A lot of people have written sonnets, but nobody in the English language is more associated with the form than William Shakespeare.
In 1609 Thomas Thorpe issued a quarto edition containing Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. The first 126 sonnets are addressed to a young man, but the final subset of sonnets are mostly addressed to a “dark lady.” A fun fact that is not very well known is that not all of the sonnets are actually sonnets in the technical sense. The sonnet forms Shakespeare was using have 14 lines, but Sonnet 99 has 15 lines and Sonnet 126 has only 12 lines.
When Jeffrey Lewis noticed that the words “sonic” and “sonnet” have a certain acoustical similarity and went so far as to imagine a series of mini-zines called Sonnet Youth based on classic Sonic Youth albums, it followed naturally that he might write a Shakespearean sonnet for each track of the albums he chose to highlight. Lewis has been active as a comic book artist and musician since the late ‘90s and likes nothing more than to poke fun at his musical heroes in songs like “The History of The Fall” (which appeared on the comp Perverted by Mark E) and “Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror.” Since 2004 he has put out a self-published comic book called under the title Fuff.
As the website explains,
Each line is in iambic pentameter (the rhythm of “To BE or NOT to BE, that IS the QUEStion…”) and each poem is structured into the sonnet structure of three quatrains and a closing couplet. Naturally there’s also accompanying illustrations by Jeffrey.
Here’s Lewis’ sonnetic version of the song “Kill Yr Idols”:
It fills me up with anger and depression
There’s more to art than being on a list now
So why still try to make a good impression
On any music critic, even Christgau?
Leave behind all former tags and titles
Slay them with your brutal sonic force
As Nietzsche said, you have to kill your idols.
All uncertainty is intercourse
Keep skepticism strong and un-suspending
Perhaps that’s what the message of this tune is
The world you knew is coming to an ending
So kill it and embrace the crazy newness.
And kill me also, if I get too preachy.
Treat no one sacred—me, Christgau or Nietzsche.
It may not be great poetry but it is a damn sonnet and it does engage intelligently with Sonic Youth’s work.
All of the zines obviously come with a great many doodles drawn by Lewis—Shakespeare is prominent in the reworked album covers.
A version of this interior photo in the CD art of Daydream Nation