Who is Lesbian Poetry? He is one person and a generation. His heart beats for an entire state. He is soft-spoken when conversing, but has a lot to say in his songs.
Elliot Burke is one of the most creative lyricists in the central Iowa scene. He brings wit and humor into all of his original songs; his voice is instantly recognizable. Burke doesn’t care about belting out every note. Instead, he draws his musical power from lines like “I don’t give a damn about my freshman fifteen/I’ve fucked up so many times but, Lord, you’re so forgiving” — lines that are authentic, bursting with the letdowns of youth, and familiar to listeners.
Recorded in Gunpowder Fatty frontman Luke Belknap’s Des Moines home on “a tape recorder [Burke] found at Radio Shack,” the Lesbian Poetry live album’s raw, lo-fi quality makes Burke even more fun to listen to. The live album includes reincarnations of Burke’s previously recorded original songs, like “I’d Rather Be With You” and “Wine and Cheese,” along with covers of the Poison Control Center’s “O.C.” and Elvis Presley’s “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You.”
There’s a lot I could say about each of these tracks, but I’m going to focus on my three favorite tunes off the album: “Autumn Prayer,” “You Want To Fuck Her Again,” and “I’d Rather Be With You.”
“Autumn Prayer” is a reflection of many of the emotions running through the minds of members of Burke’s generation: uncertainty and anxiety, combined with a bizarre juxtaposition of regret and a “screw it” (to put it mildly) attitude. “High school was fun — now what?” is not an unfamiliar question to recent graduates like Burke and myself. The live recording and Burke’s piano accompaniment in this version of the song, in my opinion, allow the song’s symbolism and message to shine through even better.
The album’s third track, “You Want to Fuck Her Again” is one of those ditties that makes you laugh and almost brings you to tears because it reminds you of your own youthful disappointments. It’s undeniably catchy, but almost painful to listen to; you can almost see the whole pathetic situation playing out before you (“Now you don’t know how you should play it/You can’t just come right out and say it/She is still just your friend/But you want to fuck her again.”)
“I’d Rather Be With You” is one of my favorite half-assed love songs. It’s a classic profession of teenage male arrogance — both, as a female, upsetting to listen to but also lots of fun. The up-tempo guitar accompaniment and the backup vocalists who helped Burke record in the Belknap living room bring the juvenile tomfoolery of the song’s protagonist to life.
Lesbian Poetry’s new live album feels like a conversation with the songwriter, and the impromptu backup vocals and instrumentation endow Burke’s music with a carefree attitude that is entirely fitting to his incredibly relatable lyrics. If you’re well past that “recent high school graduate” age, Burke will help you remember some of those moments that you’d probably rather forget. But as you wince and groan at your teenage self, keep in mind those stupid decisions and superficial emotions shaped you into the adult you are (hopefully) proud to have become.
Burke is the poet of my generation of Iowans, and I can’t wait to hear what he writes next.