Written by

Andrew Millar


September 24, 2007

Those who regularly read The Bleat will know that I occasionally refer to people who you may not have heard of before – Maslow, Kuhn and Jung to name but a few. Well, today’s entry is no different. So Wikipedia at the ready, read on….

I took a walk down Rundle Street yesterday and ended up on Memory Lane. You see, Big Star records is right next door to the studio and occasionally I go in for a browse. It’s great because you can walk out with a fist full of music for the price of a new CD – if you’re looking for back catalogue stuff of course.

One album I flicked past, and then went back for a second look was ‘Islands’ by King Crimson. I have not heard that in 25 years. So for the price of a coffee, I reopened that compartment of my memories. And what treasures I found…:

I have always loved the lyrics of King Crimson’s Peter Sinfield.

For example ‘The Letters’

With quill and silver knife
She carved a poison pen
Wrote to her lover’s wife
“You’re husband’s seed has fed my flesh.”

As if a leper’s face
That tainted letter graced
The wife with choke-stone throat
Ran to the day with tear blind eyes.

Impaled on nails of ice
And raked with emerald fire
The wife with soul like snow
With steady hand begins to write.

“I’m still, I need no life
to serve on boy and men.
What’s mine is yours is dead
I take my leave of mortal flesh.”

OK, not the cheeriest of subjects but so skilfully penned. ‘Impaled on nails of ice and raked with emerald fire,’ is a line worthy of Shakespeare, Shelley and Blake.

Now I love the lyrics of songs. Being dyslexic, I can’t read poetry. So I miss out on this whole enriching art form. Give me a volume of John Dunn and I’m a blind man in the Louvre.

The only way I can experience the genre of literary rhythm, meter and style is as a sung lyric.

So imagine my disgust with current catalogue ‘artists’… Take, for example the words from a track by a current top selling performer in the US

“You got me lifted shifted higher than a ceiling
And ooh wee it’s the ultimate feeling
You got me lifted feeling so gifted
Sugar how you get so fly?
Suga suga how you get so fly?
Suga suga how you get so fly?
Suga suga how you get so fly?
Suga suga how you get so fly?”

Yes, each to their own and people are choosing to listen to this illiterate outpouring of primal emotion. However, Shakespeare was and always will be outsold by trashy pamphlets, penny dreadfuls and pulp fiction.

Yep, Mills and Boon wins.

But that doesn’t stop me taking a stand with modern marketing. As a communication industry we have to resist the dumbing down of our language. And you can track the slide by flicking through the pages of Award Annuals. I look at examples from the 50s and 60s and see that the delicate and decisive use of words seemed more eloquent then. We are losing the art of language. We’re missing the Zen of words. If you want an example, read the copy of the first series of VW ads created by Bill Bernbach. There is a definite structure to his idea. There is meter to his free verse. Although it is a monologue, it’s dynamic and lively, without hyperbole and false engagement.

Here’s another example from an even earlier period – a car ad from the 30s for a car called the Jordan. The story goes that Edward Jordan was on a train crossing America. He was sleeping in the carriage late in the afternoon and woke to see a girl riding a horse towards the speeding train. As their vectors intersected, the rider wielded the horse to a parallel path with the train and for a while they synchronised their speed. Jordan, head of an emerging car company turned to his traveling partner and asked, ‘Where are we?”

“Somewhere west of Laramie.” was the reply – which became the headline for an ad – that changed the course of the Jordan Motor Car Company…

And the ad read…

Somewhere west of Laramie there’s a bronco-busting steer-roping girl who knows what I’m talking about. She can tell me what a sassy pony, that’s a cross between greased lightning and the place where it hits, can do with eleven hundred pounds of steel and action when he’s going high, wide and handsome.

The truth is – the Playboy was built for her.

Built for the lass whose face is brown with the sun when the day is done of revel and romp and race.

She loves the cross of the wild and tame.

These’s a savor of links about the car – of laughter and lilt and light – a hint of old loves – and saddles and quirt. It’s a brawny thing – yet a graceful thing for the sweep o’ the Avenue.

Step into the Playboy when the hour grows dull with the things gone dead and stale.

Then start for the land of real living with the spirit of the lass who rides, lean and rangy, into the red horizon of a Wyoming twilight.

Sure the language is a little arcane, but what do we have today?

“You can get it walkin’,
you can get it talkin’
You can get it pullin’ a plough…
As a matter of fact, I’ve go it it now.
And the best cold beer is Vic, Victoria Bitter…”

Sinfield, Burnbach and Jordan credit consumers with some degree of intelligence.

In fact, in my humble opinion the lyrics to ‘Islands’ would make compelling brochure copy for a tourism campaign for Kangaroo Island…

Read, enjoy and go to the island in winter and see if I’m right.

Islands by Peter Sinfield

Earth, stream and tree encircled by sea
Waves sweep the sand from my island.
My sunsets fade,
Field and glade wait only for rain
Grain after grain love erodes my
High weathered walls which fend off the tide
Cradle the wind
to my island.

Gaunt granite climbs where gulls wheel and glide
Mournfully cry o’er my island.
My dawn bride’s veil, damp and pale,
Dissolves in the sun.
Love’s web is spun – cats prowl, mice run
Wreathe snatch-hand briars where owls know my eyes
Violet skies
Touch my island, touch me.

Beneath the wind turned wave
Infinite peace
Islands join hands
‘Neathe heaven’s sea.

Dark harbour quays like fingers of stone
Hungrily reach from my island.
Clutch sailors’ words, pearls and gourds
Are strewn on my shore.
Equal in love, bound in circles.
Earth, stream and tree return to the sea
Waves sweep the sand from my island,
From me.