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ROCK ‘N’ ROLL LITERATI

Detail of pages in a book of the late 16th Century

Leonard Cohen and his typewriter

But fuck Jim Morrison

Music has always had its fair share of poetry—them lyrics aren’t going to write themselves and evoke an emotional response on their own, dammit! In fact, many musicians are actually published poets in their own right. Here, we’ll round them up for you.

PATTI SMITH

Patti Smith, the high priestess of rock, is a superb writer, and most of her music has poetic overtones or even flows like the best spoken-word you’ve ever heard. Her autobiographical account of her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorp, Just Kids, is the most beautiful account of being broke and in love in New York that I’ve ever read. She’s also written a hearty handful of poetics, containing all the sincere beauty of her prose and lyrics. For further reading, try her collection, Babel.

HENRY ROLLINS

You know him as the howling frontman of hardcore bands Black Flag and the Rollins Band, but did you know he is also a decent spoken-word poet? This isn’t at all surprising, considering his activist temperament and fondness for the stage. If you’re interested in some tru punxxx verses of a poetic persuasion, check out the Black Coffee Blues trilogy, which includes the namesake book, Black Coffee Blues, as well as Do I Come Here Often?, and Smile, You’re Traveling. Then for good measure, you should re-watch that episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race where Rollins was a guest judge. It’s magical.

DAVID BERMAN

The founder of Silver Jews and Pavement knows his way around some evocative metaphors. Berman’s foray into poetry just makes sense, with his insightful perspective on personal relationships, a sly, intense regard for the past, and a sprinkling of pop culture references (“I am not a Cub Scout seduced by Iron Maiden’s mirror worlds …”). For a great (read: “strange and witty”) read, pick up his collection, Actual Air.

LEONARD COHEN

Before he was a folk singer, writing songs about getting sexual favors from Janis Joplin, Cohen was a poet and novelist. Unlike most music superstars who begin writing poetry on the side because they had too many artistic feels for just one outlet, he did just the opposite by putting his already fantastic poems to song. This resulted in some of the most beautiful song lyrics of the century, ranging in content from lost (or outright weird) love to French Canadian history to religion, all with a sexual undertone that would be disjointed from any other musician. Find his collection, Let Us Compare Mythologies, and feel bad about your own writing skills forever. Read his novel, Beautiful Losers, for a great sad read with a lot of weird sex.

BOB DYLAN

Because he’s Bob Dylan, that’s why. While his published poetry and prose might ramble a little (OK, a lot), look at his discography and tell me his songwriting isn’t poetry in disguise. Then read Tarantula. It’s not always coherent, but it’s not bad either.

JIM MORRISON

Fuck Jim Morrison. He was a crappy poet with an ego the size of the moon. Read his book The Lords and the New Creatures at your own risk.

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4 Responses to ROCK ‘N’ ROLL LITERATI

  1. Capt. Capt. says:

    Obviously beg to differ, but to each his own. You forgot to say Fuck Maya Angelou, Robert Bly, James Carroll, Gil Scott Heren, Michael McClure (especially, since he and Jim were good friends) Rimbaud, Shakespeare, hell fuck poetry-they are all awful int heir own right! But yeah, I never put Morrison on the level of great poet-he was a lyricist, the intellectuals and publishers pushed that notion of him being a tragic poet. He was one of the most influential people in rock and roll and pop culture until this day. They don’t make rock stars like that anymore. All you get these days are rock stars and poets that drink red bull and grow beards and apologize about everything and are afraid to be truly outspoken-they all go home when the streetlights come on. Loud mouth Jim got over to the masses and some. But hey, he was the singer of a classic rock and roll band at the end of the day.

  2. Tony Rome Tony Rome says:

    There was only one poet that could really put it down. The rest is sentimental hogwash.

  3. isolotus isolotus says:

    who is this twerpy prick that says fuck jimbo? Patti Smith deserves kudos but not Morrison? She and Rollins ripped Morrison. You little stuttering shit, you got your hipster soundbite, duh-duh-duh-f-f-f-Fuck Jim Morrison. Shows how much you know about the validity of American culture. Man, the Dig gets worse every week. When are you pretentious assholes going to fold? I can’t wait.