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 third installment of the series looks at snippets of lyrics as they appeared in my life. We explore the lines I found in the late 1980’s.

Late 1980’s

The late ‘80’s found me in college—and I can’t relate to stories of passing around drugs as much as the passing around of music. This was first time I met Jim Morrison, Pink Floyd and Bauhaus.

It intense.
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Jim Morrison is a poet who wanted to be filmmaker but ended up a dead rock star. There is no deep meaning behind this two word sentence. I just like the economy of words. Other people out there write the lyrics as, “Dance on fire. As it intends” while I hear “Dance on fire. It intense.” Placed in context of The Doors song it came from, “When The Music’s Over” (Strange Days), we have a sentence that threatens to be an elliptical clause and is also an alliteration. Great craftsmanship and artistry.

Cancel my subscription to The Resurrection.

This line (also from “When The Music’s Over”) shows that Jim Morrison is one of the best representatives of Satan the pop world of decades past had to offer. I write this not to invoke images of the comical heavy metal bands that followed The Doors (and Jimi Hendrix). I write this to revive the basic question behind satanic thought (represented in the Judeo-Christian scripture), “Why can’t we rule ourselves—with our own rules?” It seems like an innocent question until someone hands out a machete in Rwanda at the turn of the century. Morrison cancels his subscription to the kingdom of The Comforter as if holiness comes from sanctified vending machines. It is an adroit and direct attack on those false prophets out there.

When the still sea conspires in armor,
And her sullen and aborted currents breed tiny monsters,
True sailing is dead.

My reading tells me that Jim Morrison wrote these lines in High School. He was learning about the Portuguese/Spanish age of exploration. Specifically, he shows intimate familiarity with the history of the Age of Exploration. These lines come from a poem entitled “Horse Latitudes” which is dramatized by The Doors in Strange Days, where the Horse Latitudes refers to the region along the Spanish shipping lanes to the West Indies where the wind fell, prolonging voyages. Sailors had to throw horses overboard to make cargo lighter to finish the voyage before fresh water ran out.

I see that first line and the play on words. It’s incredible!: the word steel is hidden in that first line. It is suggested by the words armor and still. Behind the word steel are the swords of the conquerors. I am led to believe that the “tiny monsters” can also be associated with the conquerors as well as their lore of the sea. This poem kicks ass. This poem is so damn good I have to show the whole thing:

When the still sea conspires in armor,
And her sullen and aborted currents breed tiny monsters,
True sailing is dead.

Awkward instant:
And the first animal is jettisoned,
Legs furiously pumping
Their stiff green gallop,
And heads bob up
In mute nostril agony
Carefully refined
And sealed over

Work like this should make it clear that Jim Morrison was not only a serious poet but he also would have been quite a filmmaker if he didn’t self-destruct so tragically. This work shows how strong his visualization skills were. We see more visualization skills in the following lines from “The Wasp: Texas Radio and the Big Beat”:

I wanna tell you ’bout Texas Radio and the Big Beat
Comes out of the Virginia swamps
Cool and slow with plenty of precision
With a back beat narrow and hard to master

Some call it heavenly in it’s brilliance
Others, mean and rueful of the Western dream
I love the friends I have gathered together on this thin raft
We have constructed pyramids in honor of our escaping
This is the land where the Pharaoh died

The Negroes in the forest are brightly feathered
They are saying, “Forget the night.
Live with us in forests of azure.
Out here on the perimeter there are no stars
Out here we is stone—immaculate.”

Listen to this, and I’ll tell you ’bout the heartache
I’ll tell you ’bout the heartache and the loss of God
I’ll tell you ’bout the hopeless night
The meager food for souls forgot
I’ll tell you ’bout the maiden with wrought iron soul

I’ll tell you this
No eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn

I’ll tell you ’bout Texas Radio and the Big Beat
Soft drivin’, slow and mad, like some new language

A few blurbs about my interpretation of these lines:

  • “Wasp” is really WASP as in White Anglo Saxon Protestant.
  • “Texas Radio and the Big Beat” refers to the origins of rock and roll.
  • Describing this music (which is popular throughout the world) with the word “precision” and referring to the pyramids is an incredible feat of cultural understanding for a so-called “white” person. It is my humble opinion that African American music (which forms the foundation of rock and roll) is just as precise and monumental as the pyramids (which of course were constructed by Africans and are a symbol of the foundation of world civilization).
  • It should be a well known fact (to the educated) that African American rock and rollers were largely left out of the popularity and fortune Elvis Presley enjoyed. However, many of these African Americans loved the music so much that they played anyway. The lines “Out here on the perimeter there are no stars,” and “Out here we is stone—immaculate,” captures this so well.
  • The “new language” in the lines refers to a new African language derived outside of the continent of Africa.
  • I’m not quite sure that the “maiden with wrought iron soul” represents rock and roll very well. I am certain that his later description of rock and roll as “black polished chrome” in An American Prayer is a superior replacement. This language usage, along with the use of the word “Negroes,” is not as timeless as the rest of the work.
  • Always keep in mind while reading these lines that Jim Morrison spent many of his childhood days sneaking away from his suburban home to spend a few nights listening to African American musicians in local clubs and bars. This is classic behavior of the starving artist being fed plenty of TV dinners in a house that is not a home.
  • “No eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn” is one of the greatest single lines I have ever read in the English language. In my world, in my context, “the dawn” refers to the dawn of humankind, the Eden that was Africa. So when a so-called Black person asks a so-called white person, “What do you have to say about the Age of Racism?” The white person can say, “No eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn.” But I am certain that the question will never be asked and nothing will be said.

