Poetry CD Reviews & Other Things!August 2014
G. Murray Thomas, Senior Editor
LOOK EACH OTHER IN THE EARS
CD by Michael C. Ford
Hen House Studio (henhousestudios.com)
Reviewed by G. Murray Thomas
L.A. poet Michael C. Ford has teamed up with his old college buddies The Doors to show how poetry and music can work together. Ford met Ray Manzarek and Jim Morrison at UCLA Film School before they even formed their band. Now, 50 years later, the three (at the time of recording) remaining Doors back him up on his new CD,Look Each Other in the Ears.
What’s important here is that this is not a Doors album, it is a Michael C. Ford album. By that I mean that the music is there to serve the words, not to showcase itself. There is no point at which you say, “Hey, that sounds like the Doors,” at least not so much that it distracts your ears from the poet.
Ford’s poetry has a light touch, yet tackles some deep topics. His primary target is modern American culture, especially its commercialism and militarism. He is an observant poet, pinning his verse on well-chosen imagery. In “Making Out (With Westwood Village),” the image of Pegasus advertising Mobile gas manages to symbolize both that commercialism and the cultural destruction it causes: “someday the gods and goddesses of urban renewal will bring that lofty plastic beastie down from its flamboyant perch.” “Wartime Carol” uses President George H.W. Bush’s stomach problems in Japan as a metaphor for the first Gulf War; although the real potent image in the poem turns out to be a water pistol.
Ford is also capable of more ethereal poetry. “Sleeping Underwater” is simply a beautiful description of a moment. “A Simple Ode (to Frank O’Hara)” and “Waterfalls” are moving eulogies, one to the poet, the other to the turn of the century.
As I said, the music complements the words. “Waterfalls” uses a jazzy, almost New Age sound, anchored on Manzarek’s piano work, to provide the peaceful atmosphere the poem calls for. Similarly with the guitar and piano interplay in “Sleeping Underwater.” On the other hand, “An American Bomb” gets a sparse, bluesy accompaniment, fitting to its story of the nuclear bomb. “Whatever Happened to Grandma’s Orange Groves” is driven by an almost frenzied organ and guitar jam.
My one complaint about the album is the overuse of vocal choruses, often just the title of the poem repeated in a sing-song voice. Unlike the other musical accompaniment, these often do intrude on, and at time overwhelm, the poetry. There are pieces where they do work, such as “Waterfalls” and, somewhat surprisingly, “American Bombs,” where they serve to separate the individual stanzas. But in a meditative piece like “A Simple Ode,” repeating the title in a cheerful chorus detracts from the thoughtful poem about a great poet. And since nearly every piece has a chorus, they quickly become an intrusion on the overall sound of the album.
But that is a minor complaint on what is otherwise a great marriage of music and words. Other poets and musicians could learn a lot from this CD.