lines in the rasx context

This series documents what disappoints many literate lovers of poetry: most of what I consider poetry does not come from poetry books. Instead of hiding my poverty in quiet desperation I am moved to flaunt it public like loud neighbors arguing over the television remote control: I want to see and show you the “lines” that have inspired me. Most of these lines come from the popular music I grew up with—and yes too few others come from books. This second installment of the series looks at snippets of lyrics as they appeared in my life. We explore the lines I found in the early 1980’s.

Early 1980’s

This was my coming-of-age decade. I had a lot of free time on my hands. The bulk of my favorite lines fall here. Many of the artists listed in this decade actually created this work in previous decades:

Children ‘round the world put camel shit on the walls.
They’re making carpet for treadmills or garbage sorting.
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I hate to admit this. If I had to point to one famous person that inspired me to write, that celebrity would be David Bowie. This line is from “It’s No Game” from the Scary Monsters LP. Back in the day of vinyl records, Bowie sampled “exotic” cultures as if Britain ruled the world and he was some maverick colonial administrator putting on musical theatre. When I was a teenager I had a front-row seat to the show (even though I have never been to a David Bowie concert).

As ugly as a teenaged millionaire pretending it’s a whiz kid world…

This is another great line from Scary Monsters, the song “Teenage Wildlife.” I take it out of the context of Bowie exploring the world of imitation glam rockers and put it the context of the recent Internet boom and bust. This way, the line becomes almost prophetic. Back in the context of the time I met this line there was Richard Blade of Pasadena’s KROQ and Tee Vee’s VH1 spinning vinyl and video from many Bowie imitators great and small.

There’s no sign of life. It’s just the power to charm.
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David Bowie is one of a handful of artists who had slightly more than a superficial interest in the environmental impact of playing the role assigned to “white people” in the circus (which an old-fashioned word for “race track”). When I see this line out of “Modern Love” from the Let’s Dance album, I see more than just a subtle attack on the Church (and its “modern love” of a deity). I see a man describing the colonial administrator at his best (or worst).

It’s too late to be hateful. The European Man is here.
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This line comes from David Bowie’s Station to Station album. I have some idea why he wrote that line (relating something or other to drug addiction) but my interpretation pulls that “annoying” race card. The message here is, “Don’t waste your time reacting to the concept of race—it’s too late to do anything about it!” I often terrorize the motorists of Beverly Hills when I drive through their streets, blasting this CD, singing at the top of my lungs:

I must be only one in a million
Does my face show some kind of warmth?
It’s too late
To be hateful.
It’s too late
To be late again.
It’s too late
To be grateful.
The European Man is here.

When I think of it being “too late,” I can’t help but to think of Colored People’s Time (CP Time). A nervous driver of a Mercedes Benz indulges in furtive glances at me through his rear view mirror. Does my face show some kind of warmth? I am amazed by how I can still enjoy music I heard when I was a teenager. The light turns green. I have my sunglasses on so I can see what I am doing. We move on.

I leave the table saying, I am real.
I saw the pressure like your eyes on me.
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Long before I grew to appreciate the words of Ralph Ellison, “the machine inside the machine,” I was entertained by the science-fiction, musical robotics of Gary Numan. This line is from my favorite Gary Numan song “Telekon” off the vinyl Telekon. Although I did not eagerly look forward to the homosexual overtones intermingled throughout his work (which was fashionable in his day) I was immediately attracted to his expressions of uncertain identity and lack of “proper socialization” which left me quite mechanical at times.

Down in the park
Where the Mach Men meet the machines
And play kill by numbers.
Down in the park with a friend called “5.”
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This line is from Numan’s Replicas the song “Down in the Park.” Maybe this was my imagination in overdrive but when I was growing up there actually was a park in Inglewood, CA, called Darby park and in that park the people did not have numbers—they wore colors. People sold drugs in that park and had various color-coded gang activities. Gary Numan’s science fiction related well to my science fact.

We drove to work by proxy…
I dream of wires, the old days.
New ways. New ways. I dream of wires.

This is more science fiction from Numan’s Telekon, the song “I Dream of Wires,” which looks to me like science fact. All I have to do is get up from my desk where I am writing this and look at the wires in the back of my computers, networking themselves and making an Internet connection. It is quite easy for me to drive to work “by proxy.” Do you telecommute? Welcome to the future.

Metal bird dip wing of fire
Whose air lanes comb dark earth...
The poles and tethers we were born in...

On the brink of whole new deal
On the floor of a Pan Am bar
I’m staring right into the light
And I’m drawn in like a moth
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I consider Thomas Dolby the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of orchestral-yet-funky electronic music. His lyrics are, by far, the most informed and educated. This line from the song “Flying North” from Golden Age of Wireless constructs an intricate scale model of a scene from aviation history. Like George Clinton, considered to be Dolby’s mentor of sorts, we have a person making pop music that was accessible to the party people of that day while at the same time possessing quality and depth that still has me listening to it damn near twenty years later.

Roads stretch out like healthy veins
Wild gift horses strain the reins
Where even Richard Nixon has got soul.
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Damn near a decade before my time was Neil Young’s “Campaigner” which I heard in the box set Decade released in 1977. This is not a voice trying to imitate Big Mama Thornton. This is genuine Euro-descended, North Americana. I respect genuine voices—or at least brilliant dramatists capable of fabricating a sense of authenticity.

All the Great Explorers
Are in granite laid
Under white sheets for the great unveiling
At the big parade
All the Bush League batters
Are left to die on the diamond
In the stands, the home crowd scatters
For the turnstiles

These lines come from “For the Turnstiles” (also on Decade) which is an American triumph over the challenge of protesting the Vietnam War and the American culture that produced it while making great music with American soul… The “Bush League batters” are of course the young soldiers sent to play America’s past time on live television.

How many people do you think I am to pretend I am somebody else?
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David Byrne of the Talking Heads is another art-house voice reaching for that American authenticity. On the Speaking in Tongues LP, the lyrics are composed of lines that stand on their own and are arranged very well into units that could almost be considered incoherent. I recall the music reviewers placing this “word salad” style under the influence of William Burroughs, his “cut-up” technique. David Bowie independently writes under this influence as well. Since I like the work by Bowie and Byrne I quickly found an attraction for Burroughs’s Naked Lunch. From Burroughs I easily discovered Jack Keroac and On the Road—and was well on the way to forming a core element of my own literary style.

The previous lines in the rasx context are from my “afterbirth” and the 1970s.
The next lines in the rasx context are from my late 1980s.