Poetic Song Verse
Mike Mattison and Ernest Suarez
University Press of Mississippi
While Rock and Roll began life as “The Devil’s Music” with a side order of “turn down that noise” from your father, today it’s an endless subject of academic publications and deep sociological studies. Poetic Song Verse is an excellent example. It delves into the study of how rock and role lyrics relate to poetry and pop culture. Beside the obvious need for meter and rhythm in a song and the lyrics matching the guitar chords, there’s an evolution of the material and messages that rock and roll conveys. Initially regarded as “race music,” suited only to inflame lust in white children, it took on a more significant social role as rock music developed deepening insight into the language arts and created songs touching on more important social issues, such as the Vietnam War protest and cross-racial acceptance.
That’s the premise of this small, dense examination of the genre. Authors Mattison and Suarez churn through race relations, the recording industry, capitalism, and music theory to build and sustain their academic analysis of what we mere mortals called “the cool tunes.” Little Richard and Elvis form the initial assault, supported by the poetry of Ginsberg and Kerouac. The authors take us though soul and anti-war and drug lyrics, then challenge the tenets of progressive rock, only to end up somewhere near punk rock and hip hop. They do tend to over-emphasize lists of bands and musicians contributing to specific genres, but if you gloss over that (and rest assured there will be no test afterwards) this is very readable for an academic tome. Footnotes and works cited take up several pages, as do credits, but you can blast through that material and look for your favorite artists. Or you could ignore them, they are only footnotes after all. The history of rock and roll is well documented, but if you’re looking for deeper meaning and motivations in this massive musical movement, this book is a good start on your journey. And if you’re lazy like me, just put Spotify on random and see what you get. I’ll bet some one wrote a book on THAT band already.