Polio and Songwriting

Joni Mitchell and Neil Young

both got polio in the same 1951 epidemic.

More on that here, with specific reference to Ian Dury.  Dury was played by Andy Serkis in the film Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll:

I learned that Mitchell/Young polio fact, and many other interesting things, from this David Samuels article:

His second discovery was that he could encourage the writing of hits by urging songwriters to follow his nine rules of hit songwriting. While Caren’s rules are not comprehensive or exclusive, it is easy to measure their value by a glance at the dozens of gold and platinum records hanging in his office. He is happy to run down his rules for me. “First, it starts with an expression of ‘Hey,’ ‘Oops,’ ‘Excuse me,’” he begins. “Second is a personal statement: ‘I’m a hustler, baby,’ ‘I wanna love you,’ ‘I need you tonight.’ Third is telling you what to do: ‘Put your hands up,’ ‘Give me all your love,’ ‘Jump.’ Fourth is asking a question: ‘Will you love me tomorrow,’ ‘Where have you been all my life,’ ‘Will the real Slim Shady please stand up.’”

He takes a deep breath, and rattles off another four rules. “Five is logic,” he says, “which could be counting, or could be spelling or phonetics: ‘1-2-3-4, let the bodies hit the floor,’ or ‘Ca-li-fornia is comp-li-cated,’ those kind of things. Six would be catchphrases that roll off the tip of your tongue because you know them: ‘Never say never,’ ‘Rain on my parade.’ Seven would be what we call stutter, like, ‘D-d-don’t stop the beat,’ but it could also be repetition: ‘Will the real Slim Shady please stand up, please stand up, please stand up.’ Eight is going back to logic again, like hot or cold, heaven or hell, head to toe, all those kind of things.”

The ninth rule of hit songwriting is silence. Why? Because most people who are listening to music are actually doing something else, he explains. They are driving a car, or working out, or dancing, or flirting. Silence gives you time to catch up with the lyrics if you are drunk or stoned. If you are singing along, silence gives you time to breathe. “Michael Jackson, his quote was ‘Silence is the greatest thing an entertainer has,’” Caren continues. “‘I got a feeling,’ space-space-space, ‘Do you believe in life after love,’ space-space-space-space-space.”

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In addition to writing all the music and lyrics for Nirvana, Kurt Cobain designed the band’s T-shirts and album covers and created shot-by-shot scripts for the band’s videos on MTV, as well as edited the bios and other publicity materials that helped shape the band’s narrative in the rock press. It was all part of his art, or inseparable from his art; it’s what he got paid for. “Rock and roll is a commercial art form, it’s not just about the music, it’s about what you look like, it’s about how you connect with an audience, it’s about the photos that appear in the British trades.” Nirvana’s longtime manager, Danny Goldberg, told me this when I met with him in New York, before I left for the Grammys. Even when Cobain was nodding off on rock-star doses of heroin in the MTV editing suite, Goldberg remembers, he could still identify exactly where the camera should come in and when to cut away. “He had a dark side, but he was so nice to me, you know, it was so out of proportion to anything that I did for him,” he remembered. “He was tremendously intellectually curious, incredibly creative, and had a great sense of humor; he was like a leprechaun or an elf. You’d go to wherever he was living, and he lived in a lot of places, and there’d be like reams of drawings and paintings and poems. He was also a great fan of other artists. He’d always be saying, ‘You’ve got to hear Captain America, you’ve got to hear the Jesus Lizard,’ or whatever those bands were.”

 



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