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Posted by: StephenFryer (
Date: January 22, 2005 05:50PM

Right now, I'm studying 'American Modernisms' - in poetry, the work of T S Eliot, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, e e cummings.

I'm interested in whether the tenets of modernism were seen in the lyrics of the popular songs of the day, in the same way that the works of Bob Dylan and Paul Simon are close to poetry.

What do you think? Any modernist lyricists between the wars?


Re: Modernism
Posted by: Just Jack (
Date: January 22, 2005 08:55PM


Good to hear from you.
You seemed to evaporate for a while there.

Not really sure of the definition of 'Modernism'.

Cole Porter?
George Gershwin?
Fats Waller?


Re: Modernism
Posted by: IanB (
Date: January 22, 2005 09:00PM

Interesting question, Stephen.

I'm not sure exactly what you regard as 'the tenets of modernism', but assuming you include the general idea that the traditional forms had become outdated and needed to be swept inside to make room for reinvented culture (I'm quoting loosely from the Wikpedia entry on Modernism), then perhaps popular songs were not part of a deliberate vanguard in the same way as art and poetry and instrumental music.

Popular songs from the past usually remain popular, if only in the nostalgia category, and the public don't feel a pressing need to jettison them - unless they're associated with wars or political movements that people want to forget. Popular song composers aim to please the mainstream, not to revolutionise tastes. Nevertheless new songs emerge which cannot but reflect modern life in ways unimagined by earlier generations.

In the early 20th Century there were songs referring to modern inventions, like the automobile ("Come away with me, Lucille / In my merry Oldsmobile..."), but you wouldn't call such lyrics modernist in form or style.

You might look at some jazz song lyrics.

Also George Gershwin's lyrics. Plenty of information about those on the Internet.

There are many sites listing popular songs (mainly American) of the 1920s and 1930s. For instance:


Post Edited (01-23-05 07:01)

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