Dude (Looks Like a Poet)By the Branta Webcrawler • Aug 1st, 2012 • Category: Branta Recommends, From the Interweb, Ha Ha, Poetry
via Michael H. Miller / New York Observer
Two summers ago, I went to a reading that the poet Paul Muldoon was giving in a black box theater on the third floor of a nondescript building in Hell’s Kitchen. He read from a galley of his 2010 collection of poems, Maggot, and marked copy errors with a pen as he went along. John Ashbery joined him, reading handwritten translations of Rimbaud scrawled out on a yellow legal pad. There were mice scurrying around and about 20 people in the room, who were polite and subdued. A month later I interviewed Mr. Muldoon, who has been The New Yorker‘s poetry editor since 2007, over the course of two days, at Robert Frost’s farm in Ripton, Vt., where he summers. On the second night, we attended a bluegrass festival at the foot of a mountain, which attracted the kinds of backwoods crowds that drive to concerts in beat-up RVs and all-terrain vehicles. We must have heard four renditions of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.” Mr. Muldoon heckled the bands by shouting, “Go electric!”
I was only vaguely taken aback, then, when I received an email from him in June that read: “I think we need to continue our tradition of going to cheesy shows. Aerosmith and Cheap Trick on July 24? P.”
I was aware of Mr. Muldoon’s penchant for what he calls “schlock rock.” After we’d parted ways in Vermont, he had driven to Saratoga Springs, N.Y., to attend a Bon Jovi concert. His poems are filled with as many allusions to pop culture as they are with memories of his native County Armagh in Northern Ireland. In “On,” for instance, a poem from Moy Sand and Gravel, his Pulitzer Prize-winning collection from 2003, he writes about sitting in a theater just before the curtain rises, a moment that makes a section from a Gaelic eulogy pop into the narrator’s head:
I make my way alone through the hand-to-hand fighting
to A3 and A5. Red velvet. Brass and oak.
The special effects will include strobe lighting
and artificial smoke.
A glance to A5. Patrons are reminded, mar bheadh,
that the management accepts no responsibility in the case of theft.
“Sleeve Notes,” probably his most famous poem, is explicitly about rock and roll, each stanza arranged like liner notes for a canonical classic rock album. Aerosmith does not figure in it, but Mr. Muldoon does address the sort of leveling that takes place at a stadium show, where the experience of seeing one band at its peak is not so different from seeing another one far past its prime:
U2: The Joshua Tree
“When I went to hear them in Giants Stadium
a year or two ago, the whiff
brought back the night we drove all night from Palm
Springs to Blythe. No Irish lad and his lass
were so happy as we who roared and soared through yucca-scented air. Dawn brought a sense of loss…”
ROLLING STONES:Voodoo Lounge
“Giants Stadium again …Again the scent of drugs.”
Aerosmith has sold tens of millions of records worldwide and has been making music for more than 40 years. I can’t say I’ve ever thought much of the band beyond believing “Love in an Elevator,” “Living on the Edge,” “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)” and a variety of other “hits” were indefensibly stupid songs.
That said, the back-to-back albums Toys in the Attic (1975) and especially Rocks (1976) are underrated American rock albums, at least among those who were not yet born when they were released and have probably had no occasion to revisit them. Unlike a lot of what came before and after, neither album sounds like feathery versions of the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin. Released several years before Van Halen’s debut, and a solid decade before Guns N’ Roses, they nevertheless carry the black mark of having influenced a generation of terrible hair metal. By mere coincidence, those albums, along with their first album in 10 years, forthcoming this November, were produced by my editor’s father, Jack Douglas, who left Mr. Muldoon and me two backstage passes.
read the rest of this article at The New York Observer