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Songwriting Does Not Equal Poetry… even for Bono

Neil McCormick of the Telegraph recently provided the following insights in songwriting lyrics versus poetry… Visit the blog post to see the “poem” by Bono first-hand and then read the scathing review of Bono, with empathy to the man as an outstanding songwriter:

All you can really say in Bono’s defence is he is not the first good songwriter to be unveiled as a bad poet. Step forward Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney. Indeed, the problem is moonlighting rock stars, who think because they are good at one thing they must be good at everything, and don’t have anyone around in the inner circle (usually comprised of people who owe their livings to the star) to persuade them otherwise. I really don’t want to see Madonna’s acting (or Prince’s, Bowie’s or Jagger’s), Ronnie Wood’s painting (I will make an exception for Bob Dylan, who seems to have some small talent in this field, and doesn’t push it on his public), and, to be perfectly honest, I don’t even have much time for Leonard Cohen’s poetry, which often lacks the discipline he brings to songwriting.

Indeed, much is made of the difference between poetry and lyrics, with the intellectual presumption being that the former are usually in some way superior, but I think the discipline of scanning, rhyming and metre, the challenge of vocal comprehensibility and the absolutely crucial interaction with melody (synchronising with the rich emotional language of music, which often renders words redundant) makes lyric writing a special art form, the greatest field of lyrical communication in our times, capable of striking people deeper and harder than almost any poem. Bono (and Dylan and McCartney and even Cohen) should stick proudly to writing songs. But probably not about Elvis.

Ah, the chasm between lyrics and poetry… certainly not one and the same, and most always the offspring, related though they are, of different Muses…

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