Poetry News

Read the Sun Rising on Dana Ward's Year in Music

By Harriet Staff

Dana Ward gives us more than "A Year in Music" for Coldfront's Poets off Poetry feature! First dusts off any "pervasive gloom" hanging onto 2012, in that said gloom "resulted from the usual incitements—another malicious electoral charade, the daily abasements of resurgent bigotries, the swelling American gulag for the vulnerable, generalized petty meanness, vicious exploitations, privilege & blindness, endless war, failing health & breaking hearts of friends, dear things thwarted, the word ‘WORK’ strobing over a picture of the earth. Capital then, & as always." But for the music:

2012 was, as all years now are, a great year for pop songs on earth. I’ll gloss over a few of them here before moving on to some older songs that had special meaning for me these last months.

So, then,

Two summer suns: one of blockbuster fiat, the other induced through viral magic.

Niki’s “Starships” showed up feeling good about its chances. Ready to own the whole season.

Then, arm & arm with Justin Bieber “Call Me Maybe” sauntered out of Claire’s, left the mall, & like a bacillus in a sealed Cabriolet, infected the globe when JB dropped the top, & Carly Rae became our summer Lenin. (Are Cabriolet’s still a thing?)

For real though you don’t know badly I wanted to pull off that sentence above once it occurred to me to do so. & I did it. I feel happy about it you know?

But not nearly as happy as people felt about that Cary Rae song: exhilarating joy of those videos, that common exuberance, everyone singing it for everyone else, as if to suffuse the whole universe with that. No dour equivocation, no resistance, just transcendent liberty arrived at by way of frivolity’s disguise.

There’s so much to say about why it’s so great, like how awesomely dialectical it is that a syncopated song takes its subject to be the heart skipping a beat, the dazzled slightly incoherent lyrics, their nod to summer’s savory & sweet (“hot night/wind was blowing”), love at first sight all winsome anxious & courageous, the world-making light a new crush shines down on you, an actual sun above the beach. Literal then, when she sings, “it’s hard to look right/at you BAY-by.”

I’m listening to it now & I can feel all that again. I fell for it in April, by September we were (without acrimony) “over”, (or, “we needed a break”), but now, after a few months apart, the gooseflesh starts pimpling my arms & this smh smile takes over my face, expressing disbelief that such transport found art & resilience enough for its truth.

This is not to give short shrift to our other polestar, Niki Minaj’s “Starships.”

Awesome the way it consolidates, distills, becomes crystalline, its swag & transparency one. Through it you can see the beams of integrated marketing bouncing phone to phone, feel, in its gemstone, a great army massing, interstellar Escalades hovering above Ocean City, dropping bottles of Bud Light on the bathers.

Just like those leaflets that flurry before the bomb drops. Then boom, it fucking hits, as radioactive on a mid-day walk for me as it is for peak hour at Karma.

Some people seem bothered by this but I like Niki’s thing of being, on the one hand, one of the most ferocious MC’s out there, & on the other, a totally canny pop operator, suggesting some synthesis that’s always just over the horizon. It gives you something to look forward to.

“Fuck who you want & fuck who you like.” ”Fuck your boutique sensibilities” she means. “I’ve got everything you need right here!” She’s being generous I think, amplifying the songs grand designs on the summer. Why be coy? “It ain’t trickin’ if you got it.” Nothing’s missing from this song. Whatever’s not there at first blush will come out over time through refraction.

In summer the sunset is so deeply pink because Niki’s pulling the strings.

Or, sometimes they’re orange. They’re Frank Ocean.

That's just the summer. Ward goes on to cover Gotye, Pink, Neon Trees, Kanye, and Adele; and plans for Franklin Bruno--and then he gets mugged in San Francisco:

First, downtown Oakland. On Telegraph. Wow what a street! I’d never had the chance to walk there before. The mountains & the movie marquee. The little split river thing with Broadway. After breakfast feeling good. Sunglasses on. Going to take the 12th St. BART across the Bay to SFMOMA. Kevin’s invited me to see his play rehearsed. Julian’s going too & we’re to meet in San Francisco. A happy day.

On my way down the station stairwell I get mugged. What to say about a mugging? It’s entirely ordinary. Nothing special about the form of it that happened to me. Scary & a little traumatic? Of course. Did it suck? Hell yeah. Who wants to get robbed? But taking by force is the operating software of the world. Our situation is entirely clear.

Right. On my way down the BART stairwell. A voice from behind me—

“Hey man! Hey! They said you’re up here trying to start shit with people, up here harassing people, trying to start fights.”

I freeze in confusion, having spoken to no one all morning, say to him “What?! No man!” Feeling slightly stunned by this I stop.

In the moment I’ve paused he’s moved on down the stairs. He’s in front of me, blocking my way. Takes his forearm & pins me to the wall & the rail. Says, “What do you got?”

Not sure what I say exactly then. Tell him I’ve got money. Take out my wallet. Weirdly for me it’s full of cash. Sold some books in Portland, & the poets there thoughtfully raised some funds to help me with my trip. He takes that. I get the wallet back.

Then he says “Gimme your phone.”

Now I’m genuinely panicked. All the phone numbers, maps (I have a cripplingly poor sense of direction), notes to poems. I don’t care about ‘the phone’ as such but I feel terrified of losing what it holds.

I start pleading with extravagant weakness to retain my baby monolith the ghost world of which is so crowded, the living & the dead, the global city’s endless concourse & I’m begging for it, begging for my Foxconn Horcrux as if he had threatened to rip out my heart.

I’m convincing I guess. He lets me keep it.

“Don’t call the police,” he says. The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. I just want to get across the Bay, meet Julian, & go see Kevin’s play.

Then he says, strangely “Hey I heard you were sex-o, bro.”

Heart-racing, dumbfounded by this weird remark I’m like “What man?! No no. No man.”

I have no clue what the fuck this means. Sex-o?

Bliss out on the whole piece and watch the video-songs as mentioned over at Coldfront.

Originally Published: November 28th, 2012