Many people close to The Doors (including members of the band) insist that they do not understand much of what James Douglas Morrison was writing about. Most wanted him to just rock and roll instead of performing “long songs” with spoken word like “Celebration of the Lizard” (across tracks 14–20 in Absolutely Live).

It is clear to me that Morrison put the stinky leather “counter” in counter culture. The lines above are an open attack on what patriotic Americans are supposed to hold dear. What must have been terrifying (or at least depressing) to Morrison is to find that the people closest to him unconsciously (or consciously) embraced their whiteness and non-education in an age of legal and institutionalized racism—and honestly did not understand where he was coming from. What’s even worse is to know that there are serious problems with the foundation of the society and to have no viable solutions or responses apart from what Morrison said himself on his An American Prayer LP: “I just want to get my kicks before the whole shit house goes up in flames.”

Through the window in the wall
Comes streaming in on sunlight wings
A million bright ambassadors of morning.
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Pink Floyd was the music of choice for the graduate students I observed as an undergraduate physics student at UCSB. I saw it as the last gasp of hippie culture before the conservative backlash of the Reagan 1980s (and Bush-senior 1990s) crested at full force. This line (which I have broken into three lines) comes from Pink Floyd’s Meddle, the song “Echoes.” When Roger Waters was a member of Pink Floyd, the group had an air of seriousness almost as steeping as that of Stanley Kubrick. I respect that kind of seriousness—in spite of Sid Vicious and his punk rock movement hating it. The lines above typify the fine craftsmanship and artistry that was Pink Floyd. That’s just fluent English.

Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way.
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Of course The Floyd took advantage of their fine English education by biting off of Henry David Thoreau in the classic Dark Side of the Moon cut “Breathe.” I am certain that this level of intra-cultural criticism is long dead in pop music. Many years later, when I took my first “real” corporate IT job at Trust Company of the West in Downtown Los Angeles, I was shocked to find Animals in the mahogany desk drawer of one high-powered trader of mortgage-backed securities. This guy looked nothing like the college hippies who would have had no discomfort (or a sense of irony) listening to some of the words on the first song on this LP:

You’ve got to be crazy
Gotta have a real need
Gotta sleep on your toes
And when you’re on the street
You’ve got to be able
To pick out the easy meat
With your eyes closed

Then: moving in silently
Downwind and out of sight
You’ve got to strike when the moment is right
Without thinking

After a while
You can rack up points for style
Like a glove and tie
A firm hand shake
A sudden look in the eye
With an easy smile

You’ve got to be trusted
By the people that you lie to
So that when they turn your backs on you
You get the chance to put the knife in
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Perhaps those poor investors in Enron stock should have been listening to Pink Floyd instead of much of the corporation-approved music in the media mainstream these days. Perhaps I am not quite hip to what’s going on in today’s music scene but I have never seen and heard such a sustained attack on corporate culture since. Perhaps Ani Difranco or Rage against the Machine has something here and there. But I can’t find a replacement for Pink Floyd. It stays in my collection along with my DVD of The Wall.

The sky’s gone out!
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This line is from a song called “Exquisite Corpse” from the LP The Sky’s Gone Out by a band called Bauhaus. I suppose this band typified what was called “Goth” or “death rock,” but unlike many other writers who find themselves in this position I will not pretend that I know anything about such cultural movements, fads, etc. What I do know is that Peter Murphy and his merry bunch wrote artistic lyrics—quite literally I mean they wrote songs about art, visual, plastic art. These lines from Mask make my case:

From the growth underneath the closed mouth
You’ll catch, if you listen,
Rack-trapped cubist vowels
—and the dummy head expression.
The dummy head expression!
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To do these words justice, the most accurate lyrics may appear at This is quite unusual to have what some may call an “art band” actually writing songs about art! This is not to suggest that Bauhaus was a gay and scholarly art band of Black Death. They dealt with the usual subjects (sex and sex) but they approached them in an unusual way. In The Sky’s Gone Out we have an excerpt from “The Three Shadows Part III” which can easily be a message to Bill Clinton:

Old Classic Gentlemen
Say your prayers
To the wind
Of prostitution

To your faces
And Rex complexes
Riddle my breast
Full of the oppressed past

However, when I hear the words, “Riddle my breast full of the oppressed past,” I cannot help putting this in the context of a racial past. However in the context of selected feminist thoughts these words are even stronger.

As far as I am concerned, Bauhaus (namely Peter Murphy) is the designated heir to anything David Bowie left behind. Simultaneously, a contemporary of David Bowie is Peter Gabriel. Gabriel’s album So is just as theatrical as anything Bowie might have produced but has an “African Ambient” quality that is quite distinctive among occidental pop albums.

In your eyes, I see the doorway
To a thousand churches
—the resolution of all the fruitless searches.
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These words from “In Your Eyes” on So go so far as to feature Baaba Maal on the decrescendo vocals. These are very powerful words for that someone special in your life. It should be no surprise that Gabriel writes in “Mercy Street”:

Words support like bone.

I would not have it any other way: as my college years came to a close I wrote something I call a “sub-novel,” wrote and staged a one-act play—and, oh yeah, got my degree in a field that has very little to do with fiction writing.

The previous lines in the rasx context are from my early 1980s.
The next lines in the rasx context are from my 1990s and 2000s.