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Wed, 30 Apr 2008

Rimbaud and Rockers

Rimbaud was a French poet from the mid and late nineteenth century. He was a child prodigy lumped with the Fauvists for his vivid and exciting work which didn't resemble the usually more mannered poetry of the time, and which led to him being called, much later, the father of modern poetry.

He ran away from home a lot and ended up going to Paris from his home near the Belgian border after sending Verlaine one of his poems. He was invited to come and stay and the two became lovers. Together they roamed the netherworlds of Paris getting drunk on absinthe and generally being rowdy, abusive and unpleasant - a certain kind of rock 'n' roll tour. Amazingly enough, Verlaine's marriage survived this but not his increasingly violent behaviour later - He even shot Rimbaud in the wrist at one stage.

Rimbaud spent a little time in London living in Camden and hanging out at the library of the British Musueum (free pencils!) and then wandered Europe by foot. He gave up writing poetry at 21 or so - he was totally sick of being broke, for one thing - but kept up writing letters and ended up as some sort of agent in Africa and with a relationship with a local woman. He died in Marsailles, aged 37, from something nasty, with his sister Isabelle by his side.

It's a short, somewhat sad story. As far as the rockers go, Jim Morrison of the Doors was a big fan and no doubt based some of his antics on those of the man who went before - or at least the theory of the thing - shock and horror with literary pretensions. He might also have felt a kinship from the fact that both had military fathers who were at least distant. Rimbaud's father decided after a posting that he didn't even want to see his family anymore and went off to live by himself. Who can know if Morrison's last days in Paris involved some kind of Rimbaldian search and destroy mission? He was, by all accounts, sick of being a rock star and there's no doubt he wanted more serious recognition.

Another link comes through Television guitarist Tom Verlaine just because of the name he chose for himself and certainly, his angular, semi-minimal guitar work had great beauty and an obvious yearning to be closer to art then a yelled-over three minute thrash. At first glance it might not be apparent why the name Verlaine should be chosen at all but perhaps it was the louche loser thing that said 'Punk' quite clearly.

What of today? The Babyshambles guy certainly has the excess thing covered (and excess by itself is merely that) and shows threatening signs that he'd like to be taken seriously. Time will tell on that one but right now it looks like the Libertines might be a close as he'd come, and that isn't that close.

But what about the "art" thing generally? Some people with binary brains (off-on, black-white) like to think that the only valid sort of "popular" music is their sort - trash pop, classic rock, music with deep lyrics, music with no lyrics.. whatever. Of course, all the strands are valid - they just are - like it or not! And then what people see as a shambles at one time might be seen as art at another, like Rimbaud. (thunderfinger)

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