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Thursday, 2 June 2011

Voice of a Generation Syndrome: Alex Turner and Bob Dylan

Alex Turner has been talked up as a "voice of the generation" type lyricist since the Arctic Monkeys' debut appeared in 2006, and it's no surprise to hear that he isn't that comfortable with the description. "I just don't think I'm equipped to soundtrack the times," he insistsed in a recent interview with the Observer Magazine. And so his more recent lyrics have moved in the opposite direction, all of his lyrics on new album Suck it and See are love/ relationship songs, but it's a mystical and somewhat surreal sort of love. What with the topless models doing semaphore, the wrecking ball gown in the damsel-patterned alley, and the library pictures of the quickening canoe, the unexpected juxtapositions of Turner's Suck it and See lyrics are reminiscent of Dylan's mid-60s output. You know, "The sun's not yellow it's chicken", or "The ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face." That sort of stuff. They just lapped that shit up in the 60s.

- "Absolutely Sweet Marie", from Blonde on Blonde, 1966. Dylan at the height of his "here's some deep shit off the top of my head" period. Persian drunkard, check. Yellow railroad, check. Actually, there are better examples: "Tombstone Blues" and "Desolation Row" come to mind, but the Highway 61 Revisited songs aren't available on YouTube.






My point, really, is that Dylan's increasingly fractured, surreal and nonsensical lyrics came about as a reaction to the same thing. People were calling him the voice of a generation, even the voice of the civil rights movement, after "Blowin' in the Wind", "The Times they are A-Changin'", et al., and he had to get away. It didn't work, mind: Dylan's words were still taken as oracle. It was like that Life of Brian scene:
"I'm not the messiah"
"Only the true messiah would say he's not the messiah."
"All right, then, I am the messiah!"
"HE IS THE MESSIAH!"
John Lennon saw through it, though; speaking about The Beatles' famous masterpiece of gibberish, "I Am the Walrus", Lennon said: "Dylan got away with murder. I though, 'Well, I can write this crap, too.' You know, you just stick a few images together, you thread them together and you call it poetry."




Not comparing Turner to Dylan, or calling him the new Dylan, but he seems to have come down with a similar case of Voice of a Generation Syndrome, and that's why his new lyrics make about as much sense as a rat fucking a grapefruit, to quote Marlon Brando (talking about a film he was in). People were taking his small vignettes of teenage life in Northern England too seriously, and rather than become paralyzed by the attention, he's taken refuge in nonsense. To live up to people's impressions of his lyrical genius is next to impossible. He's learned an important lesson in a poet's education: IT'S MUCH EASIER TO SOUND IMPRESSIVE WHEN YOU'RE SAYING STUFF THAT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE. Try saying something that's true, but also that isn't trite or cliched. Can't do it, can you? So, repeat after me: "Library pictures of the quickening canoe, The first of its kind to get to the moon." Now that's what I'm talking about.