On Music & Words

Like many people who work, I have a commute, an unpleasant, unpredictable commute. Some days it’s 22 minutes, others it’s 90. Music gets me through. The radio, more accurately the music—I hate people talking on the radio – blasting through the 10 speakers in my car is my salvation. Let me clarify, not just music but the lyrics married to the music is my salvation. Words are my freedom and my salvation. I hate music without words, but I hear music in words. If you’ve read my books, or follow my blog, you will know, for me, words are the thing.
If I was at all musical, I’d have been a songwriter instead of just a writer. Thus, I love songs that tell a story, that paint a picture. Painting a picture with words is what I do—try to do.
I particularly love songs that tell a story. I started out writing short stories so I understand the challenge of telling a story, creating characters and setting a tale in context economically. Neither of my books is very long, and my next release, a novella is an ambitious undertaking, telling the story of man in 12,000+ words, so I appreciate brevity, economy of words.
In this post I will look at the lyrics of some of my favorite songs—some old, some new but all telling a story, painting a picture, economically, with words.
My current favorite song is Shut Up and Dance by Walk the Moon.
A backless dress and some beat up sneaks,
My discothèque, Juliet teenage dream.
I felt it in my chest as she looked at me.
I knew we were bound to be together,
Bound to be together 

She took my arm,
I don't know how it happened.
We took the floor and she said,
"Oh, don't you dare look back.
Just keep your eyes on me."
I said, "You're holding back,"
She said, "Shut up and dance with me!"
This woman is my destiny 

I love this line: “A backless dress and some beat up sneaks” it paints a strong picture without a lot of detail but you get a feel for the sort of person she is. "Oh, don't you dare look back. Just keep your eyes on me."—another great line. It allows you to understand where they are in their lives and that she is telling him to forget everything, to stop thinking and just feel.
Watch the video.
Then there is Imagine Dragons’, I Bet my Life On You
I've been around the world and never in my wildest dreams
Would I come running home to you
I've told a million lies but now I tell a single truth
There's you in everything I do
In just four lines you get a couple’s history and a hard learned truth.
Watch the video.

An old favorite is American Pie by Don McLean. These lyrics never fail to bring a smile to my face; they are absurd, but vivid.
When the jester sang for the king and queen
In a coat he borrowed from James Dean
And a voice that came from you and me
Oh, and while the king was looking down
The jester stole his thorny crown
The courtroom was adjourned
No verdict was returned
And while Lenin read a book on Marx
The quartet practiced in the park
And we sang dirges in the dark
The day the music died
Watch the video.

And, finally, the brilliant We Didn’t Start the Fire by Billy Joel. Every lyric clearly paints s a specific spot in time, and the sense of frustration: “I can’t take it anymore.”
Birth control, Ho Chi Minh, Richard Nixon back again
Moonshot, Woodstock, Watergate, punk rock
Begin, Reagan, Palestine, Terror on the airline
Ayatollah's in Iran, Russians in Afghanistan
Wheel of Fortune, Sally Ride, heavy metal, suicide
Foreign debts, homeless Vets, AIDS, Crack, Bernie Goetz
Hypodermics on the shores, China's under martial law
Rock and Roller Cola wars, I can't take it anymore
Watch the video.

As I’ve said, I try to use words economically to tell my stories. Below is a collection of some of my favorite lines. Selections cover everything from a protagonist facing impending death:
Death holds me in its thrall as once the beauty of men enthralled me
I can see death gathering like the coming darkness: a confederacy of shadows, a blackness that is legion
from “The Cross,” Damaged Angels 

To sex—both solitary and coupled:
In the shower, I wash carefully, paying special attention to my asshole. I feel it pucker against my intruding finger. Open. Sucking. Greedy. Full of need. Quicksilver seed scatters. Sown on white tile. Fruitless. Sliding down the drain.
He steps forward. Holds my head between his thighs. A pulse beats against my temple. The masculine scent of him fills my nostrils. My open mouth. Welcoming. The triumvirate of his manhood.
from “Precious Cargo,” Damaged Angels 

To a midnight description of the man who would become my husband to a Winter afternoon.
Caught in a rectangle of lilac light, Val sat in a black leather and chrome chair. Sandy hair, sable soft, crawled like moss over the white rock of his body. He sprawled in the chair, a giant like Gulliver, too large for the room.
Outside, the afternoon had failed. A keening wind mourned the retired sun and kicked at stray sheets of newspaper in its loneliness, making them swirl like angry ghosts. Sheets of silver sleet angled down from the tarnished sky, lacquering the streets with black ice that made a comedy of ambulation.
from “Intermezzo,” Damaged Angels


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