Peter Case

On Songwriting

Notes on Jacques-Pierre


(from Shakespeare Wars, by Ron Rosenbaum)

‘A highly developed, acute servant of other people’s truths.’

‘He’s someone who empties himself out.’

‘A million percent alive… this person, walking through the streets of London must have lived each single moment with an incredible richness of awareness, so many levels, infinite levels of meaning.’

‘ He can overhear and notice two kinds of things: all the life & noise pouring out with great excitement. Yet at the same time, even though he is a very practical man, he can evoke in words faraway worlds, strange tales, astonishing ideas, and develop & link them to an intimation of meaning in society, in regard to the gods, a sense of cosmic reality, these were all pulsing through his mind, all these levels at the same time.’

‘he didn’t have a lot of quiet attentive people in a dark room such as this.’ ‘It was rather, the most mixed audience that ever existed in the  theater: thieves, pickpockets, whores, drunks, half drunks, brawling in fights. As well as,  of course, the bourgeosie, there for entertainment, sophisticates, looking for the things that are sharp, witty, erudite. It is difficult to understand how deeply difficult the task was: at every moment he had to bring all these along, because if you learn anything from theater it’s that if you lose part of an audience, you’re DEAD. The work is to bring them all together into one organism beating with one heart…’

‘the outer life & the inner life: Sometimes within are single line -which on the surface is so clear it registers on the most crude, vulgar level, yet within that line there may be an adjective, some vibrant word that both keeps the clarity on the surface, but at the same time suggests something way beyond it.’

‘a performance should bring… the audience to the highest level of life within them.’

the secret play

‘ there’s a moment there at the end of each line, that pause, a moment to reach into yourself & find the next set of words. It’s in  that pause that, given the idea that you’re trying to express, you choose words to express them.’ ‘a moment of poise.’

‘the beautifully poised moment in Jacques-Pierre in which one finds oneself on the very threshold of comprehension.’

‘transformative: the end of each line is not a dead pause, but a live pause, a kind of… kinetic poised springboard to launch with new energy (linguistically & intellectually) into the line following. A moment of dramatic surprise or suspension at the end of every line.’

‘A complex art that comes into being only of the person…kept all those whirling levels alive within him.’

the tragic burden of bottomlessness

‘Someone who has within him the vision of bottomless infinitude.’

‘the mystery, the tragedy of bottomless consciousness. What it is to walk around with that kind of awareness.’

‘burdened by knowing too much. Bottom having just had his dream of bottomlessness. Mercutio, someone for whom the language itself is a dizzying spiral into which he almost disappears. Falstaff plumbing the bottomless depth of his own lies.’

‘both elevated & burdened by being a million percent alive to the infinitude of creation.’

‘…limitless, and awareness of personal limitation. The unforgiving deadline of mortality.’

‘King of infinite space’ but also ‘bounded in a nutshell.’  — Ron Rosenbaum reporting on a conversation with Peter Brook

‘I always try to turn a song on it’s head. Otherwise, I figure I’m wasting the listener’s time’   -BD

‘The greatest guiding principle: boredom’

‘drama: what one is being shown, & what one is seeing.’

‘The Spirit searcheth everything, yea, even  the bottom of God’s secrets.’

‘A simple, straight, real man, with an extraordinary metaphysical consciousness.’

‘If you take away the supernatural, you might as well burn the entirety of his works.’


metaphysical thought

political thought

a social sense of life

a sense of human comedy

a sense of human tragedy

a joy in human vulgarity

a likeness for human likeness

a joy in human grossness.

‘the void, charged with potential’

the void, emptiness

the sense of vibrancy within the infinite space of the void

‘potential… of a single vibrant word’ to create a world, to release infinite energies’

he liked to create the sense of bottomlessness, the bottom falling out, dropping out.

‘the excellence of every Art is it’s intensity, capable of making all disagreeables evaporate, from their being in close relationship with beauty & truth- Examine King Lear & you will find this exemplified throughout. But in this picture (Benjamen West’s Death On The Pale Horse) we have unpleasantness without any momentous depth of speculation excited, in which to bury it’s repulsiveness.’

intensity: the greeting of the Spirit & it’s object.

‘the Axis of Jacques-Pierre’s universe is the silence of Cordelia.’

two different personalities: the ‘mythic’ and the ‘realist.’

‘Now Ariel, I am that I am, your late and lonely master, who knows what magic is; -the power to enchant that comes from disillusion.’   -The Sea & The Mirror

‘the refusal to be yourself becomes a serious despair, the love nothing, the fear all.’

‘…you might sometimes be with someone who’s got no song to sing, and I believe you can help someone out…’

‘…the great & prolific creators who produce a world.’

‘ Just the right phrase  can go a long way.’  -Chris Rock

invention: the finding of suitable topics. ‘a finding, a reaching into oneself to find what comes next.’

a consideration of essence as opposed to accidental modifications.

Most of the notes above are from Shakespeare Wars by Ron Rosenbaum, also The Sea & The Mirror by WH Auden, Peter Brook,  Chris Rock, and Bob Dylan.


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Hendrix The Poet

to David Ensminger, for Joe Carter:

In response to your question: “What do I believe are the poetic qualities of Hendrix’s lyrics?”

