Stuck in My Head—Rihanna on the Brain
Lately I have Rihanna on the brain. Even when I’m not alone in my car with the volume cranked up to 17, her voice follows me through my day. “This whiskey got me feelin’ pretty,” I sing in the shower, “so pardon if I’m impolite.” And, “Didn’t they tell you that I was a savage?” under my labored breath as I’m hiking up Mt. Tabor. Very motivating. And of course, “Work work work work work work,” is my automatic refrain as I plant my backside in the chair at my desk, before diving into my current gig.
It’s not just that her music is catchy, or current. It’s got me, and most of the listening world, mesmerized. My son loves her too, so it’s kind of sad that we have to skip over half the songs on the album when he’s in the car. Why? Because he’s nine, and the Explicit Lyrics meter might have popped a fuse when Anti came in for a rating.
It’s not that I think cussing is wrong. It’s a vibrant part of our language. But kids are expected to refrain from using these exciting words that they hear grownups using all around them. It’s not really fair. As our household’s most voluminous talker, I tried for years to offer a clean palate of language for him to work with. I was mostly successful, except for a few harrowing moments in heavy traffic. A year or two ago he told me he would no longer be charging me 10 cents per cuss word. “Go ahead, mama, just say whatever you want.”
But I can’t sing Rihanna lyrics, most of them. Because even without cuss words, there’s so much that can be conveyed. So much you wouldn’t want to hear coming out of your mom’s mouth. So much for a boy who pretends he can’t tell what they’re saying to think about.
Now, thanks to his best friend’s obsession, our son is begging us to buy the Hamilton soundtrack. Since I was plotting to somehow get him interested in the Hamilton soundtrack, I’m going to be pretty easy to convince, even on this twenty dollar purchase. In fact, I almost caved last night, until we ran into a snag as he was perusing the iTunes store. “Can we just get the grownup version?” he asked. Crap. (That’s the one we let him say, by the way.)
I know, this is supposed to be a blog about books, and children’s books, and family stuff related to books. But now that Bob Dylan has crossed the line from singer/songwriter to poet, without ever publishing a book of poems, the boundary between music and literature has gotten more fuzzy. The kinship between song lyrics and poetry isn’t a third-cousin-twice-removed thing. It’s more like fraternal twins, one of whom was born with two of Apollo’s gifts, while the other received but one.
Mixed media versus pure language, both divine, each with their special flavor. How important is this distinction, except to poets, of course? Will the searing words of a Kay Ryan poem be heard above those lyric-lifting guitar chords, whether electric or acoustic? Will the tremendous buzz of Hamilton (11 Tony Awards!) preempt our Orson Scott Card obsession?
My mixed feelings about Dylan’s Nobel Prize in Literature aside (and apparently he has more of them than I do), I feel there should be some award for making the kind of music that plants its words (via melody) inside your head, so that you hear it everywhere you go, and don’t mind. A special award for lyrics that take you over, change the culture, move the envelope or say what needs to be said.
Rihanna didn’t score a Grammy for Anti, although she got a pretty cool backup prize in that Harvard Humanitarian of the Year Award. “So,” she began her acceptance speech, flipping her hair and grinning, “I made it to Harvard!”
If that doesn’t work in a book blog, too bad.