BRIDGET WHELAN writer

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Why Poets Can’t Write Songs – Stephen Sondheim QUOTES FOR WRITERS

Lyrics have to be underwritten. That’s why poets generally make poor lyric writers because the language is too rich. You get drowned in it.
Stephen Sondheim

Photo credit: Richie Lugo 

9 comments on “Why Poets Can’t Write Songs – Stephen Sondheim QUOTES FOR WRITERS

  1. Sarah Waldock
    August 28, 2022

    And there are those songwriters who use the language and come up with amazing lyrics. I cite Poets of the Fall whose use of the language would be remarkable enough if they were British. They’re Finns with amazing vocabularies. And Tuomas of Nightwish isn’t backwards about using the richness of the language. Songs don’t have to be trite enough to be sung by boy bands.

    • bridget whelan
      August 29, 2022

      I’m going to look up Poets of the Fall – thank you for the recommendation. I wondered if this week’s Sunday quote would cause comment. I’m glad it has. I used it because it’s Sondheim and therefore interesting and he saves the argument by the word generally. I dare say most poets can’t write lyrics but some can. Brilliantly. There’s a two word answer to the argument: Leonard Cohen.

      • Sarah Waldock
        August 29, 2022

        POTF manage a very wide range of songs.

      • Sarah Waldock
        August 29, 2022

        I also mention that Tolkien was undoubtedly a poet, and the BBC did a fine job in the radio adaptation of setting many of them to music.

  2. Glen Available
    August 28, 2022

    Can totally see the point Stephen Sondheim is making. One could compare it to the level of able-to-be-understood-ness of your average 60 second tv weather report to that of an eye-wateringly complex and metrological analysis of the same weather intended for a science boffins three-day conference.

    Many people over the years have labelled Bob Dylan a poet. The lyrics to so many of his songs, including this one – WHEN THE NIGHT COMES FALLING FROM THE SKY (1985) certainly seem to recommend that label.

    I love every breath, syllable and nuance of this song – or poem if you like. Probably my favourite line, from many is “In your teardrops I can see my own reflection”
    The music kicks in on this clip at the 40 second mark.

    You can look out across the fields, see me returning
    Smoke is in your eye, you draw a smile
    From the fireplace where all my letters to you are burning
    You’ve had time to think about it for a while

    I walked 200 miles, now look me over
    It’s the end of the chase and the moon is high
    It don’t matter who loves who
    Either you love me or I love you

    When the night comes falling from the sky

    I can see through your walls and I know you’re hurting
    Sorrow covers you up like a cape
    Only yesterday I know that you’ve been flirting
    With disaster that you somehow managed to escape

    Oh, well I can’t provide for you no easy answer
    Who are you that I should have to lie?
    You’ll know everything, my love
    That my love heads up above

    When the night comes falling from the sky

    I can hear your trembling heart beat like a river
    But recently, you’ve got to seen it all
    But you’re disappointed now with those who did not deliver
    But it was you who set yourself up for a fall

    I’ve seen thousands who could have overcome the darkness
    For the love of a lousy buck, I’ve watched them die
    Stick around, baby, we’re not through
    Don’t look for me, I’ll see you

    When the night comes falling from the sky

    In your teardrops I can see my own reflection
    Luck was with me when I crossed the border line
    I don’t wanna be a fool that’s starving for affection
    I don’t wanna drown in someone else’s wine

    For all eternity I think I will remember
    That world full of laugh that’s in your eye
    You will seek me and you’ll find me in the wasteland of your mind
    When the night comes falling from the sky

    Well, I gave to you my heart, that’s fair intention
    Suffering seem to fit you like a glove
    I’m so tired of those who use you for their own pleasure
    When my memory is not so short

    Well, this time I’m asking for freedom
    Freedom from a world that you denied
    And you give it to me now, I’ll take it anyhow
    When the night comes falling from the sky

    • bridget whelan
      August 29, 2022

      Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing all this. I said (in the reply above) that there was a two word answer to Sondheim. Of course, I really meant a four word answer: Leonard Cohen Bob Dylan (and in that order for me)

      • Glen Available
        August 29, 2022

        Apparently Leonard Cohen was awarded the Prince of Asturias Award (Spanish) for literature back in 2011.

        Around the same time he told an interviewer that his writing process was “like a bear stumbling into a beehive or a honey cache: I’m stumbling right into it and getting stuck, and it’s delicious and it’s horrible and I’m in it and it’s not very graceful and it’s very awkward and it’s very painful and yet there’s something inevitable about it.”

  3. chika2b
    August 28, 2022

    I disagree; poetry sounds a lot like music. You can do repetitive language and still make a boy band song if the language is catchy, and you can write a song beyond repetition and catchy phrases and have it become a melody or song that sounds like rhythmic poetry.

    • bridget whelan
      August 29, 2022

      I think all of that is true and there are many exceptions to Sondheim’s general argument…and we are richer for it. There’s music in the best prose

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This entry was posted on August 28, 2022 by in Quotes and tagged , , , .

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