Longtime readers of this blog probably know I’m always on the lookout for moments when Frank O’Hara or other poets of the New York School pop up in the world of music. O’Hara, especially, continues to haunt the history and present of popular music, leading one observer to ask: “When did Frank O’Hara become the poet of indie rock?” O’Hara inspired the stage name of Frankie Cosmos, and songs by Rilo Kiley and Sonic Youth‘s Thurston Moore — Lou Reed even recited his work to Patti Smith while reclining in a bathtub! Just the other day, Jeff Tweedy (of Uncle Tupelo and Wilco fame) cited O’Hara as one of his favorites, too.
An article in Rolling Stone this week on the British indie band Martha — which it calls “one of the most singular voices in indie punk” — mentioned the band’s “far-flung pop culture mentions (the Replacements, poet Frank O’Hara, the Disney classic Sleeping Beauty).” This caught my eye — not least because I didn’t realize O’Hara counts as a “pop culture mention”! — and led me to Martha’s song “1967, I Miss You, I’m Lonely,” which was released in 2014.
After opening with a Belle and Sebastian nod, the song is chock-full of O’Hara references:
I spent a dirty weekend practicing my French
Rosy cheeked I saw my limitations there in evidence
When I invited Frank and you, back to mine for a mange tout
When I meant ménage à trois
You laughed so hard you cracked your chin against the bar
The song also nods to an O’Hara fan favorite, the closing of his poem “Steps” (“oh god it’s wonderful / to get out of bed / and drink too much coffee / and smoke too many cigarettes / and love you so much”):
Oh God how wonderful it is
Crossing bridges in the mist
And then pulls out the big guns — a direct riff on O’Hara’s beloved “Having a Coke With You” (“I look / at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world /
except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick / which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together for the first time”) — but instead of making an exception for Rembrandt’s Polish Rider, Martha makes one for a portrait of O’Hara himself by his dear friend Grace Hartigan.
I look at you
And I am confident that I’d rather look at you
Than all the portraits in existence in the world
Except possibly O’Hara by Grace Hartigan
Or something else
I’m not a connoisseur
I’m monolingual, and absurd
And I know this statement might sound phoney
But I miss you
And I’m lonely
I miss you
Distance stretches on and on and on
It may be at the Smithsonian rather than the Frick, but here’s a portrait of O’Hara by Grace Hartigan. Maybe the members of Martha can take someone they love to the museum who hasn’t been yet, so they can go there together for the first time…
You definitely don’t see the painter Grace Hartigan name-checked in too many (or any?) indie punk songs, even if O’Hara continues to crop up with pleasing regularity in the some of the most interesting music of our time.