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