Monday, October 4, 2010

Every Story Can Sing A Picture

I am forever fascinated by how people use the most basic parts of grammar to create something unique and pleasing to the eye. Whether it's a poem that touches a particular emotion or a story that transports you back to a time and place where adventure was the king and the mundane not allowed, or even something like a blog post that gives you that Ah-Ha! moment, they all leave the reader in a state of being that they forever long to stay in.

But what about those individuals that can take the most basic parts of grammar and add a little something called "the music scale" to the equation? Should we also consider them writers as well? Or just because they dabble mostly with whole/half/quarter/eighth/sixteenth notes, we consider them musicians first and writers never?

Ever since I got hooked into writing, or at the very least started to serious up about it some two years ago, I've looked at what I listen to for music in a completely different light. While I'll still listen to a particular song/c.d./album based on my personal criteria (good to excellent vocals and certain kinds of instrumental work), I've now added dissecting lyrics to the mix.

What I mean by "dissecting lyrics" is that instead of closely listening to them based on trying to figure out what the hell they're saying, I now try to see what kind of story (or stories) they're trying to tell.

If this sounds a little confusing, then perhaps these few examples may help clear things up.

1} California Blue/She's A Mystery To Me/The Comedians by Roy Orbison. This particular grouping can be found on his fantastic comeback c.d "Mystery Girl" (1989). What resonated with me with this particular trio of songs was that they were in essence one long story arc about love: as in love wanted, love found and love lost. "California Blue" told the story of a man who was out on the road, missing his true love and trying to get back home to her. "She's A Mystery To Me" continues the story, where we see the man has gotten home to his true love and has once again taken secure hold of his lifeline. "The Comedians" finishes the story of the man, who has taken his true love to the carnival and winds up being cruelly dumped by his true love for another.

2} Falling In And Out Of Love/Amie by Pure Prairie League. This has always been a pet peeve of mine with commercial radio, because they often play the second song without playing the first. Anyways, this coupling of songs comes from what I consider to be one of their finest albums called "Bustin' Out" (1972). "Falling In And Out Of Love" tells perhaps the story of the trials and tribulations of a long term relationship. "Amie" tells the story of taking another's love for granted and finding out the hard way of what the price can be for doing that.

3}Crashing Down/Long Way Around by Eagle-Eye Cherry. This one I'm not quite sure of as to what the stories might be of these songs. I originally found "Living In The Present Future" (2000) in the discount rack at FYE and since it was only a few dollars, I took a chance on it, and it does not disappoint. I thought I might have figured out what they were about, but in the end, they're two very fine songs, of which the second features vocals by his half-sister Nenah Cherry.

4}American Standard by Seven Mary Three. In my opinion, this entire c.d. tells one very dark depressing story from beginning to end. I've written about this particular c.d. here, but the first two tracks still stick out in my memory some fifteen years later as the creepiest songs I've ever listened to. "Cumbersome" works on a theme of the apocalypse (in my opinion) which was a continuation of a similiar depressing theme of the song "The Water's Edge".

So how 'bout you? Do you still listen to music in much the same way, or since you began writing and/or blogging, has the way you listen to music radically changed like mine?


  1. Lana often quotes various song lyrics to me. I almost never get the references. I actually hardly ever listen to the lyrics of a song. I have quite a few CDs where the words are sung in German, Spanish, Japanese or other languages that I don't know. Doesn't detract from my enjoyment of the music at all.

  2. Music has always been it's own language to me. I can't imagine my life without it.

  3. Tough question. Music has always moved me, starting back in the day with those 70s' concerts. And still, I appreciate it the most live. I don't think it's so much the lyrics, as the entire process of creating the unique rock music form of art ... the music, the lyrics, atmosphere, attitude, message in it all. I think that my interpretation and appreciation of it has changed and matured over the years, so that I enjoy it even more now, rather than leaving that music part of my life behind.

  4. I've always been a lyric listener. Some musicians write incredibly well.

  5. I confess that I don't often take the time to listen to lyrics - so often music ends up being the background music.

    A long time ago, I was in a building that housed a radio station and I was on the elevator with the band Pure Prairie League. They couldn't have been nicer to an awestruck teenager and I've always love that song you mention.

