Happy Mondays Reform: A Poetic Appreciation Of Shaun William Ryder

The Happy Mondays frontman may be chiefly known for the drugs and soundbites but his lyrics contained pure poetic genius on a par with the classics. Hallelujah for the Bard of Salford...
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The Happy Mondays frontman may be chiefly known for the drugs and soundbites but his lyrics contained pure poetic genius on a par with the classics. Hallelujah for the Bard of Salford...

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The late Tony Wilson once described the lyrics of Shaun Ryder as being “on a par with W.B Yeats.”  This is an intriguing proposition and one I would like to explore more fully. With this in mind, please consider the following extracts from the collected works of Shaun William Ryder, The Bard of Salford and this nations unofficial Poet Laureate.

If we’ve got to be told by someone then it won’t be you

You say that Jesus is a cunt and never helped you with a thing that you do

This opening salvo of intent from Ryder’s debut volume of work “Squirrel and G Man” daringly juxtaposes religious iconography with pithy foul mouthed belligerence, much in the style of Walt Whitman’s ground breaking 1855 collection “Leaves Of Grass”; although the grass referred to by the Grandfather of American Letters may be slightly less pungent than the kind favoured in Little Hulton. Still, this is an audaciously vivid opening salvo from the young wordsmith, and one that only hints at the literary treasures to come.

I’m a simple city boy with simple country tastes

Smoking wild grown marijuana keeps that smile on my face

Here Ryder effortlessly straddles the transition from the idyllic rural preoccupations of the Romantics such as Wordsworth and Keats to the more stark urban settings of TS Eliot and Ezra Pound. Note also the subtle allusion to Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Lotus Eaters”; the sensuous alliteration of soft consonants, lulling the listener into the same dreamy eyed state of lethargy enjoyed by the subjects of that groundbreaking work.

One day he was admiring his reflection

In his favorite mirror

When he realized all too clearly

What a freakin' old beasty man he was

Any keen student of the Fin De Siecle’s influence on modernist prose cannot fail to be moved by this poignant ode to ennui and self-disgust. Observe also the sly nod to Oscar Wilde’s “Picture Of Dorian Gray”. A masterful weaving of European and Anglican sensibilities in four succinctly evocative lines.

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

When Shaun William Ryder

Will lie down beside ya

Fill you full of junk.

As ever, the wily and elusive Ryder reveals nothing yet somehow suggests the universe.

This thought provoking stanza manages to blend both the self-referential post modernist influence and the devotional dream vision poetry as espoused by the epistolary poet St Paul of Tarsus. As the noted critic John Barth observed, “Without lapsing into moral or artistic simplism, shoddy craftsmanship, or either false or real naiveté, he nevertheless rises above the quarrel between realism and irrealism, formalism and "contentism," pure and committed literature, coterie fiction and junk fiction.” Words which Shaun Ryder will no doubt have chiseled on his tombstone.

Oh my father’s father’s father’s father

By nature he was bendy

We are the Tea Time Tribe

And we are over-friendly

Repetition is a powerful tool and not one to be bandied around carelessly by the less refined or ill-equipped poet. In the safe and capable hands of SWR, this pioneering use of mantra scores points for both emotional punch and intellectual prodding. Note also the subtle symbolism at play – who are the Tea Time Tribe and why are they over friendly? Could this be a veiled reference to the higher workings of the cosmos, the ancient gods interest in the affairs of man and their mischievous dabbling in the same? As ever, the wily and elusive Ryder reveals nothing yet somehow suggests the universe.

I don’t wanna be beaten to death by clowns

Big floppy shoes on my head

Slapping me around until I’m fucking dead

Where you think you’re going with that big red fucking nose?

Few poets alive or dead can draw on their most personal nightmare visions and imbue them with a sense of high comedy and lighthearted farce. In this offering from his seminal but often overlooked “Amateur Night In the Big Top”, Ryder dissects his deepest Freudian fears and lays them open to his public, disguising his vulnerable poets heart beneath a volley of circus themed obscenities. Genius, really.

So there you have it; the critical jury have returned their verdict and the overwhelming conclusion is that Shaun William Ryder is not just the voice of a generation, but also it’s beating poetic heart and sensitive soul. WB Yeats? Who the fuck was he?

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