First of all, he created memorable, and dynamic original phrases of speech, blazing lines that stick in your head forever. I think he had more of these in three or four albums than the Beatles, for example, made in their whole run:

“‘ ’scuse me while I kiss the sky!” (from purple haze)

” I know what I want but I just don’t know/ how to go about gettin’ it” (from manic depression)

“will it burn me if I touch the sun?”   (from love or confusion)

‘there ain’t no life nowhere!”   and

“”i don’t live today/ maybe tomorrow, I just can’t say” (from I don’t live today)

‘let me stand next to your fire’  and

‘move over, rover, and let Jimi take over!”  (from fire)

castles made of sand/ fall in the sea/ eventually  (from castles made of sand)

“aw shucks/ if my daddy could see me now’   (from up from the skies)

”if all the hippies cut off all their hair/ i don’t care/ I don’t care”  and

“if six turned out to be nine/ I don’t mind/ I don’t mind
’cause I’ve got my own world to live through
and I ain’t gonna copy you”            (from if 6 was 9)

’she’s walkin’ through the clouds/ with a circus smile/ running wild’   (from little wing)

This just touches the surface, off the top of my head.

These are great powerful, forever memorable and meaningful original phrases, with a rhythm and punch present, in the best American tradition, which often has a punchline-type diction, and often lands with an accent of sound and meaning on the last word of the phrase. It’s the “American Sound” and Hendrix has his own version of it, big-time.

2) Secondly, he used the poets tools. Jimi was a natural poet. But, I think he was helped in his quest to write great songs by studying strong sources, that themselves were tapped into poetic tradition.  These would be:

A) Exceptional soul music songsmiths like Curtis Mayfield, Otis Redding, James Brown, and Don Covay.  From these he learned how to form the premise of a song around a powerful, but simple idea, with a catchiness, and simplicity of phrasing. The imagery in these writers work is reflected in JH’s songs  like ‘Remember”  ’You Got Me Floating” ‘Little Miss Lover’.  Is it poetic? I believe this type of writing at it’s best IS. Also, he knew Chuck Berry and Little Richard, both for the great SOUND of their words, and for their INNOVATION. Chuck Berry is a chronicler of American Culture and in his way, Hendrix was too, (though of a more psychedelic era.) Little Richard spoke in tongues “a wop bop a loo bop a wop bop bop” (from tutti frutti)  Hendrix excelled at this, in all of the above examples and many others.

B) Bob Dylan: a huge and liberating influence on JH,  “Songs can be about anything”.  Dylan was a path to the Beats for Hendrix, using the poetic tools of vivid imagery, alliteration, assonance, dissonance, as well as his art of twisting phrases that Jimi adapted.   Listen to the album “Blonde On Blonde,” to hear all these poetic tools being used. It was reportedly one of Hendrix’s favorites, along with “Highway 61 Revisited.” He learned a lot from these, eventually covering ‘Like A Rolling Stone” in his US debut.   Dylan would say “The sun’s not yellow, it’s chicken”   which could easily be a Hendrix line.  Colorful mad twists of rhythmic language.

C) The great blues singers and songwriters: Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, Elmore James, and others.  He topped the imagery in these writers most forceful material, in songs like “Voodoo Child”  ”If 6 was 9″  and others. It’s a strain that runs all through his work. Rhythm conveying emotion, mythic bragging imagery like JH’s “knock down a mountain with the palm of my hand’ etc is from songs like Dixon’s ‘Hoochie Koochie Man’, or Muddy Water’s “Just To Be With You”

And intimate talk like Jimi’s acoustic 12 string version of “Hear My Train A-Coming”  (be sure to watch this on  youtube if you haven’t yet) (a great performance of a great piece, his emotion so close to the surface he nearly cries, common for him but very clear here) (great poetic lines like “I’m gonna buy this town/ and put it in my shoe”)

I think it’s important to recognize how deeply JH studied and played into the tradition he was coming up in. He made sure he knew EVERYTHING about R+B, Blues, and Rock and Roll. He knew the songs, the licks, the grooves, and he knew about what went into making up the WORDS. He played with everybody who was great, and he listened and learned intensely.

I think Wind Cries Mary is one of his best: Mary is his mother (tho’ her name was Lucille) also the Virgin Mary; a feminine deity or principle he looks to for protection.  His sorrow in the wake of events leads him to feel the whole creation is calling out for this missing feminine spirit.

It’s imagery that creates a dimension of feeling that goes beyond normal songwriting: I call that poetic.
After all the jacks are in their boxes
And the clowns have all gone to bed
You can hear happiness staggering on down the street
Footprints dressed in red
And the wind whispers Mary

A broom is drearily sweeping
Up the broken pieces of yesterday’s life
Somewhere a queen is weeping
Somewhere a king has no wife
And the wind, it cries Mary

The traffic lights they turn up blue tomorrow
And shine their emptiness down on my bed
The tiny island sags downstream
‘Cause the life that lived is, is dead
And the wind screams Mary

Will the wind ever remember
The names it has blown in the past
And with his crutch, it’s old age, and it’s wisdom
It whispers no, this will be the last
And the wind cries Mary

I hope this helps you as you consider Jimi Hendrix the poet. I could go on a lot more than this. It’s an interesting subject. Have you see the book Cherokee Mist with so much of his writing in it? I recommend it. Another great one, maybe the best book about Hendrix, is Greg Tate’s “Midnight Lightning.”

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