When I was a teen trying to be punk rock, my boyfriend decorated the ceiling of his room with setlists from shows, and so I'd sit around making found poems of them. And ever since I've had this poetry email list I've wanted to write about song titles as poetry.
It barely bears mentioning that poetry and songs overlap; both are made up of sound and words and time. And I could start anywhere but I will start here, with a silly but real promise I made to my spouse: to write about how the song title "Fit Throwing Hellride" is a perfect phrase. It's a Wesley Willis song that stubbornly refuses to be located on the internet. Wesley Willis was a beloved Chicago artist, musician and personality who had schizophrenia and characterized his experience with demons as "hellrides." He has a lot of songs about hellrides on the city bus and I think "fit throwing hellride" is the best title among them partly for its sound: every syllable in there has a different vowel sound. The long "o" in the middle and long "i" at the end make it particularly suited to a wail. And "fit throwing" seems so primal and uncomfortable: it's just right.
I value the words he gave to his experience, and I don't want to mock Wesley Willis or this perfect phrase. As a person who is tremendously skilled at overthinking everything I worry about appreciating things the wrong way. But I think everyone has their own idea of hell, and a shorthand for it like "fit throwing hell ride" can invite you to poke around in your own discomfort, to sit in the pothole-ridden bus ride of your own mind for a bit.
Recently I read a thoughtful retrospective about David Berman, a songwriter I dearly love and another writer of some perfect phrases with just enough room to invite you in. If "Fit Throwing Hellride" is a city bus that is too much, "The Wild Kindness" is for me a peaceful forested space. It's another case where the vowel sounds make it stick in my mind, in this case two long "i" sounds that drawl along. Wildness and kindness, two abstractions that somehow seem concrete and entire in this phrase.
I have a memory of listening to this song in the passenger seat of my friend Abigail's red Jeep with the sun setting over the hills of rural Wisconsin, where families paint patterned quilt squares on their barns and old trees arch over roads with no shoulders. One of the refrains, "instead of time there will be lateness," comforts me — it's like ingesting a tincture of the feeling of sitting beside a fire when the only hour you know is the darkness, then waking up only when birds and sun become too loud in the morning.
There are songs and phrases I could talk about forever. Tell me yours. And if you're a US citizen, let me be the umpteenth person to tell you to make absolutely certain that you vote next week. You can start here.