Wordsmith Wednesday: Kendrick Lamar’s “Swimming Pools (Drank)”

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Our words this week come from the opening verse of Kendrick Lamar’s “Swimming Pools (Drank)” off his 2012 modern classic good kid, m.A.A.d. city.

The lyrics are:

“Now I done grew up ’round some people livin’ their life in bottles
Granddaddy had the golden flask, backstroke every day in Chicago
Some people like the way it feels, some people wanna kill their sorrows
Some people wanna fit in with the popular, that was my problem”

Choosing lines to highlight off this record was not easy. I could have shone a light on the pure storytelling of “The Art of Peer Pressure” or the fresh juxtapositions of parallel yet conflicting corrupting forces being explored in each verse on “Good Kid” or the masterful fourth-wall-breaking, character-constructing introspection and self-analysis on “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst.” Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City is a poetry collection, sparkling with wordplay, cemented in themes, and threaded with narrative. I chose these lines because they’re a beautiful example of Lamar’s ability to paint a rich picture and implant himself in it to navigate the details of that landscape. A celebration of indulgence on the surface, this song/poem unrolls to engage the social and psychological motivations for alcoholism, but that engagement rests on the foundation provided by this acknowledgement of Lamar’s understanding of the issue on a personal as well as a sociological level in these first lines. Wrapped up in a narrative of love / poverty / faith / violence / success / guilt, this song (especially the extended version) always resonates as an honest attempt to approach the causes and effects of alcoholism without being disconnected or self-righteous. It makes me think of myself, my family, and my future. It places both author and audience within narrative: at the bar, in the club, on the couch. It swirls and strikes. It weaves and breaths heavy. It’s K-Dot trying to connect the stray dots in permanent marker for you (and him) to learn from.

– NR

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Cloud Nothings’ “Wasted Days”

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Our words this week come from Cloud Nothings’ song “Wasted Days” off their 2012 album Attack on Memory.

The lyrics are:

“I thought/
I would/
Be more/
Than this”

The simplicity and directness of Dylan Baldi’s words (and delivery) always force me to stare them in the face. Repeated with increasing intensity in the song, these words creep in and wrap themselves around your face, pushing in parts of your skull you thought were solid but still have some infantile give to them. I feel these words in the words and eyes of the people around me at work, at shows, in the grocery store. I’ve looked out my kitchen window many times in the past couple of years with these words spinning in my mind, both in my own voice and Baldi’s. Complacency has always scared me. I’m ever unsatisfied, often unable to take pleasure in any present personal crest because I’m standing in the shadow of the next summit. While I’m disappointed or depressed some days, it’s usually not of any tangible failure, but rather a nagging need to do more, to be more. This mindset may burn me out or it may keep me trudging forward in search of new fixes of fulfillment. Either way, I’m sure I have many more hours standing in front of windows with these words winding around in my head.

– NR

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Wordsmith Wednesday: The Beatles’ “She Said She Said”

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We are excited to have our words provided by Issue 5 guest editor Grant Garland!

This Wordsmith Wednesday highlights the lyrics of “She Said She Said,” my favorite track from the iconic 1966 album Revolver by The Beatles. Anybody familiar with the Beatles discography can notice the psychedelic tendencies that begin to flourish on Revolver’s fourteen tracks, the well-documented result of the introduction of LSD to the band. The song is a McCartney-Lennon collaboration, John Lennon penning the lyrics after the band famously took acid with actor Peter Fonda in LA, during their tour of America in 1965.

The words themselves are:

She said, “I know what it’s like to be dead.
I know what it is to be sad.”
And she’s making me feel like I’ve never been born

I said, “Who put all those things in your head?
Things that make me feel that I’m mad.
And you’re making me feel like I’ve never been born.”

She said, “You don’t understand what I said.”
I said, “No, no, no, you’re wrong.
When I was a boy everything was right,
Everything was right.”

I said, “Even though you know what you know,
I know that I’m ready to leave
‘Cause you’re making me feel like I’ve never been born.”

As I mentioned, the specific origin of these lyrics is well documented, down to the moment Peter Fonda spoke the opening line to George Harrison, referencing an accidental gunshot wound Fonda suffered as a child. LSD trips aside, the words are about life changing revelations, and perhaps the human tendency to resist such revelations. Lennon changes the “He” to “She” disguising the song as a love song, maybe because love is often the source of many of his revelations. The first stanza sounds to me like a lover, or somebody trusted (those are almost interchangeable in my mind), revealing knowledge of the afterlife to the speaker. “And she’s making me feel like I’ve never been born” says that the speaker feels like they don’t exist, or that knowing the afterlife might make this existence seem meaningless. The second stanza, with its forceful question “Who put all those things in your head?” is the resistance to the revelations being presented. “Things that make me feel that I’m mad,” however, invites an admission of an already present tear in the fabric of the mind. The third stanza is an interaction between the two, a back and forth that reveals the speaker to be nostalgic for childhood, when “everything was right.”

