The Critical Mass

Allen Ginsberg: "Papa-ooma-mow-mow."

Allen Ginsberg: “Papa-ooma-mow-mow.”

What is a song, anyway?

I’m a word guy. I love song lyrics. Greatest songs of all time? Billie Holiday singing “Strange Fruit.” Frank Sinatra singing “My Way.” Dusty Springfield singing “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.” John Lennon’s “Imagine.” The Beatles’ “Let it Be.” Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.” Hank Williams’ “Cold, Cold Heart.” Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb.” Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Patti Smith’s “Gloria,” her “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine” has to be the greatest, most-defiant opening line ever. Huge chunks of Van Morrison’s album Astral Weeks. A lot of Dylan, the lines he delivers with a sneer give me a chill. Thousands to choose from. To be comprehensive would be to be ridiculous.

And this. Read the whole thing. Out loud, even. It’s not the message in the words, they’re meaningless. It’s the evocative construction, the weirdness of the moment of creation. Letters that form words that are purely rhythm and abstraction and reckless iconoclasm. Imagine Allen Ginsberg walking to the stage in a small coffeehouse in San Francisco, circa 1955, pulling from inside his tattered jacket pocket a few sheets of paper, smudged with pencil lead and eraser marks, carefully unfolding them, as though he were handling the Magna Carta, and rather than giving us “Howl,” slowly reading this. The Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird.”

Bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, the bird is the word
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, well, the bird is the word
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, well, the bird is the word
A-well-a, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, well, the bird is the word
A-well-a, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word
A-well-a, don’t you know about the bird
Well, everybody knows that the bird is the word
A-well-a, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word
A-well-a

A-well-a, everybody’s heard about the bird
Bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word
A-well-a, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word
A-well-a, don’t you know about the bird
Well, everybody’s talking about the bird
A-well-a, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word
A-well-a, bird

Surfin’ bird
Bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb, aaah

Pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa
Pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-ooma-mow-mow
Papa-ooma-mow-mow

Papa-ooma-mow-mow, papa-ooma-mow-mow
Papa-ooma-mow-mow, papa-ooma-mow-mow
Ooma-mow-mow, papa-ooma-mow-mow
Papa-ooma-mow-mow, papa-ooma-mow-mow
Papa-ooma-mow-mow, papa-ooma-mow-mow
Oom-oom-oom-oom-ooma-mow-mow
Papa-ooma-mow-mow, papa-oom-oom-oom
Oom-ooma-mow-mow, papa-ooma-mow-mow
Ooma-mow-mow, papa-ooma-mow-mow
Papa-a-mow-mow, papa-ooma-mow-mow
Papa-ooma-mow-mow, ooma-mow-mow
Papa-ooma-mow-mow, ooma-mow-mow
Papa-oom-oom-oom-oom-ooma-mow-mow
Oom-oom-oom-oom-ooma-mow-mow
Ooma-mow-mow, papa-ooma-mow-mow
Papa-ooma-mow-mow, ooma-mow-mow
Well, don’t you know about the bird
Well, everybody knows that the bird is the word
A-well-a, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word

Papa-ooma-mow-mow, papa-ooma-mow-mow
Papa-ooma-mow-mow, papa-ooma-mow-mow
Papa-ooma-mow-mow, papa-ooma-mow-mow…