The Argotist Online
Christensen has honed her chameleon craft. In hundreds of shows, she has sung
Joan of Arc to Leonard Cohen's flame. She's also sung with Steve Wynn, John Doe,
Exene Cervenka, Lou Reed and Van Dyke Parks. With Chris D., she headed up the
post-punk rock band Divine Horsemen. Others utilizing Julie's kaleidoscope
talents have been as far-flung as Iggy Pop, PiL, Robben Ford, and k.d. lang. Her
two acclaimed independent Stone Cupid albums are a soulful hybrid of jazz and
Do you think of your lyrics as poetry?
Poetry is very different from song. In a song, the lyrics are married to a
melody. They don't always look poetic when written down. I've taken some of my
poems and made them into songs, but they take wrangling to work as a song, and
Do you think it is important that songs rhyme and if so why?
Oh, I read a Jimmy Webb book about songwriting and he said things should rhyme
exactly, not "almost", and yet his own best songs contradict that.
Rhymes that aren't exact—like ones that carry the same vowel sounds with
different consonants—are all over pop music, and some of those ideas are more
astonishing than those which are cleverly exact.
Do you think song lyrics must conform to recognised song structures such as
clear rhyming schemes, choruses, refrains, hooks and bridges or that songs can
also be like free verse?
As a singer, I like some structure. It actually frees the song to be singable
and memorable. Even Jeff Tweedy with Wilco and other modernist bards know how to
be catchy, and we all benefit from that. Leonard Cohen's songs are very solid in
their architecture. Joni Mitchell will ramble, but she adheres to the form for
which the song calls.
When you read poetry in school or elsewhere did you recognize any connection to
the music you enjoyed?
My favorite poetry has not usually been the rhyming kind; I've seen French and
Spanish verse that I loved being translated into English, and in order to make
that happen, there has to be an openness to magical accidents of interpretation.
Good poetry feels intimate and personal, and probably has many layers of meaning
that strikes each individual in a different way. Those magical accidents and
layers of meaning are what I like about music, too.
Was there anything about poetry in books that influenced your song writing?
I think that the rhythm of words themselves—not just a groove with words laid
on top—is fascinating.
I like things like inside rhymes and alliteration and the pulse of consciousness
Why do you think songs are more popular with people than poetry is?
There is nothing like the human voice when it's aimed in song. "Spoken
Word" is popular, and Rap, but you may notice that the most successful of
those poets and performers practically "sing" their words into our
ears. I think that, classically, poetry was popular because it was carried on
the page, to be read or recited aloud. But once you had mass audio
communication, the song eclipsed that. There have always been songs.
copyright © Julie Christensen