Sunday, August 16, 2009

When we rushed into the liquor store down the street - Sweden's alcohol monopoly Systembolaget, of course - I scoffed at the husband for buying six bottles of South African shiraz. Then when La Francaise, who is visiting from Oslo with her husband, the Belgian, insisted on paying for the bottles, I told her that's not fair to her since we'd never end up drinking all the bottles at the upcoming dinner. We're only seven, I reminded her.

Silly me.

We're all borderline alcoholics in this country, and I guess we needed all six bottles, plus one purchased the previous day, to wash down the turkey molé I made (the easy version, which only took three hours. I hate to imagine how much time and effort it takes to make the Mexican classic chili pepper and chocolate sauce that is authentic molé), rice and beans and fried plantains and avocado-with-fresh-corn salad.

Somehow, towards the end of the meal, after the coffee and the homemade dulce de leche ice cream, the children's book author and La Francaise and I got onto the subject of song lyrics. The question was: What exactly are good song lyrics?

"You know," said La Francaise, "It sounds really weird but sometimes I like Eminem. You know that song about his mother and cleaning out his closet? The lyrics are really good."

The children's book author nodded. "I think "If I were a Boy." It's actually pretty deep when you think about it. Beyoncé. She's hot."

I was smart enough not to actually do it, but I came dangerously close to saying that in the old days, lyrics were better.

What about "Both Sides Now," I asked. Can you recite any of the lyrics to Beyoncé or Eminem? I think you should be able to recite good lyrics word for word, I said. And I proceeded: Flows and flows of angel's hair, and ice cream castles in the air, and feather canyons everywhere...

I think I botched the lyrics about then, but neither La Francaise nor the children's book author noticed.

"Sure, but that's folk music," the children's book author said. "It's all about the words and they're so sing-songy."

Folk music? Joni Mitchell, a folk musician? I was aghast. But really, I couldn't accurately describe her music, other than to say that it was pop music when it came out at least, in the early 1970s.

The children's book author wasn't buying it.

"Folk," he said. "She's folk. You can't convince me."

And really, I couldn't.

Was it the bottle of wine I'd consumed?

But I found myself wondering, what exactly is wrong with folk music anyway? Why do I bristle at someone describing Joni Mitchell that way? When did folk musician become such a horrible way to describe someone? When did folk become a dirty word?

And the big question remained unanswered: How do you define good song lyrics?

The Swedish phrase for the day is en flaska per person. It means one bottle per person.

p.s. for Swedish readers and those wanting to test just how much Swedish they've actually learned here the hard way, I've been interviewed briefly by Micke for the gay blog aggregator site


Johan said...

riktigt nice blogg ^^ Jag tror jag kommer att i alla fall kolla in lite oftare nu när man hittat något lite upplyftande i vardagen

Really nice blog ^^ I Think I'll check your blog out a little bit or frequently now when I found something that gets me a bit happier in the long days of the week.
Hope you'll check out our blog

Anonymous said...

Love reading your blog and the way you write =). Kind of leave an empty space in my blogosphere when there is a gap between your postings ;)

"How do you define good song lyrics?"

That is something I think I could discuss and probably still not come to any specific conclusion of the subject ; ) But that's me =)

Hugs, Jeanette

Ali said...

Song lyrics are great fun around the dinner table. We once had a hilarious discussion asking people what they thought the strange words were in john lennon's #9 Dream refrain. I recommend it!

bro nikita said...

The only thing wrong with folk music is in your head: it was always your father's favorite. Joni Mitchell was a folk singer until she moved into pop-jazz-fusion. No shame in either one.

Lyrics are just poetry until the music gets to them. The poet laureate of rock music is Paul Westerberg (of scandinavian origin?), who solidly trounces anyone I can think of with an almost unending list of unforgettable lyrical images. 'Down on all fives...'
I can't recite any entire song, but the snippets are like pieces of movies that recur in your nightmares.

Sandra said...

Hi, Looks like I am your female American writer counterpart in Stockholm! I enjoyed the read--you made me smile. When you get a chance, check me out:

T. AKA Ricky Raw said...

From my two week vacation in Stockholm, I think you guys are way past "borderline" alcoholics. I've never seen anything like it. Was a great time!

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Michael Galvin said...

I was in Tantolunden a few years back for Stockholm Pride and was listening to Alcazar perform. Their lyrics are really ridiculous. I asked my Swedish friends, "Would the lyrics be less stupid if they wrote in Swedish?" In unison they replied, "No! Stupider!"

Unknown said...

not all lyrics that can be recited is by default good ones... I could probably recite tons and tons of Gyllene Tider or Freestyle songs - and they are far from good! :-)
And honestly, does people even listen to the lyrics anymore?
Also, about Joni Mitchell being folk - why even bother with categorising? I have such diverse taste in music (from rock to Swedish folk (you know, with fiddles and the whole shenanigan) to opera to funk to pop to classic music) that it'd be impossible to label me. Read this:
xx Åsa

Mrs. Wilson said...


I'm drooling over your dinner menu. And the wine didn't sound bad either. You are one of my favorite cooks Francis. I miss you. Let's at least talk soon. Phone fika!


Susan said...

Hi Francis - two things: regarding this post, Bro Nikita took the words right out of my mouth! go bro!

From your prior post: Once was inspired to make a sublime smoked almond ice cream. Mmmm...salt and sweet...

emi guner said...

Sadly, the only song every Swede knows the lyrics to is Främling.

Unknown said...

Hi There !!

Very nice blog. I enjoyed reading your blog. Thanks for such a good post, keep it up

Rebecca said...

I'm with you, Francis. Joni Mitchell's lyrics are vivid stories. If that's considered "folk," I can't wait until I can be called a folk songwriter. Until then, I'm just a ballsy one:

ovelhadog said...

Very nice... :)

TimK said...

I taught myself to sing "Both Sides Now" (and my other favorite Joni MItchell song, "Help Me") last year. They're both gorgeous and they fit my range. And the lyrics are excellent.