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Sunday in the Park

Twice in the past 10 days, I had occasion to see the film, "Music and Lyrics," starring Hugh Grant, as an aging pop star, and Drew Barrymore, as a frustrated literature graduate. It is a charming movie, much more so than that one sentence synopsis would suggest, with memorable lyrics and well, music, along with some catch phrases that have already found their way into our office language. The favorite being the description of tight jeans as "fan-friendly pants."

Set exclusively in New York City, in a time period of two weeks, the aging pop star has been challenged to write a new song for the nymphet songstress of the moment, a terrific amalgamation of Britney/Jessica/Shakira played by newcomer Haley Bennett. A substitute plant-watering lady, Barrymore, enters Grant’s world, just as he is starting to work with an edgy, young, angry, dirty, disheveled young man/songwriter. Grant only writes melodies so he is dependent upon finding a lyricist. Barrymore starts unconsciously rhyming (she does, after all, write jingles for her sister’s "Weight Not" weight-loss company) when the angry young man and Grant have become creatively blocked.

The rest of the romantic comedy ensues with the sweet debate of which matters more, the lyrics or the music. And like bread and jam, we find that while each is lovely separately, together they are yummy. That, and the realization that so much of the current trend toward faux spirituality can be summed up by the awareness of the nymphet who thought the Dali Lama actually was a llama.

At one point, when the team of Grant/ Barrymore is confessing how they got to be who they are, Barrymore laments over her aborted writing career, fearing she will never have anything serious and original to say. Grant counters (in desperation, partly, to get her to help him finish the song) that real poets are folks like Dylan and Smokey Robinson. And he starts singing, "I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day, when it’s cold outside, I’ve got the month of May," belting it out in the corner Starbucks. "Those are the words of real poets," he says. "And they bring more people more pleasure than some dusty volume of literature." (I’m paraphrasing here.)

And the whole thing got me to thinking about my aborted songwriting/poetess career of long ago. While I’m certain there were earlier works, I remember a haunting melody I can’t say I actually wrote, but created and sang along with these poignant lyrics& "Cover up my footsteps, I leave upon the shore. Leave the beach plain and simple, a sight for others evermore. Leave the beach untouched, for those who think they’re first. Leave the beach untouched, looking free from tourists." I was at my grandmother’s house on the beach in Southern California that summer when I was nine. I suspect words like "savant" were being used by family members. I know words like "idiot" were. I can still sing those lines to that melody, though I’m fairly certain I have never done so to another living human being since I was nine.

Studying those lyrics now, with the precision of an anthropologist, it is clear to see my early roots in concerns for the environment, preservation and an uncanny depth of understanding about the impact of tourism on the environment. That, and the fact my Irish grandmother used to swear blue blazes about tourists wrecking "her beach." And I so wanted to impress my grandmother.

Growing up outside Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s San Francisco, in a lovely suburban middle-class life, I lacked the necessary — requisite really — scarred childhood issues to create deep meaning, and therefore lacked the pained creativity required of genuine Beat poets. I think it may be why I adopted liberal causes, the poet in me wanted/needed to identify with the underdog. When I married at 19 and started making babies, I made up lullabies, rhyming "henna" and "placenta." It wasn’t my most creative period.

I was 26 when that marriage ended and my hair color returned to my own mousy brown, when I wrote with all the intensity of Judy Collins/Joni Mitchell/Marianne Faithful& "Shades of gray, parades of days, one act plays, we’ve been through this before&" I created music in my head to go with it. I was so bold as to ask my guitar-playing boy friend, but not "boyfriend" (it was the ’70s and such distinctions were important), to help me with the song. He told me it was "really groovy" and we sang it over and over in front of the fire we built on the beach at Lake Tahoe that summer. And I thought my kids could spend all their days, partially clothed with rarely brushed hair, and be free spirits like their very straight, white, middle-class mom.

September came, the leaves changed and we all moved on. I moved to Park City with the kids who were fully clothed and groomed. My boy friend helped load the moving van with my stuff and we hugged and cried with all the intensity 20-somethings are capable of. It is probably important and reassuring to note, I left both the poetry and the songwriting behind.

There is a lovely moment in the film where Drew tells Hugh how the lyrics are what bring the melody to life. And I thought later how her metaphor could relate beyond songwriting. Let me see if I can paraphrase this part& Think of the geography of Park City as a beautiful melody. The mountains, the canyons, the four full seasons, the trees, the creek, the abundant wildlife. Beautiful, but without all of us to create the buildings and relationships, it’s just scenery. The complicated major and minor community parts are what make us such a memorable song.

I’m thinking now, after such a long dry spell, there could be a way to rhyme "wind power" and "cell tower" and "golden hour" and come up with a local anthem that could be something completely "hummable." I just might pursue that, but then again, if this turns out to be a nearly-unheard-of, mid-March, porch-sitting Sunday in the Park, I might just sit back and hum.


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