Pop lyric diagrams

Coming to Shadowshop soon (early next week, I guesstimate): grammatical sentence diagrams of pop lyrics!

Long-time readers of this blog may recall me as Dr. Diagram, diagramming lyrics to order at the Art Health Fair at the Oakland Museum in 2003, or Roadside Elixir at the Headlands in 2004. Well, if you missed those opportunities, you can still truck on down to SFMOMA & get yer rock & roll mitts on a hand-drawn diagram—for just $12! Choose from classics like “Freebird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd (pictured above), “Last Dance” by Donna Summer or “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin!

I couldn’t resist sneaking a Dead tune in there too…

Following is the little blurb that’s tucked in with each diagram, except here, you get links with that:

Mere days into 6th grade, I found myself sitting on the gym floor in a circle of girls, who began passing around a David Cassidy LP so that each of us could kiss his picture on the cover. I was the new girl in this school; no way could I afford not to kiss it with as much enthusiasm as I could fake (not much at all—I was soon relegated to the nerd clique, if you could call it that). So began my adolescent crash-course in pop music, which gave me my generational & cultural identity (just as it has done & continues to do for decades of 6th-grade girls). Around the same time I also learned how to diagram sentences; this methodical, visual organization of language so elegantly revealed grammar’s structure that I loved it even then. (How’s that for nerd cred?!)

As an artist, I’m always looking at the under-the-radar stuff of culture, the things that we know without knowing that we know them—what is given, hidden in plain sight. The grammatical structure of our language is of course all-pervasive, yet usually invisible. Pop music can function similarly, as a library of cultural fragments that we accumulate, consciously or subconsciously, throughout our lives. I started diagramming lyrics around 2000; later I diagrammed collaboratively in public, asking participants to recall lyrics from songs that were formative or meaningful to them. Sometimes people misremembered lyrics, so these diagrams may reflect the inaccuracy of pop memory. I also can’t guarantee grammatical correctness, although I tried my best with much help from A Workbook of Sentence Diagramming, self-published by Eugene R. Moutoux, 2002; & my brother’s old copy of Prentice-Hall Grammar and Composition: Level 6, 1982.

Thanks also to: Donna Ozawa, for inviting me to diagram at the Oakland Museum Art Health Fair (2003); Claudia Tennyson, for inviting me to diagram at the Headlands open house (2004); Becky Pringle, my 6th grade English teacher; & Janice Kleeman, for teaching me the history of rock & roll & the aesthetics of pop.

with a girl

I couldn’t resist this widget that maps out the 37 states I’ve visited.

My map is a guess, though. In 1989 I drove from Providence RI to Emeryville CA, the long way, with a girl—let’s just call her Paul. From Boyertown PA we ended up a couple nights later in Atlanta GA. How did we get there? I remember complaining about song pollution, John Denver stuck in our heads as we drove through Shenandoah National Park, where we most likely camped. Which means we probably crossed those tiny jigsaw bits of both Maryland & West Virginia on our way into Virginia. Then both Carolinas on the way to Atlanta would make sense, right? (Scary how much I’ve forgotten!)

Likewise, the little Yellowstone corner of Montana is all I’ve seen of that big, tantalizing state, & Delaware I’m assuming I must have passed through asleep on an overnight charter bus from Providence to a big reproductive rights march in DC. (Remember those?! It was like 1985 or something.) That kinda barely counts as “visiting”, but you could say I’ve been there.

Interesting to see which states have so far eluded me, & which I’ve visited more than you’d guess. Some things I do remember: Paul’s friend trying to teach me to play pool in a bar in Atlanta, eating boiled peanuts (hey, that’s Chinese!) somewhere in the hills of Alabama after visiting Paul’s father (who let me drive his pickup truck), & fireflies when we camped in Memphis. I’ve been in Tennessee kind of a lot, considering. You can read that sentence both ways.

eye of newt

I love election cartograms!

I am so exhausted. Are you tired? Everybody seems to be in a kind of election hangover. Months of stomach-pretzeling anxiety, then all that euphoric weeping delirium when Obama won, & the catharsis of finally giving the Republicans the pounding they deserved—well, actually they deserved much worse than that, but let’s not get into that here—now I can barely do anything. The Prop 8 disappointment throws a weird contradictory layer of angst into the mix; rather emotionally confusing. I was in my pajamas last night before 7pm.

Good thing I had this recipe up my sleeve for y’all. I’d been working on it for a while, & on the 4th try it worked well enough to share with the Witch for Halloween (her favorite holiday, of course). The Witch is the most food-limited of my friends, by which I mean there’s hella stuff she can’t eat without getting walloped by a migraine. Luckily she’s a great cook & not afraid to experiment with obscure alternative ingredients. I was really proud to come up with a dessert she can eat!

Chocolate Coconut Tapioca Pudding
aka Pudding of Earth & Eyes of Newt (no sugar! no dairy! wheee!)

Throughout this recipe, whisk pretty much constantly!

Soak 1/3 cup small tapioca pearls in 2 to 3 cups of water for a few minutes, then bring to a gentle boil & simmer for about 15 minutes.

Drain off the gloopy water & reserve about 1/2 cup of it. I do this by pouring through a sieve into a bowl, then dumping the tapioca pearls from the sieve back into the pot.

Add about 1/2 can of coconut milk to the pot, whisk to distribute the tapioca, & simmer for another few minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together in a separate bowl:
the rest of the coconut milk
2 T. good cocoa powder (I use Green & Black’s)
1/4 c. maple syrup
1 t. vanilla
pinch salt

Add the chocolate mixture to the pot, along with 4 to 6 T. of the reserved tapioca gloop. Continue to simmer & whisk another few minutes until tapioca pearls are completely clear. At this point the pudding is still quite liquid but should have thickened ever so slightly. If not, add a little more of the gloop.

Remove from heat & let cool a little, then refrigerate for at least 5 hours.

Roadside Elixir

Cheers to Claudia Tennyson for organizing a fabulously fun & inspiring Roadside Elixir yesterday at the Headlands! The weather was perfect, the best you could ask for, & a fine old time was had by all, hanging out & making art in the shade of a lovely old tree.

Best Lyric Request of the day came from Paul's friend Josh: four lines from "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain". When he handed his form to me, I got all manic & started frothing at him about the Carla Bozulich cover. After I drew the diagram, he & his pals hung around analyzing all the revealed meanings with me for a while. Music geeks geek out! What could be more fun?

Honorable mention goes to Jerome's mom Nathalie, who challenged me to diagram in French. I actually pulled it off, which is some kinda miracle.

Craziest Request is hands down, no contest, Stephan's "Schoolhouse Rock" listing of all 50 states. What a nut! I told him I was gonna have to mail that to him later.

Then we got to go to the beach afterwards! It doesn't get much better.


If you're in the Bay Area this weekend, come to the Headlands Open House on Sunday from noon to 5pm. I'll be diagramming pop lyrics as part of Roadside Elixir, curated by Headlands Affiliate Artist Claudia Tennyson, who will be doing Street Repair. Other Roadside artists: Donna Keiko Ozawa, John Graham, Alison Pebworth, & Jerome Waag (& his mom). Should be a fun time for all, so start thinking about what lyrics you need diagrammed, & we'll see you there!