  6. The Comedians written by (I believe) Elvis Costello is such a great song. And that whole album is extraordinary.

  7. I've been writing since I could pick up a pen, so I've been dissecting lyrics since then, too. That's always the most interesting part for me. Love Roy Orbison, too.

  8. Charles: I think that enjoyment is the key. There are quite a few sub-genres of metal that I like listening to, and trying to decipher the lyrics is sort of like trying to understand a foreign languare.

    Talon: So very true. For me, I never really got into it until I started listening to college radio in the early 90's, then it became so much an integral part of my life that even now, I will listen to foreign language music just so that I can feed the need.

    Joanne: Interesting take. I never was much a fan of live music (more due to economics than anything else), but I do agree that sometimes the process can be an art form within itself.

    ExtraO: Absolutely. It took me quite awhile though to really appreciate the effort that goes into writing lyrics, which I think had more to do expanding my horizons beyond just listing to rock and drifting into other genres to experiment with and enjoy.

    Lynn: Sometimes it's tough to pay attention to the music beyond the rhythm and melody, simply because it often does become our white noise during our 9 to 5 world.

    I love the song "Amie" as well, but when you constantly hear it on the radio, you have a tendency to really loathe it.

    David: I think what nudged me to purchase that cassette/c.d. (got both, along with a few 45's cut from it) was when he was part of that supergroup "The Traveling Wilburys". My personal favorite is "California Blue", with that opening fadeaway chord is the best intro to a song that I've heard in quite some time.

    "She's a Mystery Girl" was also a featured song at my wedding too. :D

  9. R: Sorry about the delay in answering, Blogger was going kablooie when I was trying to access it.

    Anywho, I can greatly appreciate anyone who can not only write decent lyrics but turn them into the ultimate micro flash fiction, because I tried writing a couple of songs myself about 15 years ago or so.

    I did the lyrics and a former friend did the music.

    Came out pretty bad if I recollect.

    Still, if you can write micro flash, you can probably write lyrics.

    I think that this was one of Roy's best albums that he ever made.

  10. I was a musician and songwriter long before I was blogger, so I've always been attuned to lyrics.

  11. Mama Z: I used to play the clarinet from about elementary thru high school, so that gave me a greater appreciation of the melody/rhythm side of a song than the average person. But it took me a long time to look at the lyrics in serious introspective way. I've always looked at that side in a more carefree/feel-good kind of way.

  12. The only time I really take in lyrics is on rap music. I love the stories they tell. Guys like 2Pac. Now that's poetry to me.

    Other music tends to be more about the tune than the lyrics. I love strong vocals. I have a tough time listening to artists the can't technically sing like Bob Dylan.

  13. Funny thing- I used to listen to tunes alot, n do have a collection. But since at my current job the radio has been dissallowed several years now- I rarely listen!
    I do practice instruments along with some cds tho, some originals of friends tunes, n Dave Mathews for violin.
    My favorite to this day remains the Beatles Revolver LP tunes tho!
    (I like to violin to Eleanor Rigby)
    btw- I used to sing n play Amie on the guitar!

    Music has always been writing to me- got about 100 orig tunes n been writing both since a kid. Tend to end up with alot of potential lyrics without tunes for some reason...

  14. Joe: I haven't listened to too much rap music in my life, beyond what some of the "ghetto" stuff that came out in the very early 90's that eveyone was making such a fuss over, but I can definitely understand and appreciate that particular fact about rap being poetry (and vice versa). Good Rap can definitely move people just like a good poem.

    I was never much for singers who talked/singed, mostly because I find it a little annoying. Bob Dylan was probably one of the few (at least early in his career) who could pull it off.

    I like vocalists in most genres of music. A good vocalist came make any song, good or bad, fantastic.

    Snaggle: That sounds like a very good way to keep that multi-faceted instrumental side in working order.

    I liked Craig Fuller when he was with Pure Prarie League. He had those type of vocals that seemed to take you on a ride through your imagination.

    The funny thing about myself is that even though I love all kinds of rock music, I can't carry a tune to it. My speed has always been with country/country rock. I feel more attuned to the melodies and rhythms of that than I do to anything else. Can't quite carry a tune properly, but I come the closest with country than I do with anything else.


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