The Hold Steady – “Stuck Between Stations” from Boys And Girls In America (2006)
Okkervil River – “John Allyn Smith Sails” from The Stage Names (2007)
The Beach Boys – “Sloop John B” from Pet Sounds (1966)
With the release of Nick Cave’s “We Call Upon The Author,” indie rock seems to have reached a fever pitch of obsession with poet John Berryman. A few years back, Charles Bissell of The Wrens put it to Pitchfork: Berryman had “the free-wheeling the Beats were shooting for but from a writer who took the long hard road of absolute mastery of the forms & styles that came before him to get there.” Soon top-notch indie-rockers like The Hold Steady and Okkervil River (in whose employ the Wrens’ Bissell now stands) were paying tribute, perhaps more to the suicide than to the poet–in Okkervil River’s instance, by including a revelatory interplotation of “Sloop John B,” also included here.
But any attention toward this finest of mid-century poets is good attention–only Elizabeth Bishop bested ol’ John B., in my opinion. Berryman’s poems make sense as much for their sound and stilted, halting diction as for their surface meaning. Poems you have to read aloud and think inside of. At his best, the poems get at fractured states of mind, at desperation and depression, better than any art I know.
At any rate, take a listen at these fine tracks, then read a Dream Song, and buy Berryman’s masterwork.
Dream Song 29
There sat down, once, a thing on Henry’s heart
so heavy, if he had a hundred years
& more, & weeping, sleepless, in all them time
Henry could not make good.
Starts again always in Henry’s ears
the little cough somewhere, an odour, a chime.
And there is another thing he has in mind
like a grave Sienese face a thousand years
would fail to blur the still profiled repraoch of. Ghastly,
with open eyes, he attends, blind.
All the bells say: too late. This is not for tears;
But never did Henry, as he thought he did,
end anyone and hacks her body up
and hide the pieces, where they may be found.
He knowns: he went over everyone, & nobody’s missing.
Often he reckons, in the dawn, them up.
Nobody is ever missing.
Posted by Glenn