Guest poem submitted by J. Goard:
(Poem #1871) Calling it Quits
He's a serious Mister; shake his hand and he'll twist your arm. With monopoly money we'll be buying the funny farm. So I'll do flips, and get paid in chips from a diamond as big as the Ritz - then I'm calling it quits. Eyes the color of candy, lies to cover the handicap - though your slippers are ruby, you'll be led to the booby trap. And there's no prize, just a smaller size, so I'm wearing the shoe 'til it fits - then I'm calling it quits. Now he's numbering himself among the masterminds, cause he's hit upon the leverage of valentines, lifting dialogue from Judy Garland storylines where get-tough girls turn into goldmines. But oh, those polaroid babies, taking chances with rabies, happy to tear me to bits - well, I'm calling it quits, yes, I'm calling it quits.
I've been wanting to post an Aimee Mann lyric for some time now, and what's been holding me back has really been the choice of song. Her list is chock full of masterfully depressing poems, sometimes oddly spliced with jangly pop or ultra-mellow Bacharach kinds of sounds, with an abundance of interestingly mangled idioms that can't be anything but deliberate. Some of her songs ("Save Me", "Little Bombs") move me deeply. But I finally settled on "Calling it Quits" for being a concentrated example of her particularly *poetic* sense: the use of sonics, the wordplay, and, most especially, the way in which her lyrics mesh with the melodic rhythm. This song has a particularly autobiographic basis. After leaving the band "Til Tuesday" and releasing two solo albums on a major label, Mann was basically on the outs with the industry, and dropped away for several years before coming back big with her 1999 soundtrack to the film "Magnolia", and with her independently released 2000 album "Bachelor No. 2". Since then, she has released two more albums independently. While the theme of "Calling it Quits" may not be mindblowingly original, the way in which she puts it together reveals a truly rare lyrical talent. The first thing you notice upon hearing a song like this, if you're me ;-), is consistency in the rhythm of the lines, between parallel musical lines and between verses. Just shy of my thirtieth birthday, I risk sounding like a fogey, but: this is just something all of the great songwriters and songwriting duos were able to do a few generations ago, except when they had a reason to want not to. Compare Cole Porter and Dorothy Fields and Oscar Hammerstein with today's rock and pop hits, and for the most part the common denominator is that today's poetics are much crappier. The lyrical content might be interesting, the musical craft might be top-notch, and the song ultimately moving, but the lyrics typically come across as a barely-edited cocktail napkin draft, with lines of erratic lengths and rhythms basically crammed onto the vocal melody. Not to name names. Moreover, the critical establishment in popular music seems oblivious to this aspect of the craft which is so visceral for me, such that when exceptions like Billy Joel or Elvis Costello or Linford Detweiler (Over the Rhine) get a lot of ink, it still misses a big part of their talents as songwriters. Take, for example, the bridge lyrics to "Calling it Quits" ("now he's numbering..."). The first three lines are sung in eighth notes, except for the antepenultimate syllables which get a whole beat, and then the fourth line is highly punctuated poetically and musically, stressed more or less like this: - - - ' - - - ' - ' - * - ' - - - ' - - - ' - - - * - ' - - - ' - - - ' - ' - * - ' - * * * - * - * * And the natural linguistic cadence of the lyrics fits this scheme perfectly: big words creating unstressed or weakly stressed syllables in the first three lines, and chunky compounds in the fourth. Another aspect of this song's craft is alliteration and complex internal rhyme. In each of the first two verses, the first four lines have a parallel rhythm, with an AABB rhyme scheme - except that an extra syllable connects lines 2 and 4 as well. The effect of having all of this rhyme expectation collide at the end of lines 4 in expressions that also serve as punchlines of sorts, is remarkable. Some of the alliteration is obvious (color-candy-cover-cap) or not original (funny farm), but some is more subtle, as the abundance of sibilants in the first line and a half. Most interesting is the movement of consonants in the bridge verse. Line 1 is full of [m]s, with one [b]. Line 2 creates a clever expression "leverage of valentines" that plays off a reversal of [l] and [v], and then line 3 moves into a lot more [l]s. The weighty line 4 picks up on the [g] of "Garland" and bashes us with it. And look at how the last half-verse, which (relative to the first two verses) is already gaining momentum by not having the syllable at the end of line 2, keeps the [b]s going with "bits". Finally, there isn't just phonetic but semantic fun going on here. "Monopoly" isn't capitalized in the online lyrics sites I checked, and I'll run with that, since the sense of economic monopoly among music producers relative to artists seems to be as relevant as the sense of the popular game's fake money (many empty promises of wealth). "Buying the farm" means dying, of course, "funny farm" means madness, and merging the two is classic Aimee Mann idiom mangling. "Lies to cover the handicap" is a striking line, drawing out double senses of "cover" and "handicap": that is to say, it can mean "obscure the disability" or "compensate for the skill differential". "Smaller size" evokes the pressure on female stars to be very thin while also fitting the shoe reference. All in all, there is just so much craft in this song (as in so many of her others) that could easily escape a first or twentieth listen. But if you get to the point of appreciating what Mann does with words, and if you respond to this style of tightly crafted pop, it can be truly engrossing. J. Goard Aimee Mann official site: https://www.aimeemann.com