My colleagues in ‘20th century English Literature’ (first-year) and myself have decided to use one spare week that we programmed after the unit on British Poetry for songs. I opened a Forum for students to contribute songs that they found interesting because of the lyrics but since the messages are trickling rather than pouring down (don’t ask me why…) I have spent around, em, six? very intense hours working fast on my own selection.
It is supposed to be a) representative of main trends in current ‘interesting’ British pop and rock (no Taio Cruz nor Cheryl Cole here…), b) offer an attractive list of songs with well-written lyrics, or, at least, lyrics far beyond the usual romantic trash ‘I love you-I need you-I want you.’ So here they are:
Adele, “Rolling in the Deep”
Amy McDonald, “This is the Life”
Amy Winehouse, “Rehab”
Artic Monkeys, “Fluorescent Adolescence”
Bloc Party, “Banquet”
Coldplay, “Viva la Vida”
Dido, “Thank You”
The Editors, “Smokers at the Hospital Doors”
Elbow, “One Day Like This”
Florence and the Machine, “Shake it Out”
Franz Ferdinand, “Walk Away”
Idlewild, “No Emotion”
James Blunt, “I’ll Be Your Man”
Kasabian, “Where Did All The Love Go?”
Kaiser Chiefs, “I Predict a Riot”
Keane, “Somewhere Only We Know”
Lily Allen, “Smile”
Manic Street Preachers, “Motorcycle Emptiness”
Mumford and Sons, “I Will Wait”
I don’t like ALL of them, though some are among my personal favourites. In some cases, I have chosen a song that might be not so good but that has better lyrics than hits by the same artists. I have excluded, as you can see, hip-hop and, generally, any form of rapping, let students enjoy that on their own. Not my cup of tea… as I don’t like being preached at.
Personally, I have always preferred British to American music, at all levels, though, very incongruously my favourite band is American (the awesome Interpol!). Actually, I can very well say that British pop and rock played a great role in my decision to take a degree in English, as I’m sure was the case with many of my contemporaries and is still the case with, I assume, some students. When an ex-student sent me a picture of graffiti scribbled on a loo door here at UAB I almost fainted with pleasure: ‘Ian Curtis me posee’. Yes, indeed, he still does.
In my profound stupidity, I thought that at some point in the degree someone would lecture on the lyrics that mattered to me so much as a student. Nobody did. And, so, eventually, I wrote myself a few papers on music (Marilyn Manson, Linkin Park, Kylie Minogue, music videos, etc.) and managed to introduce a few songs in class with the excuse of the lyrics and their being, em, a form of poetical writing. I have always wanted to teach an elective subject but at the rate I’m going, what with Harry Potter, and Gender Studies in the next two years, and who knows what else, I’m not sure this will ever happen.
Actually, one of the factors stopping me is that as I age pop and rock music has come to play a lesser and lesser role in my life. I haven’t totally disconnected and the work I’ve done for the selection has showed me that I need very much to reconnect. Partly this disconnection has to do with my losing the ability to enjoy music as I work (I need monastic silence now). Also with the fact that keeping up to date as regards good pop and rock is somehow even harder that keeping up to date with good fiction (see my last post). Music is gone from TV, except for the trashy MTV, which I do watch now and then. There used to be an excellent music TV channel, Fly Music, a few years ago (2005-8), focused on the best of indie. That, however, went, replaced by… Disney Channel. I-Cat FM, my favourite radio channel has become an internet channel, and I simply don’t listen to the radio on the internet (Fly Music is now also there). I’m not a Spotify person, either. And, well, downloading illegally, which everyone does, works only partly for me, as I belong to the generation that used to buy LPs and treasure them as objects (even for their covers). An .mp3 file is, for me, a disposable item, rather than a treasured possession and it has the very negative effect of making it all seem too homogeneous and equally disposable. And, well, as I argued last week in relation to fiction, gone are the times when I’d risk whatever money CDs cost now. So, it’s hard to keep up.
So… We’ll see how students react to my choices. And which choices they finally make in the Forum. I’m worried indeed that the generational gap will work against me, generating scepticism on their side or even protectiveness of the territory. Or maybe I’m projecting here, I remember being truly annoyed when I saw one of my ex-students wearing a Joy Division T-shirt. Hei, that’s ‘mine’, I complained. She smiled and told me, ‘don’t be old-fashioned… Music has now no age.’ But does it?
Just to finish: do listen to the songs, they are amazing. One must admire very much a culture capable of producing them in such great numbers.
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