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Jim Morrison
The Lords/The New Creatures
Omnibus, London, 1985
(price: ?; 56 pages)

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Lydia Lunch/Exene Cervenka
Adulterers Anonymous
Grove, New York, 1982
(price: $6.95; 110 pages)

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Steve Kilbey
no publishing details

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Nick Cave
King Ink
Black Spring, London, 1988
(price: 8.95; 164 pages)

Rock singers have had this fantasy about being poets ever since the days of Bob Dylan, of course. This is not to blame Dylan himself, who would probably have no hesitation in recognizing the rhythmic genius of 'Bo Diddley buy babe a diamond ring' or the socio-economic insight of Chuck Berry's Too Much Monkey Business':

Salesman talkin' to me,
Tryin' to run me up a creek,
Says, 'You can buy it, go on try it;
You can pay me next week.'

The standard of artistic expression in 1950s rock & roll, however, got forgotten about once Dylan injected a more consciously literary expression into pop music: thereafter every John, Mick and Donovan thought they could give Ezra Pound a run for his money. The problem was that, for every Dylan there were several hundred PF Sloans. And one of them was the absurd Jim Morrison, who may have dressed in black leather like Gene Vincent, but never quite matched the beauty of 'Be-bop-a-lula, she's my baby,' which remains a gem of a lyric. Morrison instead went in for the likes of:

Lizard woman
w / your insect eyes
w / your wild surprise
Warm daughter of silence

Which, frankly, is tosh of the first water. But Morrison was almost sexy, in a puppy-fat sort of way, and took too many drugs and he died young, so there've always been a fair few people who thought of him as some kind of doomed Romantic poet. He wasn't. He was the offspring of a wealthy ruling-class Amerikan family who'd read one book too many and a great number too few, and operated under the delusion that he was the mystic heir to Baudelaire.

The kind of doom-laden self-conscious writing inaugurated by Morrison has been a regular fixture through subsequent rock generations, never more so than in the early-1980s when - confronted with the collapse of the indie punk spirit under the onslaught of Visage and Duran Duran - a substantial chunk of the rock audience in the North of England decided to dress like extras in a Dark Shadows episode.

But I don't intend to bore you with the genre Goths. The others here all have some merit, despite their somewhat gloomy posing. Let's take them on an ascending scale of interest.

Lydia Lunch sang with unpopular New York band Eight-Eyed Spy before pursuing a solo career that included a nice version of 'Spooky' and a whole load of other stuff; Exene Cervenka sang with X, who had their moments, even if they never really rivalled contemporaries like The Blasters and Los Lobos. Between them, the two women gave us this collection of poems that come on like adolescent feminist takes on a punk Sylvia Plath:

adulterers anonymous
housewife scratching my belly,
all snarled up with no place to go.


The typographical variations, incidentally, indicate that the lines were written by LYDIA LUNCH and Exene Cervenka respectively.

I can't imagine anyone wanting to read this particularly, but I guess if you're a fan of No Wave or American punk, you might find it of historical significance.

Now, Steve Kilbey is a more interesting proposition. Leader of Australian band The Church, he also aspired to the realms of poesy and developed a style which was at its best when sung (which sadly is the single most common thought provoked by books of rock writing), but which doesn't always fall flat on its arse on the page. He's more keen on delicate decadence than doom and diatribe, but it's all still cobwebs and reptiles and ancient gods.

This book of prose poems was published in, I think, 1988 to accompany a solo instrumental album of the same name and was intended to be read whilst listening. I don't have a copy of the album, so I can't report on whether it's a rewarding experience, but in general, it's a bit of a cop-out that kind of thing. Either write some songs or write some stories, but don't charge us twice for the same product - chances are you'll fall between the two stools. (The only exception, of course, is the Residents' magnificent Eskimo - but then the Residents can do whatever they want as far as I can tell.) This book gets a bonus half-star, however, because it's so beautifully produced.

And finally, Nick Cave, the man who filtered Morrison through punk, Southern Gothic and the King James Bible to create a media image as the articulate voice of rock & roll. Not a great deal of competition, of course, but Cave is genuinely a very fine writer in bursts. His novel And The Ass Saw The Angel is a disaster, but some of the lyrics (particularly from the Birthday Party era) contain some lovely imagery: 'Rats in paradise', 'You can't tell the girls from the boys anymore' (in the context of a car crash), 'The sound of her young legs in stockings' - the man is a phrase-maker of some stature.

King Ink collects some of the lyrics and throws them together with some dramatic and prose pieces (a couple co-written with Lydia Lunch) and, curiously, a two-page enthusiasm for Einsturzende Neubauten. The result is frankly a mess, but a not entirely unattractive one. Helps if you know the songs, but some of the words are pretty solid in their right. Mind you, I could be biased by the fact that the Birthday Party in their pomp, i.e. in the period between 'Release the Bats' and Junkyard, were the most powerful band I ever did saw.

more rock poetry...