Our Robyn gets Lyrical!

February 2, 2011

We’re delighted to be joining forces once again with the Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature for their fifth reading campaign, Let’s Get Lyrical! We’ve got some corking events coming up, part of a fabulous, festive month-long lyrical extravaganza. You can find out more about the campaign, submit your story, look at the photos, listen to scintillating mini podcasts and get involved over at the Let’s Get Lyrical website.

To mark Let’s Get Lyrical, the Big Issue in Scotland has also been asking everyone from musicians and authors to politicians and Big Issue vendors to share their stories. Below is our Robyn’s response. There are many more stories available from your local vendor in this week’s issue.

People often ask ‘Who is your favourite poet?’, a question impossible to answer unless hedged around with all sorts of conditions. Now the Big Issue has asked me to name a favourite song as part of the Let’s Get Lyrical campaign, and I just can’t settle for one. It’s agonising, as snatches of tune and phrase crowd into my mind.  So I’m going to mention a dozen here in the hopes of clarifying a choice.

Songs are so wedded to when you heard them and who sings them. I’m still very attached to the songs of my adolescence, as who is not? In my case that means Simon & Garfunkel (‘Kathy’s Song’) , James Taylor (‘Fire and Rain’), Joni Mitchell (‘River’), Leonard Cohen (yes, ‘Suzanne’) – they’re all on my i-pod. Discovered for myself, and a great lyricist, Jacques Brel: ‘La chanson des Vieux Amants’. Further back, though, the joys of ‘I could have danced all night’ from My Fair Lady (Lerner & Lowe), and even further, hymns  and carols (singing communally, always a pleasure) – ‘In the deep midwinter’, Christina Rossetti.

Fast forward to meeting my husband, and the world of opera and art song and musicals all open up: I love Berlioz, ‘Le spectre de la rose’ sung by Régine Crespin, and Ella Fitzgerald singing the Gershwins’ ‘They can’t take that away from me’. Not forgetting the songs that make you laugh: from Pal Joey by Rodgers & Hart, ‘Zip! I was reading Schopenhauer last night…’; the songs that make you dance – ‘You can’t hurry love’ (The Supremes); the songs my daughter introduced me to (and I’ve stayed loyal though she’s moved on), like Avril Lavigne’s ‘Anything but Ordinary’ – what is it that makes Canada such a seed-bed for singer-songwriters? And finally, a song I scarcely understand, because it’s in Spanish: I first heard it in Almodovar’s film Habla con ella, sung by Caetano Veloso, ‘Cucurrucucú Paloma’: the sound of the dove and the liquid syllables are mesmerising. Eliot said that poetry might reach you on an auditory level before it was understood, so too with this gorgeous song. But I’m still no closer to making my choice!

P.S. Apropos of the ‘Zip’ song: Gypsy Rose Lee, the intellectual burlesque star, never used zips, apparently – I learnt this from reading The February House by Sherill Tippins, the fascinating account of the house in Brooklyn where Lee had a room in 1940-41, along with W.H. Auden, Carson McCullers, Paul and Jane Bowles and Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten. The combination of such talents couldn’t have been invented.

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