White Hot

 

You may recognize Tom Cochrane for his hits “Lunatic Fringe” and “Life is a Highway.” But “White Hot” is my favorite Cochrane song, and this version, featuring Cochrane’s band Red Rider and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, is electrifying. The song is a tribute to French poet Arthur Rimbaud, who abandoned a promising literary career for a life of reckless adventure. Cochrane’s lyrics evoke the thrills and terrors Rimbaud experienced:

Cast out from the jungle
With no rations or canteen
For selling faulty rifles
To the thieves in Tanzania

Adventures and misfortune
Nothing wagered, nothing gained
I have wandered through the desert
Found the ocean not the rain

Rimbaud influenced a number of important writers, including Ezra Pound and Henry Miller. Miller acknowledged his debt to Rimbaud in The Time of the Assassins, which Cochrane read and admired.

Assassins

Here’s the passage that inspired Cochrane to write the song:

Rimbaud turned from literature to life; I did the reverse. Rimbaud fled from the chimeras he had created; I embraced them. Sobered by the folly and waste of mere experience of life, I halted and converted my energies to creation.  …

Rimbaud restored literature to life; I have endeavored to restore life to literature. … With him I have felt an underlying primitive nature which manifests itself in strange ways. Claudel styled Rimbaud “a mystic in the wild state.” Nothing could describe him better. He did not “belong” – not anywhere. I have always had the same feeling about myself. [emphasis mine]

I think Cochrane’s lyrics and melody perfectly capture Miller’s mood and message. The song’s distant, mystical opening lures the listener close, then sweeps him up with a driving melody that arouses stark awareness of the dangers and adventures Rimbaud chased all over the globe. Ezra Pound believed we can recognize worthy poetry by “the play of image, music, and meaning” within it, and “White Hot” definitely qualifies.

That’s great songwriting. No wonder Tom Cochrane’s career has endured over the decades.

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