By: Alyssabeth Knerr
Poetry and Music
I know it’s been a little bit since I’ve posted on here– I’ve just been busy with school and figuring some things out. All is well!
I believe the title of this post calls for a bit more insight into who I am as an individual, as well as a writer/artist:
I have always been first and foremost a lover of music; since before I could write, before I could speak, I was singing (or at least making sounds to melodies of songs). Before I could really interpret lyrics, I was obsessing over them, memorizing them, scribbling them down on any square inch of blank space I could find. I started playing guitar at the ripe age of eight. As soon as I was old enough, I joined choir in school, fell in love with the art of voice, and all the amazing things one could do when training your voice. By the time I was nine, I was finding my own voice through writing poems, experimenting with rhyme, simile and metaphor, the first things that come to mind when one initially thinks of or learns about poetry.
As my poetry developed through middle and high school, I found inspiration in the Transcendentalists and all they embodied, being highly inspired and fascinated by nature and our connection to the earth as humans. I also developed an affinity for e.e.cummings’ poetry at the time, and delighting in his deliberately unconventional use of punctuation, spacing, and his disinterest in capitalization. To me, his style allowed the reader to really “feel” his sounds in his poems. I loved that as well as his ability to just be a bad-ass-rebel-poet for his experimental forms, approaching the previously unapproachable, and creating his own space within the genre.
Similarly, while I was becoming inspired by poets I studied in school, I was infatuated with music and trying to determine which artists I admired most, identified with most. There were sooo many. Even now, I listen to many artists across genres, from the music my parents listened to, to what my grandparents were listening to, and a myriad of contemporary artists (Anything from classic jazz, alternative, folk, indie, punk/emo, rock, metal, to old school and some current hip-hop/rap).
One band that I became enamored with around the start of high school– let’s say, 2006, was Say Anything. What most attracted me to them was their experimental nature of unique sound within their genre (punk/alternative rock/emo/), and their lyrics that instantly captivated me. To this day, there is not a single song by Say Anything that I do not love. In the past nearly 9 years, I have found myself inspired by Max Bemis (lead singer/composer of Say Anything) more than most of my favorite poets.
Why, you ask?
Well, because his lyrics are extremely poetic and have moved me from the first moment I heard them. Humbly put, he is a lyrical genius.
Currently, as a graduate student of poetry, I spend countless hours a week studying poetic craft and technique, as well as creating multiple imitations from poets each week, and attempting to “borrow” elements of style in order to learn something, and to see what I can add to those borrowed elements of my own, to create something fresh and new. Having said that, I’m sure you can imagine why it felt only natural that this morning, over coffee, while listening to Say Anything songs from all of their albums on Spotify, for probably the millionth time, it dawned on me that there were a few specific reasons that I am so inspired by Max Bemis as a writer:
Bemis is #1 A Master of Hyperbole #2 A Master of Metaphor #3 He casts a spell on his audience through allusions (They even have a song entitled ‘It’s a Metaphor, Fool’ on their Album Say Anything is/was A Real Boy– the title of the album itself is an allusion). Undoubtedly, there are many other things this band has mastered in their 8 albums, but these were the first techniques that came to my mind. I’ve always been intrigued by the various allusions to Bemis’ heritage/religion and the struggle for identity concerning that.
After reflecting on Say Anything’s lyrical content, I came to the realization that they are so much my favorite, because they are perhaps the most literary band I listen to. Lyrical Gangstas, if you will. Through the aforementioned techniques, they challenge society and flawed systems and ideals. We see this in the majority of their songs, but most obviously in songs like “Admit It” from Say Anything is a Real Boy, a song which is revisited in their 2012 album Anarchy My Dear, with the track “Admit it Again”. The band’s referencing of their previous work, seems to serve as an acknowledgement that they are still very much connected to and growing from their earlier work, continuing to build on it. Say Anything’s single “Burn A Miracle”, also from Anarchy, My Dear, is a radical reminder/call to action of this idea that in order to deconstruct the systems you find fault with, you must begin to make the changes you want to see in society.
Here is a BRIEF list of some choice literary lines that I thought about when constructing this post:
My current favorite use of hyperbole comes from the track Say Anything from their 2012 Album, Anarchy, My Dear:
“If Satan showed up with a gun, threatened “be disloyal I or I shoot”/ I’d take it in the kneecaps…/I’d throw up every morning, pull my nails out, take a wrench to all my teeth/To put a ring upon your digit, have you fidget in your bed with me/ Anything for you.” “Say Anything”. Anarchy, My Dear 2012.
There’s just something to be said about the kind of love that you’d do ANYTHING for. If taking a wrench to all his teeth ain’t enough, honey, I don’t know what is!
“If you could forgive me for being so brash, you could hit me or whip me, I’d savor each lash.” I Want to Know Your Plans. Say Anything is a Real Boy.
Another place we see this sort of hyperbole is in “Shiksa” “even if you stomp me till I’m sore, no matter what, I’ll bleed to be your whore./Even if the cancer grows till we explode, I’m yours.” Shiksa/Girlfriend. In Defense of the Genre. 2007.
Some great places of metaphor shows up:
“Spidersong”. Say Anything is a Real Boy. 2004. “I’m the spider, I’m growing legs, crawl inside her.”
“He feeds me quotes, that lonely goat. I watch him grazing by himself /Lou is bugged and shot up with drugs./He sweats this bird he hardly knows/so like some hybrid mother/lover she’d soothe and heal his wounds.” “Yellow Cat, Red Cat”. Say Anything is a Real Boy. 2004.
The allusion here in “Alive, with the Glory of Love” to Treblinka(concentration camp)– a nod to Bemis’ personal history, as well as an expression of love you’d die for:
“Our Treblinka is alive with the glory of love!/Should they catch us and dispatch us to those separate work camps/Should they kill me, your love will fill me, as warm as the bullets (yeah)
I’ll know my purpose. This war was worth this. I won’t let you down.” Say Anything. “Alive with the Glory of Love”. Say Anything is a Real Boy. 2004.
The metaphor/allusion here to Alice in Wonderland
“My friends are just neighbors/That steal from me when I’m not home/I am so damn trusting I do not see their malice /In this blackened wonderland I am the darkened Alice/I’m the ball, they’re batters
They’re climbing social ladders” Say Anything. “All My Friends”. 2005.
“You snort a line of syphilis and run the marathon/Your mentally deficient friends just ask you what you’re on/I may be shy and not reply to your scathing review/…I’d rather subsist on venom, than abstain with you/I was the kind to ask what wrong doing had injured Dahmer’s pride/Or to excuse the junkie thief with diamonds in his eyes/But now I taste a righteous fury sparkling with hate/The beat thumps loud you sweat it out and grind on them for drugs/
You hug that pole like a firefighter falling in love.” “Peace Out”. Anarchy, My Dear. 2012.
Max Bemis/Say Anything possess the fearlessness of exposing the heart, mind, soul through art, reminding us of what it means to be human. Whether an experience is painful, neurotic, laughable, or all of the above (as it often is with Say Anything), they are masters at sharing it with the world in a way that we can’t help but tune into, because of their careful dedication to their craft. This kind of art is what wakes us up and effectively, makes us. It calls on us to respond and create as well, in our own unique way. And that, my friends, is influence, to me.
LASTLY: If you haven’t seen them live yet, they are touring with another one of my favorite bands, Saves the Day. They will be in San Diego at the House of Blues on November 14th. It will blow your mind. That’s a promise.