Poetry in Song: "Silver Thunderbird"

Poetry in Song: "Silver Thunderbird" September 25, 2012

Most of us know Marc Cohn as a one-hit wonder for his timeless classic “Walking in Memphis.” In fact, lots of people probably know only the song and not the name of the man behind it, so ubiquitous has it become while Cohn himself languishes in relative obscurity. The truth is, America never fully realized what a gem of a writer it had in Cohn. Those who took time to explore his work more thoroughly would discover that “Walking in Memphis” is just the tip of the iceberg.

One of my favorite lesser-known songs of his is “Silver Thunderbird.” Every time I listen to it, I’m struck by how clean and perfect the poetry is. He takes words you just don’t hear in songs that often, like “Batmobile” or “comb,” and effortlessly turns them into perfect rhymes. There’s not a single fudged or faked rhyme in the whole lyric. Trust me, I’ve listened around, and there are VERY few songs for which I’ve found that to be true.
But the poetry of the lyric isn’t just found in its clever, consistent rhyme scheme. Listen carefully and you’ll find it’s a poignantly understated reflection on the relationship between fathers and sons, and indeed, on life in general. Think about all the shades of meaning in lines like these:
Well you could hardly even see him in all of that chrome
The man with the plan and the pocket comb
But every night it carried him home…
Down the road in the rain and snow
The man and his machine would go…
Me I want to go down
In a Silver Thunderbird…
“It carried him home…,” “I want to go down…,” “rain and snow…” These phrases evoke a wealth of thoughts and associations that go far deeper than the words themselves.
Which, of course, is what good poetry is all about.

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