Sunday, June 3, 2012

Canned Heat -- "Time Was" (1969)

Time was when we could agree
That time is gone
Now you find fault with me

I was taught in school that the Japanese poems known as haiku were three lines long, and totalled 17 syllables.  (The first line had five syllables, the second had seven, and the last line had five.)

The Japanese would not agree.  Japanese haiku consist of 17 on -- but one on does not necessarily equate to one syllable.  (Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagasaki all contain four on, but have two, three, and four syllables, respectively.) 

There are quite a few English-speaking poets who have written haikuHaiku written in English do not always contain five-seven-five lines or a total of 17 syllables -- in fact, the length of most of the haiku that are currently being published in English is 10 to 14 syllables.

I was riding my bike at the Cape Cod National Seashore recently when this song came up on my sentient iPod.  For some reason -- perhaps the combination of my location and activity put me in a Zen-like frame of mind -- it hit me that the three verses of this Canned Heat song were really three related haiku

The first verse has 15 syllables (if you don't count the second line, which simply repeats the first line), the second one -- which is the one quoted above -- has 17, and the third one has 16.

The third verse may be the one that comes the closest to having the "feel" of a traditional haiku:

Trouble will not wreck my life
Someday you'll like
What I'm putting down

"Time Was" combines the Japanese poetic form of haiku with good ol' American 12-bar blues, which usually feature three-line verses (the first two lines are usually repeated).  East may be east, and west may be west, but sometimes the twain do meet.

"Time Was" uses words in an extremely economical fashion -- excluding the repeated initial line in each verse, the song has 41 words and only 48 syllables.

Alan Wilson, Bob Hite
Canned Heat was formed by blues aficionados Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson (Wilson was extremely nearsighted) and Bob "The Bear" Hite (who was big and hirsute) in 1965.  The group appeared at the two biggest outdoor music festivals of that era, the Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock.

I bought several Canned Heat albums.  I think one reason classic blues music appealed to me was that its structure was quite transparent and predictable -- it was easy to anticipate where a song was going, and the musical structurer was simple enough that I could re-create blues songs myself.  The blues genre was also viewed as more serious and intellectually respectable than top-40 pop, Motown, psychedelic rock, and certain other styles of popular music.

I bought the Hallelujah album shortly after it was released in 1969.  One of my favorite songs on it was "Sic 'Em Pigs," a very snarky anti-police diatribe.  (I was very young back then, and my judgment left a lot to be desired.)

"Sic 'Em Pigs," which featured a lot of fake pig grunts, snorts, and squeals, ended with a pseudo-public service announcement that was spoken, not sung:

Are you looking for a way to serve God and country?  Your chance has come.  We are now recruiting trainees for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.   If you are big, strong and stupid, we want you!  

Alan Wilson died of a drug overdose (some believe he committed suicide) in 1970, when he was 27.  Bob Hite was found dead in his van after having a heart attack in 1981.  He was 38. 

Here's "Time Was":

Here's a link to use to order the song from Amazon:

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