up with the actual lyrics--Then, the added punchline: They sing along perfectly to the song that's not even in English...oh, and F-ck Billy Joel!

glassmeow: You should drop in to compliment me more often! All seriousness aside, I'll look it up.

5:58 AM, March 08, 2007  
Blogger Old Lady said...

You left out Steely Dan!!

H, don't go changin'!

6:59 AM, March 08, 2007  
Blogger haahnster said...

OL: You've lost me, I'm afraid. I'm (mentally) running through all the Steely Dan songs I can recall, and I'm not coming up with anything too stream-of-consciousness in nature. Unless maybe I just type it out as it's playing in my head currently: Peg, it will come back to you/Rikki, don't lose that number/And I'm never going back to my old school/FM, no static at all/Hey nineteen/Bodhisattva, Bodhisattva, won't you take me by the hand/Any major dude will tell you/The weekend at the college didn't turn out like you planned/The things that pass for knowledge I can't understand/Are you reelin' in the years/Kid Charlemagne/I'm a fool to do your dirty work/You go back, Jack/Do it again...

Nope. I'm lost.

10:00 AM, March 08, 2007  
Anonymous Glassmeow said...

Sure - no prob! I read you all the time (just don't always say anything...)

I was going to post 'bout Liga today, but we had some sad news late last night/early this morning. Our own Paul DeLay, legendary Blues Harp player and all around great guy passed away suddenly yesterday. Of leukemia he didn't even know he had.

2:33 PM, March 08, 2007  
Blogger Old Lady said...

To me, Steely Dan lyrics are a stream of consciousness, though not the type you presented. I liked how you were able to pick all those songs out and how I could run through them in my mind!

6:44 AM, March 13, 2007  

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