Saturday, March 12, 2011

Eurovision’s Dirty Little Secret

Although it’s enough for most viewers to tap their feet to the Eurovision beat, something within my soul compels me to listen to lyrics and attempt to divine their meaning.

For example, these lines from the Sven Lõhmus song which will represent Estonia at the contest in May:

Daylight fading away
Night silhouettes in the sky
LED lights are flashing in towers
It’s Manhattan’s magical time
Ballerinas dancing to Swan Lake
On a river made of diamonds and pearls
Everything’s a little bit weird now […]
One-two-seven-three down the Rockefeller street
Everything is a little surreal

Weird and surreal, indeed, because I have no clue what Getter Jaani is singing about. Perhaps the author chose “weird” and “surreal” because the phrase “incredibly fucking stupid” is so hard to rhyme in English?

Apologies. I don’t mean to be cynical, but as far as I know, offices in skyscrapers are still not illuminated by LEDs (which would be confined to stairwells or parking garages, and in any case not pronounced like the chemical element with the symbol Pb). The nearest Rockefeller Street is in Randolph, Massachusetts (population 30,000), the definite article has no place before “Street” in that context, and wouldn't 1273 on the Avenue of the Americas would be near the Time Life building, somewhere uptown of Rockefeller Plaza?

Readers will no doubt rally around Mr. Lõhmus, invoking a defense of “nonsense literature,” a legitimate genre that defies language conventions or logical reasoning – and the “Rockefeller Street” lyrics certainly do that. But they do not meet the second test of nonsense literature, which is to have an excess of meaning rather than a lack of.

But wait, readers will interject: it’s so easy to be critical. Anybody can laugh at a Eurovision song.

True, but I have done more. I have, in fact, discovered the genesis of Eurovision lyrics, the fountain from which they all gush. And, it turns out, Sven Lõhmus is not to blame.

Take these lyrics for example:

I like to play with toys
Let’s all have a party
Watch me blow bubbles
It’s fun to make music

Set the words to a catchy tune, add Getter Jaani’s voice, a few godawful dancers, and viewers will shriek at their television screens in orgasmic pleasure.

Or imagine these words recited by a beat poet backed by a contrabass:

When you cook onions and broccoli, why do they stink up the kitchen?
Why is the smell of a dead animal attractive to a vulture but disgusting to you and me?
And why does your morning breath smell so bad that your mom runs screaming from the room?

All are no less worthy of Eurovision than “Rockefeller Street.” And they require no expenditure of creative energy since they are already written: All the passages were excerpted from books in my ten-month-old son Robert’s personal library, a veritable Eurovision gold mine.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I beg the reader to put himself in foreign shoes for a moment. If the Estonian language, instead of English, dominated the world, then how might you be moved if song lyrics were taken from books titled, Vaata, raputa, ja loe; Ahvenapoiss Sulev; or Pese ennast-sa?

Or what if a contingency of foreigners were to compose lyrics in the Estonian language for songs romanticizing your infamous industrialists? Titles like “Hanschmidt Puiestee,” “Kruuda Tänav,” or “Armin Karu Avenüü”?

The solution is for Mr. Lõhmus and his songwriting colleagues to expand their reading lists. What if they sought poets for inspiration? Jaan Kaplinski has some good lines. Or there’s Karl-Martin Sinijärv, who not only is a fine poet but boasts some of the coolest threads in town. And anyone who borrows from a poet immediately basks in associative glory. In this fashion it’s possible to climb several rungs in the cultural ladder by simply leaving the public library’s children’s section.

And if Estonian poetry won’t suffice and international flair is desired, there’s the American master, Wallace Stevens, whose material cries out for song lyrics.

Let the lamp affix its beam
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Were these Eurovision lyrics, a whole new class of listeners might join, who would speculate that the song is about a “forced choice between the gross physicality of death and the animal greed of life.” And the lyricist himself might fire back with an overarching statement that a poem must “resist the intelligence.”

As it stands now we are without that debate, and a lone Postimees columnist is left to hope that the significance of 1273 might amount to more than Tommy Tutone’s 1982 hit, “867-5309/Jenny.” The latter caused thousands to dial the number and ask for Jenny. Yet the former, I fear, will cause only this one curious listener to plug the address into Google Maps.

Visit our lovely gift shop.