January 16, 2021

The pleasure of reading songs | Babelia

The pleasure of reading songs | Babelia


"My mother / And her little brown jug / It held her milk". A simple verse, reminiscent of childhood. A pure verse, without adornments, that is not a verse but could be, since it is a fragment of the lyrics of 'A Coral Room', the song of Kate Bush included in Aerial, his 2005 album. The lyrics are candidates to be part of the next book How to Be Invisible: Selected Lyrics, Kate Bush's songbook edited by Faber and put on sale in December.

Kate Bush takes out a book, yes. Neil Tennant, singer and songwriter of Pet Shop Boys, as they have been edited, and Jarvis Cocker, Van Morrison, Ian Curtis, of Joy Division, and Billy Bragg, all under the same seal and concept: Songbooks must be vindicated and the lyrics of these artists can exist, as poems, with independent literary value.

Because is poetry a songbook? It depends on the artist and his poetic attachment to words. For Alberto Manzano, poet, writer, translator of more than 100 songs and biographer Leonard Cohen, there are certain musicians "with whom the distinction between poem and song is impossible". "Or at least I do not see it," he says, "the poems that Leonard Cohen's Viewer published could have been songs, and vice versa."

The artist Christina Rosenvinge, who will publish her song book, does not have the same opinion, with an essay that deals precisely with the composition of songs, in March 2019, with Random House Literature. "It is not poetry but another genre. When you read and write songs you do not obey the laws of literature, but those of music, and it is a difficult hybrid world. It is a delicate art in which sound, stripped of meaning, becomes very important. The structure is different, the number of syllables obeys the number of notes of the song, and the synergy is very important ".

Christina Rosenvinge
Christina Rosenvinge

Manzano insists that to know -and translate well- a songbook "you have to be a little poet". But a poet does not have to understand songs. "When I see a writer who tries to write lyrics but is not a musician, he finds difficulties that he does not understand, such as the relationship between the accents and the beat," explains Rosenvinge. "The important thing is to understand that writing letters is a respectable art and not secondary."

Another difficulty added is translation. If to translate a poet you have to be a little poet, to translate a musician you have to be, directly, a fool. If finding the cadence and voice of the person who writes poetry is a mystery, trying to keep the rhyme or the images can be a real torture. Whoever writes this well knows it, since he has translated Jarvis Cocker's songbook, whose use of homophobic words gives three or four interpretations, not to mention his use of common in Common People, which gives for a couple of cultural wars – was it better to use "common", "normal" or "current"?

Rosenvinge gives the key: "That is why a songbook must be bilingual and it must contain footnotes, because in the translation things are always lost. If it's a good translation, once the metric and the rhyme are lost, it could be a new poetry, a genre in itself. "

250,000 euros for the lyrics of Dylan

The publication of lyrics by musical authors has a tradition in Spain. For decades the access to the songbooks was mainly in charge of the Fundamentos publishing house, which unveiled the lyrics of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Charles Aznavour, among many others, with great success until the nineties. Manzano, who translated dozens of books for Fundamentos, accuses the appearance of Global Rythmn and its editor Julián Viñuales – now in charge of Libros del Kultrum, after leaving the Malpaso publishing house – to "burst the music book market with upward offers" with which the other publishers They could not compete. Viñuales defends itself: "I was forced to compete with the big players in the sector, and the acquisitions skyrocketed." The world rights of the songbook of the Nobel prize of Literature Bob Dylan, that Viñuales published in Global Ryhtmn and later in Malpaso, they were estimated in around 250,000 Euros. Do they sell the songs well? It depends. The Anglo-Saxon world seems more prone to appreciate these editions. Viñuales maintains that Dylan's sales were "satisfactory", but not the work of Van Morrison or Ian Curtis, whose results he values ​​as "discrete". "It is still a market to be explored and there is a lot to be done," concludes the top sales interpreters in Spain.

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