Sea Wolf’s “Frank O’Hara,” a Tribute to the Poet of Indie Rock

 

Indie rock’s love affair with Frank O’Hara continues apace.  As I’ve noted before on this blog, O’Hara seems

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! … Jeff Tweedy (of Uncle Tupelo and Wilco fame) cited O’Hara as one of his favorites, too.

Now the indie band Sea Wolf is keeping this welcome tradition alive with their new song titled “Frank O’Hara.”

 

The gentle, wistful song imagines an encounter between the singer and the great New York poet on a subway platform, not unlike Allen Ginsberg strolling the aisles of “A Supermarket in California” with the ghost of Walt Whitman at his side:  “Frank O’Hara / Standing in the subway / Imagined you beside me.”

Just as Ginsberg does with Whitman and Lorca, this song explores the speaker’s deep queer kinship with O’Hara: “I was always with you / Though we’re not the same / I know what it was to / Grow up with the shame.”

Indeed, Alex Brown Church, the singer and songwriter behind Sea Wolf, has explained that the song “reflects on the day same-sex marriage was federally legalized in the United States.”  Church’s song poignantly wishes O’Hara himself could’ve been around to witness how the world changed on June 26, 2015:

Love won that day
Lifted all of us up
What would you have written?
Would words have even been enough?

… Frank O’Hara
Wish you could’ve been there
You and me and mother
And all your former lovers

There is something undeniably moving about a musician in 2020 writing a such a lovely song paying tribute to Frank O’Hara as a gay forbear — as a “lonely old courage-teacher” (to borrow Ginsberg’s phrase for Whitman) — and imagining how O’Hara might’ve responded to the new world ushered in by the decision to legalize same-sex marriage: a world that has changed, changed utterly, in which one can look around and finally say, as the song’s chorus does, “so this is love / this is love.”

Here are the song’s lyrics in full:

Frank O’Hara
Standing in the subway
Imagined you beside me
As if you could hide me
Love won that day
Lifted all of us up
What would you have written?
Would words have even been enough?

Drove through deserts
Garbage in the meadows
Saw ourselves in windows
Hidden in the shadows
No one really knew us
Not the way we wanted
So we had to listen
To the voices haunting us

So this is love
This is love
So this is love
This is love

Frank O’Hara
Wish you could’ve been there
You and me and mother
And all your former lovers
I was always with you
Though we’re not the same
I know what it was to
Grow up with the shame

So this is love
This is love
So this is love
This is love
So this is love
This is love
So this is love
This is love

Frank O’Hara
Standing in the subway
What would you have written?
Would words have even been enough?

This entry was posted in Allen Ginsberg, Federico Garcia Lorca, Frank O'Hara, Music, NY School Influence, Walt Whitman. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s