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Monday, 13 August 2007


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Luther Blissett

As an Okkervil River fan who is not a Berryman fan but who is also a *Pet Sounds* fan and an Ashbery fan:

I just Googled "berryman + sloop" and this blog came up:

in which it is written, on whatever it is they write it on down there:

" 'On a whim I decided to stop in Minnesota to visit the Washington Avenue Bridge [the site of American poet John Berryman's 1972 suicide]. I had a really profound experience standing there trying to imaginatively leap, and get into Berryman's brain at the moment. There's a lot to say about standing in the last place a person stood while alive,' says Will Sheff [of Okkervil River] on the phone from a Brooklyn bar. 'I love John Berryman and I was reading him a lot while I was doing Black Sheep Boy. I think Berryman influenced how I wrote that album in some sort of weird way.'

"The album's final track, 'John Allyn Smith Sails', takes this idea to fruition, ending the album with lyrics from a traditional folk song and poem – most famously used as the center of the Beach Boys' 'Sloop John B' – as a way for Sheff to reckon with his John Berryman connection. 'The 'Sloop John B' character and the John Berryman [real name John Allyn Smith] were at the same juncture in their lives. They're both kind of wreck,' says Sheff. But still, he claims the inspiration stemmed from a book of poetry by another American poet, Carl Sandberg, who also used the words. 'When I was writing that song I was not necessarily thinking of the Beach Boys version, although I do love it the most, but that's a great example. I was just writing that song and [the reference] just jumped into my head. I couldn't say no and I just went with it. I might not have done that if I was less confident as a songwriter. Really, on a gut level, it just felt right.'"

This is from an interview with Sheff at:

BTW: Steve Malkmus is the John Ashbery of rock bands. From *The Village Voice*:

"Put it all down or leave it all out. Malkmus—an Ashbery fan—knew there was no hope of truly doing either. So he went for songs that attempted both at once. In the gap this created, music and listeners could talk to each other, define each other. They still can."

Just Google "malkmus + ashbery" and see what I mean. 'Tho sometimes Malkmus throws Wallace Stevens in there, which would make Harold Bloom happy.

All this means that Dave Grubbs must be the Susan Howe of rock music. (

And all through it, Jim Morrison remains, thankfully, the Jim Morrison of rock music. He's the fucking Lizard King, fer chrissake. He don't need to be anyone else. ('Tho, in hindsight, he might be the Jewel of rock music.)


"I had a really profound experience standing there trying to imaginatively leap, and get into Berryman's brain at the moment."

Genius play on "imaginative leap"? Boneheaded bad pun? I italicize, you decide.

That said, the Pavement/Ashbery connection makes perfect sense to me, as I've never been able to make much out of either of them. (But like both.) (Well, as much as I like any poetry.) (Which, admittedly, isn't all that much.)


As a Lifter Puller fan who's still learning how to work past the E Street Bandiness to appreciate the Hold Steady, I have to say I'm not fully hearing it, except of course for the "But he should have come out and talked" line. At the risk of further offending the poetry heads this might be what more fully Finnized version would sound like:

Huffy Henry hid away all day.
Henry couldn’t get satisified, so he sat around and sulked.
She said, “Ya know, I see his point, kinda tryin’ ta put things over.”
And it was the thought they thought that they could do it
That made old Henry sulk.
But he shoulda come out an talked.

Henry said, “The whole world used to be my blanket,
And it seemed to have my back.
But then everything got messed up,
And I woke on these tracks.”
She said, “I don’t know how he survived it,
All opened up like that.”

[Final stanza extremely un-Finn-like, so requiring very free translation.]

He said, “It’s amazing what the world
Can put up with and what it can do to you.”
And I climbed those pines all goofy on the roofies,
And I shouted ‘bout how beautiful the truth is.
And the ground looked just like a graveyard, all worn out and wasted.
And we went down on the headstones alone and untrusted.


I like Ashbery and see the Pavement connection; I had been trying to push an Ashbery- Clap Your Hands Say Yeah connection, but it wasn't as strong.

I remember a class where the prof brought in a pastiche --- one line randomly culled from each page of an Ashbery chapbook, and we weren't able to tell the difference between it and his "regular" poems. Quite fun, actually.


JPool, you win. But in winning, you've lost, since what you've written sounds like Berryman to me.

Mike Russo

About two years ago, I saw Shearwater, which is an Okkervil River side project, opening for the Mountain Goats (they were good, but were perhaps the most grad-student-looking band I've ever seen. Except for their drummer, who was named "Thor" and belonged in some different band entirely). Oddly, I am at this moment listening to a 2003 Mountain Goats bootleg in which they're opening for a Lifter Puller reunion gig. John Darnielle is therefore apparently (yet predictably) the Kevin Bacon of American poetry/indie rock connectability.

Also, I agree -- good song, made by the Sloop John B. move.


I always lose when winning.

So Finn is Berryman and Berryman is Malkmus and math is money and money is math (leather vest, assless chaps)?

So would Berryman have written "Right across the river liquor lasts a little later.
Rockin sloppy on the poppies, got your head beneath the table?" He would have? OK, just checking.

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