When I was a teacher, I was once asked to chair a panel at a teacher's conference, and one woman's paper promised to reveal a new way to use music to teach poetry. I introduced her and remembered the lame high school teachers we had who tried to tell us that if we liked rock 'n' roll, we really liked poetry. They then dissected songs the way they took Blake and Tennyson apart, leaving us with the bones of "Richard Cory" and "She's Leaving Home" - two songs that didn't say much to my friends and I, who had tickets to see Rush in our pockets. Of course, the woman's "new" approach was exactly that, only she substituted Creed for Paul Simon and McCartney.
In her semi-academic take on the poetry/lyrics debate, she threw out lines that were repeated, ignored all "yeah"s and "baby"s as simple metric placeholders, and overlooked refrains, which might explain why students today are lousier readers of poetry than we were - they've been taught that some of the words and lines matter and others don't. That teaching led to students who could claim a poem was about one thing by seizing on a few lines, nevermind that other lines confront that interpretation. My students would defend their partial readings with an indignant, "Well, that's what I got out of it."
These recollections were prompted by NPR's interview with Regina Spektor during "Morning Edition" during my drive to work. During it, she said:
"If I could explain every word of this song, then I wouldn't have been very inspired when I wrote it. I would have been more crafty and intellectual," she says. "I would really hate it if I could call up Kafka or Hemingway or Salinger and any question I could throw at them they would have an answer. That's the magic when you read or hear something wonderful — there's no one that has all the answers."
However, that's not to say she doesn't want people to look for deeper meaning behind her songs.
"It's not like I have all the answers," she says.
Where to begin? The premise that if you know what you're talking about, you're being crafty and intellectual? The idea that her songs have meaning, but that some of the words are just stuff? Or, worse, that the words that don't directly address the central thought represent the "art"? Or that it would somehow ruin Kafka, Hemingway and Salinger if she found out that their work was deliberate and thought-through?
Her attitude also seems to reflect a shallow notion of artistic mystery and questions. I don't know if Roberto Bolano had Kerouac in mind when he wrote The Savage Detectives, but I couldn't get the Beats out of my head as he seemed to present a vision of the Beats as they seemed to those around them, something very different from the self-conscious, self-mythologizing perspective of Kerouac. Bolano may not have written that subtext in intentionally, but that doesn't mean those resonances aren't there.