It was only a matter of time until I summoned the courage to discuss my favourite topic of conversation - music and English grammar - or, to be more accurate, the lack thereof.
Many have often repeated Zappa's truism with echolalic precision, "rock journalism is people who can't write, interviewing people who can't talk, for people who can't read." If he is to be believed, I wonder why more hasn't been done to cure the scourge of illiteracy among society's melodious classes. I'm tempted to suggest an addendum to the Evening Standard's 'Get London Reading' campaign - Educate Our Analphabetic Musicians - although, admittedly, using the word 'analphabetic' may only compound the issue rather than facilitate its remedy.
Please don't misunderstand me, mastering grammar is a Sisyphean task and I would be a fool to claim that I am an authority on the subject. Sure, I parade Fowler's guide to Modern English Usage ostentatiously atop my mantelpiece but, like much of my personality, it is more of a showpiece than a sincere representation of my skill set. Indeed, I am the grotesque embodiment of Fowler's famous definition of didacticism:
"The speaker who has discovered that Juan and Quixote are not pronounced in Spain as he used to pronounce them as a boy is not content to keep so important a piece of information to himself; he must have the rest of us call them Hwan and Keehotay; at any rate he will give us the chance of mending our ignorant ways by doing so."
No doubt there will be a number of smart alecks among you who will pinpoint the grammatical flaws in this very article. Be that as it may, I too am fallible and even I am prone to error. But, consider this, at least I aspire to a higher ideal; at least I do not perpetually subscribe to the lowest common denominator. You see, there is an important distinction to grasp here: when it comes to judging grammatical misuse in lyrics, what can be considered genuine absent-mindedness and what is so flagrantly remiss that gross impudence is the only explanation?
I suppose you must think me a terrible snob, but that would be unfair. Yes, it does irk me that Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights was inspired by a cinematic adaptation, rather than by Emily Brontë's classic novel, but I am not unreasonable. I do not expect my fellow musicians to enjoy eloquence, Scrabble and witty repartee as much as I do. I not expect them to know the difference between a monologue and a soliloquy, or highfalutin and hyperbole. But really, since when was the "female of the species more deadlier than the male" (Space); why is it acceptable to sing "how does it feel like to let forever be?" (Chemical Brothers & Noel Gallagher); and Kanye, would it hurt to insert 'we're' when you sing "we at war with terrorism, racism, and most of all we at war with ourselves" on Jesus Walks?
Clearly, Kanye is also at war with his own Lilliputian intellect. Indeed, he did not need to brazenly remark that he is a "proud non-reader of books" - the evidence, from a cursory glance at one stanza of his lyrical content, is as clear as his girlfriend's complexion.
What vexes me most is not that these artists are indolently committing crimes against the English language, but that they are wasting a hallowed opportunity. Words add depth, colour and personality to a song. In fact, they become even more powerful when projected onto a musical backdrop, which is why I shudder when lyricists make a conscious decision to rhyme nonsensical syllables. Sometimes it isn't enough to say that a badly-constructed lyric can be overlooked because it fits with the meter; sometimes it is just sheer laziness.
So, the next time you hear Pink Floyd chant "We don't need no education", please write to Messrs. Gilmour and Waters and explain to them that they do need an education, for they do not know how to correctly employ a double-negative.
The revolution is here my friends.
The future will be bright, poetic, and properly punctuated.
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