Unpacking this bag one phrase at a time was very eye opening for me. It showed me why it has taken me so long to listen—and I mean really listen—to the Beatles. Everyone in my generation was likely made familiar with the Beatles at a young age (my parents were not fans, I don’t hold a grudge), but it wasn’t until their entire discography was finally made available on Spotify that I found the time to return to it as a young adult. I found that songs like “She Said She Said” suddenly seemed oddly profound to me. Words that used to feel too simple and not provocative enough suddenly struck me somewhere deep down. When I retrace my life—it doesn’t take long, I am young, after all—I can still place the moment that literary writing clicked for me. It was when I finally learned to realize that simple events can often be monumental. I’ve spent the last several years examining the quiet moments that have had profound effect on me. I have resisted many of those moments while they were occurring, attempting to trudge on the same path, to remain the same as I used to be “when I was a boy.”

It probably is no coincidence that as a twenty-seven year old I suddenly relate to words John Lennon wrote at twenty-five. Our experiences were obviously not similar, him likely having these types of conversations and revelations while hiding out from swarms of admirers at a Los Angeles mansion, and me usually having them in the drive-thru at Taco Bell on a Thursday night. But when the song comes on, and I sing the words, I am aware of myself and my longing for some sort that feeling—the feeling I used to get as a child—of everything being right.

– GG

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”

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Our Wordsmith Wednesday this week comes from Otis Redding’s classic track “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” the posthumously released The Dock of the Bay.

The lines are:

“Left my home in Georgia/
Headed for the ‘frisco Bay/
‘Cause I’ve had nothing to live for/
It look like nothing’s gonna come my way

So I’m just gon’ sit on the dock of the bay
Watching the tide roll away
Sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Wastin’ time”

With these words, Redding encapsulates the hollow loneliness of moving to a new place in hopes of shifting out of a stagnant situation only to find the same empty horizon. When I moved to Nashville at the end of the summer in 2014, I semi-consciously sought to escape personal darkness and disappointment that seemed to surround my in the strip malls and cornfields of the Chicago suburbs. Living alone in faux-wood floored apartment on the north side, I spent most Saturday mornings that first year driving around on Gallatin and looking out the back door at the trash littered brush. The wistful acceptance in Redding’s words and delivery fills me with the feeling of those weekend mornings sitting at stoplights or staring at scraps of cellophane blow from bush to bush, waiting for something to change.

– NR

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Submissions for Issue 5

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Submissions for Issue 5 are open until October 16th!

Send us your poetry, prose, and creative nonfiction!

Find full submission guidelines here!

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Nas’ “One Love”

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Our words this week come from Nas’ track “One Love” off of his 1994 classic, Illmatic.

The lines are:

“But, yo, guess who got shot in the dome piece?
Jerome’s niece on her way home from Jones Beach
It’s bugged, plus Little Rob is selling drugs on the dime
Hanging out with young thugs that all carry 9s
And night time is more trife than ever
What up with Cormega? Did you see him? Are y’all together?”

The textual cadence of these words is only a shadow of the spoken delivery, but the internal rhymes and crisp colloquiality of Nas’ lyrics are undeniable. Illmatic is full of dense, image intensive verses but the stylized envisioning of letters to jailed friends found on “One Love” has always stood out to me. The conversational relation of urban tragedy/reality is presented with such familiarity and frankness that I instantly relate to the unnamed recipient of Nas’ news. I feel the sadness of a little girl from the neighborhood being shot dead while walking home. I feel the anger of knowing another young kid from the block is getting involved in the same nonsense that killed that innocent child. I feel the guarded closeness between separated male friends, the commrodary of shared struggle. The clear-eyed bitterness and empathetic realism in Nas’ lyrics on Illmatic is part of the reason the record is a masterpiece, but the unique creative vision and flawless execution on “One Love” make it a touchstone for urban storytelling in my eyes/ears/mind.

– NR

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Beat Happening “The This Many Boyfriends Club”

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This week’s words come from the Beat Happening track “The This Many Boyfriends Club” off their 1988 album Jamboree on K Records/Rough Trade Records.

The lines are:

“It makes me mad
When I see them make you sad
Sometimes I wanna be real bad
And shove those words back down their throat”

Calvin Johnson’s raw and thoroughly Calvin Johnson-ish delivery of lyrics so simple over dissonant guitar seems to distill emotions down to their pure/childish/truthful cores. Anyone who’s ever loved someone, be it a friend/family member/romantic interest, has likely felt this immature but nonetheless very real impulse to cause harm, physical or otherwise, to people causing pain to the one they love. These words are devoid of decorum or self-consciousness or pretense. They are aggressive in their vulnerability, complex in their plainness. This is someone clenching their fists in the bar’s gravel parking lot. This is a parent wiping tears from a bullied child’s face. This is “I LOVE YOU” written in kiddish scrawl on a folded sheet of classroom loose leaf. And we love you a lot, Lori.

– NR

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