In the liner notes of Nevermind there's a poem that Kurt Cobain arranged from lyrical fragments off the album and the cutting room floor (as it were). Since reading those liner notes several years ago, I've occasionally made lyrical bricolages (Collages? Assemblages? The taxonomy of patchwork art objects has never clarified itself to me) of my own; the occasions are almost always onsets of that distress which wants to see expressions of itself but hobbles all efforts at making them. I couldn't find one worth putting on here, so I tried arranging a new one, free of that distress.
I've noticed that I follow certain rules (though, so many of them aren't absolute that "guidelines" might be a better label) when it comes to lifting fragments: some strings of words in a song are off-limits, and some are preferable to others.
- Whole lines are ideal, but near-whole-lines rank only slightly behind.
- Fragments can't be discontinuous—lifting "And she's buying Heaven" from the lyrics of "Stairway to Heaven", for example, is prohibited.
- Single words are a no-no.
- Pairs, trios, and quartets of words can be used with a good reason, such as their being distinctive of a song (e.g "Hellish go-round", "Burning down the house").
- Having each fragment hail from a different song by a different artist of a different genre is ideal, but hard to achieve.
- I need a really good excuse to use more than three fragments from the same song.
- Lifting from two songs by the same artist makes me uncomfortable, but I rarely prohibit myself from doing it; three or more is pushing it, though.
- There are similar rules for genre, but more lax.
There are rules on placing fragments, too.
- If I placed a fragment such that I couldn't lift it back out by following the rules above, then I'm not allowed to place it like that. (This is the fundamental rule of fragment placement, if there is one.)
- An example of this would be placing the fragment "She is watching the detectives" within "Hustle bones comin' out my mouth" such that you get "Hustle bones she is watching the detectives comin' out my mouth".
- If I do use two or more fragments from the same song or artist, they shouldn't immediately follow one another. (Imagine how solutes are arranged in solution.)
- Fragments may be line broken, even if they weren't lifted that way, but this is discouraged.
These rules presume
that all lifted fragments are placed. There are more rules—for both lifting and placing—I can feel their pressure—but they're too hard to
describe here, now, and I don't want to rope myself into trying (and
failing) to be exhaustive.
I don't know where these rules came from; I know Kurt's Nevermind poem doesn't follow them. I know that I follow similar rules when I make collages (or whatever the proper term is) in/of other text forms and other media. My guess is that these rules are what I—unconsciously or otherwise—think will put the most distance between my product and its source, will disperse the stink of appropriation as thinly as possible. "If your art has to be a hodgepodge of others'," these rules say, "here's how to disguise that."
There's nothing disturbed, all the windows are closed1
House is dark and everybody's happy2
(At first they resisted, but then they began to sway)3
In darkness, you make out a spiraling shape4
That gaping hole was once a foundation3
(Something hidden there underneath the land)6
Is there such a place?7
You'd never have believed it3
1"Day of the Lords" by Joy Division
2"Time for Light" by Screaming Trees
3"Palm of Your Hand" by Cake
4"Sprialing Shape" by They Might Be Giants
5"Laredo Tornado" by Electric Light Orchestra
6"Metal Detector" by They Might Be Giants
7"The Only Way (Hymn)" by Emerson, Lake and Palmer