On Tuesday, Lana Del Rey released her highly anticipated audiobook of poetry, Violent Bent Backwards Over the Grass. The audiobook is part album, part spoken word, part love letter to California, part life story, but all around entirely aurally grueling for those of us, like myself, who wear hearing aids or any other sort of device to make listening easier. (There is an underlying sound that plays throughout the audiobook that hits my hearing aid like nails on a chalkboard)
But art is suffering, and so I rejiggered my hearing aid several times in an attempt to truly understand Del Rey’s soul as she bore it through poetry.
But beyond any auditory challenges from the audiobook’s conceit, the poetry Del Rey employs in the project reads like an amalgamation of memes and slogans. The first four chapters seem to be about Del Rey’s love-hate relationship with areas of Los Angeles. As a lifelong east coaster, I’m certain there was some nuance that went over my head such as these powerful opening lines:
I left my city for San Francisco
Took a free ride off a billionaire’s jet
L.A., I’m from nowhere, who am I to love you?
L.A., I’ve got nothing, who am I to love you when I’m feeling this way and I’ve got nothing to offer?
L.A., not quite the city that never sleeps
Not quite the city that wakes, but the city that dreams, for sure
If by dreams you mean in nightmares
L.A., I’m a dreamer, but I’m from nowhere, who am I to dream?
L.A., I’m upset, I have complaints, listen to me
They say I came from money and I didn’t, and I didn’t even have love, and it’s unfair
L.A, I sold my life rights for a big check and I’m upset
Del Rey’s voice is clear and concise as she perfectly enunciates every word, but at the same time is incredibly childlike in portions—particularly in Chapter 1, where she repeats the phrase, “L.A., I’m lonely can I come home now?” When Del Rey isn’t taking on the tone of a small child, she sounds vaguely like an untrained phone sex operator. This is most obvious when she adds extra petulance in her voice to deliver the lines:
Also, neither one of us can go back to New York
For you, are unmoving
As for me, it won’t be my city again until I’m dead
Fuck the New York Post
Listeners can truly feel Del Rey’s disdain for the East Coast media elite.
As I mentioned, every single one of Del Rey’s poems is scored by a low-pitched sound in the background that is reminiscent of a white noise machine. On top of the white noise is the occasional piano; on top of that is Del Rey’s voice. It is a hodgepodge of sounds that feel designed to put a baby to sleep.
everything’s burnt here
there’s no escaping it
the air is fried and on fire
I’ve never really fallen in love
but whatever this feeling is
i wish everyone could experience it
this place feels like a person
like someone i’ve stood next to before
but never while i was standing next to you
for being here
for bearing witness to my vastness
Del Rey also has little to no variation in her intonation, another strange choice for spoken-word poetry, where storytelling is partially reliant on intonation and emphasis. When Del Rey wants to emphasize something, she simply speaks faster, which is difficult to parse over the background noise on the track if you’re hard of hearing, which I am.
The track that broke me was Chapter 5, which is almost entirely inaudible.
I don’t want to sell my stories anymore, stop pushing me
Some stories aren’t meant to be sold
Some words aren’t meant to be told
There is a shift in the audio that sounds as if Del Rey went from a studio microphone to speaking into a can with an outdated cell phone mic attached to the other end. It’s also in this chapter that Del Rey brings out some of her more pensive material.
I want to leave them underneath the nightstand to be forgotten
or remembered should my thoughts come upon them in the middle of the night after a long beach day
Or by you, some afternoon, to thumb through with your worn warm after-work hands
I love you, but you don’t understand me, I’m a real poet!
My life is my poetry, my love making is my legacy!
My thoughts are about nothing, and beautiful, and for free
That last part is somewhat true, as I was able to listen to this poorly constructed stream of consciousness for free by signing up for a trial of Audible.
Del Rey’s most offensive track to the hearing-challenged is Chapter 14.
The secrets you keep will keep you in deep like Amy and -
And all of the people you meet on the street will reiterate lies
that they uttered
Leave me in peace, I cry
In the middle of the night
On a slow boat bound for Catalina for no reason
The track has multiple voices in the background playing on a loop as Del Rey speaks over them sharing her love and interest in travel.
I’ve moved on, gone scorched earth
And now I’m left wondering where to go from here
To Sonoma where the fires have just left?
Would standing in front of Mount Rushmore feel like the Great
American homecoming I never had?
I’ve never been to Mount Rushmore, but if Del Rey is looking for a road trip buddy, all she needed to do was ask. For those who don’t have a full 30 minutes to devote to the emotional adventure that is trying to hear and understand Lana Del Rey, she does us the favor of summing up the entire audiobook in a closing couplet.
People love mysteries
People love visions
May you all enjoy delving into the vast mystery that is Lana Del Rey’s artistic psyche.