I often reach a massive wall of incommunicability when I try to explain that I consider music to be more important to a good song than lyrics. I mean a perfect song is a perfect combination of both great music and great lyrics allright. But I can much more than reasonably enjoy a song based on great music and poor lyrics. « But don't you think lyrics are important as well ? » Well, yes of course. But in fact no. Poetry is a great, but different (though somewhat related) form of art.
I began to think about it after I first had to pick up my favorite Beatle. I do not think one can escape this kind of question sometime in one's life : « What is your favorite song ? » « What is your motto ? » « What is your favorite colour ? » I tend to think the only interesting answers are those where you try to explain that there is none really. But the fact is that my favorite ex-Beatle is also the musician that made me discover my passion for music. I love you Paul. And the fact that people laugh (arguably rightly so) at your lyrics is hardly relevant to me. And yes, I love Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, even though it might be the worst song ever.
All these thoughts (about me, I am not trying to convince anyone that feeling otherwise is wrong) were confirmed last friday, when I had this quite mystical experience (shared by many others around me). With just a microphone, only using his body, and without a single word for more than an hour, I saw Bobby McFerrin incarnate the very essence of music.
Everybody has to know Bobby McFerrin. He is the guy who sang Don't Worry, Be Happy. That is a great song, with great lyrics indeed. He released several albums at that time, with songs (mainly covers) recorded on the same pattern, which is overdubs of his own voice. Each one of these songs were great, but I have to admit that it was a real pain to go through an entire album at once : I always got bored at some time, never really knowing why. And then, in 1997 came Circlesongs. What a revelation ! Check it out : it is a set of really addictive songs. That is the first of his albums that I have been able to listen to, straight from the first to the last track. And as for the lyrics, there are none. And yes, these are actual songs.
When I learned that he was touring again, I knew I could not miss him when he came to Paris. And there I was, not knowing exactly what to expect apart from a great vocal performance, when the lights at last faded out and he appeared on the stage. Before sitting on one of the two chairs and picking up his microphone, he responded to the audience cheering with a silent namaste like salute. Two songs after that, not a single word had been uttered yet, not even a lyric. But this was too late for that already : everything was understood, nothing had to be said. The magic was there, we were all in a trip in another dimension.
At once (I almost completeley lost track of time, so it is hard to give a more precise temporal description), the audience applause was cut short when we heard him talk in his microphone. When we realized it was only gibberish, there was more applause, only more frantic. Then, apparently needing more instruments than his own body to express himself, he used us. Still without a word, let alone a warning or a rehearse, he made us sing patterns and sang above us. It was like there was no stage any more, or no audience for that matter : we were all in the show together. We were the show. A true communion.
There were two sets (the show lasted for about 2 hours). In the second set, there were two guests (one of them his son), who remained as silent as the guru. It was only in the middle of a song in the second set that we heard our first real proper sentence :
Hey, this is fun !
More words followed in the following minutes (no lyrics though), but we were already hooked. The experience was slowly but surely coming to an end, and we would not let him disappear just like that, in a snap. We were high, but sowewhat conscious that hitting the ground again would be hard. So we called him back when he went off the stage. We shouted him back actually. He performed another song with his son, and went off again. Shouts. Claps. The lights went on. Some people started leaving. More noise. He came back, this time alone. He then came across the audience and started improvising duets with people randomly picked up. Amazing ! We on balconies had to stand up to have a glimpse of what was going on. When he got on the stage again to wave us goodbye, I think he realized there was so much noise that he could not leave again yet. Some more people started leaving. Even more shouts. Even more claps. So he improvised something again : he invited 12 people on the stage with him. When he managed to have only perhaps 30 people, he set up a choir. And then... Well, see by yourself :
This was fun, indeed. And without lyrics.