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Electric Guitars Replaced Fountain Pens: Rock and Roll Poetry
Dr. Martin Jack Rosenblum

Songwriting is the art of poetry restoration. It is especially the case with American songwriting as it is the only original art form that recuperates yet another original form of art invented in America, Free Verse.

One can look to the distant past universally to discover that poetry and music were never separate. Perhaps a next phase, still centuries ago, was that poetry was written as though it had music imbedded in the very form it utilized. Maybe this poetry of antiquity had music for it, improvised so not written down to preserve it, and therefore the poems scan as though music was the vector. Or maybe music had left its trace and then the poems were still being written as a result of the musical idiom for form directive. In either or both instances the origin of poetry is that it was to be with music entirely or inspired by an internal music that had created an external significance.

The Beat poets sought to keep poetry still on the page, where it had gone nearly exclusively, in defiance of its origin, but began to herald poetry readings as being as important as poetry books. This was bringing the oral aspect back to poems but not the pure musical element. Some Beat poets read to improvised jazz. Some started to chant their poems to music so that there was a symbiotic relationship. But music did not once more get connected to poetry until 1964-1965.

The Folk/Blues Revival was grinding to a halt due to the influx of British influence. After recycling American roots music from Folk through Blues to Rockabilly, certain British Rock and Roll people created a new version of what American Rock and Roll had left behind as it became Pop Music only in the early sixties. The primary British bands that provided original Rock and Roll again were: Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kinks, Yardbirds and Zombies. All went through imitations of American roots music and then began the quest for originality.

In America, the only artist to follow the same pattern, and, in fact, lead it was Bob Dylan. In short succession three albums were issued: Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde. This triptych was preceded by Another Side Of Bob Dylan, which was the first new Rock and Roll album but without a band. It is important to note that Bob Dylanís first recording, a single, for Columbia was not the trend-setting initial album of Folk, Blues and one original song he eventually released. It was rather a Rock and Roll forty-five rpm record, immediately pulled, as it did not fit the marketplace that was then acoustic in orientation. This is important to note in that the recording was a meld of Rock and Beat idioms.

But it was not until the marketplace was re-opened in America through United Kingdom infusion that Rock and Roll in America could re-invent itself, which it did. And it did so without actually using any of the British content, really, but rather the form that was no more than amplification once again. In fact, it was this new American Rock and Roll style that, then, in turn brought forth the finest work from the British groups noted above.

The American songwriting exhibited by Bob Dylan during his early years was the restoration of poetry with music. In that it relied heavily on the Beat poetsí style, it was not merely a look back to the origins of poetry itself, but, instead, a whole new era wherein literature became the signature of Rock and Roll achievement. Poetry had been forgotten as an oral medium. The page had stifled it, cut it off from where it began. It was a matter for academia, not the everyday affairs about which it originally commented, replete with music. It had become airless and dry. Naturally, poetry in books has an important place in literature; moreover, who would argue otherwise? But its subject matter, bound and paginated, lost an essential, hermetic element by virtue of being so darn quiet and intellectual. Rock and Roll leveraged spatial presence and although including the intellect, used passion as its flooding presence. The words floated into areas of cultural significance that no book could drift. Words got loud again. Emotions again were the subject, not ideas. Language became more objective. Rising from low to high culture, Rock and Roll reinstated poetry to its appropriate literary position. Poetry did not make Rock and Roll important. Rock and Roll made poetry important once more in ways that had been lost in books, anchored and sinking. Electric guitars justifiably replaced fountain pens, and literature once more was configured properly as poetry that rocks. The arcane quality of poetry as a visionary vessel was once more possible.

The Literature of Rock and Roll is not just a restorative process, completely altering culture as it evolves, but an original American form of art that merits studious attention as well as imaginative experiential participation.

It is the art of doing it, not just having it done to you.

Copyright 2004 By Martin Jack Rosenblum
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