My essay ‘You can’t just say “words”: Literature and Nonsense in the Work of Robert Wyatt’ has been published in the collection Litpop: Writing and Popular Music, edited by Rachel Carroll and Adam Hansen (Ashgate, 2014).
Throughout his musical career, British musician Robert Wyatt has explored the interaction of words, language, sound and sense. His lyrical and musical delivery, by turns absurdist, infantile, angry and melancholic, deconstructs everyday phrases and invites listeners to question the borders of sense and nonsense. This chapter examines connections between Wyatt’s work and a range of literary voices, particularly those associated with nursery rhyme, nonsense verse and absurdism. A further aim is to explore the role of sense and nonsense in popular music. If one of the ways in which music differs from literature is through its ability to communicate without words, can there be a relationship between sense and nonsense in musical language that correlates with that found in literature? In what ways can musical language be said to make or not make sense? Exposure to Wyatt’s work emphasises the extent to which, as a musician, he has made use of words and vocables, even as he has occasionally distanced himself from the importance of lyrics in his music. By focussing on the literary-textual nature of Wyatt’s work, the text highlights the different demands and expectations placed on the ‘popular’ and the ‘literary’.
More information about the book can be found here.